Get on Board with Bus Driver Bob Donnenwirth
Each morning starts with a safety check. Planes from the nearby airport buzz overhead as bus driver Bob Donnenwirth inspects the fluids, signal lights, doors, wheelchair lift, and emergency exits on his Gold Country Stage bus. It’s 8:47 a.m. and he is off to Grass Valley to pick up passengers for the start of Route 6 to Penn Valley.
“Groovy. Here we go.”
This is Donnenwirth’s favorite route.
“I like to consider Rough & Ready Highway my office in the morning. Just meander down the road. You usually see the same people every day or a couple times a week. It’s a nice way to start the day.”
As he heads toward the first stop of the day, Donnenwirth talks about the passengers who ride this route —a Sierra College professor, students, a Hospice volunteer. Most people who board greet Donnenwirth by name.
“He’s a good guy,” a passenger named Trish says.
Donnenwirth started at Gold Country Stage in 1995, after working at the nearby Nevada County Airport.
“I worked upstairs at the airport for eight-and-a-half years, and it closed in ‘95 to be rebuilt. It was either get laid off until it was done, or slide over here. I slid over here, and I liked it and asked to stay.”
A 21-year veteran of Nevada County’s Gold Country Stage bus service, Donnenwirth has met a lot of people from behind the wheel. One passenger in her 90s told him father was once a local constable. After talking about their families one day they discovered that her parents and his grandparents had once been friends. Donnenwirth shares stories of a passenger who sometimes brought him plates of Mexican food and another who made him a baby blanket when his daughter was born.
It’s these relationships with his passengers that have kept him in the driver’s seat for all these years.
“We know each other by name, what they do and where they’re going. … You know, that’s how they do their life: shopping, doctors’ appointments, getting down to Auburn to catch the Amtrak bus to go on a trip.”
Over the years, he’s met many new people and even seen kids who rode the bus with their parents grow into independent bus-riding adults themselves. For Donnenwirth, this is part of the joy of being a Gold Country Stage driver.
“The drivers enjoy the passengers, conversing back and forth and getting to know a little bit about them. Their ins and outs, their lives, families. I’ve seen their kids grow up.”
Donnenwirth drives for five hours each day, starting with Route 6 in the morning and transitioning to Route 2 and Route 3 in the afternoon. He spends the rest of his shift working dispatch, coordinating buses and assisting the public.
“Ask questions,” he says. “You know when people are new and they’re kind of hesitant. I always just say ‘Please feel free to ask. You can ask any of the drivers. They’d be more than willing to help you.’”
Article courtesy of 211 Nevada County. 211 Nevada County is a resource and information hub that connects people with community programs and services through a free, 24/7 confidential phone service and online database. 211 serves the entire population of Nevada County with an easy to remember three digit number.
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