EAST HAMPTON, Conn. — Charlie Nichols founded Nichols Bus Service Inc. in 1944 — when he was just 16 years old.
That year, Charlie had been hired as a school bus driver by Martin Smith, who owned and operated one of two bus companies in the town of East Hampton. Shortly after Charlie was hired, Mr. Smith chose to retire and sold his company to Charlie.
When the bus contracts for the town came up for renewal, Charlie bid and was awarded the contract to transport children to school in East Hampton. He then bought the additional buses needed and kept them all behind his grandmother’s house, which was next door to his father’s house.
Shortly after taking over the contract, Charlie expanded his company by building a small garage where he was able to service and repair his buses. Each morning, without fail, Charlie would open his garage at 5:30 to do safety checks and start the buses’ engines so they were ready to go when the drivers arrived.
Charlie drove a bus every day then, and he still does today at 85 years old.
When Charlie entered the Army, his father, Stanley, took charge for him and made sure all of the buses were running every day. Charlie’s mother, Aline, even transported students in a station wagon — wearing white gloves and all — during Charlie’s time in the Army and for many years to follow.
Upon Charlie’s discharge in 1952, the bus company was busy and was well on its way to what it is today. Now, the company serves the Connecticut towns of Andover, East Haddam, East Hampton, Marlborough and Portland with a fleet of 103 school transportation vehicles.
When Charlie is not behind the wheel of a bus, he is very active in his hometown of East Hampton. He has served on the police commission, the zoning board of appeals and the board of selectmen. He is a longtime member of the East Hampton Lions Club, and he assists with the town’s Old Home Days festivities. He also donates to many causes to support the community.
In the span of 69 years, Nichols Bus Service, with Charlie at the wheel, has transported schoolchildren safely and orderly. This has not been an easy task — countless hours go into monitoring, inspecting, staying aware of the ever-changing state regulations and making sure all runs are covered.
Even at 85 years old, Charlie apparently has no plans to retire.
Linda Miner is an administrative assistant for East Hampton Public Schools.