Big wheels keep on rollin: After 32 years, Ray hands keys to fourth generation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 16, 2007

She steps off the long, yellow school bus, and her waist barely comes above the oversized Good Year tires. But her laugh spills out, full and contagious, filling the parking lot.

For the past 32 years, Nancy Ray has shuttled children to and from Wilsonville Elementary and Shelby County High schools. The Wilsonville native, who has also worked in the Shelby County High School cafeteria for 23 years, said she&8217;s just part of a family tradition.

&8220;[My granddaddy] started driving in the late 30s,&8221; Ray said of the late Charlie Hughes. &8220;He had an ol&8217; flatbed truck, and it had seats on the side. I don&8217;t remember, but he probably just started doing it because the kids didn&8217;t have another way. We just lived in a small community; I guess he just started picking up the kids.&8221;

Things changed a little when the county took over the bus system, but her family remained. Her father, Tom Morris, drove occasionally and served as the system&8217;s fuel pump operator, and her mother, Annie

Morris drove for 40 years, finally retiring at age 70.

At the end of this school year, eight years shy of her mother&8217;s tenure and seven shy of her mother&8217;s retirement age, Ray, also, will turn in her keys.

&8220;I&8217;m going to miss the kids,&8221; Ray said. &8220;I&8217;ve had good students, good parents.&8221;

She&8217;s driven the same route, which she said starts just up from her house, nearly all her career. Like clockwork, as she has for more than three decades, she wakes up at 5 a.m. and pulls the bus away at 6:40 a.m. She picks up and delivers the elementary school students by 7:15 a.m. and then carries a busload of high-schoolers to Columbiana by 8 a.m. At 2:30 p.m., she returns to her bus and, like pushing rewind, repeats her morning in reverse.

Ray estimated she drives about 60 students a day. As both the elementary and high school bus driver, she gets to watch most of them grow up.

&8220;You meet so many kids in so many years.

When you haul them year, by year, by year, they&8217;re the same ones. They get on the bus and they say, &8216;We love you Mrs. Ray. We don&8217;t want you to retire,&8221; she said. &8220;I wish over the years I&8217;d kept a ledger of all the children.&8221;

Driving the bus surrounded Ray with young people and provided excitement during field trips and bad weather. She remembered, &8220;We were at school and we had a big – I mean a big – storm, come in from the Clanton area. When I left here, it was maybe 6 inches of snow on the ground. It was scary, but we made it fine.&8221;

Daughter Dolly Traywick, who often rode the bus with her mother even before she started school, recalled the story, or a similar one, differently.

&8220;It was snowing and there was snow all over the road,&8221; Traywick said. We just slid off into the ditch and we had to get the mechanics to come get us.&8221;

Traywick continues the now four-generation tradition, as she began driving for Shelby County seven years ago.

&8220;It&8217;s fun working with her,&8221; Ray said. &8220;She parks her bus at my house, so we leave together.&8221;

That&8217;s one difference Ray said she will have to get used to. &8220;I&8217;ll see one bus in front of my house, not two.&8221;

Ray said she&8217;ll consider returning to drive as a substitute, but for now, she&8217;s ready to enjoy retirement with husband, Kenneth, and spend time with their five grandchildren.

&8220;It&8217;s been an enjoyable job,&8221; she said, &8220;but it&8217;s time. You come to that point in life when you know it&8217;s time,&8221; Ray said