By CHRISTINA WOOD
Of the Baker City Herald
Baker Base to Tina, Marge Erickson said into the microphone.
Go ahead, came the voice of Tina Knaggs over the radio.
Theres two passengers here at the center for you to pick up, Erickson adds.
Knaggs is the newest driver for the Community Connection transportation service, the only public bus service available in town. She has been working for the program, often called the Senior Bus, since September.
Knaggs, 37, has a full commercial drivers license except for the hazardous materials endorsement.
She was a substitute bus driver for the 5J School District and has driven tractors and potato trucks for Kerns Rainbow and the K Diamond Ranches. Her favorite job though, has been working cattle.
I like being out working with the cattle, she said. I like this job, but would still like to be back on the ranch.
Her new job, however, is full time and has a full paycheck with benefits.
This is very important to the lady who is planning to marry Tom Virtue May 26. Virtue works for the Rainbow Ranch, and her steady paycheck will mean a lot to the new couple.
Besides, I like the people I haul on the bus, Knaggs said with a smile, a laugh and a toss of her long, blonde hair.
It seems the feeling is very mutual. On a recent spring day, the riders had nothing but praise and smiles for their driver.
During the morning runs, Knaggs drove the centers wheelchair lift equipped van. The van is usually driven by Truscott Irby, Jim Pellissier or Jodi Thomas, especially during the hour before lunch when Knaggs usually picks up seniors for lunch at the Senior Center on Cedar Street. But today she didnt turn the van over to Irby until later.
I mostly haul children in the morning, Knaggs said, right before noon and after noon. Most of the children she drives for attend special education, Head Start or kindergarten through second grade.
I havent really had any bad experiences yet, Knaggs continued. The lunch people I haul every day are happy and laughing, and I love the kids they come up to me in the store and give me a hug. They tell their parents, This is my bus driver. We have great fun.
Since Knaggs drives the children all over town, the children have the opportunity to see some interesting things.
We saw this big bird on the river one day, and I took a picture of it, she said. We found out later it was a great blue heron. We put the photograph in the bus, and hes become kind of the bus mascot.
Knaggs said she believes the bus service is very important to the seniors and children.
We do a good service. Without us they wouldnt have any transportation. She said she usually drives her bus 100 miles a day with 60 to 70 riders a day.
For no bigger than Baker is, thats a lot. Thats pretty scary, a blonde driving in circles all day, Knaggs laughed.
On a first-name basis
Baker Base, Tina, Helen needs a lift.
With this bus service, the passengers are on a first-name basis. The van travels over to pick up Helen Rogers on the northwest side of town.
Baker Base to Tina, theres a passenger at Safeway. Theres that voice over the radio again.
Rogers, 78, uses the wheelchair on the van that was donated by the Baker City Rotary Club. She needed a lift over to St. Elizabeth Health Services for physical therapy.
Rogers has just started to use the van service. She still has a car, but trying to find someone (to driver her) at this time of day is too hard, she said.
Im very glad (the service) is available, I couldnt do without it, she added. Knaggs delivers her to her therapy.
Baker Base, you have a passenger at Bi Mart.
The Safeway passenger is picked up first, an elderly lady with several sacks of groceries. She settles into her seat and Knaggs drives over to Bi Mart.
This time the passenger is a man, Wayne Woodman, who gets around on his own electric scooter. The scooter was purchased for him by Medicare because strokes have left him unable to walk on his own.
Knaggs not only drops the ramp on the van so Woodman can scoot aboard, she also loads five or six plastic shopping sacks for him into the van.
Woodman said he only uses the van about once a week to do shopping where it was too far for his scooter to travel.
Woodman is eager to share his memories of early life in Baker City. He shared several stories about his life as a cattle and sheep rancher in Baker Valley. He also said he had been a paperboy for the the Democrat-Herald (now the Baker City Herald) in those days.
I used to deliver to 133 houses and it took me longer to collect my money than it did to deliver the newspapers, Woodman said. His son was also a newspaper boy many years ago.
He said most of his family is gone now. Only a few of the kids are left and they are like strangers to me. Woodman lives at Settlers Park and is planning to move to the companys facility in John Day as soon as there is an opening there.
He still has lots of friends living in John Day, he said. He was once the president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce there and started up the program to set out flags on national holidays for businesses in the town.
Knaggs delivered Woodman to his residence and headed into the parking lot at the Baker County Extension Service on Grove Street to pick up her bus and turn the van over to Irby. The van is new with only 28,371 miles on it.
Her bus, however, has over 119,000 miles and carries more passengers. It is equipped with a wheelchair lift also, but Knaggs said most of the wheelchair passengers are transported in the van.
Knaggs quickly began to pick up her lunch bunch, the group of seniors she routinely transports to the Senior Center every weekday for lunch.
She said of her route, One thing is, youre going to get where youre going. You just dont know how youre going to get there. Its a different route every time.
Knaggs usually drives the bus early in the day because of the children. This week, however, is Spring Break, and she didnt have to pick up any of her younger passengers.
I love my big bus, Knaggs said, and added that my kids have to have their seat belts on.
She said that on regular school buses, there are no seat belts for the riders.
The seats are made to protect the kids on school buses, she said and belts are not required.
On a typical day, Knaggs picks up at least five lunch passengers and on Tuesdays 10 or more because of the bingo games after lunch.
Ruth Woodcock, 83, is a longtime rider of the bus, mostly for lunch, she said. I have family here to take me other places, she explained.
Woodcock said she would like to see some of the Big Shots uptown ride the bus some day to see all the junk in the streets off the main routes. She particularly pointed out a lot on Cedar Street where there was lots of trash lying around and said it was just plain awful.
The lunch bunch rides the bus for $1.50 round trip. Another rider, Liz Crowell, said that Knaggs was a very good driver and good person.
The admiration seemed to run both ways. Knaggs said the ladies of her lunch bunch really helped cheer her up recently when there was an illness in her family. They soon had me laughing and smiling again, she said.
On this Wednesday at the Senior Center, there were between 80 and 85 people there for lunch according to Ava Russell, who works at the center. The reason she said was the live music offered that day, it was birthday day and everyone wanted to play cards afterwards. Fried chicken was on the menu that day too, a favorite of the diners.
Jim Thomas, the assistant manager at the center, said the transportation service offered by them is a great service to the community. Its kept a lot of elderly people here mobile when they are no longer able to drive.
The service also delivers with a smile, and thats a day brighter for everyone.