The Matthews Retire after 46 Years of serving Big Sandy Schools
June 7, 2023
Dan Matthews is retiring from the school bus business after 46 years of transporting students to school in Big Sandy. Dan and Pat Matthews officially gave up their bus routes at the end of the school year and sold their last two buses. The sale of the vehicles was finalized last week.
When I caught up with the the newly retired Dan and his wife, they were sitting on their deck overlooking their beautifully manicured lawn and gardens. I asked Dan why he decided to retire now, after so many years of serving. He responded "Well, I'm 80 years old. We were in the business for 46 years and with the way things are going, it's time to get out." Dan went on to explain that various factors contributed to the final decision, including the increasing difficulty he was experiencing hiring a new bus driver. Between the simple challenge of finding people interested in driving a school bus, the difficulties associated with dealing with the CDL, and other factors, it was just time to close up shop. Dan also explained that as he aged, he was growing less and less patient and didn't want his attitude with the kids to be affected.
I asked Dan how the couple got into the bus driving business to begin with. He explained that he was driving his truck out to pick up water. During his trip he picked up Marlyn Cornett, who drove a route in the area. Dan had heard that Marlyn was looking to sell his route and bus. He asked about the route and the pair began discussing the price and sale conditions. Their conversation continued through the drive, with Marlyn standing on the truck's running board and Dan driving. Eventually, Dan and Pat were amongst 5 potential buyers, eventually walking away with a new business.
The venture began with the pair taking turns at driving the routes. Dan continued to work for a farmer in the area, with his wife running the bus route whenever he was able work on the farm. She went on to explain that Dan had to convince her to drive in the first place and that she refused to drive at all in bad weather. Up until that point, she had never driven anything other than cars.
Dan laughed as she told the story of him tricking her into her first drive on a heavily rainy day. "Once we started, I drove pretty much when he could farm, and then when it stormed out, he would drive, except this one morning. We got up and it had rained and Dan said 'Well you can drive it.' I said, 'Well how much did it rain?' He said 'About a 10th of an inch.' I said 'Oh okay, I think I can handle that.' I was driving down the road, and I get almost to Mickey Marty's place and I said to myself, Dan lied to me. It rained more than 1/10 of an inch. Dan's boss came out and was wondering why Dan wasn't driving the bus. Dan said, 'Well Pat thinks it only rained 1/10 of an inch, and it rained a half an inch.' I drove it and it went well, so I started driving more. Then I was asked to drive for activities." As the couple drove more and more for the school, they expanded and bought more routes and buses.
The pair shared all sorts of interesting stories about how they would connect more remote routes that used smaller buses to larger routes, where kids would be transferred to larger buses. They also shared many interesting stories about their work. One that was particularly interesting took place in the southeast, when one of the buses stopped running due to the deep snow clogging the air intakes for the engine. Dan took turns alternating between pushing and pulling the bus with another bus while Pat steered the disabled vehicle. They reached town late at night and stored the snowy vehicle in a shop to thaw out. Dan described the scene in the morning as though a river was running out of Pat's bus because so much snow had thawed overnight.
Throughout our conversation, the couple spoke repeatedly about the joy they've experienced working with kids and our community. They spoke at length about the support they've received from locals, who would often go miles out of their way to pull a stuck bus from the snow or mud. Parents also featured prominently in their recounting. They both expressed gratitude for parental willingness to deal with kids who were creating problems on the drive. They also expressed gratitude for the various drivers they have employed over the years, particularly Clara Alderdice.
Dan plans on continuing to work in various roles now that he has retired. He will likely be applying his CDL to truck driving. Pat plans to continue her financial planning work. They will be celebrating their 59th anniversary on July 11th.