George Voracek never gave much thought to how long he’d drive bus for the Faribault School District. But after 50 years — 10 of them following his retirement, he said, “I still enjoy it.”
Voracek began driving for the bus service formerly known as Merrill and Wunderlich in 1969 and became a partner in the company in 1971. With the change in ownership, the bus service was renamed the Faribault School Bus Co. When Voracek’s brother-in-law Tom Merrill bought into his father’s business, the company became Faribault Transportation, as it’s known today.
“Other than the fact that the buses themselves have gotten so much nicer, I’d say the students are the same type of students,” said Voracek. “ … [I enjoy] the driving, and you get to know some of the students and interact with them.”
Although Voracek has worked for three different bus service companies over the course of his first decade as a bus driver, the employees and responsibilities remained the same. Voracek completed the majority of the maintenance and mechanical work while Merrill served as bookkeeper.
“[Tom] interacted with the drivers more so than I did,” said Voracek. “My function was to keep all the buses running.”
The daily repairs became second nature to Voracek, who did the oil changes, tire work and electrical maintenance for the buses. He and Merrill bought buses brand new and used them for 10 years before trading them in for other companies to buy.
Voracek’s job involved more than bus upkeep and driving, however.
“A lot of it is in the planning of the various routes and trying to get timetables set up so that everybody is accommodated at a decent time,” said Voracek. “You’ve got all the drivers training that goes on — all the drivers are certified by the state … Also in the fall of the year, all the school buses themselves are state inspected. I don’t know how many people really realize all that.”
In his 50 years of driving bus, Voracek encountered his worst weather conditions only this past spring, when a snowstorm came through around 3 p.m., in the same hour school dismissed. Unable to see ahead of him, Voracek needed to turn the bus around and bring students back to Faribault High School. Parents picked up the majority of the students while Faribault Transportation transferred others with four-wheel drive vehicles.
The weather, said Voracek, is definitely the most challenging aspect of being a bus driver.
“We have to be out there driving, and the weather is a major factor of how well we can perform our job,” said Voracek. “The drivers are super drivers, and they’re up to the challenge and they do come through quite well.”
Voracek and Merrill retired around the same time and sold their business nine years ago. Now, Garrett Regan owns and manages Faribault Transportation and does the routing work Voracek previously did.
“Personally, for me, when I came to town, George was an awesome person to have around,” said Regan. “… He’s continued to care if we have a question about the building [after retiring] and always comes through when needed.”
Since his retirement, Voracek has continued to drive bus on an as-needed basis. Although finding qualified drivers is a challenge, he said the Faribault School District is fortunate to get by with the number of drivers needed. However, he said Faribault Transportation is always looking for more drivers.
“It’s a big team,” said Voracek. “Everybody has to do their part of the team. We all work together to keep students as safe as we can to bring them to school and back home.”