Driving a school bus in Ibapah for 44 years has played a central role in shaping the life of Kyle Bateman. So, too, has the remote landscape of Ibapah in southwestern Tooele County where family, friends and neighbors are one.
To find the setting for Bateman’s hometown, drive west on Interstate 80 across the Great Salt Lake Desert to the Bonneville Salt Flats and Wendover. Turn onto US Highway 93 at the casinos and head south. Many miles later, turn left onto Ibapah Road and embrace the risk of wild horses on blind curves. Then, like a rustic Emerald City of Oz, Ibapah Valley appears with the majestic Deep Creek Mountains as a backdrop.
This place of approximately 150 residents and 168 road miles from Tooele City, is where Bateman took the job with the Tooele County School District that turned into a habit.
A school bus in front marks Bateman’s home and ranch, which is located directly north of Ibapah Elementary School. His home, the bus, and the school nearby seem like an extension of Bateman’s 1,700-acre ranch. He and some of his grown children live in modernized homes originally built by his great-grandparents who homesteaded there in 1872 to ranch and operate the telegraph.
His family’s life envelops the school. Bateman’s parents worked there, and he and his wife, Ranae Bateman, drive bus, maintain the school, and fill in wherever needed. Ranae Bateman is his substitute bus driver.
“Ranae works all summer long keeping the lawns and stuff. I couldn’t do it without her,“ Bateman said about the school’s grass.
When Bateman started school in Ibapah in the 1950s, the school’s two bathrooms were two-seater outhouses. Now the toilets are indoors, and the 38 students, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade, attend Ibapah Elementary. Two teachers, two aids, a cook and the Batemans staff the school.
The students come from White Pine County, Nevada; Juab County, Utah; and Tooele County. Bateman drives the bus a total of 50 miles a day, which breaks down to a morning and afternoon bus run of 25 miles each. The run covers both Juab and Tooele counties, serves 24 students, and takes an hour to complete.
“I drive the elementary bus, which has fit very well with ranching, because I get up in the morning, I do a few chores, then jump on the bus and do my route,” Bateman said. “It’s the normal thing for me. I don’t really know if it’s a job or a habit because I’ve done it so long.”
A scrapbook Bateman has kept since 1974 testifies to his “habit.” Students give him their school pictures for the book. In addition, they request help with their homework and that he ask their parents to be nice. He said some of the students have asked him how old he was when he was their age.
“I answered I was just the same age as you,” Bateman said.
Otherwise, when age comes up, Bateman tells them he is 39.
Generally, Bateman knows all the kids. This year there are six new kindergartners whose names he will learn fast.
“But, after 39, it’s harder,” he said.
Bateman has driven three generations of students — grandparents, their children, and their grandkids, but he thinks it is unlikely he will drive their great-grandchildren. Sometimes he slips and calls a student by a relative’s name.
Bateman’s career started in December 1972 when health issues kept the previous driver, Louis Moon, from fulfilling the route. Bateman was 21 and Woody Fillmore, who was the school district’s director of transportation, offered him a temporary job driving bus for Ibapah Elementary School. Bateman recalls Fillmore gave him the bus keys permanently on Jan. 5, 1973.
In 1972, the buses had manual transmissions, and the dirt road was poor. Sometimes, Bateman drove in “compound,” or first gear, all the way up the main road because it was so muddy. That road is paved now.
“Now it’s automatics and much easier,” Bateman said.
He changed all the flat tires on the bus, as well, which were a result of rut-filled dirt roads.
“It’s no easy task on a bus,” he said. “You have to jack it up and take all the lugs off by hand. Now they’ll [the school district] come and get it.”
Somehow, Bateman managed to change the tires without the kids on the bus. Now, he makes a daily bus inspection, but the school district does the maintenance.
In addition, weather conditions can be a challenge, Bateman said. Sometimes the temperature drops to 30-35 below zero, and snow creates a whiteout. But, a county road man plows Bateman’s bus route first, so snow days are rare.
“Even when I think they called it off in Tooele County School District, we didn’t hear about it until after school started,” Bateman said. “So, we just have school.”
Dark winter mornings create a challenge as well, especially with braking.
“On my bus route, I’ve stopped for kids, and cars and 90-plus-year-old drivers, elk, antelope, deer, horses, cows, sheep, sage hens, eagles, and last year, I stopped for wild turkeys,” Bateman said.
He said nothing more serious than a nosebleed has occurred on his watch, and if someone feels sick on field trips, “we usually provide a good garbage can for them.”
The Batemans both participated in the 2017-18 bus driver training in August. The district requires a certain amount of training hours annually, which include CPR, first aid, bullying, child abuse and harassment.
“We go through more trainings than the teachers do,” Kyle Bateman said.
Bus rules are simple: sit down, hands and objects stay inside the bus, open windows only halfway and pick up the garbage. Also, Bateman uses a seating chart to accommodate parents’ seating requests and solve some problems as well. Still, some days he moves rambunctious students up front.
“I can give them the look in the mirror, and I can look pretty serious and stuff,” Bateman said. “Basically they’re good kids.”
Unlike other bus routes in the U.S., students do not bring cell phones or request to stop at the store because Ibapah Valley has neither cell phone service nor a store.
However, Bateman has noticed changes. In the 70s, children from the nearby Goshute Indian Reservation would hang back, stand behind adults and mostly be quiet. But when the area’s tribal center came, it generated economic and cultural improvements.
Now the children speak up in front of people, partly because their teacher has produced plays and programs that have encouraged the children to express themselves.
In addition to his regular route, Bateman drives the bus for school field trips. He has chauffeured students to the Utah State Capitol, Lagoon, the army base in Wendover, on ski trips, and to the pentathlon at West Desert High School in the Tintic School District.
“One trip that stands out is the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony of the Olympics, since many of the Goshute children danced in the ceremonies,” Bateman said.
After 44 years behind a bus wheel, Bateman now takes the future of his career one year at a time. Yet, most of all, he enjoys being actively engaged with the community.
Bateman said driving bus for the school district provides good insurance, great people to work for and with, but more importantly, it gives him a chance to serve the community.
It has also made him the school district’s longest-running bus driver, which has garnered him the school district’s Support Professional of the Year award twice, once in 2006 and last year.
As for driving a school bus for more than four decades, he said, “I think it’s nice to have structure, and being around kids. I guess I enjoy being around people, as well as my cows.”