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February 7, 2024 12 mins

Why are all school buses the same color? Because one man made it so. This is that story. 

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Hey, and welcome to the short stuff. I'm Josh, and
there's Chuck, and there's Cherry and the driver's seat hopping along,
bouncing along in our little stuff. You should know school bus.

Speaker 2 (00:14):
Two quick questions off the top. Did you ever have
to ride a school bus to school with regularity?

Speaker 1 (00:20):
I've got two words for that.

Speaker 2 (00:21):
Oh yes, and please tell me you do. Do you
remember the name of your school bus driver?

Speaker 1 (00:29):
I got several words.

Speaker 2 (00:30):
No.

Speaker 1 (00:31):
I feel really bad that I don't now that you ask,
But no, I don't remember the name of my school
bus driver.

Speaker 2 (00:37):
Oh that's okay. You may have had several. I have
a theory that like a school bus driver, if you
have the same one as one of those, that kind
of sticks with you. Even though my dad was my principal,
I usually rode to work with dad, but I did
ride the school bus some because you want to as
a kid. Some Ruby's dying to ride a school bus,
but they don't have one at her school and it's

(00:58):
always sad when she sees them. But I had. Mister
Wagnan was my school bus driver, which is interesting now
that I think of it, because before school buses, you
might have been taken to school in a wagon.

Speaker 1 (01:14):
That was pretty good. Segue man. It's been a little while, Yeah,
it's true. Until the nineteen thirties, the late thirties, actually
the forties probably. Yeah. If you were a rural kid,
a rod duror or the kid of a rod ur
and you wanted to get to school, you very well
may have been taken to school in a horse and

(01:37):
buggy essentially, or a cart, farm cart, maybe a truck,
who knows, whatever could get you to school, that's what
you got to school. And because there was no federal
system or standardization across the United States, there was whatever
your school district could think of to get you to school.
And even trying to get you to school was a

(01:57):
fairly new concept in the early twenty century after industrialization
drew everyone to the cities, because the school was in
the city, that's where most people were. You know, before
that it was like good luck getting to school. Now
I was like, okay, we really need to get you
to school because we have to train you to work
in these factories.

Speaker 2 (02:14):
Dumb, dumb, exactly. Thankfully there was a gentleman and this
is just kind of the perfect short stuff. While we
invented short stuff was because of topics like this, like
why your school bus is yellow, It's because of a
man named Frank sear See y R. He was born
in a rural area. He was raised on a farm

(02:35):
in Nebraska, and as he grew up he got to
be in his bonnet to advocate for the education of
people in rural areas. He was a professor at Teachers College,
Columbia University, and he started studying school transportation. He was like,
I'm sure. He was like, you know what, I got
taken to school in a truck maybe or maybe it

(02:56):
was even a wagon back then. And we got a
real hit and miss system going on here. So we
need to protect kids, keep them safe on the way
to school. And a good way to start that is
nine years later, in nineteen thirty nine, he organized a
conference in New York City about improving and standardizing the
American school bus.

Speaker 1 (03:17):
Yeah, and it was a success. He didn't just get
crickets back. He got a lot of people, educators, people
who were in charge of transportation for their counties, people
who made buses all showed up to New York City
in that nineteen thirty nine conference and he said, Okay,
let's create these standards, and by the end of the conference,
we're going to have come up with standards for school

(03:40):
buses throughout the entire United States. And now it's just like,
you know, big whoop. But if you go back and
think about it, especially that this just didn't exist and
he created it out of thin air, it's a pretty
cool accomplishment actually, because he was successful immediately.

Speaker 2 (03:56):
Yeah. Absolutely, that's why. You know, when you get on
a school bus, you're gonna have the same width of
the aisle, the seats are going to be basically the same,
the doors and the dimensions of this stuff are going
to be the same. But what Frank's here is really
really known for is school bus yellow or the official
name is National school Bus Glossy Yellow.

Speaker 1 (04:18):
Pretty great name.

Speaker 2 (04:19):
I love it.

Speaker 1 (04:20):
It's a mouthful. But the reason that that was part
of the standardization too was, as Frank Seer's son William
put it, that whenever you saw a bus that color,
you'd think, Okay, there's a bunch of kids going somewhere. Yeah,
you just associated with this. So that meant they needed
an eye catching color that wasn't already widely used, that

(04:43):
they could associate with school buses and that's exactly what
they came up with.

Speaker 2 (04:48):
Yeah. So, as the story goes, Sere was looking at
colors in his office was really drawn to all these
colors on the orange spectrum, different kinds of yellows, yellow greens,
stuff like that, because he wanted something that stood out.
And at that nineteen thirty nine meeting he brought fifty cheese.

(05:08):
He narrowed it down to fifty choices. I probably would
have brought like three maybe, but he brought fifty choices,
hung them on the wall and said, all right, we
need a special committee. We're all going to decide on this.
And they chose that sort of yellowish orange color originally
called National school Bus Chrome, and that was it. He

(05:29):
published a forty two page booklet saying here's the standards
that we're proposing, and that pamphlet was school bus yellow.

Speaker 1 (05:36):
Yeah. I say, we take a break and when we
come back, we'll explain why that was such a great
color for year to pick.

Speaker 3 (05:45):
Let's do it, okay, Chuck.

