Father’s homemade bus helped children in Depression

Father’s homemade bus helped children in Depression

During the Depression, children in the community of Cedar Bluff, Texas, faced having to drop out of school because of a lack of transportation to get them there. But thanks to the efforts of one industrious father, getting to school was not a problem.

The year was 1934, and although school bus transportation had begun to catch on after a Model T Ford bus came out in 1927, no such progress had reached deep east Texas.

The nearest high school to Cedar Bluff was in Garrison – six miles away. Therefore, parents would seriously consider boarding a child in town so that they could continue their education.

Two such parents were D.L. and Rosa Hancock. They were strong believers in education, and when their son graduated from Cedar Bluff Elementary School, they sent him to live with relatives in Garrison so that he could continue his studies.

That was only a temporary solution, however. At the time, the couple had two younger daughters who would soon be ready for high school. Their peers were other youngsters who needed to continue their education, as well, but they wouldn’t be able to unless someone did something to solve their transportation problem.

After giving the matter some thought, D.L. Hancock approached the County Superintendent of Schools and the Garrison School Superintendent. He outlined a plan for a school bus route he proposed to serve.

It was a bold move for a quiet country farmer – and the offer was accepted. Hancock bought a Chevrolet truck without a cab and hired a neighbor to convert it into a bus.

The homemade body of the carriage was constructed to sit on the bed of the truck. It had a glass window on the driver’s side and a door on the passenger side. Long, wooden benches filled the seating area, and there were open windows to admit air, as well as curtains of heavy cotton sack material to roll down when the weather was bad.

The bus was painted yellow-orange, and one of the Hancock daughters, Virginia Lee, recalls helping her sister trace the words ‘SCHOOL BUS’ on the exterior and painting them black.

It was exciting when the bus began to roll, Lee said, its headlights blazing in the early-morning dark as it picked up students from Cedar Bluff, Pisgah, Center, Wanders and Garrison.

But it wasn’t an easy commute, she says.

‘Both the rural roads and Highway 35 were crooked as a barrel of snakes, and sometimes Naconiche Creek would overflow,’ she said. ‘Proud as we were of that bus, I have to admit it was one rough ride – but it was our lifeline to getting an education, and we knew it.’

For years, Hancock drove students to Garrison High School in his homemade bus while also providing rides in the summer and on weekends to families who needed transportation to town, church and community gatherings. It was finally retired in the early 1940s, when more modern services became available.

All these years later, there are still people in east Texas who fondly remember the bus that a country farmer made, and they are grateful for the part it played in their lives.