Bus drivers reflect on a career of service

Catherine and Frank Comeau pose with a gift they received from Sturgeon School Division for nearly 50 years service as bus drivers. The Couple sold their bus line two years ago and are planning a new business near Riviére Qui Barre.

– Stephen Dafoe photo

by Stephen Dafoe

Sturgeon County – Riviére Qui Barre residents Frank and Catherine Comeau were recently recognized by the Sturgeon School Division for 47 years of service in providing school bus services to children. The honour has caused the couple to reflect back on nearly five decades of getting students to and from school.

“I got into bussing a year before I was married,” Frank Comeau said of starting out 48 years ago. “I bought one bus and then within a year or two I bought another bus. Within 10 years we had 13 buses. The longest contract was with Sturgeon School Division and that was 48 years. I got a beautiful award for that.”

Mr. Comeau estimates he logged close to one million miles over his bussing career, a career that started out of the blue. In 1965 Comeau came upon a man in Morinville that was selling a bus. The rest was history. “I liked it,” he said of driving that first year. “It just kind of parlayed from there.”

Comeau said when he started in bussing in the mid 1960s guaranteed work came with the bus. “I bought the bus and the contract. In those days you had to buy both. Not no more. Now you can’t buy or sell a contract,” he said. “It wasn’t great paying. I can remember negotiating a three-year contract for $2 the first year, a dollar the second year, and a dollar the third per day. That’s 47 years ago. I made about $800 a month with wages out of that. But expenses were cheap. Everything was cheap. Gas was 25 cents a gallon in those days.

The Comeaus sold their company, Comeau Bus Lines in 2012 to a man who had driven for them for a couple years. At that time the couple had three buses remaining in their fleet.

Plenty of change

Being recognized for their long service as bus operators, Frank and Catherine have had opportunity to reflect on how bussing has changed over the past five decades.

“Bussing has changed so much, it’s unbelievable,” Comeau remarked. “In the old days if a kid did something wrong you could make him sit on the step. If you did that today they’d charge you. You have a hard time even making him sit in the front seat. If the parent really complains hard to the school board if I say they’re going to stay there for a week, they’ll phone me and say just two days. It’s unreal today.”

Catherine Comeau’s role in the family business doing the company books and driving buses. She too has seen changes in the business over that time. “It seemed then the parents were behind you,” she recalled. “Now there’s so many rules and regulations.”

But beyond matters of on-the-bus discipline, the Comeau’s said bus technology and safety has greatly improved for the better. “It used to be one inspection a year, in July or August” Mr. Comeau said. “Now it’s twice a year and it’s good. It’s an excellent idea.”

The couple also grew canola, barley, wheat, and hay, the latter for the cows and pigs they once kept. Now the couple go south for the winter and are planning to open an RV storage on property they own in Sturgeon County. “It’s going to be five acres,” Comeau said of his new business venture. “It’s a half mile north of Qui Barre on Highway 44. It’s going to have 200 stalls just for storing.”

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