Bus drivers slide into shape for new school year

It looked like something a stunt crew would set up for a Hollywood film.

The car came zooming down the straightaway, attempted to turn around a sharp corner, and instead did a 360-degree spin before coming to a quick halt.

It was only once the four-door sedan stopped spinning you noticed something a little odd about it.

Instead of two tires on the back end, the car is raised up on two wheels jutting out from the side. Resembling oversized shopping cart wheels, they cause the back end of the car to start sliding with every tap of the breaks and every turn of the steering wheel.

No stunt car drivers were behind the wheel, but those who were driving needed skills just as important.

On a sunny August afternoon every Hood River County School District bus driver was getting practice at a skill which could come in handy four or five months from now.

“It’s alright as long as you keep focused,” said rookie bus driver Paul Askins of being behind the wheel of the car. “But as soon as you don’t, just like that you can go out of control.”

The bus drivers should know; they are tasked driving vehicles over 20 feet long crammed with children through a variety of weather conditions.

Last winter, during one of the worst ice storms in recent memory, one bus slid off the road on Highway 35 pinning the driver as she attempted to repair a broken chain. Toward the end of the storm drivers dropped kids off at school, only to have to return shortly thereafter to pick them up and get them home after a snowstorm rolled in.

While it may not quite match up with the experience of driving a massive bus crammed with children, Wednesday’s practice session gave the drivers, particularly those who had never dealt with sliding on ice before, what the experience was like.

District Transportation Supervisor Cindy Simms said that the school district has no buses set up to do skid training, and that while the Bend-La Pine School District has a large truck it uses for the training, it was not available on the day Hood River County had scheduled.

Molly Barber, a driver with five years’ experience, said she was looking forward to the practice.

“I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve slid or where I’ve gotten out of control,” she said.

As a special education driver, she goes all over the county, from Cascade Locks to Parkdale, and knows she could face a range of weather on during the school year — or during a single day.

Some drivers struggled early on the tight course in the front parking lot at Wy’east Middle School, with tires squealing in anguish as the car slid through 90, 180 or 360 degree spins.

Some clipped cones that were set up around the course. But that was the whole point of having the training session now, instead of in the middle of winter.

Others, like Askins, took to the sliding car like a fish to water and brought the car smoothly to halt after each skid. He credited his experience driving for Dominos in the middle of the winter for his good skid driving skills.

The rookie driver is already predicting they will be needed.

“Since this is my first year,” he laughed. “You know it will be a hard winter.”

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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