Memories of the big, white bus

Students who attended Waterford and Watertown schools and lived along what is now Route 339 between the Waterford Fair Grounds and Watertown during the 1930’s were taken to school on the Big White Bus. For many students who rode this bus, it is one of their most cherished memories.

The bus was a 1929 Studebaker. The name implies that it was mostly white on the sides. There were no names or lettering on it. At least in the Wolf Creek School system, buses were privately owned at the time. Joseph W. Keith, whose family owned the Keith Building (now Jukebox Pizza) in Waterford from 1908-48, was the first owner-driver of the Big White Bus.

A series of events took place in the Waterford and Watertown school systems during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s that developed the need for better transportation. After Watertown High School closed in 1928, students in the future attended Waterford High School. Since Waterford Township schools now included Watertown students, Wolf Creek Schools was picked as the district’s new name. Also involved in this consolidation, several one-room grade schools were closed. Transporting students from Watertown to Waterford and the closing of one-room schools required busing students. Students for the first time rode a bus and they affectionately called it the Big White Bus.

Ray A. Harra, who was born in 1920, is a good example of what students experienced at this time. Living near the Harra covered bridge in 1927-31, Ray attended grades one through four by walking over a mile to and from North Watertown School (later Elmer and Helen Spung’s house). In 1931-32 North Watertown School closed and Ray went to Watertown Grade School. Earlier the grade school had been in a building behind Watertown High School. By 1931-32 grades five through eight were moved into the old high school building. Grades five and six were on the lower floor and grades seven and eight were on the upper floor. Grades one through four were still in the building behind the old high school. Ray started riding the Big White Bus in 1931. In the morning the bus came from Waterford along what is now Route 339. The first stop was George Milner’s kids, Neal and Paul. Next were Dayton Ford’s kids, Newman, Mildred, and Bill; Joseph Allison’s grandson, Othal Quimby; Clarence Harra’s kids, Fay and Marilyn; Chauncey Waterman’s kids, Mary, Eula and Dorothy; William H. Stollar’s kids, Howard, Orville, Cleda, Mary Lou, and Clyde; Herman Harra’s kids, George and Ray; Felix Miller’s kids, Albert and Roman; and Brooks Jennings’ kids, Jean and June. These students were delivered to Watertown Grade School by 8 a.m. Students Lena Quimby, Fay Waterman and a few of those listed above who became high school age were picked up on the return trip of the Big White Bus to Waterford.

Once the Big White Bus arrived at Watertown Grade School, the bus was emptied and high school age students from the Watertown area boarded. These students had been brought to make the exchange at Watertown Grade School by two yellow colored buses. One was driven by Carl Wagner and the other one by Leland “Shinny” and Walter Eichmiller.

The Big White Bus made the return trip to Waterford on what is now Route 339. As noted above some high school age students were picked up on the return trip. At Lawrence Biedel’s house (across from George Milner’s), there was an imaginary line. On the south of this line, grade school kids went to Watertown. On the north all kids who attended both grade and high school went to Waterford. The bus picked up young Jack Biedel, who attended Waterford Grade School. The bus continued picking up grade and high school students until it got to about where the Waterford Fair Grounds is today. After this students had to walk to school. Then at the end of the day the bus returned the students to their homes.

Ray Harra rode the Big White Bus from 1931-35 to Watertown Grade School and 1935-39 to Waterford High School. With the numerous stops it took about one hour to travel from Watertown to Waterford. The bus could hold about 20-22 students. There were benches along each outside wall and two benches in the center. Ray noted, “Boys sat on one side and girls on the other, otherwise their knees would have rubbed together.”

After a few years Keith sold the bus to Leo Strahler. Ray always got to school, but sometimes he was a little late. He remembers the biggest problems for the bus drivers were cold mornings when the bus would not start, muddy roads, and snow drifts. “When there was a flat tire,” Ray said, “the driver had to fix it; when he got stuck in the mud, a team of horses had to pull him out. And there was lots of mud because the roads were not paved yet.” Ray said students did not want to walk, so they were careful not to get kicked off the bus.

To the kids who rode the Big White Bus, it was more than a ride to school. It was a sign of the times-bigger, better, faster, and most of all, easier.

Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events in the Lower Muskingum Valley.