Jones at the wheel for 53 years

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Rowland Jones has been transporting local kids to and from school since 1966. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Rise at 4:45, do chores, eat breakfast, head to the MFL MarMac bus barn, transport kids to school. Every weekday morning, this is bus driver Rowland Jones’ routine. Each afternoon, he’s back at the wheel again, helping students safely return home.

“I started as a substitute [for the MFL School District] in the fall of 1966,” he recalled. “I lived on a small farm and wanted to make some extra income.”

At that time, a chauffeur’s license was all that was needed to drive a bus. Jones applied for his license using a farm truck.

Now, 53 years later, he’s worked for six different superintendents and five transportation directors. He’s hauled three generations of families.

That time hasn’t come without its changes. 

When Jones first began working, “they showed you the different controls for the lights and the stop sign,” he said. “Then, you did everything by hand.”

Controls were largely the same for each bus.

“Now, if two buses are alike, we’re lucky,” Jones remarked.

Buses were smaller back then, too, Jones mused. Capacity ranged from 42 to 46 passengers, compared to the 72 or more that can fit on today’s models.

Around 450 to 500 MFL MarMac students ride the bus to and from school each day. According to MFL MarMac Transportation Director Trent Miene, drivers average a combined 970 miles each day—175,000 annually, not including field trips, sports and other events. 

For drivers and students, that makes for a lot of time together. Their bus driver is often one of the first adults students see each morning, said Miene, and the driver always wishes them “good night” as they head home.

“The drivers really care about the students,” he added. “You can’t help but develop a friendship with the kids.”

Through the years of changing routes and technology, that’s always been the constant, said Jones.

“I like getting to see the kids. I never had any of my own,” he shared. “I especially enjoy the elementary field trips, so I take as many of those as I can work in.”

Bus drivers, said Jones, feel a lot of responsibility for the precious cargo they transport. In over 50 years, he’s been involved in just two accidents—neither of which were his fault and neither of which resulted in injuries. 

He’s driven countless times in zero visibility, maneuvered through snow drifts three feet high and safely negotiated glare ice.

“My biggest worry is making it through the Kwik Star intersection [in Monona] when it’s foggy,” Jones admitted. “People don’t slow down, and there are too many who don’t turn on their headlights.”

Bus drivers have to notice what’s happening in front of them, yet have the foresight to see if there are any dangers lurking farther down the road. They hope others obey the law, Jones said. For him, it’s heartbreaking to hear recent news reports of kids being killed or injured by drivers who ignore school bus stop signs.

“It shakes you up every time you see an accident,” Jones said. “You cry for the families, but you can’t let that get to you. Otherwise, you wouldn’t come back the next day.”

Miene appreciates having experienced drivers like Jones operating the district’s buses.

“I am more at ease knowing that the kids are with some of the most caring, dependable and responsible people I know,” he said.

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