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Fauquier school bus driver recalls taking students to Jennie Dean School

William "Billy" Stribling in front of his school bus. In the late 1940s, Stribling drove black high school students to the Manassas Industrial School, known as the Jennie Dean School, a trip of about two hours.
William "Billy" Stribling in front of his school bus. In the late 1940s, Stribling drove black high school students to the Manassas Industrial School, known as the Jennie Dean School, a trip of about two hours. (Eugene Scheel)

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

William "Billy" Stribling of Paris in upper Fauquier County is one of a few surviving bus drivers of an era when high school students took a two-hour bus ride to attend Manassas Industrial School. From the 1930s to 1949, the Jennie Dean School, as it was often called, was the only accredited secondary school for African Americans in Northern Virginia.

Dean, a former slave, founded the school in 1894, a legacy inscribed on her stone in the cemetery of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church on Sudley Road. African American teens from Alexandria west to the Shenandoah Valley attended. Several lived with families in the area or at campus dormitories. Some students from the Middleburg and Aldie areas carpooled.

Most students arrived on county school buses from Fairfax, Fauquier and Prince William counties.

Stribling graduated from Jennie Dean at 18, in 1944, having caught the bus at Rosstown, just east of Marshall. He then served in the Army with Gen. George S. Patton's 761st Tank Battalion during the closing weeks of World War II and afterward.

In October 1947, Jim Williams, the regular Manassas school bus driver, told Stribling that he was going on sick leave. The job was open.

"I had just come out of the Army. I had driven Jeeps and half-tracks, and I didn't have a job, so I just took it," Stribling said. It was hard to find work in the country in postwar years.

Members of the Fauquier School Board figured that if Stribling could drive a half-track, he could drive a school bus. He didn't need to take a test. His salary was a dollar a day, less than he would have made picking corn. If he didn't drive, he wasn't paid.

Stribling's vehicle was a 1930-vintage International bus, gasoline powered, with four gears, disc brakes and a manual shift. Its top speed was 45 mph. Wooden benches lined each side of the bus. In the center was a third wooden bench, on which students sat in either direction.

"Some of the floors were kind of rusted out," Stribling said. "You could look down and see the highway. The air would come through. There wasn't much heat on the bus. A little heater up front didn't put out much.

"Can't ever remember the bus breaking down," he said. Between the morning and evening runs, school mechanics at Jennie Dean checked the bus over.

Stribling's drive began before 7 a.m., when he picked up students by Providence Church, south of Orlean. Painted yellow and with "Fauquier County Schools" lettered on each side, the Upper Fauquier bus, as it was called, plied the paved-road route from Orlean to Hume, then to Markham and Delaplane, and then Route 55 to Marshall.

There the bus detoured to Rectortown and then back to Marshall, halting at Rosstown, Bunker Hill and The Plains, which was the last stop.


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