Charter bus driver Jim Schilling is so good at his “hobby away from home,” that the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce has named him the August Employee of the Month.
When Andy’s Charter Service owner Andy Galston received word from the Chamber that Schilling had been nominated by another local business, he was shocked and honored. Then he got to work on figuring how to get the bus driver/farmer over to the shop for the presentation without revealing the surprise.
“I said ‘You got to be here at 10 o’clock and wear a nice shirt,’ and he’s like ‘What are you up to?’” Galston said.
Schilling thought he would be walking into something dealing with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and instead received the award.
“I never thought it would be nothing like this,” Schilling said.
About 30 years ago, Schilling began driving bus as a school bus driver taking his children to class. The plan, Schilling said, was to retire from bus driving once his kids were out of school. It didn’t work out that way.
Schilling began working for a charter bus company. The company was eventually bought by a new man in town, Galston, 17 years ago.
“He brought me under his wing when I moved here. I went deer hunting with his family and we four-wheeled together,” Galston said.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Schilling said.
There are drawbacks to long trips to places like Notre Dame University, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado or Jackson, Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, such as being away from his family.
“When you’re away you miss the family, but you’re with another family,” Schilling said.
During the trips, Schilling makes sure to interact with his passengers other than simply being the bus driver.
“You get out of it what you put into it,” Schilling said.
This has included things like hiking with the kids’ groups or going to a local church during the trip.
Galston said customers who have worked with other companies are shocked by Schilling ‘s interaction with the groups and now request having him as a driver the next time they take a trip.
Another difference between Schilling and most other drivers, is that if everyone is OK with it, he includes stops at places like Dairy Queen, even if it’s not on the group’s itinerary.
Some of the challenges with driving around the country are dealing with traffic in the big cities and using the newer electronic navigational systems, Schilling said. He said he prefers to keep to his atlases.
If something goes wrong mechanically, Schilling said the important thing is to keep calm and call the service companies to get assistance.
Galston said the nice thing about having Schilling driving buses is that, as a farmer, he has some experience with large equipment and isn’t afraid to get a little dirty trying to fix an issue.
As part of the Employee of the Month Award, Schilling has received gift certificates from local businesses like Pizza Ranch, Subway and Vaccuum Cleaner Outlet and Service Center, along with flowers from Coborn’s, a cookbook from CHI St. Gabriel’s Health Hospice Program and a professional photo taken by Silker Studio.
Schilling and the rest of the 2017 employees of the month will be honored at the 2018 Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet and meeting.