Veteran Bus Driver Bobby Painter retires after 54 years

Bobby Painter

Anyone who has been a student in the rural Trochu area any time in the past 54 years will know the name Bobby Painter. Bobby has become something of a legend in Trochu, just retiring from his lengthy bus driving career and leaving quite a legacy in the Golden Hills School Division.

For 54 years he enjoyed his familiar routine - waking up, warming up the bus, and making sure each student got to school safely. This year is the first fall in many that Mr. Painter is not making that familiar drive to school. It has been a difficult adjustment for Mr. Painter to have that bright yellow bus absent from the driveway each day; however he takes pride in an accident free career and the many students he got to know.

Bobby, who still lives on the farm he grew up on, began driving the bus as an 18 year old Grade 12 student. A bus route had opened up and he figured that he had to get to school anyway, so he might as well earn some money in the process. He soon realized that he really enjoyed driving bus, a job which enabled him to continue to farm, but most of all he cherished the time spent with the kids. Towards the end of his bus driving career Bobby was driving students whose grandparents had ridden on his bus—something he realized was pretty special and rare.

Bobby married Laurie 50 years ago, and together they had five children. Bobby drove all of their kids to school, as well as four of his grandsons from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Laurie also got her bus license and acted as Bobby’s standing spare for 40 years, stepping in to drive when farming got busy. Occasionally another bus driver would be unable to drive, so Bobby would take that route and Laurie would drive Bobby’s. It was a good system that worked well, and Bobby always appreciated having Laurie’s help when he needed it. At times Laurie thought about getting her own route, but a route never became available and in retrospect they agree that it would have been too much.

Later on, their daughter also got her bus license which meant that she could spare for him too, especially if Bobby had to step in for another driver. Throughout his 54 years Bobby has driven every route in the Three Hills School Division both with his own routes, and taking on other routes while sparing for other drivers.

He was a bus driver who went above and beyond the call of duty. Once a month or so he would stop at the store and buy the kids a treat on their way home from school. It was a small thing he could do, and something he knew that the kids really enjoyed.

Bobby looks back fondly on the years he spent behind the wheel, and carries with him many cherished memories. For many years, Bobby and the rest of the drivers would all gather in the mornings at the bus garage to have a coffee or pop and chat for a half hour or so. That group felt almost like a family for Bobby who said that he “was almost sorry when summer holidays came because we didn’t have those morning get togethers, because it was just a bunch of good drivers at that time, and it made for an enjoyable morning.”

One story that will always stick with Bobby was a story Sheryl Haller told him about her son Logan. On a day when the roads were in less than optimal condition and Sheryl told Logan, “you might not have to go to school today” Logan, confident in his bus driver replied, “Oh, don’t worry mom; Bobby will be here.” Sheryl says that she always appreciated how experienced Bobby was and knew that she could trust him with her children. She knew that Bobby could get through bad weather, so “if Bobby wasn’t driving because of weather, it was really bad out there…He’s missed for sure.”

Bobby recalls one not so fond memory that happened one morning, some years ago, when the area was blanketed by half an inch of freezing rain that fell and froze overnight. Bobby remembers moving at a snail’s pace down Highway 21 between Huxley and Trochu with the roads covered in glare ice and a bus full of students. He was almost into town where he would drop them off when he saw an obstacle coming into the middle of his lane just a short distance down the road. Looking closer he realized that it was a great big 600 pound sow! She was struggling to gain footing on the thick ice, and even though he was only travelling 10 miles an hour Bobby knew it would be nearly impossible to avoid her. He looked into his mirror at the bus full of kids who were staring wide-eyed. Though she couldn’t stand up, thankfully the pig was able to creep along just enough to get out of the way to let the bus pass by, but it was a tense moment.

Another difficult day in Bobby’s memory began one Sunday evening when another bus driver in the county called him from British Columbia; he was stuck there and wouldn’t be able to make it back for his route on Monday. He called to ask if Bobby would be able to take his route for him the next day–a route east of Carbon that Bobby had not driven before. Bobby said he could do that and asked the man where he needed to stop. The man told him the first stop and that “there’s an older boy at the first stop. He can tell you the rest of the route.” Well, Bobby arrived at that house and to his horror learned that the boy wouldn’t be on the bus that day! He’s not sure how, but he did eventually make it to each house, getting the kids to school just a little late.

But the greatest joy his career brought him was getting to know the kids, hearing about their days, getting to know their parents, and seeing them grow up from kindergarten to graduation. He learned that if you treat the students the way you want them to treat you, they will, and they will give you their respect.

Between driving three generations to school, sitting on the board of the United Conservative Party, and St. Mary’s Hospital, being part of the Ag. Society, Municipal Affairs Committee, a County Councilor for Kneehill County for 10 years, and managing the Trochu Arena for 20 years, Bobby sees people he knows everywhere in the County. With many of those things still on the go, and with their 14th grandchild expected in February, even in his retirement it seems that there is something to do every day.

Bobby is enjoying a more flexible schedule now that he is not constrained to a school calendar. He has taken to retirement somewhat reluctantly as it is such a big change, but does admit that on Kindergarten days the route was long, and as he’s gotten older he’s less sure he wanted such a long day. As well, in his retirement, he’s been able to go on trips with his wife and attend events in the evening and not worry about arranging for a spare the next day. Bobby says that “those things are good, but I’d rather be driving the bus.”