She will miss the kids and the camaraderie of her co-workers.
But most of all, Maureen Davis will miss Bus No. 37.
“It’s my bus,” the University Place resident says of the yellow Chevy that has been her baby for five or six years. “I hate to leave it.”
She jokingly dreams of taking the eight-seater with her when she retires at the end of June, after some 43 years driving a bus. She has spent more than 40 of those years at the wheel for the University Place School District.
“It would make a great motor home,” Davis muses, then reconsiders.
“It’s a little too new,” she decides.
Davis was a 27-year-old mother of three girls – her oldest in
kindergarten – when she decided to give bus driving a try. The former Idaho farm girl who started driving at 14 wasn’t intimidated by a big rig.
As Davis left her house the day of her bus-driving test, her husband, Ken, asked if she knew how to double-clutch. A necessary procedure in the days before synchronized manual transmissions, it requires shifting into neutral before each gear change.
Davis could double-clutch with the best of them.
She passed the driving test, which, back then, involved just a few spins around the block. When there weren’t any openings in UP public schools, she headed over to drive for Charles Wright Academy.
In January 1972, she was hired by the University Place School District.
Since, Davis has logged thousands of miles – and lots more in training – while transporting generations of students.
Some kids from her old routes are now adults who also drive for the district.
“They like to tell me about it,” she said.
She loves what she does but decided to retire this year, at 70, “because it’s time.”
At the district bus yard on Chambers Creek Road, Davis is affectionately known as “Queenie.” She’s the most experienced of all the district’s 54 regular and substitute drivers, by about 20 years.
It’s not only seniority that earns her the royal treatment from her peers, but also her sunny, can-do attitude – the kind that makes transportation team members volunteer to buff No. 37’s tires to a glossy shine once she’s finished washing the bus.
“Maureen is great because she’s always willing to help wherever needed,” said dispatcher Patty Cabantan. “She’s always there to help someone else.”
If another driver is sick, Davis will stay late or give up a day off, Cabantan said.
Davis has a smile with enough wattage to power an entire bus fleet – and a heart for her young passengers.
She recalls a foster child she transported one season during summer school. She knew the girl had little to call her own. She understood her loneliness.
“I bought her a Pillow Pet,” Davis said. “She’d get on the bus and lay down on it.”
Davis was sorry to lose touch with the girl at summer’s end.
“You can get pretty involved with the kids,” she said.
Some of her best memories stem from driving for field trips and athletic competitions. Coaches in the district have been known to ask for Davis to drive their team in the belief that she brings good luck.
“I always say that I wished I’d kept a journal,” Davis said. “There were so many interesting places that you wouldn’t go on your own, but you go with the kids.”
She remembers a few trips to North Bend or downtown Seattle when her bus struggled on steep hills.
“The kids could have walked faster,” she said.
One of her favorite field trips took Curtis High musicians to performances on the Oregon coast.
“I’ve really had no problems on the bus to speak of,” she said. “The kids relate to how you respect them.”
Her current duties are mainly shuttle runs – transporting small numbers of students between schools for enrichment programs or taking a few students to out-of-district campuses for programs that aren’t available in UP.
For much of the year, being a school bus driver means rising before dawn.
“A lot of months, we’re out there in the cold and dark in the morning,” Davis said.
But she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“I don’t remember ever dreading to get up and go to this job,” Davis said.
In a farewell message to colleagues, she wrote, “I have been blessed to work for a district where the administrations have been superior, the teachers and coaches I have driven for are most appreciative and kind, and most of the students have been respectful, obedient and ‘loads’ (pun intended) of fun.”
It will be tough for Davis to hang up her keys for the last time. But she plans to spend more time with her eight grandchildren. She’s thinking she might volunteer, even if she doesn’t know where yet.
And she might think about answering the call if her old team needs a substitute driver to fill in.
“When you’re on the road all your life,” she said, ‘it’s hard to give that up.”