For Vestal bus driver, lessons learned over 56 years and a million miles

robert breed

Robert Breed’s career as a school bus driver spanned 56 years and more than one million miles. It was time and distance well spent, transporting three generations of Vestal Central School District students, including his own children and grandchildren.

Breed is a member of the Vestal Employees Association in Broome County and began driving for the school district in 1961, just a few years after graduating from the district himself. He’s finally preparing for retirement.

“I drove all grade levels, K-12, three runs a day. And some extra runs,” he added, including trips for sports and a weekly round-trip run — lasting more than a decade — to the New York State School for the Blind in Batavia, approximately 160 miles away.

Much has changed in that time, but much has remained the same. While today’s students may be mesmerized by their smartphones, teens in the 1960s who could afford them may have had transistor radios. Whatever the technology, Breed said, it adds up to deferred attention, which can be fatal. His advice: “Students need to have their eyes on the driver when leaving the bus,” and be able to hear the bus driver’s horn, which is the signal for danger.

Between pre-warning and stop lights, there are now a dozen flashing lights to alert motorists to stop — a marked increase since he began driving the bus — but Breed cautions that riders still need to be attentive as they cross the road, since not everyone heeds the various signs to stop. Each day in New York State, tens of thousands of motorists illegally pass stopped school busses.

But just because Breed is retiring from the district doesn’t mean he is going to stop working. Dennise Root, Vestal EA secretary-treasurer and Breed’s niece, said her uncle will simply be able to spend more time farming hay and beef cattle. This work also currently involves bottle-feeding a calf he named Blackjack, whose cow “didn’t show any interest in feeding the calf,” said Root.

“He was a very conscientious bus driver. He hardly ever missed a day,” said Vestal EA President Carl Jones. “He would do his bus runs and go right to work on his farm.”

“I always enjoyed driving the bus. You meet many interesting people,” explained Breed. And it fit into his farming schedule. “It just broke the day up a little.”

Breed has been working on the farm since he was just 6 years old. “I used to help my dad out with different things.” Breed took over the farm when his father passed away.

But, despite a full schedule with two jobs, Breed found time to serve on his local union’s contract negotiations team representing the transportation department. “We got a good increase,” he recalled.

Breed’s advice to new school bus drivers: “The first thing you want to do is learn the first name of the students on your bus. If you speak a name, they listen to it.” He said this personal approach allowed him to more easily manage behaviors on the road.

“We are the first ones to see them in the morning and the last ones to see them at night. I always treat the students like ladies and gentlemen,” said Breed. If you’re treated with respect you’ll get respect, he said. Breed said he was often complimented on the behavior of his student riders. “I have four magic phrases: ‘Yes sir, no sir, please and thank you,’” said Breed.

“Bob just made you feel at home on the bus,” said Joseph Herringshaw, a NYSUT Board member and Vestal Teachers Association president. “He set the rules, he was very personable and he made it feel like a family trip instead of a school bus trip.” Each year, the TA hosts a district-wide retirement dinner. “Bob got a standing ovation,” Herringshaw said. “He’s dedicated 56 years to this district, to the town and to the community.”

Driving a school bus is a 180-day a year job, said Breed, but with farming, there is always work to be done. So Breed plans to continue farming and to do repair work on machinery. “I’m working 40 hours a week instead of 80,” he said with a laugh.

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