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History of Annandale Bus Service
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
May 5,2008
Karen Millner

In 1869 Massachusetts passed the first legislation in the United States allowing the use of public funds for transporting school children. Within the next forty years all 48 states had enacted similar laws. 

The first vehicles used to transport students were nothing more than horse-drawn carts which were borrowed from local farmers. Children from the rural areas were able to attend town schools because of the school wagon. When winter came, at least in Minnesota, the bus was taken off the wheels and placed on skids. The children were kept warm with blankets and old-fashioned foot warmers. 

After WWI the gasoline powered engines were developed and the school wagon was replaced with the school truck. During the 1920s and 1930s with the expanding road way system, especially in rural communities, there was a greater need for vehicles to transport school children and the formation of school bus manufacturing industry was born.

In 1939 representatives from all 48 states gathered to develop safety standards for school buses. Since that time, there have been 12 National Conferences on School Transportation where state representatives meet to revise existing standards and establish new safety standards and operating procedures for safe transportation of school students including those students with disabilities. These standards cover a wide range of components and systems: brakes, steering, glazing, lights, fuel system integrity, mirrors, heaters/defrosters etc. There have been dramatic improvements made to school buses in the past 70 years. Driver training, school bus maintenance, school bus operating procedures have all contributed to the outstanding safety record of school bus transportation.

Every year 400,000 public school buses travel 4.2 billion miles to transport 23 million children to and from school. Although catastrophic school bus crashes have occurred, they are extremely rare events. Developing ways to protect bus occupants in catastrophic crashes is difficult especially when involving trains and heavy trucks. The crash forces in those accidents are so great that any reasonable structural design cannot maintain the integrity of the vehicle. Actually many more people are killed or injured each year in vehicles that crash into school buses than are killed or injured on the school bus.

Minnesota has an association of school bus owners who are private contractors that have met regularly for the past sixty years. The Minnesota School Bus Operators Assn. will celebrate its 60th anniversary this summer. The MSBOA has been in the forefront of the school bus industry in the United States. 

Some of the visible changes in school buses occurred in 1974. Before 1974 all new buses were orange. Starting in 1974 new buses are painted yellow. Another change was the 8 light- system which alerts the public to the bus stopping. Prior to 1974 only red lights were used and no warning lights.

The school bus industry in Annandale also began many years ago.

We looked through old issues of the Advocate about the history of the school bus companies in Annandale. We could not find much information. Neil Bahr owned Bahr Bus Service from 1934-1973. He purchased the bus business from his father. Joe Lundeen sold his school bus operation to Neil Bahr after WWII. Neil was mayor of Annandale in 1965-1966.

M & L Bus Service was incorporated in June 1973. The June 7 issue of the Annandale Advocate reported the sale of Neil Bahr Bus Service to M & L Bus Service, Inc. effective August 1, 1973. 

There were other businesses that began in Annandale in 1973. Arenson's Pharmacy, Malco, Goldendale Homes, Ellis Steak house had their beginnings in 1973. Annandale had its own theatre, the Dale Theatre and the fundraising campaign for the Annandale Clinic also began in 1973. 

Food prices were considerably less than today's prices: Bacon was 79 cents per lb., chicken 49 cents per lb. and an 8 pack of Pepsi in bottles was 48 cents. The nation faced a fuel shortage resulting in the local school districts reducing the temperature in the school building by 3-5 degrees. 

M & L Bus Service purchased 32 buses from Neil Bahr. These vehicles were all 30-36 passenger buses. Neil believed that the roads in the Annandale area were not capable of handling buses with a capacity larger. He also felt that the drivers had a harder time handling students with a larger capacity bus. The new company quickly disposed of all but ten of the original buses. 72 passenger buses replaced the smaller units. This change decreased the number of school bus routes from 24 routes to 16 routes. 

During the first year of operation, M & L Bus Service rented the cement block building owned by Bahr Bus. This building was located where the existing Annandale State Bank is today. Neil Bahr also owned Arenson's Pharmacy building. Neil stored buses and tires in the basement under the pharmacy. Because this storage area could only accommodate small buses, M & L never used this storage area. 

