December 9, 2013

Caston School Corp. employee continues generations at the wheel

School bus drivers in Fulton family go back about 100 years

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune

---- — FULTON — From horse-drawn cart to school bus, members of the Eytcheson family have been ferrying students in Fulton County for about 100 years.

Conflicting accounts from clippings of publications in the mid 1900s — when Elmer Eytcheson’s tenure as a bus driver started raising eyebrows — date the beginning of his career at 1910, 1914 and 1919.

While the dates in each article differ, each state he started out taking kids to and from school in a horse-drawn cart, often referred to as a “hack,” fitted with straw, blankets and a small stove to keep commuters warm in the winters. Hooking the horses up to a mudboat was required in conditions of extreme mud and snow.

The clippings go on to record the farmer’s fondness for the kids and tales of driving through fields when weather rendered roads impassable over a career that included his children and grandchildren as passengers.

Indianapolis Star Magazine wrote highly of Elmer Eytcheson’s safety record in a 1958 article, stating he had to use his accident insurance only once for an X-ray for a girl who bruised her back after falling down the bus steps.

“Some kids complain that I drive too slowly, but their parents never complain,” Elmer Eytcheson is quoted as saying in the story.

Elmer Eytcheson would not be the only member of his family to work as a bus driver between harvest and planting. Elmer’s brother, Ralph, drove a school bus, as did Ralph’s son, Donald. Donald’s son, Jerry, followed suit and was joined in the trade by his wife, Jeanne, in 1969.

After her husband passed away about ten years go, Jeanne is the only Eytcheson driving a school bus and will likely be the last stop on a map that has spanned three generations.

“My son, he would care less,” the 73-year-old said with a chuckle of her only child’s interest in the family’s side job.

Jeanne Eytcheson recalls the day her husband came home 44 years ago telling her about an opening for a bus route driving special education students from Caston schools to those in Logansport. With their son just entering kindergarten, it was convenient to take on the job because they would both end up having the same days off, she said.

“I just kept on going, never stopped,” she said.

She did the Caston-to-Logansport route for the special education students for a while and now drives solely for the Caston School Corporation, she said. She picks up about 50 to 65 students every weekday morning on her mostly rural route throughout Fulton County before dropping them off at the bus parking lot in the city of Fulton, where the kids walk to their respective schools. Then in the afternoon, it’s time to take them all home.

“The kids are a whole lot different than they were years ago,” Jeanne Eytcheson said. “Mostly their language problems and discipline. Bus drivers can’t do nothing about it, though. It all has to be handled in school.”

Two generations prior, Elmer Eytcheson spoke of a similar experience. Indianapolis Star Magazine reported he didn’t mind the kids making noise, “as long as the boys don’t fight.”

From elementary school to high school, Richard Gundrum rode the bus driven by Jeanne’s father-in-law, Donald Eytcheson, who was also the Gundrum’s neighbor.

Now 57, Gundrum recalled how small-town life meant it never took long for news of misbehavior on the school bus to reach one’s parents.

“You knew you were going to get in just as much trouble when you got home,” he said with a laugh.

They were different times, just as Elmer Eytcheson’s horse-drawn days were in the eyes of his descendants.

“That was just the great thing about growing up in a small-town community — your neighbor was the bus driver and they looked out for the kids,” Gundrum said.

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or Follow him: @PharosMAK.