Speaker 1 (06:08):
So Frank Seer and his conference members at that nineteen
thirty nine conference, they came up with forty four dimensions
for the school bus, or forty four standards for the
school bus, and one of them was school bus glossy yellow.
And Frank Seer was not a safety expert, he was
not a visual scientist, he was not an optimologist. He

(06:30):
didn't know anything, but he had a good gut for
picking out what color would be the best one to pick,
and that yellow was a really great color. Because as
this guy who's interviewed, doctor Stephen Solomon, he's an optometrist
and founder of a company called Visibility Emotion, which is
a consulting group. He said that yellows are most easily

(06:53):
seen by the human eye, not just for any people
with normal vision, but even if you have red green
colored deficiency, you still see yellow. And he basically said,
like Frank Seer stumbled upon essentially the perfect safe color.

Speaker 2 (07:11):
Yeah, that's awesome. I love it.

Speaker 1 (07:14):
The reason why yellow is so visible is because it
stimulates both the red and the green cones. We've got red, green,
and blue cones and it just sets two of them
a flame. Right, So even if you have red green
color blindness, you can't differentiate red or green. Yellow says,
hey what about neither? And you can still see yellow.

Speaker 2 (07:36):
I love it. So it works for almost everybody. Imagine
there's somebody that probably can't see yellow, right.

Speaker 1 (07:42):
Yeah, I guess, but they're probably just being contrarian.

Speaker 2 (07:45):
Yeah. Maybe so Frank's here passed away in nineteen ninety five,
but obviously was able to see his vision. I imagine
every time Frank's here was out on the road and
saw one of those yellow school buses, he probably felt
a little little warm in his tom thumbs. I know
I would. So these days, any school bus in the

(08:06):
United States of America that is sold or lease they
have to meet all those federal safety standards and be
painted that color. I do think it's funny. And we're
going to cover this kind of quickly. That and this
is something I've always wondered that they got together. They said,
all right, let's get forty four standards, width of stuff,
heights of stuff. But we're all in agreement. No seat belts, right.

Speaker 1 (08:29):
I know, it's crazy.

Speaker 2 (08:31):
I've always wondered about that, but it kind of makes
sense when it's explained here. And by the way, big
thanks to Dave Ruse. This is one of his short
articles from housti works dot com. But school buses don't
drive super fast, they don't hit like when they are
in an accident. It's usually not the kind of thing

(08:53):
where like there's a very fast stop. They're heavy, they're slow,
they don't stop suddenly if there's an accident. I mean
they plow through whatever they're hitting. Is in reality what happens.
So the seat belts, Like for a kid fifteen rows
back plowing through a Prius at twenty three miles an hour,

(09:14):
that kid's not going to go go flying, you know,
eighteen feet through the front windshield.

Speaker 1 (09:18):
That kid'll just be like, hey, watch the speed.

Speaker 2 (09:20):
Bumps, mister wagnan. But school buses are very heavily regulated
and very safe. They are compartmentalized, so you know, those
seats are very closely spaced for that reason. They have
energy absorbing backs for that reason. There's all sorts of
rollover protection and crush standards and stuff like that. So

(09:43):
school buses are safe. They just don't have seat belts.

Speaker 1 (09:46):
Statistically speaking, they're safe too. Apparently in the United States,
any given weekday, twenty six million American kids ride to
school on a school bus. And I looked up a
lot of trouble finding this, but I'm pretty sure what
I found was that that's more than twenty percent of
the people on the road in the United States and

(10:06):
any given weekday. Wow, and yet it represents less than
one percent of all traffic fatalities.

Speaker 2 (10:13):
Now was that rush hour stats?

Speaker 1 (10:15):
I don't know, man, I tried really hard. I couldn't
find anything nuanced like that. I basically had to cobble
it together myself. So what I found was that on
the on the road something like thirty six percent of
Americans drive any given day. So I took that and
figured out how many Americans there are? Was thirty six

(10:35):
percent of that percentage is twenty six million that number,
and that's where I came up with more than twenty percent.

Speaker 2 (10:43):
No, no, no, I like it. I think it tracks, and
I think that we will definitely hear from someone who
thinks they have found a better way to calculate that.
But just the eyeball test. When I'm driving Ruby to
school in the morning, we see a lot of school buses,
Oh yeah, everywhere.

Speaker 1 (10:56):
You do not want to get behind one.

Speaker 2 (10:59):
No, and you do want to stop though if that
arm goes out, because that is a I don't know
if it's true, but I heard that that is like
the second worst moving violation you can get behind, like
a dui. I don't know if that's true, but I
know it is a hefty fine. They don't take lightly.

Speaker 1 (11:16):
It seems like it should be. And I mean, even
if the cops don't get you, there's people who will
chase you in their car if they see you do that.
It's a really gross violation of like social standards.

Speaker 2 (11:28):
It is you don't do that.

Speaker 1 (11:30):
No, you're like, I don't care about children's lives, is
what you're saying. I need to get to Starbucks, I
need to get to Cracker Barrel. I need to get
somewhere that's more important than a child's life, is what
you're shouting at everyone.

Speaker 2 (11:43):
You know, who else didn't care about children's lives? Is
that guy who kidnapped that school bus, yellow school bus
in Chowchilla. Yeah, buried that thing.

Speaker 1 (11:51):
That's right, You got anything else?

Speaker 2 (11:54):
No, that's a past episode Chowchilla school kidnapping. Look it up.
It's great.

Speaker 1 (11:59):
Yeah. Hats off to Frank Seer and heads off to
Short Stuff, which is out.

Speaker 2 (12:07):
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