Bus driver’s quick thinking saves lives

By Correne Martin

Longtime bus driver Bob Welsh’s quick thinking may have saved the lives of seven students and himself last week when the bus he was driving down a steep Wauzeka side road lost its power and brakes. Bob has 46 years of driving experience, a calm demeanor and a special love for the kids he escorts to and from school every day. Certainly, a combination of those characteristics played into the situation too, but it was his heroic skills that came into play as he avoided a possible tragedy.

Bob was making his way along his typical afternoon route in rural Wauzeka, on Mill Road—a narrow, gravel route known in the area for its steep slope and windy path. The bus was carrying seven kids home. Around 3:45 p.m., Thursday, Bob found himself about halfway down Mill Road when the power went out in the bus.

“The radio quit working and when I got looking, I thought, ‘I don’t have an engine.’ I still had some brakes, but they faded very fast,” he recalled this week. “I tried to set the parking brake a few times but it didn’t help. I started gaining speed.”

The decisions Bob made next surely prevented a potential disaster.

With a sharp downhill drop-off on the left side of the roadway and an uphill embankment on the right side, Bob determined his best chance for slowing and stopping the bus on the hill would be to ease the bus to the right. Thanks to piles of hard snow and a curve in the road, the bus eventually came to a halt ... safely. All seven of the children were unharmed, as was Bob himself.

“I was just happy I got the kids to safety. They hardly knew what had happened. They were not upset at all,” he said, with a laugh.

Once the bus came to a stop on the decline, Bob explained the situation to the kids. They were less than a quarter of a mile from the home of three brothers who had been riding the bus. So the trio headed home on foot, while Bob stayed with the other kids on the bus. The boys’ mom contacted Wauzeka-Steuben Schools, which sent another bus out to pick up Bob and the remaining four students.

“It was probably about 4:30 when a bus got there from another route. I was relieved that everyone was safe, that it was still light out and it wasn’t one of those below-zero days. I didn’t realize how attached to these kids I really am,” Bob said, with a little emotion in his voice.

That evening, an assessment by the district’s transportation supervisor revealed that the bus had experienced electrical problems. It was towed from the scene and was still sitting at the bus barn in Wauzeka on Tuesday.

The morning after the incident, Wauzeka-Steuben Principal Robert Sailer personally thanked Bob for his life-saving reactions.

In commenting about Bob’s small-town heroism, Sailer stated, “Bob went above and beyond his experience. That could’ve very easily been a tragedy if we had somebody who didn’t have his experience behind the wheel. He was going down the hill very slowly to begin with and I think that helped. He’s a tremendous asset to our school system.”

Sailer added that he has received numerous phone calls and emails expressing gratitude for Bob’s skills and efforts that safely turned a dangerous situation into such a positive ending.

Bob, 76, is a Wauzeka graduate who still lives in the community. He has driven three generations of students in his time with the district and expects to be retiring in the next year or so.

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