Week 45: Chicks On the Bus

Volume 7, Week 45, June 30–July 5, 2014

My Father passed away at 47 years of age when I was 21. He had one brother, Uncle Robin who passed last week at 87. His funeral was a happy celebration of a life very well lived. A certifiable character, he earned a degree in entomology (bugs) from Cal, but when farming didn’t work out, got a teaching credential, taught sixth grade for a while then became the elementary school principal for his career; indeed, he was my principal coming up.

He wrote the following article at 84 for the local paper:

Chicks on the Bus

In the winter of 1947 as a student, I was a bus driver in California from Kingsburg, where I lived, to Reedley Jr. College.  The route was 35 miles long and I kept the bus overnight at our farm.

During those years our family raised fryer chickens, selling about 2000 grown chickens each week and receiving 2000 baby chicks on Tuesdays from Petaluma, California, 250 miles away.   They came by Southern Pacific train express.  On this particular cold January night, the depot agent phoned my father informing him that a bridge was washed out, preventing the 7:00 p.m. train arrival.  “So just go to bed and I’ll call you when the chicks come in.”  The depot was 2 miles from our farm and the chicks were usually brought home on our 1931 Chevrolet open flatbed truck. The next morning I asked my dad if the train ever came in; he said that it did, at 2:00 a.m.  So I asked if it wasn’t awfully cold on the open truck for the chicks.  He said, “No problem, I drove your warm school bus to the depot to pick up the little guys.”   

My father and I never had cross words, but I was a bit unhappy that he had misused the school bus that had been entrusted to me. So I said, “Well, I hope you at least stopped at the railroad crossing” (which is a legal requirement in California). 

Fearing there would be evidence of chickens on the bus, I was sure that my driving job was in jeopardy, so I didn’t dare look my supervisor in the eye when I came in with my load of passengers that morning, and I never told any of my fellow bus drivers.   Every time the phone rang in a classroom that day, I was sure I was being called to the bus garage office.  Now, over sixty years later, I feel free to confess the incident.

(I will comment that this fear of being called to the office didn’t translate into mercy toward future juvenile offenders in his charge, as he applied the board of education to the seat of learning; he kept that paddle mounted on the wall of his office as an attention aid.)

A lot has changed during one lifetime. Robin was born at the end of a millennium of animal traction and the beginning of the internal combustion engine providing the new horse-power. He was raised handling 100 pound sacks of feed for his father’s chickens, no doubt rejoiced at the new electric automatic feeders, but then became part of the 90 percent of American poultry farmers who—during a brief 5 year period in the 50’s—found they were no longer needed.

Uncle Robin and my dad were raised in the same home where our son Erik lives now. For me, he was a connection from the Swedish immigrants to the present.

Robin was much beloved, stayed involved with the school, and was Kingsburg’s “Citizen of the Year” a while back. I was thinking about what made him different and I cracked the code: Robin functioned from a center of love that was at once disarming and attractive. If you know your principal/your administrator loves you; you’re going to learn better, teach better, and spread that legacy through the community.

Hey! Hows about Ryan’s sweet corn anyhow? And these tomatoes; incredible. Before the next letter, you should get the Zee Lady peach notice.

Author AHO Kitchen Team

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