The number of the bus that Earl Gilley drove for 43 years was retired last month in his honor. “Earl was quite a fella,” said Don Saunders, who worked alongside Gilley for several years. The number 3 bus will assume the number 31 next week. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ELLSWORTH SCHOOL DEPARTMENT

Ellsworth School Department retires longtime driver’s bus number

ELLSWORTH — In memory and honor of Earl Gilley, who drove Ellsworth schoolchildren to and from their homes for 43 years, the bus number 3 has been retired.

The bus itself is still in working order-but it will be known as bus number 31 from now on.

“There will never be an Ellsworth School Bus #3 again,” the School Department wrote in a press release.

Gilley was known for his “old-style” mechanic skills and his affinity for silver hubcaps.

Any new bus that came in, he would immediately set to work with his can of spray paint.

Don Saunders, who worked alongside Gilley for many years, said Gilley’s wheels were notorious even in other towns. When the school borrowed a bus from a neighboring district whose buses had black hubcaps, Saunders said staff told him not to let Gilley near the wheels.

“Don’t you dare let Earl get near that bus with silver spray paint,” Saunders remembers being told.

Gilley got his bus license at 18, and had his first job driving Swan’s Island students to and from MDI High School for $100 a week. After dropping them off, Gilley would report for work at the Gordon-White Ford dealership in Southwest Harbor.

Gilley worked as a mechanic and a driver for the Ellsworth school system. He never applied for the job, but simply fell into it after he was asked to substitute one afternoon.

“One afternoon, Luther Springer, who was the head bus driver asked Earl if would drive the school bus. Earl said ‘yes’ and the rest is history,” officials wrote.

The Dedham man may not have been tidy, but he was beloved.

“He was an older style of mechanic,” Saunders recalled. “He would leave things out on the countertops. Everything was cluttered. But when you asked him if you could borrow a wrench, he would reach right out and put his hand on it. He knew exactly where he put it.”

Gilley also was an activist. After noticing that drivers weren’t stopping for his red lights on the Bucksport Road, he worked with Rep. Louis Luchini (D-Ellsworth) on amending state law to allow flashing wig-wag lights on school buses, the kind normally only found on emergency vehicles.

“We’ve found the number of people passing has decreased dramatically,” said Saunders, who noted that Gilley’s former bus (now number 31) is the only one in the fleet to sport the lights.

The father of four passed away in his sleep on Dec. 13. He was 66.

“It was a huge shock,” Saunders said. “I had to break it to the drivers the next morning. It’s a big loss.”

At the funeral, Gilley’s friend Bob Maddocks suggested retiring the bus number, in the same way sports teams do after a player retires. The idea was roundly supported, and shortly thereafter, bus number 3 hung up its hubcaps.

“That number has been retired in memory and honor of Earl B. Gilley III forever,” the department wrote.

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]

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