“I used to deliver mail, now I deliver kids,” said Sam Elam, Lufkin ISD bus driver who has been with the district since 2010.
He and Barbara, his wife of almost 50 years, moved to the Lufkin area to retire. Mr. Elam worked for the postal service as a mail carrier in Houston for 38 years before settling down in the Pineywoods.
He said, “People will say ‘my dog doesn’t bite’, and I would say ‘well, he just bit me’ and they would say ‘well, that’s the first time’. They would always say it was the first time. Luckily, I never got a real bad injury. Just nicked, although every time you get nicked, you have to get a tetanus shot. I was fortunate that I had no real serious altercations.”
Mr. Elam is originally from Oklahoma and then grew up in the Houston area. He graduated from Furr High School in Houston. As a young man, he enjoyed journalism and played the trombone in the band. It was during his first years in high school that he became interested in studying for ministry and doing mission work. It was that love that led him to attend Southern Bible College where he received his associate and bachelor’s degrees in mission work in 1970. It was there that he met his wife Barbara.
“We did a border mission trip in Laredo for a year, and I pastored a church in Sweeney, Texas for about a year. Then we moved back to Houston,” he said.
His wife worked for the Houston Data Center while he delivered mail mainly to residential areas. He enjoyed walking the routes. Once he retired from the postal service, he and his wife came to East Texas to retire.
“We would come camping up here. We liked East Texas. I was in good enough health. I was not going to just sit around. I had worked at Aldine ISD for one year as a bus driver. It keeps me busy,” he said.
He and his wife have two adult children, Amber who is married and has two children, and Cameron who is married and has four children.
Mr. Elam said that he has friends who tell him that they are surprised that he’s a bus driver, and he tells them ‘they are always hiring more’.
He said, “I try to develop relationships with the kids. I greet them. I feel sorry for some of them. I have some high school kids that I’m very impressed with. Kids are kids.”
Mr. Elam drives bus number 41 in the Brookhollow area, the hospital area, Copeland, Old Union and by Whataburger on Highway 94. He wakes up every morning around 5 a.m. to get to work by 6 a.m. His first shift is at 6:15 a.m. and the afternoon shift is at 2:15 p.m. He’s not a coffee drinker or a breakfast eater. He claims that his wife drinks up all the coffee in their house.
Bus drivers are responsible for their buses, filling them up with gas, running them through the bus wash at the transportation building, sweeping and picking up trash.
He said, “We get out there and scrub them with long brushes. We keep the insides cleaned and swept up. I sometimes don’t know where those kids have been with all of that grass and dirt on their shoes.”
In the afternoons, Mr. Elam runs errands, goes to doctor’s appointments and tries to grab a nap.
When talking about naps he said, “Kids fight them, and we try to find them.”
In his spare time, he reads and attends church services where he’s a Sunday school teacher. He claims to “agitate” the 5-string banjo.
He said, “Some say I play it, I say I agitate it. I play it at church.”
He and his wife enjoy traveling to states in the northwest although he doesn’t think he would like to live there because of the harsh winters. They enjoy the Rocky Mountains and have even planned a trip to Alaska for their 50th wedding anniversary. Mr. Elam said the secret to a successful marriage is to have a tolerant wife.
He said, “If Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.”
Thank you, Mr. Elam, for being the first smile in the morning and the last smile in the afternoon for our kids. Your sense of humor and experiences go a long way with our students. You provide much more than just a ride for these kids; you give them hope.