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A Moment in History: Horse Draw School Bus

July 16, 2020

Most of us probably haven’t even heard of a horse-drawn school bus — let alone ridden in one! Russ Sadler, resident at Seeland Park, however, rode to school in a horse-drawn bus in Selma, Iowa during the 1940s. Some might even ask, “Where is Selma, Iowa?”  It’s in northwest Van Buren County, right next to Eldon, where the American Gothic House is located.

Selma school kids pictured above with the driver beside a horse-drawn school bus. Russ Sadler is 4th from the left in the front row. Russ’s older brother is 5th from the left in the back row, peeking between two girls.

According to an article in the Van Buren County Register on July 30, 2015, there were only about 50 residents in Selma, but in its prime around the turn of the twentieth century, it boasted three grocery stores, a lumberyard, stockyard, rail line, taverns, churches and, of course, a school.

The First Annual Selma High School Reunion was held on July 18, 2015, with 140 people in attendance. Some of the memories shared included the following:

Man:  “I started to school in 1947 and rode a horse-drawn school bus with a kerosene heater. It was so cold, we’d get out and walk beside the bus to warm up! One girl had her hair freeze. Later in life, I told this story to some folks out east. They were incredulous. They had gone to school in the ’30s a motorized bus, and had never even seen a horse-drawn school bus.”

Woman: “The gymnasium at the school was so small, the tops of the keys nearly touched each other. There was a steel beam down the middle of the ceiling. If the basketball hit the beam, that was out-of-bounds. Other teams hated playing us. But we had just as much trouble playing on their full-size gyms.”

Man: “There were so few kids that most of my friends were adults. But I never met a stranger.”

Man: “When I went into the Air Force, I had a chance to attend a year of language school at Yale University. I went through all the testing and was finally rejected because I had been involved in too many school activities. The Air Force was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to settle down and study. I protested and explained that there were only eight kids in my class and 52 in the whole school. Everyone had to be involved in everything, like the band, chorus, the class play, basketball, or there wouldn’t be those activities. I was accepted into language school—a kid from Selma, Iowa, going to Yale!”

Man:  “When people ask me where I’m from, I tell ’em ‘paradise’.”



We would love to continue to feature stories of our community with our community! Do you have a favorite trip? Perhaps a hobby such as baking or gardening? Have you served in the military? Do you have a memory from years past that would be a joy for others to read and enjoy? Everyone has a story that can enrich our community and help us through this time of extended isolation. Social distancing is just physical distance. We can all connect through words on a page. Submit your idea, and we will contact you with some simple questions to answer. You can also submit suggestions for friends and neighbors that you think would have a good story to tell. Just email with your ideas!

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