By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
To the moon ... and back
Black Hawk bus driver Dick Schliem hands in the keys after traveling nearly 1/2 million miles in 50-plus years
Dick Schliem, 89, retired as a Black Hawk school bus driver this fall after more than 50 years behind the wheel.

SOUTH WAYNE — Relatively speaking, 50 years is a long time. A half million miles of driving is more than most people do in a lifetime — and it is more than the distance to the moon and back (approximately 477,800 miles). 

And yet, that’s what Dick Schliem, 89, accomplished over five decades of driving school bus for Woodford and Black Hawk School District students.

Earlier this school year, Schliem was forced into medical retirement. Black Hawk held a “big farewell party — the whole school was there,” Schliem said.

Upon going in for a routine physical this fall, he stopped three times due to shortness of breath.

“The nurse said, ‘You’re not going back to the bus — you’re going to the hospital,’” Schliem said. His pulse was elevated, and he spent the night under medical surveillance. He was later discharged with medication to treat a rapid heartbeat. “I wish I knew how long I’d had it.”

Schliem said he didn’t like being forced into retirement, but he understands why.

“If I’m hauling 40 kids, and something happens to me and we’d crash, that’s a lot of people and families that would have been affected,” he said. He added that his route had approximately twice as many students as the average one in the district.

He had been entering his 51st year as a driver, the first four of which came back in the early 1970s (1971 being his first year) driving for the old Woodford school.

“When Woodford school closed, I started at Black Hawk,” he said. 

He has several stories of trips that stick out to him, as he also drove bus for boys football, baseball and basketball. One year, the basketball team was playing at Holy Name Seminary in Madison, and when the players were getting on and off the bus, some used the back door, breaking it in the process.

“Someone had to hold the door closed the entire drive back from Madison to South Wayne,” he said.

On another adventurous expedition, Schliem was driving the Home EC class to and from Milwaukee in a rainstorm. His wipers stopped working, and, when unable to get them fixed in a timely manner, drove the class home through the rain anyway.

“Dick will always be remembered for his kind heart and big, big smile whenever his students would board his school bus.  Seeing Dick’s smile was the first and last thing that many of our students saw during their school days,” the district wrote in a social media post Nov. 21.

The transition into retired life has not been fun, though, he said. Schliem admitted to feeling bored and unsure of what to do while he gets his heart rate in check. He said Mike Burke, the Black Hawk baseball coach asked him “who will do the book for us this spring?” Schliem said he still plans on keeping book, but for away games he’ll tag along as a rider on the bus instead of driving.

“I’ve been keeping book in baseball for 72 years. I figure I know a little about it,” he quipped.