Buried bus story digs up 50 year old tragedy
Card, owner of Card’s Auto Salvage on Warner Road east of Staples, pointed out the exact spot where the bus was buried, using his family history that leads to that knowledge.
According to Card, the buried bus is the same bus that was involved in an accident where seventh grade student Jean Statema was killed in 1961. According to the May 18, 1961 Staples World, Statema and 38 other students were taken to the hospital after a grain truck, loaded with 49,000 pounds of barley, collided broadside with the bus.
Confirmed by the newspaper account, the bus was turning onto Highway 10 from 2nd Street, and the grain truck was driving east. The truck ended up running into gas pumps at a service station managed by Dick Wilson.
While injured students were being unloaded from the bus, a fire started in the front of the truck. The truck driver, pinned in the cab, was handed a fire extinguisher by spectator Alfred Hesse, to extinguish the blaze until the fire department arrived to pull him out.
Eleven students remained hospitalized after the accident. Later that week, Statema was mourned at the Batavia Church of Christa nd buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Browerville.
The bus driver was Pat Chambers. Card remembers that Chambers was a careful driver and had looked both ways before pulling out into the street, but he didn’t see the truck coming. Card said Chambers took it hard, and he died several months after the accident.
Card was in a perfect position to remember what happened to the bus after the tragic accident. His father, Pete, owned a salvage yard where Freshwater Education District building now sits. As the city began encroaching in that area, they sold the land to the bus garage. They also sold the land north of that to the technical school that later became Central Lakes College. Card said they started the heavy equipment program on that spot.
Card said his father l oved that ar range - ment because he was a big supporter of education, despite only having a fifth- grade education himself. Pete and his sons kept working with the bus garage for years after he sold them the land, so they were still around when the bus accident occured.
The bus was brought to the technical school, where it was stripped for parts, but they didn’t know what to do with the body, so they dug a giant hole, dropped the bus in it, and ran a tractor over it to crush it down. Card said the hole was right next to the building. Today, the cement slab for the building is still in place, and a grove of trees is growing out of the spot where Card said the bus had been buried.
Why they decided to bury the bus is one question Card can’t answer about the incident, but he has some ideas. He said there were no salvage yards around at the time that would take a bus, and the only other option would be to haul it to Little Falls or St. Cloud, but they probably didn’t have a trailer big enough to do that. So they just decided to bury it.
Fifty years later, the story of the bus became news again because the land was subsequently purchased by the Minnesota Department of Transportation for the purpose of rerouting Highway 10 to that area. Now that the highway has been routed one block south instead, MnDOT is looking to sell the land. The Staples EDA is helping find buyers, but the story of a buried bus kept cropping up.
Card said he wouldn’t worry about the bus. “It was a deep hole at least 10 to 12 feet,” he said. And with the trees growing over it and no sink hole formed in the ground, he didn’t think it would become an issue again. “I would build on that spot,” he said, “It shouldn’t be a problem.”