Many people go about doing good deeds in their families, neighborhoods, organizations and church congregations. “Utah Valley’s Everyday Heroes” celebrates these unsung community members and brings to light their quiet contributions.
Rob Oliverson boards his bus at 6:20 a.m. every morning. With a strobe light to make his vehicle more visible, chains on his tires and a bucket with emergency supplies in case he gets stuck, he starts up the mountain to pick up his students.
And despite the snow, slush, winds and storms that can knock out his two-way radio, he wouldn’t trade his route to anyone.
“I know I can handle it,” Oliverson said. “So I am glad I can take those kids to school, safely, every day.”
Oliverson is one of eight bus drivers in the Alpine School District who drive up to the Suncrest neighborhood in southern Draper, on Traverse Mountain. A van also goes up to the area onto roads that are too steep for buses.
The drivers are handpicked by the district to drive its toughest routes.
“They’re experienced drivers,” said Joe Hayes, the director of transportation for the Alpine School District. “Many of those drivers are also our trainers.”
The drive is considered a speciality route due to the dangerous weather that can occur in the winter.
“The conditions in that area change very quickly,” Hayes said.
He said the district puts a lot of trust in those drivers to make the call if the route is safe or not that day. If drivers can’t make it, schools will put out a call to parents.
It’s a tight-knit group. Since the drivers stay on the routes, they see the same students every year. One driver, Hayes said, even shows up early to shovel the sidewalks where the students line up.
The buses on the Suncrest routes are replaced every five years for safety.
For the drivers, they know that the vehicles can handle the routes and snow.
“I would much rather drive my bus in the snow than my own four-wheel drive truck,” Oliverson said. “They are heavier. They weigh 32,000 lbs. They drive well in the snow.”
Becky Leach’s special education bus even has four-wheel drive.
After driving the routes, she’s formed a special bond with the students she picks up.
“My concerns are always the kids,” Leach said. “We have that issue with the safety of driving in the weather, but I always worry about my little kids, and I don’t want them to be scared.”
Even in the worst conditions, or when they have to temporarily pull over to wait out a storm, the drivers stay calm, knowing that it will keep the students calm, too.
The drivers are trained on the mountain and have a group text where they discuss weather conditions.
The route still has its challenges. There’s cloud cover that creates fog in the area and rough winds. The bus drivers can also get up to the area before the plows do.
The weather can vary greatly. Oliverson said the top of the mountain can be clear while there’s snow at the bottom.
“The hardest part is never knowing what you are getting into when you start going up,” Oliverson said.
He’s stayed on the routes because of the students. After driving the same group of elementary students for four years, they’ll quiz him on how many siblings they have.
Leach said it isn’t that the Suncrest route drivers are better than the other drivers. It’s that they have the confidence to tackle the route.
“It is a particular person who can drive that mountain,” Leach said.
The canyons present their own challenges.
“Go slow,” said Gary Hubbs, a driver who drives the Birdseye route up Spanish Fork Canyon to Indianola for the Nebo School District. “You go as slow as you have to be to be safe.”
Hubbs drives 35 miles up the canyon in order to pick up 20 students. He drives 70 students, total.
On Thursday, a snowstorm made the drive tough.
“I never saw the road once during the whole entire trip,” he said.
But if the bus drops off the students are late, the schools understand. Hubbs said the focus is on keeping the students safe.
He’s has had trips where the wind is blowing and he’s only able to see two feet in front of him. During those conditions, he’s recruited students to help him try to spot the posts to check that they’re still on the road as he drives at 2 mph.
With a cattle ranch and his church in the area, Hubbs personally knows many of the students. It’s those connections that made him switch from being an activities driver to a regular route.
“I wanted to do it for a long time just because I know all the families,” he said.
They’ll tease him that he drives like an old farmer. Hubbs shoots back that he is.
But knowing that he has to stick to a schedule can make driving slow mentally tough.
“Being in a school bus, it is always OK to be late, but you can never be early,” he said.
Lana Hiskey, a spokeswoman for the Nebo School District, said Hubbs has received district awards and is known for being safe, courteous, reliable and for cheering on athletes at games.
“He really is the best of the best,” she said.
Hubbs said he wouldn’t be able to do it without the district’s team, which includes supervisors who will drive buses when there’s a shortage of drivers and mechanics who are always willing to help.
“None of us would ever be able to do it if we didn’t have the most amazing mechanics,” Hubbs said. “They take care of us better than you could ever imagine.”