WARROAD, Minn. — A school bus driver here may have one of the more unique routes in the pupil transportation profession: he travels to and from Canada and talks to customs agents several times a day.
Dale Westover, who drives for Warroad Public Schools, starts his morning route at 4:10 a.m. so that he has enough time for the international trek his route takes him on.
First, he drives the handful of miles it takes to get to the Minnesota-Canada border from Warroad and checks in with the Canada Border Services Agency, explained Dave Palm, transportation supervisor for Warroad Public Schools.
Then, Westover drives about 62 miles through the backwoods of Manitoba, Canada, and checks in with U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Jim’s Corner, a remote border crossing, which is equipped with a phone that Westover uses to call the customs departments for both countries. He lets them know he is entering the U.S. to pick up students at Northwest Angle, Minnesota.
Then, Westover travels to the Northwest Angle Inlet to wait for a ferry with students coming from Windego Island, if the weather is warm; a car or snowmobile meets him with the students after the weather reaches freezing temperatures, Palm said.
He then travels around the Northwest Angle to pick up a few more students. Then he heads back to Jim’s Corner and makes another call to Canadian customs with the list of the students he has picked up and their information, as well as his own, so they can issue him a number for traveling back through Canada, Westover said.
Then, once he reaches U.S. customs again and presents the list with the student information, he is able to re-enter the U.S. and brings the students to Warroad for school.
Reverse all that for his drop-off route in the afternoon, and that’s an eight-hour day that includes another round of check-ins with both U.S. and Canadian customs, Westover said.
“It takes me an hour and 20 minutes to get up there and pick up the kids, so it’s a full day,” he added. “Four hours in the morning and four hours at night, with loading time.”
One challenge with customs, Westover said, is when a new staff member answers the phone.
“I have to explain why a bus from the U.S. wants to go through Canada to pick up Canadian students and bring them to the U.S.,” he explained. (The Canadian students attend the U.S. school because it’s the closest one that can accommodate them.)
“Most of them know my voice, though,” Westover added. “Each day I talk to customs eight times.”
Westover has been driving the route for nearly eight of the total 26 years that he has been driving school buses. When the previous driver of the route quit, Westover jumped at the opportunity to take it over.
“I enjoy doing it,” he said. “It’s a nice, quiet ride through the woods.”
He added that the most rewarding aspects of driving the route for him are the well-behaved children he transports and that he gets to see all kinds of wildlife, including deer and bears.
He encounters so many deer, in fact, that he had to have a grill guard placed on the front of his bus to prevent future damage after one unfortunate collision with a deer. The district had to get special permission from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to place the grill guard on the front of the bus, he added.