Priscilla Allard of Durham drove to Freeport High School and to Durham Community School on Tuesday, Sept. 6, the first day of school, in a bus filled with kids – just as she has been doing in Durham since 1982, long before school consolidation with Freeport and Pownal.

At the time, Allard, who has lived on Rabbit Road since 1977, was the only bus driver hired by the town. It was before the days of the Durham Community School, when Durham Elementary School stood nearby. Even today, Allard drives the only Regional School Unit 5 bus that serves the school. Allard makes her first run at 6:40 a.m. in the bus she keeps in her yard, and ends her day at 4:15 p.m.

Allard, 63, grew up in Lewiston. She and her husband, Don, bought the land on Rabbit Road in ’75, and built a home there two years later. She has two children, Dawn, 37, and Ray, 41.

“When I started driving for Durham in 1982, it enabled me to be with my kids, my son being in second grade at the time and my daughter, who was 3, followed me on my routes and on field trips,” Allard said. “Being around them was surely a plus with this job.”

Retiring soon?

“It hasn’t hit me yet,”  she said. “I’m not sure when.”

Allard answered questions regarding her 34 years as a bus driver in Durham for the Tri-Town Weekly.

Q: You drive the only RSU 5 bus that serves Durham Community School. How did that all come about?

A: Before Durham consolidated, Durham owned one town bus for the school department. I started in 1982, the only bus driver hired by the town. Wesley Munn was contracted at that time until 1984, when Bo-Mar Transportation of Topsham was voted in and has been here ever since. Being the only school-hired bus driver, my job consisted of transporting students to and from school, all trips during the day and all co-curricular in the evening. It was great, always being around the activities the school provided. I have been blessed with my position, meeting great, understanding parents, working in the school with teachers and administration and other drivers, and obtaining a wonderful, meaningful relationship with many.

I have learned by them – my students, I will say my kids. Some are now grandparents, come up to me to say hello and talk after not seeing them for many years. There is an absolute priceless feeling when I’m approached by them.

Everything was personal – the mechanics I’ve had, down to the fire department and Cliff Larrabee, who was road commissioner at the time. When you’re on the road a lot, you need these people. They have been there for me, and I have a lot to thank them for. In my perspective, it was a small-town, Hallmark scenario.

Consolidating was a huge change. I have had adjustments come my way, but in the long run, it is working well for me. Again, I have met and now work with wonderful people in the RSU.

Q: How have buses changed in the last 30 years or so. Are they bigger? More comfortable?

A: The first bus I drove, a 66-passenger 1977 International, had no yellow master lights, just reds. I had to pull a nob for my stop sign to come out and my door was opened manually. I had an ax in case of emergency and a cigarette lighter with ashtray. Bus seats did not adjust and accommodate short drivers, like myself. Therefore, a wooden block was screwed to the gas pedal so I could reach. I don’t think that would pass today. Needless to say, they have changed. Of course, no ashtray or lighter. Acoustic ceiling for noise level. Air-ride seats that are easily adjustable. I now have a 71-passenger bus with a pilot switch that when activated checks all my lights individually when I do my pre-check. Before, I would do my left blinker, go out and check, come back in and put right blinker and go out. The pilot switch does this for me. I do love this.

Q: Some school districts are having a difficult time holding onto bus drivers. What’s the biggest challenge of this job?

A: I think the biggest challenge other drivers have is they do not work for the Durham School Department. Period.

Q: Now that students have their noses buried in mobile devices, is it quieter on buses these days?

A: Mostly high school students will listen to their music. I don’t see mobile devices for elementary. Some days are quieter than others. Acoustic ceilings are a huge help with keeping the noise level down.

Q: What is your route, and how many miles per day? When do you leave them off and when do you pick them up?

A: I travel many roads around Durham. My route for high school pick-up and drop-off and elementary are all different. I drive approximate 81-90 miles in a normal day. I start my pick-up for high school around 6:40 and usually end my day around 4:15 depending on the weather.

Priscilla Allard of Durham wears a sweatshirt given to her years ago by Melody Bertrand in appreciation of how Allard treated Bertrand’s children on the Regional School Unit 5 bus. Allard, who has transported Durham students for 34 years, keeps the bus parked in her Rabbit Road yard.

Priscilla Allard of Durham is comfortable in the driver’s seat of Regional School Unit bus No. 29. Allard has been transporting Durham students to school for 34 years.