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 this segment of the series, Lehman writes about undergoing more behind-the-wheel training and becoming familiar with the components inside and underneath a school bus.
The following week, I was back in another Blue Bird transit-style bus with Chanie Passerby, fleet service assistant and trainer, and she had me drive to a large housing development to practice left and right turns. There were construction cones on both sides of the road.
Chanie could tell I was very nervous. She reminded me that the bus I was driving was exactly the same width as a car, and she reminded me to relax.
When we returned, Marsha Stones, lead trainer, and I walked through all the parts of the engine compartment, and while I did OK, I was still a long way off from having picked up everything I needed to know. Marsha then added the inside of the bus, with dozens more items that I would need to memorize for the pre-trip. With word association and hitting the study material every night, I was determined to remember everything I would need to know.
The next day I was back with trainer Jim Murphy, who, besides doing a lot of lane changes, spent a lot of time with me doing simulated student pickup and drop-offs, and we went to all the schools in our district so that I would know where to pick up and drop off students.
I found that spreading out the training was working. I could properly recall the classroom training while having ample time to study the pre-trip and put into practice what I had been taught behind the wheel.
The third week, Carolyn Gaebler, trainer and route coordinator, put me through the paces of lane changes and turns. The highlight was stopping at a convenience store to grab a soft drink. I told her I wasn’t sure I could make the necessary turns into the parking lot. She assured me that I could, and much to my surprise, I accomplished the task, but was glad I had the air conditioning on; otherwise, I would have broken out in a cold sweat. On our way back, Carolyn found a long construction zone for me to navigate through, but unlike before, I was not nervous and was now feeling a lot more comfortable behind the wheel.
Marsha and Chanie then took me through the skills course. Although I was nervous, I found I had little difficulty on offset or parallel parking. I then had to recite the engine compartment and bus interior. Marsha added the air brake test, and I was most comfortable with that since we had gone over it in the classroom. The final pre-trip step was learning the components underneath the bus. As Marsha painstakingly took me through each part, she gave me a lot of helpful hints for how to remember them.
A few days later, I was back with Chanie to learn mountain road driving and to go through anything else I wanted more practice on. When we returned to the yard, Marsha and I went through the pre-trip, and I knocked out the engine compartment, interior and brake test with only a few errors.
We then went back to the skills course. After my first failed attempt at parallel parking, I found my frustration level rising, as on the second attempt I did worse than the first. Marsha pulled me aside and after we talked through it, I discovered that I was overthinking how to park instead of using basic backing skills. Once she showed me the easy way to park, I was back to being myself and knew that I could get through the DMV test.
Part 5, the final segment of Lehman’s article, is available online here.