Bus driver ends 54-year run

TRUMAN – Dennis Burmeister was driving students home from Truman Public Schools early that day. The students had been let out due to an incoming snowstorm.

“I could see the storm like a wall,” Burmeister said. “I was driving right into it.”

All at once, he could see the tops of the trees, but not the road. The bus was crawling along the road at 5 mph. There were no cell phones, not even a radio in the bus to communicate with those back in town.

Burmeister dropped off a couple little girls at their home, and knew he had to pass six utility poles before the road ended in a T-intersection. As he crept past the poles, the bus company, which had been trying to find him, caught up with him to tell him to turn back.

He was only three miles outside of Truman. He and the remaining students on the bus spent the night in town.

Such is the life of a school bus driver.

Burmeister retired this year after driving school bus for Truman Public Schools for 54 years.

“I graduated in the spring of ’59 and started driving in the fall of ’59,” he said. “I always thought it would be fun to drive a bus, and it was.”

In addition to driving, Burmeister farmed, which he retired from 11 years ago. He still sells seed corn and soybeans on the side.

Farming came second to bus driving.

“If I had one more round in the field, I would have to stop and go do my bus route,” he said. “I could finish the field later.”

His dedication earned him a reputation among the families he served.

“People could set their clocks by me because I was so prompt,” he said. “If I got there early, I would need to wait for the kids.”

Over his five and half decades behind the wheel, Burmeister saw families grow and, sometimes, move away.

One family he recalls with pleasure had eight kids, and he drove them all. Then, he drove their kids.

There are fewer kids out in the country than there used to be, Burmeister noted, and families that have children don’t have as many.

Truman has shrunk its bus service from 10 routes to six over the years.

With the demographic changes came changes to equipment and methodology.

Buses went from gasoline-powered stick shifts to diesel-fueled automatics. Radios were installed to keep drivers abreast of changes in plan.

“What we could do to the kids is different too,” he said.

Although most kids on his route have been good kids, in the past if a child misbehaved he or she had to sit on the steps, near the driver.

“You wouldn’t dare do that today,” he said. “Some drivers kicked the kids off, but I never did.”

Burmeister said the buses were often the ones that pushed the snow off the roads in the winter, and people would wait until they passed so the roads would be clear.

“We always had to go, snow or not,” he said. “I’ve gotten stuck in a few snowbanks.”

When Burmeister first asked the bus company owner if he could drive, Burmeister expected to do it for just a few years.

“I just kept doing it,” he said. “It was something I enjoyed doing.”

He had to get his chauffeur’s license to drive the bus, the test for which he took in a car. When regulations became more strict, those with chauffeur’s licenses were grandfathered in. Regular recertification tests came every several years, and Burmeister eventually got the appropriate license.

“I can drive anything but a motorcycle,” he said. “I just never was interested in those.”

Burmeister was eager to end his driving career on a high note, and decided now was the time.

“After 54 years, I decided to quit,” he said. “I had no problems or anything, so I decided it was time.”

An open house retirement celebration for Burmeister will be held 2-5 p.m. June 23 at the Truman Community Building.