SCHOOL BUS ‘ORAL HISTORY’
This recollection of Fairfield School Busing actually starts across the Passaic River in the Pine Brook section of Montville Township. In most respects, these two old communities were closer than Caldwell and Fairfield. That’s mostly because Pine Brook was similarly settled by the ‘Jersey Dutch’ with the Vreelands, Van Nesses, Van Duynes, Van Ripers, Van Worths, and Van Ordens ( you can’t start a bus story without a lot of ‘Vans’ :- )
But the family that started the motorized transportation business in the valley was a Jewish Family, the Konners. Josef and Lena Konner emigrated to America in 1881 and settled in Newark. Mostly for Josef’s health reasons they sold their garment business and bought a farm in Pine Brook that eventually took in Boarders. Years later their family grew the business into a large Inn on the top of the Hook Mountain ( sometimes called Third Watchung Mountain ). They had a perfect view of Caldwell’s Monomonock Inn across the valley on Second Watchung Mountain.
The Sun Rise Mountain House attracted many guests who arrived in Caldwell by train ( 1891 ) or ‘electric’ Trolley ( 1898 ). The Konners and other Pine Brook Boarding Houses petitioned the Trolley line to extend service another three miles, but road widening and flooding were concerns west of Caldwell. Horse drawn coaches to Pine Brook remained the primary conveyance until 1912 when three Konner boys began transporting guests to and from the Trolley Lines with motor coaches. The transportation business was brisk with many other large boarding houses ‘in the country’ too. Solomon, Dwork, Grossman,Oshowwitz,Tannenbaum, and Blooms to name a few. ( There’s a Catskills joke in there somewhere ).
Kevah Konner was in the next generation of Konners and he formally started Kevah Konner Inc. in 1936. Eventually Kevah built up the business into a School Bus Contracting, Truck Sales, Heavy Truck Repair, and Coach Chartering Service.
‘Konners Garage’ Bus about 1918, stranded in icy waters on Bloomfield Avenue.
Kevah Konner Inc. was an International Harvester Dealer. If they acquired a school bus in their first year (1936) it would look like this nicely restored model (above ). Link to an article about 1939 standardization of School Buses : :https://gizmodo.com/why-school-buses-are-yellow-1462814138
I wasn’t around for the first twenty years Kevah Konner was in the school bus business, but driving a bus was a good part time job for my Father ( Peter Pollio ) who needed to supplement his modest farm income. Having summers off was the big advantage, and keeping an eye on your oldest son was another :- ) :- )
Almost every kid in town knew bus driver “Pete”. They knew him as either a good guy or as a tyrant depending on their conduct and behavior.
The ‘good guy’ did cool things like knocking over pylons on newly painted street lines and speeding up over the Deepavaal ‘hump’ on Little Falls Road that launched the rear seat passengers to the roof. Both drew rousing cheers of gratitude. He could also be devilish by stepping on the brakes when a young lady ( name withheld ) was putting on lipstick ( Oops, sorry ). Such a crime was never reported because it’s likely the young lady wasn’t supposed to leave home for school with lipstick on in the first place.
This next part requires everyone to put on your ‘reality goggles’. Set them to 1958.
Pete didn’t have an evil twin, but he was definitely an ‘old school’ disciplinarian. That is, ‘old school’ by mid 20th century standards, not the 21st century ‘old school’ standards of today. If two boys fought on the bus, he’d pull over and throw them off to walk the rest of the way home. Try that today. The next day the Father of one of the fighters was waiting at the bus stop. Yeah, we thought Pete was going to get an earful. The Father told Pete “If he fights on the bus again, you have my permission to give him a good crack, then tell me about it and I’ll give him a few more at home”. Sounds crazy, but that’s exactly what Pete would say if I were involved. Word for word.
If someone was real late to the bus stop Pete wouldn’t wait for them. Despite the student passengers screaming in unison “Wait Pete, He’s coming” he played deaf and drove away. Because you have the 1958 reality goggles on, you know that few Fairfield Families had two cars at the time. Getting junior to school could be a real hardship, but guess who was never late again. No, not ever again.
Another form of punishment was sitting troublesome students in the front seat. This was the humiliating equivalent of a dunce cap. Very effective then, probably some violation of implied student freedoms today.
Pete wasn’t the only ‘tough cookie’ in the jar, but he never lost his temper with students. If they wanted to ‘act up’ or ‘act out’ they got to walk home and explain to their parents how they got punished for ‘not doing nuthin’ ( clever use of a double negative ). Pete always had the support of the Parents and his Kevah Konner yard boss John Mowry. The Dominican Nuns at St. Aloysius wanted to give him a few pointers :- ) :- ) on the proper use of a 32” maple pointer / nightstick!
