A half century of school bus driving — and no tickets

FAIRFAX – Richard Hellendrung buckled up in his Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) school bus Friday after 50 years and more than one million miles of violation-free driving.

These days, his GFW before and after school route is quite a bit longer than the rural route he drove in Wellington and Ridgely Townships for the first 24 years of his bus driving career. He drives about 100 miles daily on his rural route, which said he prefers to city driving.

“I rather drive a rural route any day than in the Twin Cities,” Hellendrung said.

He said he hasn’t had any driving violations or motor vehicle accidents in school buses in 50 years. But like most school bus drivers, he’s been stuck in the snow a few times and had some mechanical breakdowns.

“The most common breakdown was throttle linkage breaking,” Hellendrung said. “Usually a farmer would come along and help me.”

While this winter has been cold, he said he’s endured rougher ones. “I remember the 1968-69 winter. We had lots of ice. It was so bad, the wind blew my bus sideways onto the road shoulder,” Hellendrung said.

He talked about why today’s school buses have so many more safety features than they did years and decades ago. “Too many drivers walked off buses (after driving their routes) without checking the seats (for sleeping students), so they are alarm systems that require drivers to walk to the back of the bus (before bus ignition systems completely shut down).

Hellendrung trained in his replacement, Marcie Firle during his final days of bus driving. “He’s a good teacher,” she said.

Greg Johnson, GFW Transportation Director, said Hellendrung is better than many bus drivers in that he rarely got stuck in the snow.

Hellendrung said he plans to stay busy growing corn, beans and peas and continue a farrow-to-finish hog operation on the family farm southeast of Fairfax.

Family, friends and co-drivers held a retirement open house part Friday night at the Fairfax Auditorium.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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