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Nobody can rope a wheel like I can…

July 30, 2016, 10:52 AM

This past Thursday, Elyse and I went up to Harrisburg with another friend to help test drive a bus.  My friend had been searching for a bus to convert into an RV, and located a school bus as a potential candidate.  I was there because I had a CDL, and therefore could legally drive the bus, and knew what I was talking about when it came to looking the bus over and getting a feel for how it drove.  Considering that my work as of late has had me around rail vehicles rather than buses, I was excited, because I hadn’t driven a bus since April.

The bus was a 2007 Thomas Built HDX.  For those not familiar, that is a transit-style school bus, i.e. the kind with a flat front.  I definitely knew how to drive those, because transit buses have flat fronts, plus I first learned how to drive a bus on a Thomas Built MVP, which is an older version of this bus.  Only thing I did have to get used to with this bus was that the turn signal control was on the steering column, whereas on a transit bus, the turn signals are on the floor.  School buses should have them on the floor as well, for the same reason that they’re on the floor for transit: it allows you to keep both hands on the wheel at all times.  Clearly, whoever placed the stalk for the turn signals had never operated a bus before, because it did feel like something of an awkward reach to operate the turn signal.

I was worried that I might have lost some of my bus-handling skill in the three months that had passed since the last time I had operated a bus, but once I got a feel for the bus, no problem.  As I discovered after being out for six weeks for that broken foot, it’s just like riding a bike.  However, I did have to get used to the pedals on this bus.  Unlike every other bus that I had driven, where the accelerator and the brake pedals are attached to the floor, these were hung from above, like a car.  Go figure.  But once I got over that, no problem.

And once I got going, I was in bus mode.  My training instructors from the bus would be proud: I was operating that bus exactly the way that my agency wants people to operate that bus.  Proper pre-trip inspection.  Parking, interlock (though this bus had no door interlock), and service brake test.  Right flat mirror pointed down at the rear wheel.  Overhead mirror pointed to see out the right-side windows.  Three feet of clearance on my right side.  Stopped the bus exactly as prescribed.  And, of course, roped the wheel.  My agency teaches a method of steering buses called “roping”, which is where you move the steering wheel like you’re pulling rope.  It’s not quite hand-over-hand, but it’s similar.  If you look at this video, the way the people are pulling the rope downward is what I was taught on the steering wheel.  To make a right turn, you rope it on the right side of the wheel, and then rope it back on the left side to straighten out again after you’ve made the turn.  Vice versa for the left.  I believe that the roping method dates back to before buses had power steering, but it still works quite well now that buses have power steering.  I asked the salesman if he’d ever seen someone rope a steering wheel before, and it turned out that he hadn’t.

The test trip was a standard route for this company: left turn leaving the property, follow the road around for a while, which started as a two-lane road, turned into a freeway, and then into an arterial.  Then we turned around in a restaurant parking lot, and went the same way back.

Afterwards, Elyse got a few photos of me:

Yes, Bus Operator Schumin reporting, operating according to all applicable procedures.  However, it was funny to drive a bus in plain clothes, while wearing my regular hat, and while wearing Crocs.  I’m usually much better dressed to drive a bus.

Then Elyse got a few poses in the seat:

And there you go.

Meanwhile, we’ll see if my friend ends up buying this bus or not.  If he does, I have another bus adventure in my future, as I’ll be the one driving it to wherever he’s going to keep it.

After we finished over at the dealer, we went over to a nearby Walmart store to get a few photos of the somewhat unusual architecture.  The original plan, had we not been obligated to take the salesman with us (who had other appointments), was to drive out to this Walmart and back as the test drive, thus putting the vehicle through all of its paces, rather than just going up the street.  This store, converted to a Supercenter in the early 2000s from a 1990s-era Walmart store, was unusual for an artifact of the conversion:

Note the way that the Walmart sign is shifted all the way to the left, next to the left-side entrance.  These things are normally centered.  That sign area is the original from when the store was built, and the store’s original entrance would have been beneath that sign area.  What bothers me so much is why it’s so lopsided.  I can only assume that they wanted to make the store larger than just the new grocery area, thus requiring a bigger expansion than would be necessary if they were just tacking a grocery section onto the existing store.  But if this was to be the case, they shouldn’t have retained the original sign area, and instead redid the entire facade to whatever the current design standard was, leaving no trace of the original facade.  Because with its being lopsided like this, it looks like an obvious conversion, and a poorly done one at that.  And with all of the money that goes into these sorts of conversions, you want the finished product to look the way it ought to, and not slapped together, as in this example.  Now, mind you – it is possible to retain the original sign area and have it look elegant, but it has to be centered, as in this example in Findlay, Ohio.  If it can’t be centered, it shouldn’t be retained.

And one more thing… we stopped in Dillsburg on the way up, and we caught a photo of the “Kowsher Dill” cow at the Dillsburg Borough Office:

Interesting piece of local color here.  However, the borough officials should really consider moving that “DO NOT SIT ON THE COW” sign to somewhere that isn’t directly on the cow.  But this sort of stuff is always fun to see, because it’s something you won’t find just anywhere.

So all in all, fun times were had by all.