Was Laramie’s first school bus a Model T? We may never know for sure, but the Early family of Laramie claimed their mom was the first school bus driver, and that was her transportation.
C.A. and Lida Early lived on the Fred Wahl ranch, south and east of Ft. Sanders. There was no rural school in the area for their three oldest children, Edith, Carl and Burton. Family history doesn’t say which Laramie school they were assigned to in 1916, but it was probably the East Side School, now part of the Laramie Plains Civic Center at 8th and Garfield. (Nellie Isles School on the south side of Laramie wasn’t built until 1920.)
Lida Early started out in 1916 driving her children to school in a “light spring wagon with hay in the bed and a horsehide robe to keep out the wind and snow,” as her youngest son, Keith Early, now deceased, recalled.
After about a year with the horse wagon, Mrs. Early bought a Model T Ford to use for the school route. The school board offered to pay her if she would pick up two neighboring children to bring to town also. She is commemorated as the first Albany County school bus driver today by the photo below prominently hanging in the Albany County School District #1 Transportation Director’s office showing Lida in her car.
The trip was undoubtedly exciting. Keith recalled that Lida did not follow roads necessarily, but rather set off across fields and pastures, taking the shortest, most direct route and weaving between snow drifts to collect the children.
The Early family moved to two different rural locations, but Lida kept on providing motorized transportation in her Ford to Laramie schools for her own and neighborhood children. One route was from a dairy farm in West Laramie, past what is now the Wyoming Territorial Prison and Historic Site, and probably ending at the West Side School, now the Lincoln Community Center. Eventually the Early family moved to a ranch near Lake Hattie, but rented a cabin past West Laramie to live in during the week so the kids could go to school, with Lida still providing transportation.
In 1920, Lida upgraded to a Dodge touring car which is the one pictured here and on the wall of Transportation Director Jeff Lewis’ office. The records don’t show how many students she transported, but she may have enabled some families to stay together on a ranch rather than mothers and their children moving to town for weekdays during the school year, a typical solution for ranch families then and now for more isolated children.
Today, according to Lewis, the school district employs about 60 school bus drivers plus 40 bus aides who ride along to assure that the driver keeps all attention on the road. There are over 60 school buses, including several used for special occasions like field trips. The fleet also includes 12 support vehicles. Every day, these drivers travel a total of 3,500 miles on 47 dedicated routes, about the distance diagonally across the United States, from Seattle, Washington to Key West, Florida.
From a start of 5 students transported by Lida, there are now about 1,200 students transported daily in Albany County by school buses. Interestingly, on a typical day last week, the count showed 906 students picked up in the morning, and 1,200 delivered home in the afternoon. Some parents evidently come to town in the mornings but are still working when school is out.
Lida Early would be astonished to see what her legacy has been to Albany County rural school transportation.
By Judy Knight
Caption: Lida Early c. 1920, bundled up in furs as she drives her second “school bus”, an open Dodge touring car. She broke so many chains on the route she took delivering five children to school, that she resorted to wrapping logging chains around the tires and fastening them to the wooden spokes of her wheels. Photo courtesy of Early family