Sam Milwee eyed an array of mirrors Saturday afternoon as a bus engine vibrated the gray seats.
He clung to the steering wheel, and his eyes bounced from one view to the next. Carefully, he shifted into reverse.
With the familiar beep ringing out, Milwee slowly began backing up the 40-foot-long bus, mindful not to hit the cones lined up behind him.
Milwee was test driving a bus at Dousman Transport Company in Delavan, where company recruiter Peggy Nieuwenhuis oversees test drives.
She started driving buses after she quit teaching in 1986.
In her current job, Nieuwenhuis’ mission is to show that driving is a good gig for parents and grandparents.
“I’ve been the biggest cheerleader for this job for families because it is flexible,” Nieuwenhuis said. “If you ask most of the people here who have kids, that’s what brought them here.”
On the second Saturday of each month, Nieuwenhuis hosts the testing at Dousman’s terminal at 1736 Hobbs Drive, Delavan. She offers would-be drivers the opportunity to get behind the wheel.
So far, the effort has been successful. Nieuwenhuis said several people have applied to be drivers since the company first offered test drives in November. People don’t need a commercial driver’s license to go on the test drives. They just have to show up at the terminal at noon with a standard license.
Becoming a bus driver is an extensive process and does require a CDL. While most applicants are hired, Nieuwenhuis said there are strict driving record rules and federal regulations to follow. Drivers must also undergo about 30 hours of training.
But even though regulations have tightened since Nieuwenhuis began driving, she still sees the job as a worthwhile venture.
While Dousman, which has many terminals across southeastern Wisconsin, doesn’t offer health benefits, Nieuwenhuis said the pay is competitive, the part-time schedule is flexible, and drivers get summers and holidays off.
Nieuwenhuis first started driving to spend more time with her growing family after she quit her teaching job at Delavan Christian School. The bus schedule worked for her and her husband, Mel Nieuwenhuis, who is now the mayor of Delavan.
“For us, it was golden,” Nieuwenhuis said. “It was an opportunity to be with each other. I still contributed to the family. I’ve never, ever had a problem where it was hard on my kids.”
In 1990, Nieuwenhuis drove bus routes with her 2-week-old baby daughter on board.
At the time, the baby was secured in a car seat on the bus by a series of looped belts. She would often sleep during Nieuwenhuis’ morning and afternoon routes, as the puttering bus moved from one stop to the next.
Though more restrictions exist today, drivers are still encouraged to bring along their children during their routes.
For Milwee, if there was any fear before he settled into the cockpit, it vanished by the time he parked the bus and shut the engine off.
“It’s really not that bad. It’s worse driving a fire engine,” Milwee said.