For the third time, Ralph Nelson has retired.
The 88-year-old Lewiston resident was in the U.S. Army for 39 years, worked for Bates Manufacturing for 45 years while serving in the Army National Guard, and for the past 23 years has worked as a bus driver for Hudson Bus Lines Inc. of Lewiston.
“After I retired from Bates, I was looking for something else to do and I saw an ad for a bus driver,” he said. “I’ve been driving people around since I was a kid.”
In high school, he was the chauffeur of his neighborhood, driving his friends all over town, Nelson said. “When I was in the Army, I drove heavy equipment in convoys from Fort Knox, Ky., to Fort Bragg, N.C., so I figured I was qualified.”
When he applied at Hudson, he was told he had to pass a special test to get a bus driver’s license. “I had a license to drive everything from motorcycles to a tank, but I guess it’s the law,” he said. “I didn’t have any trouble.”
According to Terry Samson, who hired Nelson, “He was just the type of person we were looking for and were always grateful to have such a dedicated, reliable and personable employee. He made everyone smile, especially the kids. When he was out sick, we’d get calls from parents and students wondering where he was.”
Nelson said it was a great experience.
“I knew I’d been here a long time when I started having parents coming on the bus the first day of school with their kids and asking if I remembered them,” he said. “I had taken them to school when they were kids, and now I was driving their kids to school. It was nice that they would take the time to say hi to me and tell me that they were happy that it was me driving (their children).”
On Tuesday morning, several dozen current and former employees, along with family members, gathered inside the bus garage at the bottom of Bartlett Hill in Lewiston. A big cake with a photo of his bus, No. 15, muffins, breakfast pizza and other goodies were spread out on a table. They were flanked by framed photos of the bus with dozens of signatures from the kids on his route, as well as a big photo with personal notes from fellow employees.