Peninsula Genealogical Society

    Peninsula Genealogical Society - Door Co. WI



Story by Leon LONG

updated 23 Mar 2010

Lee LONG has consented to share his historical vignette on the PGS Website complete with some great pictures and stories of life going to and from school in the Town of Sevastopol during the 1920's and 1930's.  We wish to thank him for his wonderful contribution!


If you can recognize any of the people in the pictures below, please let us know - PGS at [email protected] .




Early School Buses


Sevastopol Consolidated School

Door County, Wisconsin

Above: Lee remembers these folks in the picture:

 In the bus-left to right:

_?_, _?_, _?_, _?_, Celestine (Joe) NUESSE, _?_, Lorraine TIPLER?, Rita NUESSE, Kathryn LONG (his sister), Leon LONG (himself), Arthur SUESSE.

Standing: anyone you know?


a rider’s memories


Leon J. Long

[email protected]

© 2009

Sevastopol School Busses, 1920


During the 1920s, the Sevastopol Consolidated School district purchased ten, one-ton Ford Model T buses. Leon Long, born in Sevastopol, rode the school buses during the 1920s and 1930s. His father, Herbert Long, drove “Route No. 9” for twenty years. Leon describes his experiences with the school buses and sleigh buses.

The Model T bus had a 20 HP, four-cylinder engine that provided a top speed of about 45 MPH. A battery and generator provided power to the starter and headlights. If the battery was low, the engine was hand-cranked. This task required a strong arm. The left hand was used to pull the crank as it reduced the possibility of breaking the operator’s arm or wrist should the engine backfire and kick back, which was not uncommon.

The 6-volt battery provided less than desired torque for starting. Low temperature further decreased the output of the battery. In cold weather with the transmission in neutral, congealed oil between the 25 clutch plates placed a heavy load on the starter or hand-crank. To aid the starting process, many operators jacked up a rear wheel to decrease internal drag and use the inertia of the turning wheel to help start the engine.

Permanent anti-freeze was not available; many drivers drained the radiator and bought the pail of water inside. In the morning, the water would be bought to a boil on top of the kitchen stove, then poured back in the radiator prior to start. Some drivers used kerosene in the radiator. Ford provided an alcohol-based antifreeze at $1 per gallon, expensive in the ‘20s. On a warm day, the coolant would evaporate.

Learning to drive a Model T was challenging. The three-gear transmission provided two forward speeds; one gear was used for reverse. Pulling the hand-lever at the drivers left all the way back engaged a brake on the output drive shaft and disengaged the drive gears, placing the transmission in neutral. The three pedals on the floor and a spark advance lever and throttle lever on the steering column required a coordinated effort to start and

stop. Each car had different lever positions to obtain optimum engine performance. Moving the hand-lever forward and using the pedals on the floor accomplished gear shifting. The left pedal (high & low speed clutch) provided first gear (all the way down), neutral (half way up), and second gear (all the way up). The center pedal placed the transmission in reverse; the right pedal stopped the bus by actuating a transmission brake.

Skinny, 3-˝ inch wide tires were made of several layers of rubberized cotton fabric and contained a rubber tube. Flats were common on the route and usually fixed on the spot using a two-stage hand pump and repair kit that was carried on board. The wheels were made with wooden spokes.

The bus did not have a heater. Roll-down side curtains containing ising-glass windows on each side of the bus provided little comfort during wet or freezing weather. The bus stopped at the end of the driveway to pick up students. Each student was expected to be on time; if not, he or she was left behind. Should a student create serious trouble on the bus, the driver stopped at the house and had a discussion with the student’s father or mother. Second incidents were few.

Each bus had wooden seats, four abreast, with a narrow aisle running through the center. When all seats were occupied, additional students stood in the aisle on the way to and from school.

During freezing and sub-zero weather, we were dressed with boots, a heavy jacket and cap with earmuffs, mittens, and a scarf around our face. We then stood at the window in a warm kitchen looking for the bus to arrive. We left the house overheated, but were cold by the time we arrived at school.

Heavy snow required the use of chains on the rear wheels. County snowplows opened the roads with a one-way lane. Pleck’s Dairy also plowed roads to ensure their trucks could pick up milk cans to support the milk plant. In some areas, Caterpillar tractors from large orchards plowed farm roads to enable access to the highway.

Most wheeled traffic ceased following a heavy snowstorm. The Sevastopol Consolidated School continued to operate by using sleigh buses to transport students. A sleigh bus consisted of a bobsled with canvass top, pulled by a team of horses.

John Wester had a sawmill at Lilly Bay and built the sleigh buses. The temperature inside the buses was comfortable as each contained a small coal-stove with stovepipe protruding through the top of the bus. A sliding canvas door enabled access to and from the bus.

 During a heavy blizzard, if the driver had difficulty seeing the center of the road, he would get out and lead the team. During heavy snowstorms, the drivers remained at school during the day. The teams, covered with heavy horse blankets, remained outside. Upon arriving home in late afternoon, the drivers put their horses in the barn where they were unharnessed, rubbed down, and fed. Dairy chores were next, followed by a late supper.

One afternoon during a heavy snowstorm the bus was about halfway home but the horses neared exhaustion from lunging upward and forward in the snow. My dad had me hold the reigns while he walked to the next farm for help. While he was gone, I walked around the bus to check the depth of the snow. As I went around the back, the team suddenly bolted and took off at full gallop with about a dozen students, including my sister, on board. I ran after the bus, but heavy boots and clothing slowed my progress. Finally, the team slowed and I was able to crawl through the rear door and stop the bus. Shortly after, me dad and the neighbor arrived with a fresh team of horses. Needless to say, I was chewed out royally.

County roads did not have a gravel or crushed stone base during the 1920s.

When the spring thaw occurred, it was not unusual for the bus to become stuck in the mud. If a bus became stuck, the boys got out, went to the rear of the bus, and pushed. Spinning rear wheels splattered mud over everyone. No one complained, as it was a way of life that helped all aboard arrive at school or home.

Chevrolet made the next generation of school buses used by Sevastopol in the 1930s. The buses had steel bodies. Snow removal throughout the county was now more efficient and eliminated the need for sleigh buses.

Sevastopol School Buses

Loading Students Through Back Door


Leon J. Long

[email protected]

© 2009


Leon Long is an Air Force Veteran, aerospace engineer, chief pilot, and flight instructor. He and wife, Lynn, live in Fort Worth, Texas.





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