Tyler’s first female bus driver turns 90
Tyler County School’s first female bus driver is still alive and full of stories and experiences to share
A surprise birthday party took place to honor the 90th birthday of Warrenetta Braniff on March 22 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Paden City Volunteer Fire Department. Braniff’s birthday is Wednesday, March 25.
Braniff was Tyler County’s first female school bus driver, starting in 1953 and driving for 28 years. She later went on to be a school cook, retiring at the age of 62.
Back in 1953, Braniff, her husband and their three children were living in the Conway Lake area. Children in that community had to walk to the four-room Alma School.
“We came back from up the river and moved down on a farm from up where we had a meat shop,” recounted Braniff. “My husband had a meat shop, he was a butcher. My kids had to walk two miles to school. I had three, the neighbors on up the hill had two, and then on up the road from me there were several children.”
Seeing a need, Braniff used her experience driving trucks for her husband’s cattle farm and petitioned the Tyler County Board of Education to allow her to drive the students to school.
“I had driven the cattle truck. My husband had the cattle truck and we’d take cattle to market and things,” said Braniff. “I drove it all over the place, and I took (my children) out in it. I went to the Board of Education and asked them if I could haul the children in my truck to school. They said they would get me a small bus. I took my tests and things and started driving a small bus.”
Thus began a 28-year career as the first “lipstick” bus driver, as one newspaper labeled her. Despite being one women among a bunch of men, she says she was treated as an equal and with respect.
“I told them when I took the job, ‘I want this job, I want to be the same. I’ll take anything you all have to do and I don’t want you to treat me any different,'” said Braniff. “And they never did treat me any different. I never had trouble with anyone.”
On top of driving, Braniff also worked as a cook at the Alma School. Starting as a substitute, she later retired from driving to cook full time.
“While I drove the school bus I substitute cooked because I had worked in Weirton at a restaurant,” remarked Braniff. “I cooked with my step-sister there. I substituted for a while until another lady had to quit on account of her father breaking his hip. I cooked there for 11 years, the same as I drove the bus.”
Braniff maintained a busy and fulfilling life, balancing home chores, raising her family, driving a school bus and cooking in the cafeteria.
“I’d drive the bus, pick her up, let her out, she’d start the bread and things,” remembered Braniff. “Then I’d go around these hollows and pick up the kids and bring them to school, park my bus beside the school house, go home for the afternoon, come back and drive my bus again. And I lived on a farm, so I had to help take care of the cattle. Back then you did it all.”
While today’s school bus system is dependable, in the old days sometimes a bus would encounter problems. Braniff made do with what she had and made sure her riders were always safe.
“When you were out by yourself years ago you had to do for yourself,” said Braniff. “I took it in one time with no breaks and only the emergency break, but I just parked it and the kids got on another bus. I changed my own tires, then took them in to the bus garage and they would fix them. “
Braniff and her kids got along just fine. However, she sometimes had to enforce discipline and keep the kids in line.
“One boy stuck his tongue out at me,” said Braniff. “I had told that boy something and he stuck his tongue out at me, so I stopped the bus in the the middle of the road, told the kids to move out of the way, and I boxed his ears for them. That’s all there was to that. I didn’t take anything from my kids or anyone else.”
Now 90-years-old, Braniff has faced the loss of her husband, and hip replacement, and the the pains of old age. But her mind is still sharp as a tack, so much so that she would like to put on paper her life story. She sums up her life best.
“I did have some trouble, but I had fun,” stated Braniff.