EVERETT — The Everett School District’s bus drivers decided to send their boss off in style for her retirement.
As in retro style, in a restored 1980 Crown Supercoach.
Sue Cheffer has worked for the Everett School District’s transportation department for 19 years as a bus driver, operations supervisor, general manager and transportation coordinator.
Friday is her last scheduled day at work. On Wednesday, her staff threw her a surprise party with a tribute to the past.
Linda Taylor, one of Cheffer’s drivers, led her boss outside the office and draped a red velour cape around her shoulders.
“Since you are a queen, we are going to crown you,” Taylor said.
At that moment, the big yellow Twinkie-shaped coach rounded the corner. Its throaty air horn echoed off the nearby houses and the Longfellow building next door.
“Oh my God, I’m going to ride in a Crown?” Cheffer said, her smile growing into a wide grin.
The bus pulled up, driven by Jamar Taylor, Linda’s son, who works as a Community Transit driver. The doors opened and he motioned Cheffer up the steps and into the driver’s seat.
Then she laid on the horn and laughed. The crowd cheered.
It was time for a ride. The other drivers filed onto the bus, chatting and laughing like schoolchildren.
Shelly Johnson pulled down a window, waved and called out, “Whoo-hoo! I’m going to be the bad kid!”
Jamar Taylor, who owns and maintains the bus as his “small hobby,” got back into the driver’s seat and eased the bus out onto 37th Street toward Rucker Avenue.
The Crown, he said, once was a mainstay of bus fleets. Its body style didn’t change much between 1940 and 1991, when the company shut down.
They were overmanufactured, he said: fleet operators were able to keep them going well past their warranty period, for 30 or more years.
“It’s the Holy Grail for a lot of school bus drivers,” he said.
Cheffer, in the front passenger seat, said she used to love driving Crowns, especially on overnight field trips up to Camp Silverton-Waldheim on the Mountain Loop Highway.
The trip was a lot of hard work for the drivers, who had to climb steep hillsides in low gear and navigate sharp curves.
“I always tried to take those trips. You earned your money for that,” Cheffer said.
The other drivers were in a chatty mood, and they talked shop: how the old bus was handling, gear-shifting techniques, and how Jamar Taylor was operating the vintage coach.
Taylor demonstrated that when he trundled up a steep incline on Pacific Avenue, the engine growling in first gear.
“Way to go, Jamar!” someone called out from the back, and the other drivers cheered and clapped.
Everett Public Schools contracts with Durham School Services for its regular school bus routes, and Cheffer drove for that company for 10 years before joining the district.
The district operates its own fleet for its special-education programs. When needed, Cheffer still gets behind the wheel.
“I drove this morning to Granite Falls and Lake Stevens,” she said. That shift started at 5 a.m.
Linda Taylor said Cheffer never hesitated to pick up a route, even when that came with the stress of wrangling children and teens with special needs on long rides.
“Here she was taking a route because we’re shorthanded,” Taylor said. “She’s never said, ‘You know, I’m not going out.’ ”
Johnson said Cheffer has been a wonderful boss. “And she’s going to hate us for saying all this good stuff about her.”
Back at the transportation offices, the drivers sat down for cake and an early lunch. Cheffer said she planned to spend her retirement with her husband, grandkids, “playing with my chickens,” and traveling.
The first item on her agenda is a road trip to Las Vegas to visit her daughter.
“I’ll be driving a big RV. It’s just like driving one of those,” Cheffer said, pointing at the old bus outside. “Except it’s automatic.”