Category Archives: learning

On The Road – Road Rage

Recently, we’ve had more road-rage on our area roads, the latest being this one, caught on camera on the NY I-290.  This might seem tame, a pick-up all but forcing a sedan off the road, then the driver getting out to throw rocks at the leaving sedan, but for our area that’s pretty bad.

See, a whole lot of the highway system in and around Buffalo was designed in the 1950’s as part of the New York State Thruway System, and at that time, Buffalo had nearly 900,000 people in it’s metropolitan area, and was expected to continue to grow.  These roadways were designed to be forward-thinking, looking toward that expansion, but with the decline of manufacturing and the change in shipping that the Welland Canal (in Ontario) made allowing ocean-going ships to bypass Buffalo’s harbor and continue from Lake Ontario straight on to Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes, the population growth was no-where near expected (and for the city itself, a decline), meaning that our roadways are (generally speaking) overbuilt for the traffic they get.  Our ‘rush hour’ might delay you all of 5 minutes – maybe 30 if there’s a bad accident.

As a school bus driver, you really have to be good about keeping yourself calm.  School buses can clog up traffic, being the only vehicles that can stop ALL traffic (that’s right, ambulances, fire trucks, and police emergency vehicles have to stop for a school bus’ red flashing lights), and on narrow, tight streets being wider than cars, their very presence can make a road impassible for other vehicles.  We got a lot of ‘three lane’ roads (two-lanes of traffic, one of parked cars) that became ‘one-lane’ roads with the parked cars and snowbanks over this winter.

And over this past year of driving I have had numerous people bitching at me/my bus when I needed to make a turn onto a street they were on, and I had to wait for them before I could go, or when there was a ‘one-lane’ street where my bus was already moving in the one lane and they had to pull over into the parked cars on their side and wait for my bus to pass, or where I blocked up the road to wait for my 30 seconds at the stop where there was no student out and waiting for the bus.  And some of these people have cut around me really unsafely, slammed on their brakes in front of my bus, or not moved when a light turned green ahead of me, all while watching for my reactions, (I’m guessing) because they wanted to make sure that they were annoying me as much as I apparently annoyed them.

But, as a professional driver, you have to let that stuff go.  You have to recognize that sometimes the safest thing to do is let these idiots have space, and get out their aggression without reacting to their provocations.  And sometimes it isn’t easy.

Here are some sites that give advice on how to avoid road rage in yourself and your driving, and also avoiding being the victim of road rage:

And a lot of what they have to say boils down to a couple of important things:

  • Drive Safe: Don’t engage in dangerous driving yourself.  Leave space between you and other drivers, don’t speed or go overly slowly if you don’t need to.
  • Help other drivers out: If someone really wants to get around you and go speeding in a place you’re not, let them.  Try and pull over, or give them an opportunity to pass (though you might want to keep an eye on them ahead of you in case they’re really unsafe).
  • Don’t Engage:  Avoid direct eye contact, if you’re going to give them a gesture, make it a placating or ‘I’m sorry’ gesture rather than one that escalates things and makes them more angry.
  • Keep Your Own Calm:  Whatever troubles these other drivers have, don’t let them affect you personally.  If you are driving safely, and being reasonably aware of and kind to other drivers and someone gets upset with that, that’s their problem, not yours.

And while a lot of this sounds simple, it often isn’t.  School bus drivers want to keep to their schedules, especially if they have to do runs for multiple schools. My morning run includes two schools, and some at my terminal have three schools.  A 20 minute delay on my first school means that I’ll be 10-15 minutes late for all the pick-ups for my second school, for example.  And one of the things a school bus driver has to come to terms with is that if you’re safely driving your bus, you won’t make up time.  That said, some drivers fall prey to trying to get back on schedule and thus drop some of the safety.

For most drivers, this is akin to your being on time for getting to work, or to pick up your kids, or make that date.  Speeding on highways CAN make your trip faster over hundreds of miles.  Speeding on city streets generally doesn’t pay off, as stop signs and stop lights break down what you might gain, and, of course, your stopping time/distance grows as your speed does.

I think that driving a school bus and being forced to be so safety conscious and aware of how much space my vehicle is taking up on the road and where it is has made me not only a better driver, but a much calmer one.  I watch other people struggle and jockey for position on the road and let them at it.

