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Ellis retires after 42 years behind wheel

Nearly 43 years ago, Bennie Ruth Ellis followed in the footsteps of her father-in-law, Ditcher Ellis, and climbed behind the wheel of a big, yellow school bus.

Ellis was a widow with eight children and her “baby” had just turned six and she was preparing to enter the job market. She was going to try driving a school bus for a while and then look for greener pastures.

“I guess I liked driving the bus because I kept on driving,” Ellis said at a retirement breakfast held in her honor by the Pike County School System transportation department Friday morning.

She remembered back to her first days behind the wheel, which she said was a comfortable place to be.

“My daddy was a farmer so I’d been driving farm equipment since I could reach the gas pedal,” she said. “I knew how to work the clutch and shift the gears, so at the end of my first day, I was ready to go off on my own.”

Ellis had no trouble going it alone. With eight children at home, she knew how to handle kids and she knew how to trouble-shoot.

“One day, the bus stopped and I couldn’t get it going,” she said. “So, I looked up under the hood and saw this rod that had come loose. I got out a safety pin and got things hooked up enough that I could get back to the paved road.”

In all those years, Ellis got stuck on muddy roads several times but never went off in the ditch.

“I was in the ditch one time but I didn’t go off myself,” she said, laughing. “The bus was stuck and my supervisor came out to get us going again. What he did was slide us right into the ditch. But that’s the only time my bus got in the ditch and I didn’t do it.”

Back in the early days, Ellis said she earned every penny of her $97 a month, keeping a busload of 55-60 children safely in the ruts of the rural dirt roads and to school and back home again on time.

“I liked my job because I hauled my own children,” she said. “They were the first ones on the bus and the last ones off. And, too, after I ran the route, I could go back home and cook and clean up while they were in school and after the route in the afternoon I was home with them.”

Ellis was a little hesitant to tell about the sighting Big Foot on the Frank Stinson road years ago but, since she had witnesses to the sighting, she told the tale.

“We were going down a lonely stretch of that country road and we saw Big Foot walking across the road,” she said. “I saw him and the children saw him but, when we got to where he was, he was gone. Don’t know where he went but it was Big Foot and he was gone.”

For more than four decades, Bennie Ruth Ellis “hauled” children back and forth to school. She watched them grow up and move on. Some of them won her heart and others she wanted to give a good switching.

“But I loved them all,” she said, with a smile. “Driving a school bus has been a real pleasure and I did it for nearly 43 years. That’s not a record because Nathaniel Larkin drove for 51 years but it’s long enough for me. Now, I’m just going to do some things that I’ve not had time to do but I’ll miss it. After you’ve done something for 42 years, you’re bound to miss it. But it’s time to let somebody else have the wheel.”