I once saw a Nun break one of these in half on somebody! Ouch !
John Mowry was the bus yard foreman for the West Essex Fleet. A ‘no nonsense’ guy who was affectionately known as ‘Uncle John’. ( His detractors un- affectionately called him ‘Steak Face’ because he had prominent facial jowls – you really needed to know that, huh? ). He always had a brisk step and never took one he didn’t need to. His bark had plenty of bite. With 40+ Drivers and a few assistants he had no time for pleasantries or any kind of nonsense. His was a job nobody else wanted. Tons of responsibility, 100+ rigid schedules, breakdowns, call outs, go/no go snow decisions, complaints, substitutes, accidents, yard flooding etc. etc. His toughness made Pete seem like Gandhi, but the St. Al’s Dominicans were still the toughest :- ) :- )
(L) Your humble narrator boarding the bus on the first day of Kindergarten 1956. My Father ‘Pete’ Pollio was the Bus Driver. Also pictured (R).
In 1960 our Family expanded further into the School Bus Business. My Mother, Carolyn ( Collerd ) Pollio, began driving a school bus. We were now a ‘School Bus Family’ (SBF). Mom was the third woman driver at Konners, but the only one with five children and a sixth to arrive two years later.
No starting with vans or smaller ‘jitney’ buses. You took the long yellow bus, essentially a big truck, to Wayne Motor Vehicles for your road test.
Mom was up every day at 5 a.m. made us lunches and woke us up before she left just before 6 a.m. Other than winter, Dad usually delivered to the NYC Market ( where the Twin Towers were later built ) at 3:00 a.m. then went to the bus yard. One benefit of being a SBF was a 5:15a.m. call from Uncle John on snow days. Yay - no school - get out the sleds! Others were notified by the fire siren signaling school closure. Dad would already be out snow plowing factory parking lots.
Once, school was open after a significant snow accumulated overnight. Mom was ticked, she thought the new School Superintendent from ‘The South’ didn’t know the difference between cotton and snow ! But it was Uncle John who really influenced those final decisions. Plus he and his crew had to put tire chains on those 30-40 buses. Trust me, I’ve done it, that’s a nasty chore in the snow.
The tire chains were stored in a steel box under one of the rear seats. Some emergency flares were also stored in the chain box. Once I saw an older student tell a younger one that the flares were sticks of dynamite. ( No doubt, Uncle John got blasted the next morning with a parents complaint :- )
1960-61 International Harvester School Bus sporting new high tech parabolic mirrors.
Uncle Pat Pollio drove also, but only if Uncle John was really desperate. ‘Really desperate’ meant all the mechanics and John himself were already filling in driverless routes. Pat preferred to tend to the farm, and as Fire Chief, be available if there was a fire call. Mowry knew that well and never called unless he had no other option.
One of the huge disadvantages of being the Bus Drivers son were the daily reports the Nun’s at St. Al’s gave my Dad. This is where I learned how to read lips so I could prepare a reasonable defense before dinner when Dad held court. My buddies Chris McGrath, Doug Terlizzi, and Vinny Lapone didn’t have those darn daily reports. Not fair!
Uncle John strictly enforced his rules : Arrive to work early, inspect your bus inside and out, yard parking straight and tight, swept daily, windows all shut, gasoline never less than half full ( women drivers pumped their own gas but that wasn’t a strict rule ). If you screwed up, the ‘Steak Face’ was in your face.
The Konners ran a ‘tight ship’ with well maintained equipment and good help. The same basics that made The Sun Rise Mountain House a Konner Family success story.
Kevah Konner Inc. was sold to Student Transportation of America in 2010
Sorry this was more autobiographical than I had hoped, but maybe it stirred up a few fond memories of our ‘formative’ years. And yeah, those Nun’s at St Al’s were extremely ‘formative’ :- )
A comprehensive article on School Bus Vehicle History can be found here :
Dedicated to ‘Uncle John’ Mowry. He was a tough boss, respectful of his women drivers and under that gruff exterior beat a heart of gold. Solid gold.
.............Paul Pollio January 26, 2019
1958 School Bus Disaster
A collision and plunge into Big Sandy River involving a school bus near Prestonsburg, Kentucky, February 28, 1958, resulted in the deaths of 26 students and the bus's driver. It was then the deadliest bus crash in U.S. history. 22 children were able to safely escape.
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