Author Bill Lehman (third from right) holds his CDL. Also pictured are, from left, Marsha Stones, lead trainer; Jim Murphy, trainer; Carolyn Gaebler, trainer and route coordinator; Chanie Passerby, fleet service assistant and trainer; and Edd Hennerley, director of transportation.
Bill Lehman is a school bus driver for Queen Creek (Ariz.) Unified School District #95. In this five-part series, he shares his longtime desire to become a bus driver and the path that brought him to the industry.
In part 1, he writes about his first experiences on a school bus as a student. In part 2, he writes about interviewing for a position at Queen Creek Unified School District #95 and the preliminary steps needed to become a school bus driver. In part 3, Lehman writes about passing the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division air brake test, obtaining his CDL permit and undergoing behind-the-wheel training. In part 4, Lehman writes about undergoing more behind-the-wheel training and becoming familiar with the components inside and underneath a school bus.
In this final segment of the series, Lehman writes about taking the commercial driver’s license test, and the emotions he felt upon passing and returning to the district’s bus yard.
My final week arrived, with one last day of training with Carolyn Gaebler, trainer and route coordinator, followed by successfully passing the pre-trip and brake tests.
Throughout this process, numerous drivers continued to offer me encouragement and tips; I was caught off guard by this, as I was the new kid on the block. The day before my test, Chanie Passerby, fleet service assistant and trainer, made sure the Blue Bird bus I was taking was washed on the outside, while in the afternoon I cleaned the inside of the bus from the ceiling to the floor.
As I was going around the outside, I discovered that a hub seal that had been replaced the week before was leaking again. I was concerned because while our Blue Bird fleet is relatively the same, there were some minor differences, so I really wanted this bus to be the one that I took for the test. The three mechanics — Joe, Rudy and Mike — not only reassured me that they would fix it, but it would be ready on time for me to take to the test.
The next morning was test day. I admit that I didn’t sleep too well the night before because I was very nervous. Rudy met me as soon as I arrived to assure me that the hub seal had been fixed, and much to my surprise, the guys had also painted both the front wheels so that the bus looked really sharp.
Marsha Stones, lead trainer, and I did our last pre-trip briefing before the two of us took off to Goodyear for me to be tested. When Marsha and I arrived, we were told to be seated, and although our appointment was for 9:30 a.m., the examiner did not call my name for another hour and 10 minutes.
Finally, it was my turn. The examiner carefully walked me through all the steps necessary for me to pass. After all the hours of hard studying, the consistent questions to my trainers and my behind-the-wheel training, I was ready.
The first test was the engine compartment, followed by the inside of the bus, the outside of the bus and underneath the bus. The only emotion the examiner showed was at that time, as he was truly impressed, since I did not miss one item. The next step was the brake test, followed by the skills course. As I passed each step, I felt my confidence level rising and was sure that I finally had “the right stuff.”
The final test was the actual driving, which took over an hour; he put me through every possible scenario. I was proud that during every challenge he put me through, it was easy for me to command the Blue Bird bus just as I had been taught.
We returned to the DMV office for my last step, which was a simulated student drop-off. I was then instructed to return the bus to the parking stall. After what seemed an eternity for the examiner to finish writing, he looked up at me and held out his hand to congratulate me on passing the test. Little did I know that Marsha had been close enough to hear my pre-trip and watched the skills course. I could see the look of pride on her face as I gave her the thumbs-up.
We went back into the building with the examiner, and a short time later I had in my hand my Arizona commercial driver’s license. As we left the building, we both cheered, as Marsha had devoted a lot of time and effort toward making sure I was successful.
When we returned to the bus yard, the radio came alive with many of my trainers and fellow drivers congratulating me on passing. This was very emotional for me because I knew that I was part of the family, which is something I had never felt in any other job I have had. As we shut off the bus and walked back to the dispatch office, I was greeted with handshakes and hugs.
When I started this journey, I truly had no idea what was in store for me. I am now a bus driver charged with carefully and safely protecting the children I carry on my bus. With the training I have received, I have no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision, and I am glad that Edd [Hennerley, director of transportation] gave me a chance.
Lehman dedicates his article to all of the drivers, trainers and mechanics at Queen Creek Unified School District #95.