nice ride!

 

September 11, 2020

What would it have been like to ride a school bus in 1924? Well, it certainly would not have involved the bright yellow paint and cracking vinyl seats we’re used to today. In fact, Vernon’s first bus was mostly made out of wood.

As more families began to settle in the Okanagan Landing and Greater Vernon areas, a form of transportation was needed to bring children to school. Fred Downer stepped up to the plate, and built the first school bus on a Ford Model T chassis in 1924, perhaps inspired by the design of the Armstrong school bus which had been built by Joe Glaicar a few years earlier (reported to be the first in Canada!).

 

 

The children who rode Vernon’s first school bus circa 1924. The bus’ builder, Fred Downer, is standing on the far right.

 

Like the one in Armstrong, Downer’s bus had wooden walls, but included screen windows, while Glaicar’s had canvas curtains that could be let down or rolled up as needed. Exhaust pipes ran down the centre of the floor to keep the bus warm during the winter. Apparently, the smell of schorched rubber was common in these early school buses, as the students would put their feet on the pipes to warm up, and melt their school shoes in the process, undoutedbly to the great chagrin of their mothers.

The wooden walls and lack of insulation earned these early buses the nick name of “chicken coops.”

Regardless, Vernon’s first bus was well-used from the get go. More than 40 students were driven to school on Downer’s bus by driver Ed Cooke during the 1924/1925 school year. The bus ride offered a chance to visit with friends and sing a song or two.

Gwyn Evans

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