Submitted Bartley has driven bus No. 38 since he started his career, and the school system plans to retire that number following his retirement.

Submitted

Bartley has driven bus No. 38 since he started his career, and the school system plans to retire that number following his retirement.

For three generations of Red Boiling Springs Elementary School students, few faces are more familiar than Doyle Bartley's.

"Mr. Doyle" has been busing the RBS Little Dogs to school for 45 years while watching his family grow up, and he is set to retire this year to spend more time with them and tend to his farmland.

"I started driving the bus the year my daughter started school, and later, I drove my granddaughter," Bartley said. "If I was working next year, I could have driven my great-granddaughter, who's in pre-K right now, so Rick (Taylor, the county schools' transportation supervisor) said I could bring her and let her ride the bus one day."

Taylor also successfully nominated Bartley for a place in the Tennessee School Bus Driver Hall of Fame, with induction set for June.

"You've got to have at least 45 years of service and a good driving record," Taylor said of the award criteria. "I also had to write an essay about (Bartley's) character. He takes care of his kids, respects his kids, and they respect him."

The Tennessee Association of Pupil Transportation's (TAPT) School Bus Driver Hall of Fame was established in 2013 to honor long-time employees from across the state, and Taylor sees Bartley as a perfect fit.

"I first started here in 1992 as a mechanic, and I've never heard a cross word from him in any form or fashion," Taylor said. "They'd always tell us in meetings, 'Everybody can drive a bus, but not everybody can be a bus driver.' Mr. Bartley was a great bus driver."

Early on, Bartley was far more experienced driving log and cattle trucks than he was driving his bus, which he practiced with over a weekend after being hired the Friday before school started.

"I was a farmer, and I lived on Oak Grove Road," Bartley said. "Our county commissioner, Glen Kirby, came out there one morning and asked if I'd take the job driving the school bus. I said, 'I don't need that. I've got too much to do.' He said, 'Your daughter's starting school this year, ain't she? You know you want a good driver on there.'"

However, Bartley settled into the role quickly and became a fixture at Red Boiling Springs Elementary.

"On the first day, the kids were real quiet," Bartley said. "They'd get on the bus, and I'd hear 'em whispering back there, 'Who's the new bus driver?' You could hear a pin drop on there. But first full day of school, when they turned 'em out that afternoon, they were just wild. It sounded like the whole top was coming off the bus, and I said a little prayer … 'Lord, let me get this thing home, and somebody else will drive it.' I made it home, and I thought, 'I'll try it again,' and here I am 45 years later."

In addition to driving his elementary route, Bartley began taking high-school students to vocational school in April of 1987. Community members still recognize Bartley around town today and will often share stories from their time on his bus.

"There's a girl that works down at the Quik-N-Easy (Market) on the corner who rode my bus, and she was talking about how one time her and her little sister was getting on," Bartley said. "Her little sister fell and got her clothes dirty … she was crying, so I asked her if she could get back in her house and ran them back so she could change her clothes. She said that really meant something to her."

RBS Elementary Principal Michael Owens is one of many people who grew up riding Bartley's bus, and that experience left an impression.

"I've known him since I was a kid," Owens said. "He got onto us when we needed getting on to, and I respected him ... still do. We'd stop at the grocery store some, and we'd have water fights on the last day of school. Those are some of the awesome memories I have of riding Bus 35."

Owens added that Bartley is a professional co-worker with a reputation for fairness and taking care of the children on his bus.

"A parent called up here once and said, 'Mr. Doyle said this to my kid,'" Owens recalled. "I told her, 'Ma'am, I just can't believe that … Mr. Doyle was my bus driver. I've known him my whole life, and he would never say that to a kid.' Come to find out, it was a substitute bus driver, and it wasn't Doyle driving. I think everyone that knows (Bartley) would agree that he drives with his heart, not by the book."

Bartley had actually planned to retire a few years earlier, but positive relationships with both co-workers and parents encouraged him to continue.

"One reason I've drove as long as I have is that I've had a good bunch of parents," Bartley said. "I've lived right where I'm living now for 72 years and drove the same route (for 45). A lot of these kids I'm hauling now I've hauled their parents and grandparents even. A few years ago, I could have changed routes, but I said, 'Those people have trusted me this many years to haul their kids, and I don't want to quit now.'"

Through that commitment to his route, Bartley has built lasting connections with students and families that will remain even as he prepares for retirement.

"Last year, I had this girl on the vocational bus," Bartley said. "My wife and I had been married 50 years, and she came to our anniversary party … had on her card how much she appreciated riding the vocational bus and that every morning, no matter how bad she felt, when she got on there it just made her day feel better. Or when you have a little kindergartener or first-grader hug your neck when they get off the bus, it lets you know they appreciate you, and that's the most rewarding part of it."