In 1973, 1559 students attended Annandale Public Schools but only 1100 students were transported. In 1974 the terminal buildings were built at the present site of M & M Bus Service. The location in downtown Annandale was unsuitable for many reasons. The building was in poor repair and buses had to back out of the buildings and into the streets, a very unsafe practice. 

M & L Bus Service purchased Nicka Bus Service in 1978. Marshall Nicka had transported the students in the South Haven area to Annandale when South Haven consolidated and joined the Annandale School District. With this purchase M & L became the sole transportation provider for Ind. School District 876. In 1978 M & L Bus Service also began hauling grain. Over the years we transported oats, corn, fertilizer, diesel fuel and gasoline, groceries and food products made at Meatmasters in Annandale. With the closing of the local elevators and the increase of insurance cost we sold our trucks. 

In 1984 Roger and Karen purchased Ed Larson's shares of the company and changed the name to M & M Bus Service. Currently there are about 1750 students who are transported to and from school each day. M & M also contracts with WCCA to provide head start transportation for three centers in Wright County. M & M purchased Mooney Bus Service of Maple Lake in 2001. There are approximately 1000 students transported in Maple Lake. M & M has 60 buses of various sizes transporting students to these two school districts. 

Over the years, students have not changed very much. The school bus is considered to be an extension of the classroom as far as rules and regulations are concerned. 90% of the kids are good. The remaining 10% are the ones we have to worry about. Drivers receive student management training to assist them in handling problems on the bus. Parental support is the most important factor in dealing with student behavior problems. God has never made a bad kid. 

Today all buses purchased are diesel powered. In 1979 some units were converted to propane to see if this would produce better mileage. In the mid 80s we tried converting gas buses to diesel also to economize. But beginning in 1985 all new buses purchased have been diesel powered. Gas buses got 6 miles per gallon compared to 9 miles per gallon for diesel. In 1973 gasoline cost 15 cents per gallon. Up until the past three years, diesel was cheaper than gasoline but now is over 4.00 per gallon.

This spring we began Project Green Fleet M & M. This project will retro fit buses with catalytic converters to reduce exhaust emissions by about 80%. By 2010 new buses will be equipped so that the emissions will be cleaner than the air that goes into them. At least that is what we are told by the manufacturers.

In today's school buses compartmentalization is used instead of lap belts to provide an extremely high level of crash protection for students, considering all types of crashes involving school buses. There is no statistical data to suggest that a safety problem exists in large school buses that the installation of lap belts would solve. In fact, there is a growing concern among safety professionals around the world over the use of lap belts as a form of passenger restraint for small children because small children's bone structure, particularly in the area of the hips is still developing.

M & M Bus Service is a family owned and operated company. Roger and Karen's four children work with the company as well as two sons-in-law and one daughter-in-law, making nine family members working together with 50 other full and/or part-time employees. 

Shelly Jonas and Shari Danzeisen, our daughters, are the executive directors for the Minnesota School Bus Operators Assn. Our office serves as the headquarters for this organization. Both women also work closely with the bus operation in Annandale. Scott Millner is the manager of the bus service in Maple Lake. Sam Millner works between both Annandale and Maple Lake.

In 2001 Roger along with four other members of the MSBOA joined forces and formed Vision Transportation which has buses in Elk River and Big Lake. These two locations transport 18000 students to school everyday. The business office for Vision is located at M & M Bus Service offices. 

The company recently expanded into an outdoor power equipment company. M & M Express Sales and Service repairs small engines and sells any outdoor power equipment you would want to use with many items for rent also. 

The school bus remains the safest form of surface transportation in the United States. It is far safer than automobile, truck, public bus or train. School buses are designed and manufactured specifically for the safety and protection of pupil passengers. 

The safety of the students we transport is the highest priority of M & M Bus Service. M & M continues an active involvement with federal, state and local governments to establish standards and programs that will continue to safeguard the future generations of America. 

Karen Millner