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Retiring school bus mechanic recounts changes

 

School district mechanic George Davis Jr. will retire as of Aug. 31, after serving over 30 years taking care of district buses. - Roger S. Lucas photo

George Davis Jr. will soon be hanging up his wrenches, so to speak.

He submitted his resignation, effective Aug. 31, to the school board last month and will take a break as head mechanic at the school district's bus garage.

He will be leaving the school bus operation a lot different than he found it, some 33 years ago.

When he took over the mechanic role in 1984, the district had 11 buses, nine with red tags on them.

A red tag means that a bus failed to pass its annual test. That was in early September, and school was ready to start.

The buses were readied in time for school.

Davis is known for the pride he takes in his work. Buses are routinely checked every year by the Washington State Patrol, and they are ready to roll.

The district now has 35 buses, and the fleet is constantly updated. There's at least one new bus every year, and sometimes two.

Davis started out in 1984 as a seven-hour-a-day mechanic and a one-hour-a-day bus driver.

"Ray Halsey was bus boss when I started. He told me to take one of the larger buses out to Elmer City and back. When I got back, Ray asked me how I got along, and I said OK," Davis reported. Then Halsey said, "You passed the test, and I'll do the paperwork."

It's a lot different now!

Bus drivers in the modern age have to go through a battery of tests and background checks before they can drive, "most of this at their own expense," Davis noted. "It takes a bus driver about four months to just recover out-of-pocket expenses."

The average age for bus drivers is now about 70.

"When I went to work here, the average age of bus drivers was somewhere around 40," Davis noted.

What are some of the changes in driving school buses from 1984 to now?

"One of the biggest things is discipline," Davis said. "Bus drivers used to handle discipline. We would write up riders, and when they were written up three times they were off.

"Now the state only pays for riders, so kids are not kicked off as much," Davis noted.

When Davis started, drivers made about $2.25 an hour. That has changed, but the district has a difficult time finding drivers.

Last school year a couple of routes went "wanting" because they didn't have drivers.

For many years, Davis was manager of the bus operation, and in recent years he has always helped bus managers out when there was a problem.

Davis will hang up his wrenches in a few weeks, and no doubt golf a bit more frequently. He has helped the high school golf program off and on over the years, and is known in his own right as a "pretty good golfer." You can find him, always walking the course, out doing his "18" frequently at the local course.

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