WALLA WALLA -- A charming robot named Buster, who to all the world resembles a cheery lemon-yellow school bus, is making the rounds in the area to share safety tips with kids.
The remote-controlled vehicle is the charge of Walla Wallans Jerry and Linda McBride, owners of Crossroad Services, which offers the school bus safety program.
Buster accompanies the couple to teach youngsters in kindergarten through fifth grade, Linda McBride said.
"Children are taught to pay attention to the school bus driver on and off the bus and to follow all the safety rules. They really love Buster, and they do remember his messages," she said.
Buster captivates kids with his winking, blinking, moving eyes and eyelids where the front windows are and a big smile situated between the front headlights.
The bus is about two feet wide, three feet high and three feet long.
The McBrides activate its headlights, taillights and flashing red and amber warning lights with radio controls. It operates on rechargeable batteries and also has remote-controlled audio cassette and voice systems.
"Jerry's voice is modified through Buster to sound like a cartoon," Linda McBride said of the voice system.
Jerry McBride learned about Buster while a school bus driver in Walla Walla, and found mentors from North Carolina, Alabama and Michigan who told him about the program, Linda said. Although he drove accident-free, he did experience many close calls, including with drivers who ignored the flashing red lights.
Jerry McBride parked his bus-driving career in December. The couple ordered Buster in April from Robotronics in Utah, and received it in May at a personal cost of $10,000. Jerry McBride built a trailer in which to haul Buster. They charge a nominal fee for classes.
Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8313.
The Buster program is endorsed by the National Association for Pupil Transportation and its state chapters, including Washington and Oregon. Robotronics invited the McBrides to bring Buster to the NAPT convention Oct. 30-Nov. 4 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
The McBrides have offered the program to area schools.
They also set up classes on the Oregon Coast while there for a visit. For more details, call the McBrides at 509-525-0617 or 509-956-8570.
For photos of Buster, go to union-bulletin.com and click on this story.