Boyer resident Jimmy Ryder became a school bus driver in 1978, and in the past 38 years, he has driven a lot of miles on the roads in Pocahontas County and West Virginia, transporting students to school and on field trips.
“I was refereeing a ball game down at the high school and someone told me, ‘you need to get out and drive a bus,’” Ryder recalled. I went down to the board office and talked to the superintendent. He asked me three times ‘why do you want to drive a bus?’ I didn’t know what to say. I love kids and I like to be around kids.”
At that time, becoming a school bus driver required a driving test administered by the West Virginia State Police. Ryder passed the test and continued his training through RESA IV and the West Virginia Department of Education.
In 1988, Ryder became an official school bus driver trainer and has been sharing his knowledge with new drivers since.
“You have forty hours in the class and twelve hours on the road, plus additional training if the trainer thinks it is necessary,” Ryder said. “I have yet to fail to get a driver through with more than fifty-seven hours.”
Along with class time, potential drivers must pass a drug test, get a physical exam, have an FBI check, a CIB check, get finger printed, have a background check and maintain a CDL license with S [school bus] and P [passenger] endorsements.
Currently, Ryder is training five potential bus drivers who hope to assist the school system when needed.
While the trainees have a large binder book of rules and regulations to learn, the real education is in the bus. Ryder puts them through a series of obstacle courses to ensure they know how to properly stop to pick up students, stop at a railroad crossing and back the bus into a parking spot.
“I really drill into them picking up the students – the loading and unloading,” Ryder said. “I feel that’s where – most of the time – kids are injured or killed. We do a brake check and then we do railroad crossings. Through all this, I always try to keep my mind working a step ahead of these guys.”
Regulations have changed so much over the years, that Ryder has to be sure he is up-to-date on the proper training systems.
“Just within the last four months, since January 1, things have changed,” he said. “We were able at one time to ride in the bus, all of us, as one of them drives. Now it’s got to be a one-on-one thing. They say there’s too much distraction for the driver with others riding along.”
Ryder is only one of two trainers in the state that is still employed as a driver; the rest are retired drivers. Ryder trains drivers in nine counties.
Ryder has trained a lot of bus drivers and maintains that Pocahontas County has some of the best drivers in the state.
“All around the state, you’ve got a lot going on,” he said. “Pocahontas County had no accidents for years – might have a few bumps or scrapes, but going out here and hitting a vehicle, and causing damage, we didn’t have any.”
While bus driving is a good and rewarding job, Ryder said it is important to be in the position for the right reason – for the kids. In his 38 years as a driver, Ryder has gained life-long attachments to children he has seen grow into adults.
“I’ve got a tub full of stuff – everything a kid has given me,” he said. “Kids have given me pictures and teddy bears, all kinds of things. My pay is seeing a kid excel in school. It takes a special kind of person to go out here and pick up kids and load and unload them every day.”
Individuals interested in becoming a substitute driver or a full-time school bus driver may contact transportation director Ruth Bland at 304-799-4505.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org