Quest in Roots:
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THE SCHOOL VANS
When the Brookdale Consolidated School District was formed around 1915, it was necessary to institute a method of transportation to bring the students from the surrounding rural areas into the village. I suppose it could be said that the vehicle to be used was an updated version of the covered wagon of the old west. They were generally called caravans, therefore the term "vans" was aptly applied. The district secured a fleet of seven vans to serve the same number of routes.
The vans were constructed with light wagons, or sleighs for winter, on which was mounted a carriage built with seats along the two sides facing each other. For summer the upper sides were open but could be quickly covered with roll-down canvas curtains in case of rain. During the winter solid sides were mounted to keep out snow and wind. At this time, also, foot-warmers and heavy robes were supplied for more warmth. This was quite necessary in severely cold weather as many children had to travel as much as 10·12or more miles one way each day.
The van drivers were well known and respected residents of the district. They became drivers by submitting applications for the job to the school board. Some drivers gave service for many years as they were well located on a route. Names that I can remember were: Jack Wilson, Frank Gowan, Jim Gowan, George Buck, The Hockin brothers, Walter Christensen, Ken Boles, Jens Vinthers and Percy Chudley. There were others whose names I can not recall.
The drivers paid particular attention to their horses, for they had to be sturdy and well-kept for the arduous journeys. There was usually the one main team, but always a back-up team to use as needed. Timing the journey was important, so there was no dawdling on the way. In later years, low canvas covered vans complete with little pot-bellied stoves took the place of the original models during the winter months.
Scarves, touques and mitts were discarded while in transit, and in this comfortable environment, one could play cards or do a little homework. About this time too, and where the roads and passenger load permitted, some drivers found it expedient to use their cars.
There were numerous little incidents with the vans, and one, in particular, is still vivid in my memory.
I think it was 1924 in December and no snow had appeared, but some rain had fallen making the roads quite icy in places. Using the high wheeled van, Jack Wilson, our driver, had picked up the Switzer boys, Clarence and Geordie (Irene and Leila were ill and remained at home) and the four Layng children, and was proceeding to Ryan''s place to pick up Kathleen, Paddy and Ava. As we were crossing the grade near Ed Evans'' place one of the horses slipped on the ice and fell, pulling the other horse down thus causing the van to lurch. It fell on its side in the ditch depositing everyone inside in a heap. Mr. Wilson and the boys were all in the front of the van and I could hear my brother Bill hollering "Get off me, Get off me!" "I can''t, I can''t Bill," called Mr. Wilson. Finally, without having sustained any injuries, we all managed to crawl out and could see Mr. Evans and Mr. Ryan coming across their fields to help us. On arriving they saw that one horse was badly injured having gashed its side open, somehow I was dispatched to Ryan''s to get flour to stop the bleeding, a large needle and strong grocery twine with which to stitch the injury to the horse.
I do not recall how the van was righted, but it was, and luckily no part was damaged.
We were soon on our way again to gather the rest of the van load - Robert, Ruby and Ruth Gowan, Steve Moffatt and Allan Brown, and were not too late for school or practicing for the Christmas Concert.
The injured horse was taken to the veterinarian for further treatment and was given a few weeks off to recover.
The only loss incurred was Elmer Layng''s lunch and Mrs. Ryan kindly replaced that.
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