The First Trip
A lot of people have a touch of the sadist in them and nearly all the bus drivers fitted that description. Once everyone knew I had my bus licence, one after another they managed the time to tell me hair-raising stories of near misses and accidents, particularly in loaded buses. And to a tee, they all thought these stories were really funny. But for a feller that had not had a real drive yet they only increased the tension of the big day.
I had a first hand view of one such accident. I was playing football for Upper Gully only a couple of years previous. The club had hired a bus to an away game. I had a lift from Belgrave in this bus, being driven by Joe McGrath, one of the older experienced drivers at US Motors. We had only just started driving past the Cameo theatre in Belgrave when Joe did some fancy gear change, probably trying to impress me, but he missed the change and the tail shaft threw up through the floor between the seats. It nearly gave me a heart attack. This was bus No 38, a 1938 model K5 International. I hoped I don’t get bus 38 on my first trip.
Another rather off-putting story was the description of a trip from Olinda to Ferntree Gully. The driver was running late and decided to drive from the Tremont store down the hill in too high a gear. From the Tremont store down is the steepest hill in the whole route. The bus started to get away, so to slow it down he changed down a gear. The engine over revved and blew to pieces. The fan blades threw off and cut a twelve-inch gash in the bonnet. Then to stop the bus, that was incidentally fully loaded, the driver put it into the bank and deep gutter, ripping the side out of the bus. Stories like this were really calming for me.
So two days before my first trip, all the routes were posted on a board outside Don Cameron’s office along with the buses allotted to the drivers for the trip. So lucky Rob got the big double, the Olinda to Ferntree Gully trip. Wonderful, plus you won’t guess this, but I got bus 38. Happy days!
The big day arrived and for some reason I did not feel too good. As a matter of fact, I felt a bit sick, but I remembered what Doug told me. Just put into practice all I had learned and don’t do anything silly. Bus driving was really a lonely job. Although the bus could be loaded to the hilt, all decisions would be mine and I had to be on the ball, especially down the mount.
I drove to Olinda, then up Ridge Rd, past the TV towers, down to Kalorama then back to Olinda, picking up passengers all the way. At a guess, looking in the rear-view mirror, I must have a load of about sixty passengers. They were really packed in. I think bus 38 was a twenty-five-passenger bus. But still picking up passengers all the way down the mount, I did not have a clue how many I had in the end. I went very steady down from the Tremont store. At Devil’s elbow I pulled over as far as I could to allow the traffic behind to get past. I picked up another four passengers there. I took off slowly, but straight away I knew I was in trouble. The steering lock on this bus was awful. I would need a football ground of room to turn back onto the road. I had pulled off the road too far to let the traffic past. But not to worry, I would back up a bit. So I pulled on the handbrake. It did not work. The brake pedal was too far away from the accelerator for a heal and toe start (heal on brake, toe on accelerator) so now I was in serious trouble. I tried a few times to quickly brake to accelerator, but the slope and the weight on board was too much. I could not get the revs up enough to stop the bus from stalling. I needed about three seconds of time to co-ordinate the clutch and accelerator. I was now looking straight over a very steep hill, down through scrub and trees to the road cutting back one hundred yards down the hill. Suddenly, I realised the bus was deathly quiet. All talk had stopped. I looked into the rear-view mirror and all eyes were locked on mine. The sweat was now rolling into my eyes, but a white post caught my eye. The front bumper bar was only two feet from it. If I rolled down and carefully put the bumper on the post, that would give me the time I needed. I rolled forward and touched the post; there was no road verge to be seen now. I was nearly in the scrub, so it felt like my mind was working overtime. I could picture the paper headlines tomorrow. Overcrowded school bus runs off a mountain road. That’s all I need. I let the clutch out so it took the load, then quickly to the accelerator. The bus moved off the post, I drove back enough to get turning room. All of a sudden, everybody started chattering as though nothing had happened. I swung the bus onto the road and off we went. Nothing to it really.
Later back at US Motors, I was working under a car on the hoist when Don Cameron caught up with me.
“How did it all go this morning, Rob?”
“No trouble thanks Don.” I said.
But a flash of those headlines came to mind and I was very glad my first trip was over.