Behind the lines: Heroes of the Highway

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    I thoroughly enjoyed my three years teaching and coaching at the start of my career in Lusk, but there were things that annoyed me. In looking back it’s hard to believe how cheap the administration was toward the teachers in that district.

    As coaches, we had to drive the team bus. It was a requirement that we all get a Class B license so we could drive a full 66-passenger bus to away games.


    Football and basketball weren’t bad. Our athletic director Dick Price had his sons Rich and Tom on the teams, and he drove to many exotic locals such as Burns, Saratoga, and Hanna.

    In track, I drove the bus to the meet, coached all day, then drove the team home.

    In our modern era of instant litigation, I’m sure those clowns in the front office at the Niobrara County School District would have other ideas today, but that was the 80s.

    Other activities had bus drivers, but not athletics and we weren’t paid anything extra to drive.


    A good bus driver is worth their weight in gold, and I’m proud to say I had some outstanding drivers over the years. I also had the chance to get to know a few from other schools who were just as dynamic.

    As a kid, our drivers were always Walt Westling or John Rowland. Both of those guys were outstanding.

    Walt was the father of my friends Wally, Jerry, and Dave and was always eager to watch his sons play.


    John was the bus supervisor and a classic hard case towards teenage boys. A hard case on the surface, but with a heart of gold underneath.

    John had one of those “old guy” iron stomachs, akin to a bag of cement. He often egged us on to “give me your best shot.” We would punch him hard in the stomach and he would just grin.

    Years later, when I was coaching at Shoshoni, and he was in the stands at Morton he confided to me after I asked him about how he could take a punch like that.


    “It almost killed me,” John said. “But I wasn’t going to let you little punks know you could hurt me.”

    At Shoshoni we had a bevy of outstanding drivers, men, and women who could get a team to and from a game safely, and on time, no matter the conditions.

    Roy and Twila Maxson, Kathy McCoy, Jeannie Cooper, Roscoe Haggerty, and Shirley Anderson all did the job with calm confidence and never failed the team.

    Roy went beyond being just a driver on many long nights traveling down the Big Horn Basin in sub-zero temperatures after a tough game in Lovell, Byron, Greybull, or Basin.

    After a close loss in Lovell my first year, I was downtrodden. We fed the team in Worland. The boys, the cheerleaders, my assistant Harold Bailey, and the best cheerleader sponsor to ever walk the earth, Rita Isabel, were all asleep.

    I leaned over the metal bar just behind Roy’s seat and took in a little wisdom.

    “You’re doing things right coach,” Roy said. “Just remember, everybody plays their best against Shoshoni.”

    When we won the state championship two months later, Harold ordered two extra gold medals and the boys gave them to Rita and Roy.

    Twila was as steady as they came, driving a little under the speed limit and never hitting the brakes or varying from her cadence. She was a peach of a driver.

    Kathy was fun. The Lysite gal with the long braids and the friendly smile, drove my junior high teams all over Fremont County, and her stories of ranching and summer cow camp were music to my ears.

    Roscoe could get you there fast if you needed it. If you gave him a time to be in Greybull, Dubois, or Burlington he arrived to the second.

    On one trip the boys had a boom box in the back of the bus playing music Roscoe didn’t care for. He gave me a pained look and I told him I’d take care of it on the next trip.

    When we loaded for a trip to Byron I put “Marty Robbins Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs” into the cassette player and told the boys to turn off their boom boxes. The guys didn’t like it, but Roscoe sure did.

    The trip after that the rear of the bus was dotted with headphones. Problem solved.

    Jeannie had been an outstanding athlete in her day, and she enjoyed watching her sons and daughter play. She was always fun to talk to, catching up on events in the valley and around the school.

    Shirley didn’t say much, she was the silent type but when she did bring up a subject, it was both interesting and entertaining to listen to her.

    A stable of the best drivers a coach could ask for, and each had a sport they preferred.

    Wyoming Indian had a pair of excellent drivers that I got to know over the years.

    Gary Medicine Cloud, Sr. was a character. He always had a unique view of things and picked up a few of my players over the years to play in independent tournaments with the Chiefs. My boys loved it.

    Chuck Aragon was another great guy to talk to when Wyoming Indian was on the road, or at Alfred Redman gym. He was always quick with a funny comment or observation.

    Gary passed away a few years ago, and Chiefs Nation is still mourning Chuck’s recent passing.

    One afternoon it was snowing hard at Arapaho. I was coaching the Falcon Middle School Boys basketball team, and we had a game at Dubois after school.

    I called Dubois a couple of times and was assured the roads were dry and the storm was only on our end of the valley.

    Suffice it to say, the person who told me this will never work for the National Weather Service. The roads were OK to Crowheart, but a blizzard raged all the way to Dubois.

    We played the A game and called it good.

    John Bushyhead was our driver.

    With the storm raging outside, John calmly drove the bus down the valley. We passed many pickups and cars high centered on the side of the road, but John never let the bus slide, slip, or make any sudden stops.

    He was a true professional and I think of his skill each time I take to the road in less than desirable conditions.

    Good men and women, doing a job that few people notice, but that needs to be done for the game to go on, and more importantly, for the safety of the kids.


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