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Delivering precious cargo

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Army veteran, 26-year Springfield alderman, barber and beautician Willie Mason has been delivering children to Robertson County schools for 41 years now. CHERI REEVES

With school now underway, Willie Mason, 78, of Springfield has begun his 41st year of driving a school bus for Robertson County Schools.

Mason, who is married to Deborah Mason, owns Mason's Barbershop on Central Avenue. He served for 26 years as an alderman for the City of Springfield.

Mason said in 1976 he needed a little more income from his job of cutting hair, so he decided to become a school bus driver.

"Back in the days when I started driving, it was easier," Mason said. "I didn't have much to put up with in controlling the kids. If they acted up then, I would just put them off of the bus, but I can't do that now."

Even though the methods of dealing with children have changed through the years, Mason said he is able to keep control of the bus when problems arise.

"I've never had a problem with that," Mason said. "I keep pretty good control of my bus. I tell them there are 25 rules on my bus and I try to abide by all of them. I think that helps."

Mason drives three routes in the morning and three in the afternoon, all in the Springfield cluster, servicing students of Krisle Elementary School, Springfield Middle School and Springfield High School.

"I have everything there up on the hill," Mason said. "From Memorial and Fifth Avenue to Industrial and back over to Bill Jones Industrial. I have all of that."

Mason grew up near Monroe, La. and spent quite a bit of his young life picking cotton on a plantation.

"I came up the hard way, not the highway," Mason said. "Back then, picking cotton is what we did and I couldn't wait to get out of there. I wanted to go into the service, but Mama wouldn't sign for me until I finished high school, so as soon as I finished, she signed for me and I got out of there."

In the 1950s, Mason served in the 101st Airborne, jumping out of airplanes, which brought him to Ft. Campbell and eventually, he settled in Springfield.

After he got out of the army, Mason worked a couple of jobs in Springfield before taking a more permanent career path towards becoming a barber.

In the early 1960s, about five or six of Mason's friends decided to go to school to learn to cut hair because they knew someone locally who owned a barber shop where they could work.

"In the military, you could go to school on a G.I. Bill," Mason said. "After work, we would go over to Jefferson Street in Nashville to a school. A lady named Mrs. Nash owned two schools, one on Jefferson Street for the black people and the other one was on Broadway."

Mason said he became a certified barber and followed that up with his certification in beautician school.

At his Springfield barbershop, mostly male customers come into get their hair cut, but some female customers rely on Willie to cut their hair too, Mason said.

"I have about 12 ladies who come into my barbershop," Mason said. "It's not a whole lot. I had one in there yesterday."

Mason's Barbershop, located at 619 Central Ave. West suite 1 in Springfield, is open on weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m., following his bus route. He's closed on Wednesdays and works just about all day on Saturday.

As for his bus route, Mason said he's happy driving the busloads of school children on his non-airconditioned school bus every year.

"It's better than picking cotton," Mason said. "I guess I will drive until I retire or until I die."

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