Lloyd Burger and his wife, Bev, at their home in Long Prairie. Lloyd recently turned in his keys after a 50-year stint as a Long Prairie bus driver. Photo by Nancy Leasman
“I miss the kids the most,” Lloyd Burger, of Long Prairie, said this fall, retiring after 50 years of making the wheels on the bus go round and round. That may be some kind of record but Lloyd isn’t the type to pursue records. He has a box of safety awards somewhere but couldn’t find them.
“I only got the bus stuck twice in 50 years, and ran out of gas once…the gauge wasn’t working,” he said.
That’s a pretty good record right there, considering he put on about 720,000 miles of driving kids to and from school.
Few of the kids that Burger picked up on his bus route at 7:30 a.m. every weekday morning knew that he’d already been up and going for nearly four hours. About the same number knew that when he took them home eight hours later he wasn’t finished with his work day. Even fewer knew that between 5 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. he’d made 5,000 pounds of butter, every day. It’s even more amazing to know that he kept up the same routine for 39 of the 50 years that he drove school buses for the Long Prairie school district.
“I’d get up at 4 a.m. in the morning and be at the creamery at 5 a.m. We’d run one churning, then I’d be on the bus at 7 a.m. Back in at 8 a.m. At 2:30 I left for the bus and ran the afternoon route until about 4:15. Then I’d go back to the creamery to check the boiler and make sure everything was okay.”
Lloyd managed the creamery for 32 of the 35 years he worked there. (He also worked about three years at the Browerville creamery.) Not only was each day full with both jobs, he worked most weekends, too.
“I only had one day off every other week,” he said, “worked every Christmas and only had one Thanksgiving off. I worked so the six employees could have them off.” No churning was done on Sundays nor on Christmas, but he still had to be there to take in the milk from the four can trucks that brought the cream from the farms.
Lloyd admitted he didn’t see much of his wife and three sons. He had to be in bed by 7:00 each night. “We ate together,” he said, something the experts find important in holding families together. He also provided an excellent example of what it was to be a good provider. Work was his life for several decades; he didn’t even have time for hobbies. “The last time I went fishing was in 1950.” He did get one week of vacation per year the first 25 years. After that, he got two weeks. The Burger family made the most of those vacations, taking the kids all over the country.
Born in Litchfield where his dad was a butter maker, Lloyd went into the army after high school and spent a year in Korea. He and Bev were married in 1954. They moved to Long Prairie, and he started at the creamery in 1957. His sister and her husband owned the local bus company, and when they needed another driver, Lloyd said he could help out. He thought it would be for a year or two.
Lloyd Burger next to one of the buses used at Long Prairie Schools. Burger retired after driving a bus route for 50 years. Photo by Jason Brown, Long Prairie Leader
Lloyd said the kids were different when he started. “Forty-five years ago you could take the kids by the shoulders and sit them down. Now you can’t touch them.” The bus drivers have always had to watch their language. “You couldn’t even say ‘darn,’” but he heard plenty of stronger words from the kids. Having discipline was important, though. “I’d tell them the rules at the beginning of the school year, and they knew what to expect. It was dangerous if they were standing up or in the aisles. We couldn’t let them do that.” He rewarded good behavior with candy bars at the end of each week.
Buses have also changed over the years though they have never had and still don’t have air conditioning. “I let the kids put the windows down 6 or 8 inches and that was good until the end of May when it got a little warm sometimes.”
The seat backs are higher than they used to be as a way of keeping kids safe. Buses don’t have seat belts, though they may be mandated in the future. Lloyd said that since bus drivers are now required to stay in their seats, they wouldn’t even be able to see if the kids were properly buckled up. “They’d have to hire aids to check to see if the kids were belted.”
He also noticed that since kids have phones and iPads (“I think that’s what they’re called,” he said. “I don’t even have a computer.”) they’re texting each other and playing games. “It makes it much easier for the driver.”
Over the years, Lloyd drove Internationals, Fords, Chevys, and those buses grew from 45-passenger capacities to 77 or 80. While the roster may have listed 65 kids as potential riders, the most he ever had was 40. He often had only 20 since parents dropped their younger kids off and older students drove themselves. But they had to have room for everyone on the roster in case they needed a ride. Every five years or so Lloyd got to drive a new bus. He had to maintain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and was required to have an annual physical. Most drivers had a physical every other year. “My blood pressure was high one time so that was on my record. I had to have a physical every year.”
Last year the doctor who gave him a physical said, “You’re the oldest person I ever gave a bus physical to!” At 86, he still likes the idea of driving a bus. “I wanted to drive until I was 90, but Bev said no, that was enough. When I see buses I feel like I should be behind the wheel.” He drove with 162 other drivers between 1966 and 2016.
In the years since Lloyd retired from creamery work, he’s worked loading potatoes for the local potato farm during the fall harvest. He also walks two miles a day. He and Bev go to Arizona for a couple of weeks each year. They have no desire to spend the winter there. They’d miss out on too much at home and their six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren (only one rides a school bus).
The two celebrated their 62nd anniversary in October and continue to live in the house they moved into in 1955 or ‘56. The house was built in 1887, and though it’s near the edge of town, other homes and industry have built up around it. Cows no longer come up to the back fence.
The Burgers still eat real butter and real cream. “You know, butter is only 80 percent fat?” Lloyd said. “Eighty percent fat, 17 percent moisture, 1 percent curd and 2 percent salt.”