Counting bolts: Tommy's long ride
SNOWSHOE ? Tommy Evans stood atop the 4,848-foot mountain at
6:20 a.m., waiting for the bus to arrive, wearing a special badge so nobody
would lose him on the way to school.
He clutched his father?s hand. Wind sailed through the pine
boughs. Their dog, Jake, sniffed a trash can.
Tommy is learning the hard truth about rural education at an
early age. He?s 4 years old. He attended preschool at the elementary school in
Marlinton. He starts kindergarten Monday.
He travels 1 hour and 20 minutes each way to and from school.
He rides two buses, transferring at Slatyfork. He leaves at 6:30, returns home
at 4:40 in the afternoon.
?It?s hard on him, hard on any kid,? said Tommy?s father, Tom
Evans, who works in the Snowshoe bike shop.
Tommy?s mother, Joan, joined them at the top of the mountain.
She put her arm around Tommy?s shoulder, made sure he had gone to the bathroom.
Tommy hadn?t eaten breakfast. It was too early. He wasn?t
?When we came here we didn?t have Tommy,? Tom Evans
didn?t realize what was involved. If and when we move from this mountain, it
will be because of the long bus rides.?
A strobe light pierced the fog. A yellow bus rumbled up the
Tommy climbed on, slumped into his seat, waved out the window.
His father and mother waved back, blew him kisses, as the bus coasted down the
mountain, Tommy already fast asleep.
?The Snowshoe kids are so tired?
Parents in northern Pocahontas County want a new school. They
want a community school where their kids could ride their bikes and study
forests, streams and wildlife.
Intrawest, the company that owns Snowshoe Mountain Resort,
offered to donate land for the new school. Snowshoe officials said they
couldn?t recruit employees with children because of long bus rides.
Volunteers got in line. They invited nearby Randolph County
children to come to the school. Construction money would come from the state
School Building Authority.
The proposed 90-student school didn?t meet the SBA?s ?economies
of scale? guidelines, which require new schools to house at least 300 students.
But SBA officials said they would consider the school because it would promote
economic development and serve children from two counties.
?I can?t think of a better way to serve kids than to keep them
close to home,? said SBA Executive Director Clacy Williams last year.
But the school plans fizzled. Randolph County didn?t want to
kids means fewer dollars.
So, for now, and perhaps for a lifetime, Pocahontas County
children must endure long school bus rides. That?s all they?ll know.
?When they leave it?s dark. When they get home, it?s dark,?
Regina must put her children to bed early, about 7 p.m. She
picks out their clothes the night before. She dresses them each morning while
they?re still sleeping. She sometimes slips them a snack to eat on the bus.
?It?s such a long day,? said Erlwine, who works in sales at
Snowshoe. ?They don?t want to get up. They?re tired all the time.?
Becki Furbee?s 6-year-old son, Max, will enter the first grade
at Marlinton Elementary Monday. Last year, she sometimes received notes from
Max seems sleepy, the notes
?The teachers always tell us the Snowshoe kids are so tired. No
?The little ones say, ?I don?t want to go to school
tomorrow.? When I was young I loved school.?
Tommy Evans dashed through the spring rain and hopped into his
bus for the ride home. He sat in the front seat behind the driver.
The little children always sit near the front, the middle
Some children open books and try to read or tackle homework,
but it?s difficult on the bumpy, twisting ride. So boys play hand-held video
games, girls practice putting on lipstick.
?If you ride this two times a day, five days a week, man, it
gets old real fast,? said Seth Morgan, 8, a second-grader at Marlinton
Elementary. ?As soon as I get home, I eat, drink, do my homework, go to bed. I
don?t have time for anything else.?
Sometimes children urinate in their pants on the bus. Sometimes
?If they start to get sick, we know to get the trash can,? Seth
Around him, children used their fingers to scribble messages on
fogged windows. They typed ?7734? into a calculator, then flipped it upside
down to spell ?hell.?
The older children played ?truth or dare,? the younger
ones, ?bubble gum, bubble gum, in a dish.? There were games of ?mercy?
and ?scissors, paper, rock.?
?The first person to bleed is out,? said Hanna Giddings, 12, a
They also counted bolts.
They counted the bolts along a seam that seals two sections of
the bus roof.
?Everyone on the bus can tell you there are 46 bolts,? said
Alexa Furbee, 13, Becki Furbee?s daughter, who has been on the same grueling
bus run since kindergarten.
The bus splashed through Slatyfork, pulled up at a mobile home
park. A mother drove up on a lawn tractor to pick up her daughter, rain soaking
The bus barreled up Snowshoe Mountain, past the chairlifts and
out the window and smiled.
?Hey, hey, I?m almost home,? he
He was asked how long he rides the bus each day.
?It takes about eight hours,? he
To contact staff writers Eric Eyre and Scott Finn, use e-
mail or call 357-4323.