The dashboard clock flashes "4:00" just as school bus No. 100 pulls to a stop in front of the house driver Don Shepard predicted it would at that instant. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
Shepard, 71, drives a bus for special-needs students two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. He sets the rules. Students follow them to the best of their abilities.
Shepard takes pride in being a disciplinarian. Each student receives a peppy "hello" upon boarding. As they leave, Shepard watches them disappear into their houses, his eyes sparkling with affection for them.
Shepard drove a school bus earlier in life, left to take more lucrative work, and said he always knew he would return when he retired, which he did in 1999.
Well into his final route of the day, Shepard takes note that one of the children is having a particularly difficult ride and decides to change course to deliver him home early. He placates another student who will be delayed by reminding him how helpful he is and that's why he gets to pick his own seat. The student swells with pride, grows alert as an extra lookout man.
"I enjoy what I do," Shepard says after his final drop-off. "You have to like kids to be a bus driver. If you don't, you'll be miserable."
Back at Laidlaw headquarters on 23rd Street, Shepard clocks out at 4:54 p.m. and heads home to North Lawrence.