The Wilton Chain Gang
No such thing as a “Snow Day”
The rolling hills and winding roads of Wilton can be both steep and treacherous in the winter months. And back in the 1950s and 60s, the roads were a lot narrower. Today, many of our town roads have been leveled or straightened, but before vehicles had better tires, improved suspensions, and computerized traction control. Before we had cell phones and “snow days,” there were snow tires and chains for any car, truck, or school bus that needed to safely navigate our Wilton winter wonderland.
“Hey Tinker! It’s time to go out and play in the snow.” The usual phone call from Harry Disbrow was right on time: 3:30 a.m. Snow had been falling for much of the previous afternoon, through the night, and into the wee hours of the morning. Harry had checked the weather, same as I had. Whenever a snowfall was forecast, we always knew there would be a good chance that the two of us would be playing our little game of “musical busses.”
There were two large garage bays at the back of the school district parking lot that each of the 25 busses pulled into. It took me and Harry about two hours to complete the task of putting chains on every bus. Then, around 6:00 a.m. we’d clean up and head over to Orem’s for a quick breakfast. By the time we finished eating and got back to the garage at a little before 7 a.m. the first busses would be rolling out of the yard.
I was an official part-time driver. Harry had asked me to drive a route full-time, but I had a masonry construction business back then and couldn’t do it. I did agree to fill in if a driver called in sick. But that agreement quickly turned into virtually a full-time winter job. Having recognized the need for expertise with the chaining operation, and if snowstorms were coming every few days, I set up shop in the front office of the Milestone Garage so we were ready to install and repair chains. During many harsh winters, that’s all I’d do until there was a break in the weather.
All was not drudgery, though. I actually found a lot of joy when I had a chance to drive a school bus. The kids made it fun, and I tried my best to return the favor. In the fall I sometimes carried a basket of apples to hand out as each child exited the vehicle. One day, a new kindergarten student happily took his apple but hesitated getting off the bus. He carefully looked down at his apple and I thought there was something wrong with it. Finally, he looked up, stared directly into my eyes and said, “I have a liddle bwother.” So I gave him another one.
Then there was Marty (not his real name). I was driving down New Canaan Road towards Borglum and Filterbed Roads when I heard a loud voice in the back of the bus. “Shud up! Shud up or I’ll beat youse! Shud up or I’ll beat youse all!”
At Filterbed, I stopped to let a handful of children off. Marty was the last one to get off at that stop. As he was about to step off the bus I closed the door and asked, “Marty, what did you have for breakfast this morning?”
“What did you have for breakfast?”
“I don’t remember.”
“You must have had some cereal. Maybe oatmeal or Wheaties?”
“Oh yeah, I had a bowl of corn flakes.”
“Anything else? Maybe some bacon and eggs?”
“I had an egg. No bacon.”
“Ahh! That’s really great. Did you have any spinach or onions?
“Nope. Nothin’ like that.”
“Oh you should always have spinach! If you’re going to beat up a whole busload of kids all by yourself, you really need to eat a big breakfast.”
Marty was shaking his head in bewilderment when he stepped off the bus. As I swung the door shut, he turned and waved. The next morning, Marty took the seat right behind me and the two of us chatted all the way to Center School. Whenever I drove his route, that boy stuck close to me. No more mayhem. Or perhaps not enough breakfast to be overly confident? I still know him today—and he’s not the only one!
Over the years I have driven every single route in Wilton. For a time, I knew all the children in town, from kindergarten right through to high school. Today, I am still approached by 60- and 70-year-old “kids" who remember me as their favorite driver. And truth be told? They were all my favorite passengers.