by Lisa Tome
Joe Gilbert is switching gears.
Gilbert, who has been a school bus contractor for more than 40 years, said that safety is his primary focus most of the time.
Later this month, Gilbert is going to drive one of his school buses as part of the first ever Cecil County Fair School Bus Demolition Derby.
Safety is taking a back seat for that one night.
"For the first time, I can crash one. I can be wild, crazy, and reckless," said Gilbert. He was invited to be part of this event.
"Al Miller (President of the Cecil County Fair Board) called me over a year ago. I said 'we're all about safety', it's not every day you get to wreck a bus," said Gilbert.
Although sometimes it can be a challenge to hire and retain school bus drivers, seemingly everyone Gilbert knows has volunteered to drive the work in progress newly painted zoo-themed school bus.
Instead of taking someone up on the offer, he's opted to drive the bus himself. He does have another bus for sale, if anyone wants to buy it and compete. The bus for the derby that is in progress is a 2002 International. It hauled children to Bay View Elementary and North East High and is numbered Bus #223.
He said as far as he knows, at least four or five buses will compete for the cash prize.
But it's not easy money.
Gilbert explained that a lot of work will be involved getting the bus ready for the derby. More than 50 windows have to be removed, including a four piece windshield. All the student seats, there are 44, have to be taken out. Each of those has a half dozen bolts. About 30 lights also have to be removed.
But it's the bus mirrors that Gilbert will miss the most.
"It's weird driving a school bus with no mirrors. You drive a bus by using the mirrors. I'm also worried about traction (because the bus will be lighter without all the equipment)," he said.
The event will be held Thursday, July 27 at 8 p.m. at the Cecil County Fair.
There is a laundry list of rules governing the event which dictate rules for drivers and the buses. Drivers have to be at least 18 years old. All buses will undergo a safety inspection. Buses have to have a customer load of at least 31 passengers and have at least nine windows running down the side. All the chrome, lights, stop sign and stop bar, have to be removed from the bus. The buses can't have reinforcements. Hoods can't be welded or bottled and a foot square hole has to be cut into the hood.
The bus Gilbert will drive has been decommissioned due to age. Gilbert usually sells used buses or donates it to a charity.
"We'll just take the loss. I'm very excited about it. I'm doing it for the kids so they can see a bus get wrecked," he said.
After the demo derby, Gilbert is hoping to donate the bus for scrap in exchange for a tow bill.