Seymour school bus driver retires after 47 years


Although the estimate is unofficial and the math subject to scrutiny, the best guess that can be ascertained is that Tom Snyder drove 592,200 miles in a school bus for the Seymour Community School Corp. during a 47-year career.

Using the formula of 180 days of school per year spread over 47 years and following the same route 70 miles round trip was how the total was reached.

“I only wore out five buses,” Snyder said.

Officially, the 75-year-old retired at Christmas after his near-half-century of Seymour service, but he is on call as a substitute fill-in, so the mileage total will continue to grow. Watch out, 600,000.

Snyder, who is primarily a farmer, still active planting corn and soybeans and raising cattle on the outskirts of Seymour, is good for about 60 days a year on a tractor, too, meaning that combined, he has probably spent more time steering vehicles of one kind or another than A.J. Foyt.

Snyder and wife, Marcia, married 53 years, raised two children and have two grandchildren. Over time, he drove all of those members of the younger generation back and forth to school. Oh, and as an aside, he and Marcia first met on a school bus.

Snyder was in ninth grade, Marcia was in eighth grade. He was saving a seat for his girlfriend, who turned out to be Marcia’s best friend. Everything worked out. The ex-girlfriend was even in the wedding.

Yes, Mrs. Snyder said, she does consider how they met to be ironic given how many years Mr. Snyder has devoted to bus driving, but she hasn’t told many friends because she didn’t dwell on it.

“I never associated the two,” she said. “That’s pretty good.”

Marcia drives a pickup, not buses, but started driving a tractor at 6 or 7 on the farm where she grew up.

A farmer’s hobby

Tom’s bus routine, begun in 1974, was a way to make a little extra spending money as a supplement to his farming income, and he just never stopped.

From preschoolers to seniors in high school, Snyder took children of all ages to their classrooms, sometimes all-encompassing families of multigenerations in the area.

“I hauled their grandmas,” Snyder said.

A hefty man who looks as if he could line up at defensive tackle for some football team right now, Snyder has always liked to stay busy.

His morning take-’em-to-school shift began at 7:02 a.m. and continued until 8:30 a.m. His afternoon take-’em-home shift ran from 3:13 to 4:30 p.m.

In between and after, Snyder farmed.

“Tilling the soil and feeding the cows,” he said.

That soil has been in the family since 1918 when his grandfather bought the land. Snyder grew up on a farm and attended Purdue University (the only sports team he roots for is Boilermaker men’s basketball when it is good), the Indiana school renowned for its agricultural programs. He spent four years in the U.S. Army, between 1968 and 1972 in Vietnam, and was a captain in the artillery.

Snyder has driven different generations of buses, too, but the current-sized model holds 66 passengers. A main rule governing behavior is staying seated. There are always going to be some riders who test the driver’s resolve, but Snyder’s forceful policy of putting a hand on a shoulder while informing kids they can’t run around the bus works out fine.

“If I tell you ‘Sit down in the seat,’ you’re going to sit down,” he said.

A tell-tale hint of impending mischief, Snyder said, sounds like an innocuous clue.

“If you look in the mirror and somebody is looking back at you, you know there is going to be trouble,” he said.

Tim Fosbrink, transportation director for SCSC, considers his drivers and workers at the bus center near the administration building to be family, and Snyder is a straightforward guy.

“You train them when they’re young,” Fosbrink said of instilling proper decorum in the riders.

Fosbrink, who has spent 40 years in the district, said only one bus driver has surpassed 50 years of driving, and he is pretty sure Snyder ranks second on the longevity list.

Snyder has always enjoyed the children’s company best on the job. Snyder said as part of his first-day orientation, he encouraged the riders to say hello to their seatmates and added, “You might meet your future wife.”

The students probably thought he was just making a joke, not speaking from personal experience. Also, they probably don’t realize it, but Snyder overheard considerable gossip about boyfriends and girlfriends and family troubles.

“Sometimes, you hear things you don’t want to hear,” he said.

Safety the most important thing

The paramount aspect of being a school bus driver is safety, of always being aware of the precious cargo being transported.

That thought was always in the forefront of Snyder’s mind.

“You have 60 lives at stake every day,” Snyder said. “The safety of those 60 kids I’ve got my back to is the most important thing. Yes, I would recommend it. Sure. Until you think of the responsibility.”

Other drivers can spot school buses from far way because of the yellow coloration. They were not always yellow, but the average person in 2021, never mind a bus driver, cannot imagine school buses of another color.

Fosbrink, who is not lobbying to alter school bus colors to pink or something, realizes the words yellow and school bus are as closely associated as peanut butter and jelly.

“Yellow stands for caution,” he said. “We definitely need something that screams caution. Yellow screams caution.”

In 1939, the Rockefeller Foundation funded a $5,000 program by a Columbia University professor named Frank Cyr to visit 10 states and study issues surrounding getting kids to schools. He learned many bus systems were unreliable and many buses were inefficient.

There was no standard color school bus. Cyr even discovered there was a plan to introduce red, white and blue buses somewhere to encourage patriotism. Cyr organized a national conference. At that session, he provided a range of color options for adoption, 50 of them, including lemon yellow and deep orange-red.

According to a 2019 report in Reader’s Digest, making a switch to what came to be called “National School Bus Glossy Yellow” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was voted in. The sheen was approved because it was bright and also because black lettering to be inked on the sides of the buses showed up very well.

The conference endorsement sparked a quick change to yellow in 35 states. It took until 1974, however, for all 50 states to be on board. As an offshoot of the development, Cyr became known as the “father of the yellow school bus.”

The shift worked. As Fosbrink put it, “How many yellow vehicles do you see out there?”

One point behind having school buses yellow is they are a beacon in the night during the shorter daylight hours of winter in early morning and late afternoon. They stand out. Which is why Snyder shakes his head over careless drivers who put kids at risk by passing paused buses with the red stop arms extended as they discharge students.

“Three times a week, people would run my stop arm,” Snyder said. “If you’re a half a block away, you’ve seen it, you know, especially when they give you the finger. Unless a person hits a kid, a police officer has to see it.”

There are 37 Seymour Community School Corp. bus routes, and Fosbrink said drivers report hundreds of violations per school year of cars shooting past buses with their stop sign alerts out, sometimes more than 50 in a month.

“Drivers are supposed to stay 100 feet back,” he said.

That can provoke an emergency for a bus driver. But there are emergencies and there are emergencies. Snyder remembers one of a non-vehicular nature. A passenger walked up to the front of the bus and threw up all over him.

“That was an emergency,” Snyder said.

Time brings change

Putting nearly 50 years into one role and spending 75 years on planet Earth means someone is bound to witness change.

“I remember being with horses,” Snyder said. “And I’m using computers.”

Driving a school bus does not require formal attire, but Snyder wore a uniform of sorts. He said he always wore plaid shirts and always wore the cap he had on at that moment while talking about his career. The wording on the front above an American flag reads, “Let’s roll” and commemorates the plane crash in Pennsylvania where the passengers fought back against the 9/11 terrorists.

Snyder has not retired that wardrobe. Nor did his retirement mean he would never drive a yellow school bus again. Already, Fosbrink has requested his assistance as a substitute. So Tom Snyder has been back twice by popular demand.

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