Watermelon buses; a Lowcountry anomaly

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By Lee Scott

It is that time of year again. The kids go back to school and the yellow buses are everywhere. You have to know the school calendar in order to determine when you can avoid getting stuck behind a school bus. But wait; there are some school buses that you don’t have to worry about during the school year at all. They are called Watermelon buses. For newcomers to the area, this is one of those double takes. Your first impression is: yes, that is a school bus. Your second impression is: something is very wrong with that school bus. My friend Babs said that this was one of her first surprises when she moved to this area. Those buses are carrying watermelons. As it turns out, they carry other fruits and vegetables too, but are primarily known for their watermelons, hence the term “Watermelon buses”.

Talk about recycling! School buses used for the transportation of school children have an average life expectancy of seven to ten years. (I know this because I used to finance school buses for my clients.) Part of the reason is because there are so many regulatory requirements for school buses. Most of the rules are related to the safety features required for transporting children. The school bus owners have to sell the old buses and buy new ones to comply with the changing rules. So who buys old school buses? Some are purchased by churches to transport parishioners. Some are purchased by farmers or companies that have to transport large amounts of produce. It is interesting to see these buses filled with watermelons. According to one website, the buses can hold up to 1,000 watermelons per bus. That is a lot of produce getting hauled.

Many of the Watermelon bus owners will cut the top of the school bus completely off. In some cases, they just take out the windows and keep the roof intact. I love to see the ones that have original graphics on the side or are painted a lime green. But most of them look like the traditional yellow school bus minus all the school children inside.

So if you are driving along a local highway and you notice a unique looking school bus that stops without its flashing lights. Look closely. You may find yourself looking at your next watermelon.