The wheels on the bus go round and round. But it takes a special kind of person to keep those wheels going and keeping his precious passengers safe.

That has been Leon George II's life-long mission and has become a family tradition.

His company, Leon George II School Buses, Inc., Lehighton/Palmerton, a family-owned school bus contracting company, received the Pennsylvania School Bus Association's prestigious Gold Gus Contractor Award.

The award, established in 1987 to honor family-owned companies who have provided 50 or more consecutive years of pupil transportation service to school districts within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, has been awarded to only 58 of the state's 800-plus school bus fleet owners since the award was established.

The beginning

The business, which was honored during a banquet in State College, began in 1948 when Leon A. George bought a 1946 Dodge bus and began transporting students to and from Towamensing Township school.

"This was back in the day when many farmers had one or two buses. They could take the kids to and from school in between their farming," says Leon's son, Leon George, II, now owner. "Some gave them up and others later sold their buses to my dad, who took over their contracts."

His mother, Esther, did the paper work for the business. They had three children, Leona, Lenora and Leon, II.

Leon, II, was always involved in his family's business and could drive a school bus at 16, but never with passengers. He graduated from Palmerton Area High School in 1981 where he attended Carbon County Vo-tech in the mechanics field. He worked on his dad's buses in the repair shop. That Aug. 31 he took the school bus driving exam and began driving school bus the next day, the first day of school.

The legacy

When his parents decided to retire, Leon bought the business in 1989, and it became Leon George II School Buses Inc. One of the first things he did was hire a full-time mechanic. He contracted with Palmerton School District and had seven bus routes in Jim Thorpe School District. In 1990, he became the sole contractor for the Palmerton Area School District.

In 1995, he bought out Leonard Borger, who was contracted with the Lehighton Area School District, which is now George's Transportation Co. In 1997, he voluntarily gave up the Jim Thorpe routes.

"I wanted to give the best possible service I could and felt it was spreading me too thin with the three districts," Leon says.

He admits to loving driving bus.

"I like mixing with the kids," he said. "And it's rewarding to work with a student who is not behaving on the bus to work with him to resolve the issue. I get a great deal of satisfaction from that."

Leon married Danielle Marx, a graduate of Northampton High School, in 1988. She had gotten her bus driving license at the age of 18 but had a full-time job working for Prudential in Fogelsville. What she learned in the Prudential office, she later brought to the family business.

"I've always been involved in some way but came to work full-time in 2001 in the Lehighton office." she noted.

In 1989, Leon's sister, Leona Green, came to work for him full-time in the Palmerton office. Her husband, Barry, became a mechanic and bus driver, still driving today. Their oldest son, Brian, works as a mechanic and driver for the company.

Sadly, Leona passed away last year after a long battle with cancer.

Leon said, "She didn't miss a day's work until she could no longer do it. She loved what she was doing and didn't want to give it up."

Danielle transitioned to the Palmerton office in 2012 after Leona's passing.

The next chapter

After Leon II took over the business, a few years later he decided he wanted to have the Public Utility Commission rights to do charter work. After he attained his PUC approval, he ran five or six school buses for charter trips to dinner theaters.

"It was like getting some good friends together and saying, 'Let's go to a show,'" he said.

A stop was always made at a Sheetz for a bathroom break.

As a passenger on these trips, Danielle overheard people express how it would be nice to have a bathroom on board the bus. She suggested to her husband that maybe they should get a motor coach.

This year they purchased a 33-seat, 2013 Glaval Legacy/Freightliner with a Cummins Diesel engine and now their charter trips travel in luxury and comfort.

"But they still like to stop at Sheetz," Leon smiles.

The family

Leon and Danielle have two sons, Jacob, 20 and Ben, 18. Jacob is working part-time in the family business and Ben is attending UTI studying diesel mechanic.

"It would be nice to see them both come into the family business, each son taking over the two companies, but we encourage them to follow their own dreams," says Danielle.

Both Georges are avid bowlers and enjoy camping. They have a large vegetable garden which keeps them busy in the summers. Leon likes bicycling and his antique cars, a 1957 Ford sedan and a 1964 Ford pickup that he has had since he was 16. He rebuilt it when he was a senior in high school.

The company has 58 buses and employs 49 people, 40 of them full-time, between the two facilities.