Joe Bryan has traveled many miles on U.S. 31W, driving a school bus between West Point and Elizabethtown.
“You’ve got to keep your mind on what you are doing on 31W,” he said. “It’s a zoo out there.”
For seven years, Bryan has spent his mornings and afternoons bringing students from West Point to Elizabethtown High School and back. It’s the only route he drives, though sometimes he’s a substitute driver for Elizabethtown Independent Schools.
West Point Independent students been attending Elizabethtown when West Point High School closed in 1957. Students in the district attend West Point School through eighth grade.
On Thursday, Bryan, who lives in Elizabethtown, made the nearly 100-mile journey for the last time of the school year. Elizabethtown Independent students start their summer break today.
“I’m more excited than the kids are,” he said.
He likes high-schoolers and having one school and group of students to be involved with. He said with older students, he can talk to them and they understand.
He also listens to students when they share their ideas and their thoughts.
“I enjoy the kids,” he said. “I really do.”
About 35 to 40 students are slated to ride bus No. 16 each day. Bryan said in the mornings, his bus riders are sleepy. When he checks on students, he said he might see half a dozen heads up.
Students are prepared for the long ride, he said, and bring blankets.
“I’ve got two blankets on the bus right now,” Bryan said.
On the trip back up to West Point, students are more awake.
“They’ve got a lot to say,” he said.
Since taking over the route, Bryan said he’s gotten to know many of the students and their families. Over time, he’s been accepted into the community, which he described as “close-knit.”
“Everybody knows everybody,” he said. “And they keep up with each other.”
Bryan said he wasn’t accepted immediately. In fact, he said it took about three to four years.
But now he knows the city’s mayor, chief of police and other community members.
“They know me, and I know what’s going on,” he said.
Bryan’s bus says West Point on the side, and he’s employed through that school district.
During the day, Bryan said he keeps the bus at Northside Baptist Church on Pear Orchard Road while he mows lawns. At night, the bus stays at West Point School.
When he needs to fuel up, the EIS bus garage is available to him.
Before working for West Point, Bryan drove for Hardin County Schools and worked other jobs in the area.
He said driving a school bus is a demanding job and one that’s in demand.
“People are not training every day to be bus drivers,” he said.
Bryan said he plans to return to the route next year.
“I’m going to stay right where I’m at,” he said.