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Wheels go round and round

10/17/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Rick Robinson came to work in the dark a little before 6 this morning and used a flashlight to do his pre-trip check before picking up students.

But he doesn't need a light to show him the responsibility he shoulders.

Robinson, a bus driver for Hays USD 489, was one of 5,600 drivers honored today by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who proclaimed today School Bus Drivers' Appreciation Day.

In a proclamation signed at the State Capitol in Topeka last month, Brownback applauded the people who transport approximately 200,000 Kansas students 75 million miles a year a few days before the start of National School Bus Safety Week, which begins Monday.

Robinson is in his third year of driving a school bus after retiring from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in 2010.

He still wanted to work after retiring from the state, had heard good things about working for the school district and knew some bus drivers. So he decided to check it out.

After all, Robinson had a little experience in driving a school bus, something he did as a high school student in the early 1970s in Brewster.

"Things are definitely different now," Robinson said with a smile.

Following a series of trainings and watching safety videos, Robinson was ready for his route that includes a swing to Schoenchen and back, and a couple drop-offs throughout town.

He rarely travels out of town for school activities. That suits Robinson just fine.

He put in enough windshield time while covering his northwest Kansas territory in his 25-plus years as an environmental technician for the KDHE.

"I kind of like my daily routine," he said.

That routine includes going through a thorough check of his bus both in the morning and afternoon before picking up students.

He's got his pre-trip check system down to a science, but that orderly fashion can change in a second once the students get aboard. That's when the enjoyable part of his day really begins, said Robinson, who said there's never a dull moment with youngsters around.

"You try to have some discipline and order on the bus; they know what to expect," he said. "(Students) get to know me, and I have gotten to know them. I really enjoy my route."

Robinson's attention to detail has impressed Melissa Irwin, transportation office administrator.

"He's one who never misses anything," she said. "I can give him something weeks ahead, and I know it's going to be done.

"He writes it all down in that book of his," said Irwin, adding if Robinson is gone for a day, he makes sure to leave his calendar in his mailbox.

Irwin said Robinson is a good representation of a conscientious school bus driver, and she "definitely appreciates the drivers."

So much so, she was planning to bring a cake to work for them today.

A fellow co-worker had other ideas, though.

Today also is Irwin's birthday, so Katherine Cobo -- a bus driver who also helps out in the transportation office -- told Irwin she was bringing the cake.

So Irwin planned another surprise for the drivers.

"I'll probably put some candy and a bus drivers' poem in their mailbox," she said. "(I) want them to know how much we appreciate them."