Mike Broderick never intended to be a career school bus driver.But in the odd twists and turns that life sometimes takes, he became one.
Last month, Broderick, 65, retired after 27 1/2; years with the Washougal School District, ferrying children to and from school in all kinds of weather.
Back when Broderick began driving, the School District took the same attitude toward canceling school as the post office does for delivering mail: Neither wind, nor rain, nor sleet, nor snow would deter drivers from getting children safely to and from school via the shiny yellow buses.
“There wasn’t any such thing as a two-hour delay, snow routes or cancelling school,” Broderick said. “Even up in the Cape Horn-Skye area, where the weather was really bad at times. You put your chains on and hoped to God you didn’t slide into a ditch. As a driver, if you make a mistake, a lot of people pay for it”
Broderick’s career change from hauling cargo to driving children came about after two layoffs from commercial truck companies back in the late 1970s.
“I had a family to feed, so I needed something more reliable” he said.
His first job as a school bus driver was as a substitute for the Camas School District.
“My trainer was Bob Jefferson, and he was always very calm and very controlled,” Broderick said. “I learned from him how to be a good driver trainer”
After a year with Camas, then-Washougal transportation manager Merril Adams called, inquiring whether the district could spare any drivers. Broderick, who had applied for the Washougal position before, jumped at the opportunity.
He subbed for three weeks, then something very unusual happened: A driver quit and Broderick was offered her route, which was unheard after working for a school district that short amount of time.
“Usually, it takes a driver a year to two years to get a regular route” he said.
Then he got some unwelcome news: “Merril told me I got the worst bus route in seven school districtsm” he said. “Those kids were mean.”
For the first two years, his job was almost unbearable at times.
“I drove middle and high school kids in the Cape Horn-Skye area and they were mean” Broderick said. “They did everything in their power to rattle me. It took two years for me to convince them I wasn’t their enemy. I was there to get them to school and from school as quickly and safely as possible. After that, I had the best route in the school district.”
After four years of driving the route, Broderick was offered a promotion to mechanics assistant at the Cape Horn-Skye bus barn.
He stayed there for the rest of his career.
“I love the scenery and the air up there” he said. “The Bear Prairie and Salmon Falls kids have mellowed out quite a bit from the time I first started. Once you’re a driver for awhile, those kids become yours.”
Broderick realized he wanted to make a career of the job after two years on his first difficult route.
“After struggling with the kids, I knew I would stay here. Ninety-eight percent of the kids you haul are fantastic. As soon as I got the kids to realize I wasn’t their enemy, I loved the job.”
District Transportation Manager Teresa Thompson, Broderick’s supervisor, said the first thing she noticed about him was his outgoing personality.
“My first day here in the district five years ago, there was an in-service for all the bus drivers, and he had it in his backyard,” she said. “I thought it was really nice of him. He welcomed me with open arms and had a lot of knowledge about what happened around here, which made it easier to transition into a new job.”
The two have butted heads over the years on certain issues, but it has always ended on a friendly note.
“He keeps me on the straight and narrow,” Thompson joked. “If there’s an issue, he always comes right to me. Of course, there are times we just agree to disagree. He’s well liked by all the drivers and has left quite a legacy here.”
Driver Randi Prince worked with Broderick for 23 years.
“He has always been a really nice guy, and he’s always been a great listener,” she said. “He’s a good friend, and has been to all of my kids’ weddings. There are so many students who appreciate him.”
Moving up the ranks
In 1996, Broderick had the opportunity for a promotion, this time to driver trainer.
“I loved driving, and I like teaching this job, so I went to the school and after a week of training, my boss looked at me and said, ‘Here’s the new drivers. You handle it.’ “
New drivers are required to log 20 hours of class time learning policies and procedures, and 20 hours behind the wheel. They also must obtain a commercial driver’s license and take a third-party test.
“I have to get these people prepared so that they can pass it,” Broderick said. “Each one of them is paying around $400 to do this. It is not cheap”
Thompson said Broderick’ expertise in driver training is something she’ll miss about him.
“His support of the drivers and his personality are great,” she said. “He has a willingness to go the extra mile and always help out.”
Broderick added that he is proud of the fact that most of the current drivers have been his trainees.
“I also really respect how they handle crisis situations” he said.
Broderick said that during the recent shoot-out and police standoff in Washougal, when all the schools were put on lockdown and buses were not allowed to drop students off, the drivers went above and beyond the call of duty in a stressful situation.
“They fulfilled everything they needed to do and then stayed with 127 kids,” he said. “I am very proud of how they reacted during an emergency situation.”
When asked what he’ll miss most about working for the district, Broderick said his fellow drivers.
“It just seemed like every day we could laugh at each other and joke around,” he said. “And I’m also going to miss the kids. On my last day, I stood up and told my high school kids that when they came back, I wouldn’t be here, and I got hugs from some of them.”
When asked if there was one thing he wanted people to know about bus drivers, Broderick said the amount of responsibility they have with their jobs.
“They take on a heck of a lot,” he said. “If we ask for and get cooperation from the parents, it is greatly appreciated. They often have the most influence with a child. And if you take the time to get to know the drivers, most are fantastic people.”