Driving for Joy

Posted on

Bus driver comes out of retirement to continue doing what he loves

Story by Megan Rule | Photos by Bevin Mairura

Freddie Buhl, a bus driver for the Waco Transit System, walks into the Waco Transit Center after a long day of driving around Baylor University’s campus, with a smile beaming so strong it lights up the room.

“I love what I do,” Buhl said. “Some people just ride the bus every day and don’t go anywhere; they just get on the bus and go from bus to bus to bus every day.”

Freddie Buhl, bus driver for Waco Transit Systems, looks out the window as he begins to pull away after students board the bus.

Buhl has been driving buses since 1979, starting with the Waco Independent School District and then moving to the Waco Transit System in 1991. Before working as a bus driver, Buhl worked on airplanes as a certified welder in San Antonio. He came to Waco to work for Texas State Technical College fixing jets, but ended up getting a job with WISD instead.

“The people are amazing and the reason why I love the people is because of the fact I get to talk to them,” Buhl said. “I can talk a lot, and here at Waco Transit there’s never a dull moment. There’s always something going on.”

Buhl had retired from the Waco Transit System but decided to come back six years ago, partly influenced by his wife, and partly because he likes to talk to the people, he said. There’s never a dull moment driving buses, according to Buhl. He smirks a bit as he recalls stories and emotional moments over his years driving, as his favorite part of his job is the people.

“I made enough money to pay my life bills but the experience that I had seeing different people, I wouldn’t take that for all the tea in China and I mean that because I enjoy what I do,” Buhl said.

Buhl drives the Red Route for the Baylor University Shuttle, or B.U.S., that goes from University Parks Apartments to campus, making stops at East Village Dining Hall and Speight Avenue. Buhl said some of his favorite memories include students he drives getting him and his wife a Christmas basket with gift cards, driving a bus to Las Vegas and watching Tiger Woods win the U.S. Open while stopping along a route. He couldn’t keep track of all the memories he has gained and experiences he was lucky enough to have.

Baylor students board Buhl’s Red line bus with familiar greetings.

“The Lord has blessed me to see a lot of stuff on that bus,” Buhl said, recounting story after story of people he met and saw and what he heard in the process, ranging from couples gambling all their money away to dealing with teachers on field trips.

Allen Hunter, general manager at the Waco Transit System, is in his 13th year in the organization and said it is a pleasure to work with people like Buhl. Hunter said when hiring drivers, he believes the Waco Transit System has an eye for good talent and looks for people with strong core values. He does this by asking, “Who would I want transporting my children?” and looking for drivers similar to Buhl. 

“It’s a pleasure to work with folks like Mr. Buhl because Freddie takes so much joy in what he does,” Hunter said. “I don’t think Freddie looks at this like work.A lot of people look at this like a job – I have to come do this. Freddie looks at this as almost a blessing and something he gets to do.”

Buhl takes his route very seriously, evident by his change of tone as he describes his commitment to safety and timing. The total bus ride is 12 minutes all around, Buhl said. 

Buhl checks the Speight Avenue stop one last time to make sure he didn’t miss anyone.

Students have classes and responsibilities, so it’s important to know all the routes and be timely and diligent in driving, Buhl said. A typical day is busy, as Buhl drives from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at least four days a week, sometimes five. He said he may not know all the students’ names, but he knows their faces, and he misses students once they graduate.

“Freddie is so friendly to all of the students and anyone who rides the bus,” said Hunter Meroney, a student who rides Buhl’s route daily. “He welcomes us with a ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ every day and really cares about us. I love him because not only is he really friendly but he really makes sure that everyone who needs a ride, gets a ride. I have literally hopped fences to make the bus on time and he will stop on the side of a busy road to let me ride.”

Buhl’s red route bus pulls up to Speight Avenue to pick up Baylor students.

Buhl said once he comes home from delivering students to campus and back home, he likes to shower, eat and do Bible devotions, as his faith is very important to him. Outside of driving the red shuttle, he plays guitar and serves as one of seven ministers at Marshall Chapel on Sixth Street and Bosque Boulevard. His whole demeanor changes and his tone becomes more serious as he begins talking about his relationship with the Lord, as it is something he puts a lot of time into and feels called toward.

Buhl gets emotional as he talks about his job and the students he interacts with, as well as his time at church. However, the love in his heart really pours out when talking about his wife and family. Buhl gazes off into the distance with stars in his eyes as he begins describing his wife, Kate. Buhl has been married to Kate for 11 years now. He met her at the Marshall Chapel Church when she worked as a youth director there. The two have 11 grown children and 14 grandchildren. 

“That’s my bones. That’s what I call her, my bones,” Buhl said about Kate. He smiles to himself as he recalls meeting her and introducing her to his brother to get his approval.

Buhl stands outside his bus, greeting students and reflecting on his time as a bus driver.

Buhl and his wife met at the church after his previous wife died. He said usually when he comes home from work, he enjoys cooking and eating dinner with her. Buhl said they have a simple lifestyle. Two forks, two knives, two plates, one routine. After eating, Buhl said Kate enjoys watching television shows while he does his Bible studies. 

Outside of his normal routine, in rare free time Buhl said he enjoys playing dominoes and bowling. One of Buhl’s favorite memories, he said, was when his wife threw a surprise birthday party for him, organizing a game of dominoes with some friends. He then tears up as he spoke about a time a few years ago when they were both really sick but helped each other get through it. Buhl’s hands tighten into a small fist as he recounts almost losing her, with a tear in the corner of his eye before wiping it away and resuming his uplifted spirits.

“I thank [God] for letting us stay together,” Buhl said. “I don’t mean to be negative, but I wish the Lord would take me before he takes her. If he takes her from me now, I’m serious, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Buhl’s outlook on life and positivity toward everything he does shines out through his face as he continuously counts his blessings. He repeatedly expresses how much he loves his job, family and the simple things in life such as playing guitar at church and playing dominoes with friends. The care and pride he takes in following routes exactly and making sure the students on the bus are taken care of is something special and is certainly valued by others. 

Map of Buhl’s bus route traveling from University Parks Apartments to Speight Avenue.

Following Buhl on the red route one afternoon proved this to be true, as practically every single student thanked him by name as they got off the bus, saying things like “See you tomorrow, Freddie,” and “Thank you Mr. Buhl. Have a good evening.” Buhl said he values the personal connections he makes with the students, repeating that the people are his favorite part.

“All my kids are home now,” Buhl said as he wrapped up his driving route one afternoon, waving goodbye to the last student getting off the bus and heading out of the University Parks Apartments gates, getting ready to do it all again the next day.

A Day in the Life of Freddie Buhl

7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Drives the red route bus for the Baylor University Shuttle

Early Evening Comes home to shower and cook dinner with his wife, Kate

Night Does his Bible devotions while his wife watches television