Brice wasn’t the only Sprouse to drive a school bus. In 1949, it was Larry’s turn. “We didn’t have adults driving. It was all students. After me, Wayne drove, and Ollis Lawing, Olin Smalley, Edward Arrowood, all the boys in this neighborhood drove” the big yellow school bus. “I got paid $20 a month, which would be $1 a day.”
But Larry did it so well he attracted the attention of the state government in Raleigh.
Sometimes he forded the South Muddy Creek that ran over the Sprouse farm road, and he parked the bus at their house. In the morning he would turn left on Brackett Town Road and go to the bus stop where the community mailboxes were lined up in a long, long row. In the 1940’s this was the end of the bus route, and the end of the paved road, as well as the end of their property in front of the cabin built by JJ decades before. In the wintertime, or when the creek was up, the boys might have left the bus parked by the now vacant cabin. “The mail turned there at my grandparent’s place across a little creek.”
“There was just a little single lane road on up into Brackett Town, and that run about 2 mile on up through there, just a mountain road. And the community kept the road up. The state built a bridge over the branch” because of the US mail delivery. “When I was a child, the postman would drive up about ten o’clock and all the neighbors would come out of the woods from everywhere to get the mail. On days it would rain, or in cold weather, they’d all go in the little cabin and read their mail and visit with grandmother. Poor old soul, she just made room for all of ’em.”
Nora remembers that the tax collector used to set up his table in front of JJ’s big barn, and neighbors would come down to declare their property taxes. In today’s world this would be an opportunity to have booths for selling hot dogs or T-shirts but this community operated differently. They shared with each other without setting a price. Free coffee for all, I’m certain.
By the time Larry was behind the school bus wheel, this area had suffered a lot of traffic, and the bridge was no longer sturdy. In 1950, Larry wrote a letter to the governor, Kerr Scott, telling him that his loaded school bus had to cross a rickety bridge twice a day. He received a typical government response that they would check into it. But it was only “a few weeks later till they were over there replacing the bridge” over a new pipe. They even put sides on the bridge and painted it. (The paint and the sides are now gone but water still runs through the pipe.)
I think they should have named the bridge The Larry Sprouse Bridge, but I didn’t
see any plaque when I walked over it last month.
Winding Brackett Town Road was improved in increments, each one ending in a bridge and a turnaround so the mailman and the school bus could go further into the valley.
Nora said the second turn was beyond the Mt. Moriah church and school area that was no longer used, before you get to the Brackett Town cemetery (which was still used.)
Larry knew the turn well. “That was a single lane bridge. Two cars couldn’t pass on it.” That year the Smalley children would walk down there to catch the bus because it was where he turned around. Usually if it was raining, their father would come down in his car to pick them up. “One day for some reason we got out of school early, and it was raining, and Mr. Smalley wasn’t there waiting.” The kids were junior high and high school age, and old enough to get wet, but Larry decided to cross the bridge and head up that little one lane road a mile to their house. “I wasn’t supposed to do that, but my Dad always told us to do unto others as you’d have them to do unto you.” Larry smiled. He was just using that excuse because, “The girl was my little sweetie.”
Another day he came to the turn around and there was brother “Brice haulin’ pulpwood with two neighborhood black boys helpin’ him. They were standing there at the bridge so I stopped. Brice said, ‘My truck battery’s dead. I can’t get it to crank. Would you bring the bus on up in the woods and help me get it going?'” Oh, oh, he broke the law and lost his plaque? “We drove on up in the woods and got jumper cables and jumped him off, and then they helped me back out. Had to watch all them stumps where they zig zagged around there. I figured I’d get fired if anyone found out, but I used that motto my Dad said, ‘Do onto others as you’d have them do to you’.” We laugh at the decisions of youth because we’ve all been there and done that.
Nora said that in the last 20 years, the state straightened and extended Brackett Town Road past the cemetery to the end where Mr. Smalley built a little structure for a bus stop. He put a fire pit in it so his grandkids could build a fire and keep warm until the bus came.
Larry had the same bus route that Brice had. But they may have had different buses. I don’t remember Brice saying that he had trouble running out of gas. Larry said, “When I first started driving, I got a short bus #23, and it had a small gas tank. They would bring out a tanker and fill your bus from Marion. I had the longest route of any of the other drivers, and the second day, I’d run out over there around 3 point on Chapel Hill. We’d walk down to 3 point and call the mechanic.” (Remember young readers, no cell phones back in the dark ages, even 20 years ago) About the fourth time I run out, the mechanic got down under it.” Maybe they thought the gas was being siphoned out? Nora said that wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, but the gas tank had a lock on it and the mechanic had a key. “That’s when they gave me #25.” Ole 25, a legend of fun.
Nora said the kids would sit in the back of the bus and encourage the bus driver to go really fast over the hill in front of Maud Cowan’s house on Landis Loop. It was 30′ long, and “when the back end went over the knoll, it would lift you off your seat.”
Larry remembered when they were straightening Vein Mountain road near the Macedonia Church loop road, and it was a mess when it rained. So if some of his passengers whispered to him they wanted to be late for school because of a pesky test, he would “start up the hill slow and get the tires spinning. That’s when I’d say, ‘Boys, you have to help’.” They helped him right off the road sideways, and everyone would have to wait until ten or eleven o’clock when another bus came looking for them. (I am positive there were studious girls on that bus who were very irritated.) “Wayne Morris was usually the one who back tracked my route looking for us, and he’d take all the kids off #25 and take them to school. Eventually they hauled gravel out there to fix it.”
But his brother Wayne continued this maneuver when he drove the big yellow #25. Nora told on him. He knew how to run out of gas and get stuck down in Ray Hollow off Joe Branch Road. Little sister remembers the tricks went on for quite awhile, and she was watching and taking notes.