“It wasn’t ‘neat’ then,” John said, referring to the day when the well-being of a great many students depended on the wisdom and courage of a great many adults.
At age 21, John was the youngest bus driver for the school. “I was out of the service in March and started farming. Bus driving was a source of supplementary income,” he said.
The morning of the surprise blizzard, once the drivers brought their busloads of students to the school, the drivers gathered for a regular meeting.
“When we got out it was good visibility, with the sun shining. We had no clue what was coming. Usually, if there was a storm forecast, we would have an hour or two before it arrived,” John said.
In the day, buses were not equipped with communication devices; not even the AM/FM radios which would transmit messages from the Sheriff’s Department in Morris via KMRS Radio.
“I had no nothing. I was just on my own,” he noted. Although the bus driven by Clayton Kolling had a teacher, Arnie Hollen, along, John’s bus did not have an assisting teacher on board.
“I was able to drop off one… two… three families,” he said, mentally ticking through the list of those children on his route. John remembers there were 15 families served by his route.
“We barely got out of town five miles when it really hit. We couldn’t see nothing,” he added.
John said he had gotten three families of children “dumped off,” when he could no longer see the hood of his bus. He asked one of the older boys to walk alongside the open bus door to help guide the bus and prevent it from going into the ditch.
“I couldn’t see for the last mile. I just kept going as far as I could go,” he recalls.
Finally he pulled into the driveway of the Floyd and Dorothy Zimmerman farm.
“I limped the bus into the driveway and the bus engine got wet. That was as far as the bus went. I was gonna stop anyway,” he said.
The Zimmermans welcomed them all, fed them dinner, and provided a place to lie down in the large farmhouse. He thinks there were 25 children as guests.
“No one could get to sleep. They were homesick, so we had to help them call their parents on the party line, which was often busy. The children had to wait until the snowplow came through,” he added.
Once the roads were cleared, parents came to the Zimmerman farm to pick up their children, John said.
“Everything turned out fine. That was the main concern,” John summarized. “Something like that will probably never happen again because of better communications and improved weather forecasting abilities.”
John is in a position to know. This fall he began his 51st year driving bus for the school.