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 this segment of the series, Lehman writes about passing the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division air brake test, obtaining his CDL permit and undergoing behind-the-wheel training.
As I went back through the study material, I recalled that many of the questions covered tractor trailers, multi-trailers and tankers. This time, I studied every section in the book that had any material related to air brakes.
Two weeks later, I went back and took the air brake test, and this time not only did I pass the test, I had a perfect score. I went in to Marsha Stones, lead trainer, and proudly told her what had happened and handed her my unopened Motor Vehicle Division test results.
After five weeks of intense study, which included 14 hours of classroom training and taking computer tests, I now had my CDL permit and was ready to move to the bus yard to learn hands on about pre-tripping my bus and finally getting behind the wheel to put my classroom and study knowledge to the test.
The first thing I did was ride as an aide on one of our special-needs buses, which included learning how to operate wheelchair lifts and securing the young children in car seats. It also gave me a chance to work one on one with a bus driver named Doris, who was very happy to share her years of driver’s experience and knowledge with me. I was very impressed with how well she took care of those kids as well as knowing all the parents by their first names. She clearly was a lady who loved her job.
Finally, it was my turn to pre-trip my bus and get behind the wheel for the driving part of my training. My first day of actual training behind the wheel was with trainer Jim Murphy, who not only had years of experience on school buses but also had owned a long-haul trucking company. He immediately put me at ease by walking me through exactly where we would be going. This included him backing up the Blue Bird transit-style bus out of the parking space.
As I sat down in the driver’s seat, I quickly realized that 40 feet is a lot of bus and that it was now time to put into practice what I had been taught in the classroom. Because I had never driven anything with the front wheels behind me, I soon discovered that I was hitting the corners of the curves. I then remembered what Doris had taught me in regard to when to turn the bus, and as soon as I started turning the way Doris had said, I missed most of the curves.
The first day was spent driving on two-lane country roads and around several railroad crossings. The next day I was met by Chanie Passerby, fleet service assistant and trainer, who, after spending time discussing what I had done the day before, put me out on a Thomas Built transit-style bus, which was set up a lot different than the Blue Bird bus I had driven before.
We spent the first half of that day’s training on the freeway following another bus that was going to downtown Phoenix for maintenance. I experienced firsthand how gusts of wind affect the bus, and it truly felt like I was driving a sail boat.
Once I got back to the yard, my mentor, Marsha, opened up the engine compartment and walked me through all the parts of the engine that I would have to memorize for the DMV pre-trip and driving test. Having not been one who took shop class in school, I felt totally out of my element and was concerned that I would never be able to remember the many parts of a diesel engine. I shared my concern with Marsha, and she started doing word association as a process to learn the parts; little did I realize how much that would help as I continued my training.
Part 4 of Lehman’s article is now available online here.