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First school bus invented in Crockery Twp.?

Kevin Collier • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:53 PM

A grain and dairy farmer for many years, and a soldier for the U.S. Army serving overseas in World War II, Peterson assisted in writing two books detailing the history of Crockery Township. Peterson contributed a history of the school he attended in Spoonville, which was constructed in 1866.

“It was in this school that I learned my ABCs and multiplication tables,” he wrote.

He also noted something spectacular: the first motorized school bus in Michigan originated in Spoonville.

The first school bus in our state was created in Crockery Township? Peterson goes on to explain.

Peterson wrote that in its early years, the attendance at the school numbered nearly 30 students, but dwindled to about 10 by 1925.

“The School Board of that time, consisting of Claus Erhorn, Martin L. Fritz and Samuel Easterly, decided that it would be cheaper, and the students would receive a better education, if they would be transported to Nunica,” Peterson wrote. “An old Nash car was remodeled with a celotex coop erected on the back. Board benches were along the sides for the children to sit on.”

Charles Nash established Nash Motors in 1916, and during World War I became the largest producer of trucks in the United States. Peterson claimed the modified old Nash vehicle at the time “established the first known school bus in the state of Michigan.”

It is a claim that cannot be proven or debunked, but research into the history of Ottawa County school systems during the period reveal it was the first “known” motorized transport for students from one district or locality to another for the purpose of attending school.

Thus, regardless if it was the first school bus in the state, it was the first in Ottawa County.

School Board member Samuel Easterly hired Ernest Lloyd Plant as the driver. Plant drove the makeshift bus for one year and became Ottawa County’s first school bus driver.

Plant was born on Sept. 8, 1883, in Nunica, to Henry and Jennie Plant. According to Spoonville school attendance records, Ernest Plant began attending the school at the age of 7 on Sept. 8, 1890, and completed his education there.

A farmer in Crockery by trade, Plant was employed at Continental Motors in Muskegon during World War II.

Forrest Easterly, Samuel’s son, took over as driver the next year and continued for many years, even after the district consolidated with Nunica, and later, with Spring Lake.

The three Spoonville school board members all had a long service record in the Township of Crockery.

Samuel McCleave Easterly was born Oct. 2, 1864, in Bruno, Jefferson County, New York. He was 6 months old when he arrived with his parents in Nunica. Easterly was treasurer of the Spoonville school for 26 years. He died at the age of 74, on July 27, 1939.

Claus Erhorn, born in Hanover, Germany, came to the Crockery Township with his parents when he was just a baby. He was a member of the Spoonville School Board for 64 years, serving as president several times. He died at the age of 94, on Feb. 4, 1962.

Martin Luther Fritz brought his family from Illinois to the area in about 1906. They settled on a piece of property west of Nunica. Fritz spent many years on the school board of the Spoonville district, until it was annexed to the Nunica school system. He died in 1939.

Ottawa County’s first bus driver, Ernest Plant, died at the age of 76, on Oct. 31, 1959. Crockery Township historian Clinton E. Peterson died on Oct. 1, 2000. Both were buried in the Nunica Cemetery.

It remains a mystery if the first school bus in Michigan was created in Crockery Township in the mid-to-late 1920s. But several aged Ottawa County residents still recall riding in what resembled a chicken coop on the back of the old Nash car.

For some, it's fondly remembered as “the chicken coop car.”

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