Recently a friend of seven decades, Rose Walker, and I were discussing the school bus rides of our memory. We remembered the long school bus rides out the Germantown Road, the cold winters, the deep red clay mud and all the other things from our childhood. The winter of 1935-36 I lived at the very end of the school bus route on the Germantown Road. This was the route of Mr. Allen Gamble. I was the first to get on the bus before 7 each morning, and the last to get off in the afternoon sometimes as late as 4:30. That winter I was 12 and in the 8th grade at Minden High School. I have written before about the school buses, the red clay and so on but we still remember how it was done, and often talk about those days.
Over The Hill
School busses back then were not air conditioned. They were “air” conditioned all right – hot air in the summer and cold air in the winter. We recalled the dirt roads with the red clay hills that lay between our homes and the school. The most memorable hill of all in my memory was called the “Davenport” hill. It was a steep hill, a long way to the top from either side. Either going to school or returning from school we dreaded that hill in wet, bad weather. That hill caused us a lot of misery, along with other hills on that route. Even though I boarded that bus before 7 if we got stuck on that hill I would be late for school, and in the afternoon if we got stuck it would be four thirty or later before I arrived back home. We always speculated on whether we would make it past the hill without trouble. If the bus stuck in the mud it meant that the boys had to get out, go into the woods and cut pine boughs. Boughs were placed behind the bus wheels and the bus rolled back on them. Then pine boughs were placed in the deep ruts ahead of the wheels. Hopefully there would be enough traction to get on over the hill. Many times the boys had to go back more than once and cut more limbs. When the ruts were very deep the bus was unloaded so that the boys could push the bus up and out of the ruts. That red clay was just like glue and stuck to our shoes. When we finally arrived at school, we were a mess, and late, we got stuck, we all would be so hungry, since we had eaten breakfast nine hours before and most of us did not have a lunch. We were not only hungry, but cold and covered with red clay mud.
There were other hills that caused a lot of trouble for the bus drive, but one pile of red clay mud is just as bad as another.
The busses back then were quite different from the modern school busses. The bus I rode had glass windows, but friends tell me they rode busses before that time with roll-up curtains at the windows, no glass. There were benches down each side of the bus, and double benches down the middle, back to back, making the ones who rode in that section sitting back to back and facing each side of the bus. Some of those who rode those busses with me were the Tuggles – Mary, Della, Mabel, Leonard (Dinah), “Kit” and earlier there had been more in the Tuggle family. There were Krouses, some younger than I was and others who were older. The Frank Krouse family had Elsie, Prescott, Pierce, Gladys, Edith, Rupert, and later there were more brothers who were younger than I. And then there was the children of the Emmett Krouse family – Jewel, Roy Jean, Dorothy, Elizabeth, and Leon. Also we had Langhelds, Popes, Millers, and the Gamble children – Jean and George Allen Jr.
The John Chanler family had several children who were older than I but the one who rode the bus with me was Rose (now Mrs. Johnnie Walker). She lived on a road that was off the Germantown Road and the bus did not make that side road. Rose walked a mile and a half through the woods, crossed a creek on a log for a bridge in order to reach the Germantown Road in time to catch the bus. Her father walked with her because she was in the lower elementary grades. Often he met the bus in the afternoon, but if he did not she walked home by herself Rose went on to tie the salutatorian in academic honors in high school, and finished at the top of her graduating class in Nursing at the old Charity Hospital.
The Ike Chanler family had Bill, Lillie Mae, Sadie Grace (wife of former mayor Pat Patterson), twins Hoyle and Doyle, Justine and others, younger whose names I have forgotten. Aline Miller lived with the Chester Krouse family and she rode the bus, too. Closer into town Willie Miller caught the bus to school. Most of these young people were descendants of the original settlers of Germantown. As with most people of the German race these were intelligent young people. They endured the hardships to get an education. Many of these people became teachers, lawyers, nurses, doctor’s wife, and businessmen. You see a good many of these people each week here in Minden. Many of them finished in the top ten at Minden High School. Some went on to college and achieved recognition in their chosen fields of endeavor.
That was the only time I rode a school bus. The next year I lived in town, but still walked in the rain and snow to get to school. When the rain was heavy the school would observe a “rainy day schedule,” which meant that there would be abbreviated classes that would end around 1, with no lunch hour. Parents knew that the children would not be home for lunch. Those who went after their children in cars knew to come later. Those of us who walked, it simply meant that we would be drenched at an earlier time that day. I lived on Lewisville Street for the rest of the my high school years, not too far from school. Still I would be soaked by the time I reached home. Some children lived a long way off, too close to ride the school bus, but a long walk in the cold rain. It was not pleasant, but it never occurred to us to try to miss school because of the weather. These years were in the heart of the Great Depression, and everyone suffered to some extent (not adequate protection from the weather in the way of raincoats, boots or galoshes.)
Thank God for AC
Often in the late afternoon my son takes me for a ride. Sometimes we drive out the Germantown Road. It is so nice today with the blacktopped road, and the hills graded down where they are not so steep. But I remember.
I thank God for air conditioned cars, good paved roads and interstates. I thank Him for central heat and air in our homes, for warm coats, gloves, raincoats and footwear. I hope that I never get so complacent that I take for granted God’s blessings and that I forget those years. These years were the crucible that brought out the best in Minden young people. Were you one of this group? Then you are admitting that you are old like me.
I received a little poem in the mail from the Salesian Missions, and the poem is by Samuel F. Pugh. It expresses my thoughts so well.
Oh. God, when I have food
Help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work, help me
to remember the jobless;
When I have a warm home,
help me to remember the homeless;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer;
and remembering help me
to destroy my complacency
and bestir my compassion.
Make me concerned enough
to help, my word and deed,
those who cry out
for what we take for granted.
Juanita Agan submitted a weekly column to the Press-Herald for more than 15 years until her death in 2008. She was a resident of Minden since 1935. The Press-Herald is republishing select articles from Mrs. Agan’s Cameos column every Wednesday.