I had got the drum from the big boss before I left home this morning. Do not be late tonight. We are going to a show in Melbourne, so don’t forget. I knew it was worth more than my life was worth to forget, so I made sure the message was imprinted on my brain.
The day went well. I had dropped off my last passengers and was heading for Belgrave. I went through Olinda Township and planted the foot just a smidgen more than usual down the hill. At about the Cuckoo Restaurant, I was turning into the slight right hand bend when a truck going up hill decided he wanted a little more room and drifted over the white line by about a foot. This left me with no room to play with. I pulled over as far as I could, without hitting the white posts and braked hard. Just at the split second of braking, I hit a really big pot hole. Suddenly the brake pedal was flat on the floor. I got my foot under the pedal and lifted it, but it went straight down again. Just lovely, that is not in my script. What now? I had to slow the old girl down a bit to get into a lower gear. If I changed down now I would over rev the engine and blow it up. There would be pieces of 49’s engine littered all over Olinda. The hand brake had never worked, but I thought if I pulled it on really hard I might get something but it did not make any difference. My mind was racing, but I think the bus was beating my mind easily. As soon as I realised that I had lost my brakes the bus seemed to be doing about one hundred miles an hour. I had two options; I could jump out and leave her. But no, no, that wasn’t an option; I couldn’t leave the old girl. The white posts flashing by also made up my mind that I shouldn’t. So, the only thing I could do was stick with her. Where could I slow down enough to get down a gear? Hell, the other side of Sassafras Township. I went through all the corners between here and Sassafras in my mind. I think I could make all of them but one. The big left hand corner at Rostrevor, just above Sassafras Township, that was a big, big worry. If there was no other traffic, I could drift to the gutter on the right hand side of the road, then cut back to the left and across to the right again. In that way I would straighten the corner enough to get around, I hoped. The tyres were now screaming. On the corners, even if I got through Sassafras, would I slow down enough to change down? I didn’t know. Nothing for it now I would have to wait and see. By the time I got to Rostrevor corner we were low flying. About fifty yards before the corner I drifted to the right hand gutter then pulled hard over to the left. I thought I could feel the wheels lift. If I thought the tyres were screaming before, I was wrong. Now they were screaming. But I kept on the road, don’t tell me how, I did not know. I do know that if 49 had a couple of wings we could have flown to Belgrave. I straightened up and roared through Sassafras Township with my hand on the horn and straddling the white line. I scattered a few sleepy pedestrians and woke up everyone in town. Now the big worry was, would the hill slow us down enough to get into third gear? By the time I got to the Crescent we were still low flying and I was really worried. If I could not get her under control by the top of the hill there were no other hills I could use to stop before the big drop to Ferntree Gully. I would have to put her into the bush at the Sherbrook turn off. The trouble with bush is there are these big trees and I did not want to stop that quickly. We were fifty yards off the top of the hill and still going too fast for my liking, but it was now or never, I revved her up as hard as I could then changed down to third. The engine screamed like a Formula 1 racing car, but stayed in one piece. Then slowly the revs dropped, so did my miles per hour. Just before the top of the ridge, I changed to second gear and pulled over into a very wide grass verge and stopped. I felt like I had just run a hundred yard dash in record time. Out of breath and my hands were shaking. Most of the time bus driving I could have half asleep, but every now and then it did get interesting, didn’t it? I think that was the fastest anyone had moved in Sassafras for many years.
Now if I stopped here and rang the garage for a tow I would be late and in deep trouble at home so only one thing for it, I would drive back to Belgrave. Only a few worries between here and Belgrave, I shouldn’t have too much trouble. Driving without brakes is no trouble as long as you listen to the revs and change gear accordingly everything will be OK. The main trouble of driving with no brakes is stopping. That can be a little difficult. I started off again and stayed in third gear to the Sherbrook turn off. Then into top through Sherbrook, changing down to second at the Sherbrook post office. The steep hill down to Kallista had two hair pin bends, but these were OK in second. Coming into Kallista main road is a cross road. Here I would have to be very careful. I looked all ways nothing coming; I turned onto the main road for Belgrave. Down to Belgrave in top gear, then into third, down to second just outside US Motors; a good look all ways at the cross road. Nothing coming, so I turned hard into the corner, then swung the bus across the road and headed uphill until it stopped, then quickly into reverse and just let the engine take the weight of the bus as I drifted back into the garage. I was ninety percent sure nothing would be coming out at this time of the afternoon and I was right. I was lining up to drift alongside a parked bus when a thought popped into my mind. It was really nice going out with the big boss, but I would not like to do it too often. Getting home early is really stressful, isn’t it? I ran alongside the parked bus and about four feet from the wall, turned off the ignition and stopped on compression.
Suddenly, two people were on the step of the bus. Geoff Mountjoy, the boss and Ken Elliott tagging behind. I took a look at Mountjoy face; he looked like thunder, really grumpy. Huh, what has ruffled his feathers, I thought.
“What speed were you doing coming down the mount?” He snapped.
It’s me he is grumpy at. How did they know I have just arrived? No good talking to him like he is so I jumped out of my seat and pointed to the brake pedal. Mountjoy and Ken craned their necks to look over the back of the seat. It took a second to sink in then it was as though I had deflated him with a pin.
“No brakes. Oh my goodness when did you loose your brakes?”
“At the Cuckoo Restaurant.” I said.
“Hells bells and you drove all the way here without brakes?”
“Yes.” I said.
“Well, I have got some phone calls to make.” Said Mountjoy, turning and brushing Ken aside he hurried away. Ken too suddenly remembered a very urgent job and hurried off in a different direction. That is good. I did not want to waste time talking, I have to be home. I looked at my watch. I was early and would be in the good books with the big boss. Wow how good was that?
Next day at about eleven am I was working under a car on the hoist when from around the corner I heard someone talking loudly.
“Where is he, where is he?”
Then around the corner came Don Harrison.
“Ah there you are Stirling.” He said, with a laugh.
“We have all heard about you trying to break the land speed record down the mount. Well done. Now to business, you must have lost your brakes very quickly, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” I said.
“Well, what happened?”
I told Don about hitting the brake and the pot hole at the same time. Don nodded.
“Yes the left front brake was a disaster waiting to happen.”
“When were the brakes were last done up?” I said.
He stopped for a moment and had a think.
“Can’t remember when, but someone turned out the left front brake drum and took too much out, leaving it dangerously thin. The combination of hard braking and the pothole elongated the drum and blew the wheel cylinder rubbers and pistons right out of the cylinder I found them rolling around in the bottom of the brake drum when I pulled it all off. Amazing. I have checked the right hand side and it’s OK. Found another drum and fixed the left too. She’s right to go.”
“Beauty.” I said.
So then I told Don about Mountjoy and Ken waiting for me.
“How did they know so quickly?” I said.
I saw a change come over Dons face. It looked like I had hit a raw nerve.
“By the time you were half way down the main street of Sassafras, Mountjoy would have had half a dozen phone calls already. Those Sassafras shopkeepers are a pack of bastards.” Don said.
“Sassafras is in a dip between two big hills and I suppose that a few drivers had got a run up through the town to climb the hills.”
Obviously Don was one that had been caught. Don turned to go then suddenly turned back.
“You made one very bad blue yesterday.” He said.
“You made too much bloody noise going through Sassafras. If you hadn’t blown the horn you probably could have got a few of the bastards.”
Then with his good humour restored he walked off roaring with laughter.