A Disquisition on Student Bus Shelters

Let us consider the subject of privately-constructed school bus shelters on the Oregon Coast. They are a ubiquitous presence on practically every back road in the region. But sometimes they are very hard to see.

Some observations about them:

I have seen a few shelters along rural Willamette Valley and Central Oregon roads but they predominate at the Coast. The prodigious rain, of course.

Most of the shelters stand at the end of long gravel driveways, always gravel. People who can afford paved driveways into the deep woods or pastures don’t build bus shelters.

No two shelters are the same, but every one I’ve seen is made of wood. Some have benches, built in chairs, others do not. Most could accommodate one or two students but I have seen a couple that could hold five or six. Some have concrete pads and windows. Some are painted. Some are painted in multiple colors and decorated with sunflowers or mushrooms or cartoon characters. Some have a shingled, metal or cedar-shaked roof. A few are rigged with electric power. I once saw one with a tiny rusted wood stove! I once saw one with a spire and another with a weather vane.

Who built these shelters? I’ve never seen one being built or repaired. Are they even legal? Some appear to rest on public property. What did the students in these shelters talk about? What about the kid who was always alone? I want to talk to someone who spent every rainy school morning of his/her grade school and junior high life inside a shelter waiting for a school bus. What was it like? Was there someone who used the shelter and was attending high school. How did this person fit inside? They must have been a pariah at school.

Virtually every shelter I’ve encountered no longer seems in use. You can just tell. They exude forlorn and abandonment. Most are falling apart, collapsed, buried in blackberries, swallowed by the forest, gone to seed, decomposing in the rain. No one ever seems to dismantle them that I can tell, although how would I know.

In 20 years of living on the Oregon Coast, I have never seen a student inside a shelter waiting for a school bus. Why do rural students no longer wait in them? I’ve seen students waiting in idling vehicles right next to perfectly dry shelters that had not yet succumbed to the elements. How come parents don’t or won’t leave their children in shelters anymore? Do students flat out refuse? Is the school bus shelter a dying or already extinct form of architecture?

These are fascinating cultural questions and changes to ponder.

Recently, while driving past several decaying shelters on a curving road in an especially remote area, I came up with the idea that they could be repurposed as art galleries, mini travel centers, libraries, vegetable or flower stands, or road kill skull museums. You could even leave an old portable cassette player behind with a few choice country music tapes from the Willie and Dolly golden era.

I’d like to collaborate with a visual artist and photographer to produce a coffee table book or zine about student bus shelters. We would travel around coastal Oregon and document their disintegrating existence with words and images, perhaps video. We might actually interview some of the shelter makers if we could somehow find them. If anyone is interested, let me know.

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