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Bulloch's ‘Bus Boys’ keep students safe

Crew responsible for maintaining 145 school buses

Bulloch's ‘Bus Boys’ keep students safe

Bulloch's ‘Bus Boys’ keep students safe

The “Bulloch Bus Boys” are shown in t...

Editor's note: The following is part of an occasional series about "unsung heroes" in the Bulloch County school system.

Nestled behind William James Middle School off U.S. Highway 80 West is the Bulloch County school system's bus operations center. It is from there, and a second bus depot behind Southeast Bulloch High School, that the bus mechanics keep the system's entire fleet of vehicles running.

The demands of the job are staggering: Calling themselves the "Bulloch Bus Boys," the crew helps ensure that 4,900 students are delivered safely to and from school in buses traveling 6,000 miles every day, making about 5,500 different stops on more than 175 routes.

Paul Webb, the school system's director of transportation, said he is proud of his team. In total, Webb said, there are 145 buses that must be maintained - 100 at the main garage and 45 in Brooklet.

"It's a massive task to keep that many buses running, but they realize that the community needs them and they do a great job," he said.

Moreover, many of the men have their own children and relatives riding on the buses. That makes it personal, they said. The crew consists primarily of Bulloch County natives, including shop steward Ronnie Ellis, who was born and raised in Hopeulikit.

Becoming a mechanic, Ellis said, made perfect sense.
"I grew up on a farm," he said. "If you wanted your car to run you, had to fix it yourself. I've been a mechanic all my life."

Mechanics Andy Rice, also from Hopeulikit, and Les Spence, who was raised in the Portal area, agreed.
Ellis said some buses are actually fitted with special off-road tires that are better suited for driving on Bulloch's many clay and dirt roads. The recent cold wreaked havoc with their buses, which, he said, "really don't like this kind of weather."

Rice added that the newer buses all have computerized monitoring systems onboard. While this helps them in some ways, he said, "They really aren't designed for being hauled back and forth across Bulloch's bumpy and heavily rutted dirt roads."

For his part, Spence likes the older-model buses.
"Our older buses, the '93s and the '94s, will run forever," he said. "If they've got fuel in them they'll crank. The new buses; however, have all this extra stuff on them, like emissions controls, safety lights and air conditioning."

All the men, including Brooklet shop steward Stephen Peavy, from Screven County, and bus mechanic David Harville, from Brooklet, agreed that all that extra wiring sometimes give them fits.

Spence said, "Those wires run the length of the bus (up to 40 feet), with as many as 100 wires wrapped in the one harness."

Webb and the other "Bus Boys" say service technician Amos Strowbridge, along with fuel attendants Edward Mikell and Tony Jones, are the real first lines of defense for the buses.

"It's very simple," Ellis said. "The attendants clean off all the mud and clay, so you can actually see what's going on underneath all that muck.

"Then," Ellis continued, "Amos and the mechanics perform preventative maintenance on each and every bus every 20 days."

Rice added, "With Amos, Edward and Tony on the job, it's rare that one of our buses breaks down from a lack of maintenance."

When a bus does get stuck, the bus shop is ready to handle it. The shop's pickup trucks have winches.

"It's amazing how easily two winches can get a bus back on track," Spence said. "Rarely do we call out a wrecker."

Rice agreed: "Usually we can fix it real quickly and then get the bus back on its way."


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