The bottom line, if being safe makes me late, then I’ll be late.  If I’m going to be throwing rocks at a vehicle, it’ll be for a good reason like this:  Daring rescue saves driver of burning truck.

Update 03/22/15: They’ve caught the driver of the pick-up in the video above, and are charging him with first degree reckless endangerment, a class D felony.  It’s no joke!


A Warm Reception

  So after finishing the first bunk, we gave the bus a test.  My wife and I got invited to a multi-day wedding reception for a couple of our friends on another friend’s land out near Franklinville, NY.  The trip was only about an hour away, but it wound along the 400 expressway and then up into the edges of the Alleghany mountains on Route 16.  The weather was great, and the bus ran nicely.  When up to speed, I could take most all of the hills along the route in fifth gear, but we still ended up slowing some people down because I wouldn’t speed (much to the relief of my wife).
  For this trip, I brought an inverter and wired up a 12-volt outlet so that we could blow up a queen-sized air mattress while the bus was still idling and cooling off the turbo fan.  And the fan did get warm.  The land we were headed for was on a small 1 ½ lane road that I missed while we were looking for it.  Luckily, it was a nice, clear day, and there were plenty of places that farm, gravel, or other trucks and vehicles had packed down and could be used to turn around.  So we did. And we got on the road and drove happily along it.
  Having never been to this location before, we weren’t sure if the barn at the bottom of the hill just off the road was the one that we were supposed to park at or not, and so we drove up and set the air brakes half-way up a fairly steep incline where the reception was actually at.  After several hellos and a brief confirmation, we found that the barn (now behind us) at the bottom of the hill was, in fact, the right place, so again we were going to have to turn the bus around.  And, I’d have to get it going on the hill.
  Now, I learned how to drive on standard (manual) transmission vehicles, and I grew up in the mountains, but this was to be the first time that I had to put the bus with its diesel engine to the test in this environment. But it was surprisingly easy.  The very low gearing of first gear (that I routinely complain about because of the fact that I have to use it to get the bus moving, but then have to shift out of almost immediately as its top speed is 5 mph) was awesome for getting the bus moving, even if I couldn’t get it above 15 mph getting up the hill.   But, of course, just on the other side of the hill was, well, the other side of the hill going down.  Luckily here near the top, there was an intersecting road with a wide mouth at an angle that allowed for me to bring the bus along on it, back up a little, and then get the bus turned around. 
  Getting back to the barn was then easy, though I did find out that the seemingly big (to me) 7.1 L T444E engine, even with the low gearing, wasn’t enough to hold the bus back (in fourth, which I thought would do it, but I probably should have been in third).  Now, toward the end of making the bus stop for the parking space at the bottom of the hill, I used the brakes, which did slow the bus, but I now know that I didn’t use the “stab” braking that I should have, instead using steady pressure that would have, on a longer, steeper hill, likely overheated my brakes.  (Stab braking is a hard use of the brakes to below the ‘critical’ speed you need to stay below, and then a full release until you’re just above the ‘critical’ speed.)
  So, at the bottom of the hill, we parked the bus near the barn, secured it, set up the air mattress, and then walked back up along the road to the reception.  There, most people were camping in tents, so we were at a distance from them, but, our ‘steel tent’ was bigger.  But we brought up some camp chairs and our bocce set and had a great afternoon and evening, with DJs and live music by Penny Whiskey.
  We cooked in our ‘Toas tite‘ maker over the communal fire, and in the morning I made espresso over a camp stove and we had a half card table that fit perfectly between the two facing bench seats, so we had our breakfast there.  We stayed until late afternoon, and made our way back home, which was also a slower trip, but because of my adherence to the speed limits.  It turns out that there was some manner of motorcycle rally, and we were stuck in the ‘parade’ behind it.  Otherwise, the trip home was uneventful and fine. 

  We did realize that the narrow hallway along the bus was going to take some getting used to.  We spent plenty of time getting in each other’s way realizing the thing we wanted was at the other end of the bus, past the other one of us doing something along the way.  But we worked things out and, really, more organization would certainly help.

Walls & New Floor (sub-floor) – Part 1

Some skoolies, once they have their floor prepped (as per my last post), go about putting a uniform flooring over the whole of the open area and then building walls and such atop that.  I chose not to go that route for a couple of reasons.

