The Big Bang

I had another route for a while. I guess it was best to know all routes. So at the moment I travel to Upper Gully Technical School in the afternoon. First pickup there, then to Upwey High, through to the Patch, Monbulk and Silvan. The drive from Upwey to Upper Gully is an unmade road at this time. There is very major road widening going on. The tar has been lifted and driving on this section is like trying to handle a small boat in high seas, all over the place. Big holes and workers running around like rabbits. Going down the hill is interesting. The only thing between the road and the sixty or seventy foot drop to the Puffing Billy line are a line of forty-four gallon drums spaced out about six feet from the edge. At morning tea one day, Don McAllister was telling everyone about hitting one of the drums. It made a big bong. Luckily, it stayed upright or the workers would have had a long walk down the bank to pick it up.

On the way down that afternoon I took special note of the drums and wondered how hard it might be if I could ring them all. There were eight drums about twenty feet apart. Iíll give it a go. So the next afternoon I started. It looked easy, but looks are deceiving. The rough ground made it very hard to line them all up at one go. I varied between three to six drums. I couldnít seem to get more than six. It was frustrating me. But ringing the drums consistently soon had all the Italian workers in this section stopping work to watch this crazy young driver in the strange looking yellow bus. They all could see what I was trying to do but they were all making out they were not interested. I wondered why. But I was not going to give up. It took six grueling weeks to get the eight drums. What a relief. Back at the workers, one had jumped out of his trench and punched the air. Then it hit me, the workers must have been laying bets. How about that. The next afternoon driving through I thought I might go a little slower. I thought I might be pulled up to give me my share of the winnings, after all I did all the work didnít I? But no, all I got was a smile and a thumbs up. They are a tough lot those Italians.

I had been driving 49 for a while now. She had proven herself as a good spare bus, so it was decided to do up the engine. The spare engine in the workshop was pulled down and had rings, valves and bearings done. Bus 49 would be out of action for a couple of days so this reconditioned engine could be fitted. I did not know why all this had to happen, 49 was going well. I was the only driver and I had not complained, but it had all been decided by the powers to be. So in she went and a couple of days later she was finished. There was quite a bit of difference in performance and I was happy.

Two weeks later all was going good. I was driving the Olinda to Ferntree Gully route and one morning, it seemed out of the blue, a little tapping noise started in the engine. Before I could focus on the noise it was gone, but what I had heard I did not like. About three days later, the noise started again. Tap, tap, and tap, like a little man in the engine with a small hammer. Then it was gone again. I could not pick what this noise was, so I told Ken Elliott about it. He jumped into the bus and revved the hell out of it. Your imagining things he said. I tried to tell him the noise seemed to be on overrun, but he was the boss of the workshop and he knew best. So the engine was OK. The noise came and went over the next month, and I thought it was slowly getting worse. I tackled Ken again. You might know what the noise is if you hear it. How about taking her out for a good drive? But Ken was too busy or just not interested.

Another three weeks went by. One morning I was traveling down from the Ferny Creek store. I just let the old girl drift down the hill and it was not a steep hill to the Tremont store, stopping to pick up on the way. I had her in third gear. In places like this, I was just drifting in my head too. When the noise started again, then a very big bang followed by a very loud crunch. The back wheels locked up, leaving four huge black skid marks on the road about twenty feet long. I think we will find out what caused that tapping now. I threw the clutch and rolled down to the Tremont store. I rang the workshop and Ken said he would bring up 43, Oh, to save time, just roll down to the elbow and I will meet you there. I said OK, but something worried me. I couldnít think what it was. My brain must have still been drifting, out of gear. We rolled away from the Tremont store. This section is the steepest in the Dandenongs. I was going slowly, but I did not want any speed here. I touched the brake, nothing happened. My brain very quickly got into gear. I knew what had worried me now. No engine and no vacuum assisted brakes. I jumped up and stood with both feet on the brake pedal and pulled hard on the steering wheel for extra leverage. Then suddenly all chatter in the bus stopped. Oh hell I must be in trouble again. I found the little bit of braking I did get stopped 49 getting away, but no matter how hard I tried I could not stop her. If she built up any more speed I would have to put her into the gutter and bank. I thought up ahead, I could get around the big left hand corner at the bottom of this steep pinch. The road dropped down from there to the Devils Elbow. This section was not so steep, but I would not get around the Elbow, thatís for sure. If I let the pressure off the steering wheel to turn, the old girl would bolt, either straight over the edge, or down the road where I could not stop it. But, hang on, what about the safety run-off just above the Elbow. It was long and steep enough to stop her. What a relief, the fellow at the roads board who organized that run-off needs a medal I thought. The run-off worked beautifully and I stopped and then rolled back down to a flat area. The chatter started up again, I looked in the mirror and everyone was relaxed as though nothing had happened. Much different in the driversí seat. My legs were trembling with the exertion, and my arms felt like I had tried to pull them out of their sockets. It took Ken about fifteen minutes to get to the elbow, as soon as he saw me he said. Whatís wrong with you, youíre as white as a sheet. If I said one word, like vacuum, what would you say? Ken looked me in the eye. Oh, vacuum, no brakes, hell I didnít think, I am sorry. I didnít think either. I said. If I had a score for that episode it would not have been more than two out of ten.

Bus driving is more than being able to change gear and stay on the road. Sometimes things happened quickly and way out of left field, and I needed to use my brains a bit more. I had a hope of one day being a good driver and that episode was a big disappointment to me. But I had done something right, the demolition job on that reconditioned engine was complete, a huge hole in the side of the engine with a conrod hanging out of it. The engine was a complete throw away. Now what caused the tapping? The Bedford heads were fitted with valve inserts, a hardened metal ring fitted where the valves touched the head. These inserts were supposed to increase the life of the head. But the 3\8 inch thick metal ring was only held in by centre-punching the edges of the ring to the head. If the ring was not located properly and locked into position, it could slowly work its way out. Then the valve would tap it back, for a while. This is why it was so hard to pick what the noise was. But eventually the insert worked its way out completely, turned on its side and was smashed to pieces by the valve. Then big pieces of metal dropped on top of the piston, the piston blew to pieces and the conrod threw out the side of the block. So after all that, 49 got her old engine back not done up. But I was happy and 49 was happy. The bus workshop was not so happy; they had to buy a new engine. And after all that 49 never did get a reconditioned engine. Ah well, these things happen.