Terlingua students taking last bus rides into Alpine

© 1996, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: Now this feature article, from the March 7, 1996, edition of the Alpine Avalanche, really is dredging up an historical event: the discontinuance of a nearly 90-mile bus ride for school students residing in the southern-most tip of our huge county to schools in Alpine.

The cessation of that barely endurable round-trip, in fact, was so long ago that I hesitated a while before deciding to present it to your most-tolerant eyes, dear readers. What I believe preserves its readability is the humorous anecdotal content as well as the way the students coped with their daily torture. I salute those now-adult heroes and heroines!

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Next fall some high school students residing in Terlingua no longer will get up way before dawn to make the two-hour bus ride to Alpine.

“We’ve got a few rocks turned over,” says Terlingua School Supt. Jack Probst, referring to his district’s planned high school building.  However, he adds, “There might be one or two seniors who will want to keep on going to Alpine.”

Melody Clarke has been driving the Terlingua bus route for nearly five years.  Her husband, Robert, accompanies her as monitor.  The Clarkes live in Terlingua and keep the bus there overnight, so they actually have to make the 89.7-mile trip only twice a day, AISD Transportation Supervisor Larry Taylor points out.

“We start out at 5:40 with twenty-two kids in the elementary school in Study Butte,” says Robert Clarke, “and we get here at the elementary about 7:40 — give or take two or three minutes.”  Of course, at 6 a.m. the claims of sleep have not surrendered.  “The students will have their blankets and pillows with them,” says Taylor.

On the way the Clarkes pick up one student at Gate 7 of Terlingua Ranch, a second at the main entrance, a third at Black Mesa, three more at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Preserve, and the rest at ranches along the way—the last student one and a half miles south of Alpine.

Besides the highway distance itself, some students live a few miles from the bus stops on ranch roads. However, Alpine School Supt. Wayne Milligan points out that those parents who have to drive their children two miles or more to reach the highway are reimbursed for mileage by the state.

Even with the high school built in Terlingua, the route will still be a lengthy one, since the Alpine ISD extends all the way to a point just south of Pack Saddle Mountain and north of Hen Egg Mountain—roughly two-thirds the present route. Also, some students, especially high school seniors, might elect to continue at Alpine, which they may do if their parents pay tuition, says Milligan.

Of the thirty-two now being bused, five go to Alpine Elementary and the rest go to the high school.

Fortunately, during the past two years only two mechanical problems have happened along the Terlingua route.  “Last year there was trash in the fuel tank,” Taylor recalls. “We ended up having to change out the tank.”  He sent another bus to pick up the kids, and they were about an hour and a half late.  “Actually, they were going home,” Taylor notes.

Then, at the beginning of this year, an ignition module broke down.  “That’s one of those things that give no warning,” says Taylor. He attributes the infrequency of vehicle problems to the fact that “we look for problems rather than wait for them to happen.”

The bus is equipped with a cellular phone, but there are areas along the road where its range is limited because of the mountains. In those cases, the Clarkes have to stop a passing vehicle and ask the driver to go to the nearest phone for them. If they are lucky, that passing vehicle will be the Border Patrol or the telephone company, which will have a radio telephone.

Melody Clarke says her biggest problem on the bus is due to nature.  “We’ve got quite a few of the high school students who are noticing the opposite sex,” she says. “We have to keep the ones who are dating—or even real friendly—separated to prevent any incidents.  “That’s a real problem,” she points out. “I’ve got twenty-two high school students and five sets of friends, so that can involve half of them, and the bus is not that large.”

Moreover, all but five of the students are related to one another at least as cousins. Melody Clarke tries to explain: “B is related to A on his mother’s side and to C on his dad’s. Then C is related to B on his dad’s side and he’s related to D on his mom’s side, but he’s not related to A at all, but C is related to both of them, and D is not related A or B but is related to C. So, you’ve got four that are related through cousinships.”

Got that?

One problem that all the interrelatedness causes is that discipline issues reverberate throughout the community. “The kids tattle on each other when they get home,” says Melody Clarke, “and because they’re related it eventually gets back to their parents.”

And, of course, there are occasional squabbles on the bus.  “I’ve had to turn in discipline sheets to principals, and they’ve handled them,” she says. “One or two students have been suspended from the bus for a period of time.”

The most memorable agitation wasn’t caused by the students, however, but by Melody Clarke.  “About three or four years ago there was a family of skunks crossing the highway, and I ran over them,” she recalls. “Their skunk smell permeated the bus, and the other kids at school stayed away from the bus kids, accusing them of bathing in skunk perfume. The smell didn’t stay in the bus, and the blankets aired out okay, but they had to throw away about three pillows.

“The kids were mad at me at the time, but we laugh about it now,” she says.

— Alpine Avalanche, March 7, 1996

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