First, I wanted to make sure that the walls were anchored as securely as possible to the floor.  In order to do that, I wanted to lay out the ‘sole plate’ of the wall right on the metal floor and secure it so it wouldn’t ‘float’ or come loose from the vibrations and bumps of travelling.  If they were just affixed to the sub-floor, the wood might slowly wear or give way and cause a loose wall. Even if I ran longer screws through the subfloor, there was the risk of them bending with stresses and again giving a wobbly wall.

Second, I needed to economize with my subflooring.  The costs involved at that point were more than our finances were comfortable with, so I didn’t want to invest in quite so much plywood and other supplies.  Once I had laid out where certain walls and other fixed elements were going, I could put the good quality subfloor where I needed, and use other stuff in places where it wouldn’t matter or wouldn’t be noticed.

And third, we wanted to tile in the bathroom, and that was going to take a different quality of subfloor to pull off.  And, of course, we’d have to lay out drains and holes for water lines, and it would be easier to do that closer to the actual build/tiling time.

So, the first step was to lay out the walls.  I had done this in blue painter’s tape (unfortuantely no pics), and then cut some nice pine 2×3 (the smaller cousin of the 2×4) to be the ‘sole plates’ for the walls.  These were laid out atop some of the underlayment felt paper that I had leftover from installing a tongue & groove maple floor the summer before.  (And yes, the leftover maple will be making a flooring debut on the bus floor when all the walls are done.)

The reason for the layer of felt paper is in order to take care of any moisture that might get in from under the bus, or even from a leak.  It will help to absorb and dissipate the moisture before it really concentrates in one area and causes lots of damage.

Here are the walls for the bathroom, the bunks and the master bedroom.  The blue tape on the wheelwells shows where walls will be later …

You might note here that there’s some stray 1×2 laying about on the floor.  That’s actually part of the base for the subfloor, because the floor that I was putting in wasn’t simply laying out more clean plywood.  To help keep the floor warmer in the spring and fall, and cooler when traveling over the roads in summer, and quieter overall, I wanted to put in insulation, but didn’t want to take up too much space, since the ceiling was a pretty firm limit of available height.

What I ended up with was a polystyrene insulation that’s sheathed in reflective mylar (or some such thin material), which has an R5 rating while being only 3/4″ thick.  While an R-value of 5 doesn’t sound so great, realize that the 3/4″ plywood I took up only had about a R-value of 0.94, so it’s a huge improvement.  The 1/2″ plywood I was putting down atop it would have another 0.62 of a rating, and the maple tongue & groove should have another 0.90.  When finished the wood floor should have a combined R-value of about 6.5 which is a huge improvement over what it had.  (And since it’s been done, it is MUCH quieter while driving.)

Ooooh … Shiny insulation in big 4 x 8 panels!

The trick with putting down the insulation is to not have it get squashed.  Once it gets crushed, the polystyrene loses a lot of it’s ability to hold in (or keep out) heat, so I wanted to keep it safe.  I also wanted to be able to make the plywood atop the insulation stay as stable as possible to keep the hardwood flooring from moving a lot and developing squeaks.  This is where those 1×2″ battens came in.  By placing these at least every 16″ on center, I could mimic the floor joists in a regular house, and have something more to affix the plywood, and later the maple floor, down to.

And the shiny stuff goes into place.

As you can see from the pictures, the felt goes down first, then the battens were screwed down, then the insulation, then the plywood got screwed down – at least for the floors that will have the maple on them.  In the places where benches, beds, or cabinets will go, I just decided to reuse the old 3/4″ plywood flooring that was in the bus originally.  The plywood was (overall) in great structural shape, so I just used long screws to hold it all down.

Completed subfloor up to the fore bathroom wall and under the kitchen cabinets/appliances.

This involved so piecing of insulation and fun fitting of plywood, but gave a very satisfactory result.  Up until I got to the forward ‘cabin’ area where the seats would be placed and bolted down.  Here I had to pause and work on the seats before I could place the flooring supports to bolt though so I could be sure they’d be really secure, since they’d have the seat belts attached.

So, we’ll finish up the subflooring another day, after the seats got dealt with …

(Continued in Part 2)