The Tourist Route
The note was pressed into my hot little hand, with the words “This is important, all drivers must read”. The gist of the message was that all drivers must stay on their designated route when going from point A to point B. It would not be tolerated in future, any breaking of these rules. I, as well as everybody at US Motors knew what it was all about.
One morning, early, but not early enough, Ken Young, an older regular driver, was driving up Lower Coonara Road, heading for a start at Olinda. As usual Ken, not a morning person, was a smidgen late. Paralleling Lower Coonara Road, about one hundred yards up the hill, and about two paddocks distance, was Upper Coonara Road. Now if Ken could get to Upper Coonara Road he could save about five minutes. Just as he is thinking this an open farm gate catches his eye, just begging him to turn in and cross the open paddocks to Upper Coonara Road. Ken could not resist and turned in. But unfortunately for Ken, the farmer had ploughed the centre of the paddock. It is a fact that rather heavy buses and ploughed paddocks mix pretty good, and with a couple of days of steady rain, Ken bus and paddock became almost indistinguishable. It took our Ford Blitz tow truck about two hours to separate bus and paddock.
All this was extremely embarrassing for Ken, but it is silly to give me a note like that. I would never do anything that silly. There was nowhere on my route where I could get into trouble like that. Besides, I was always early for work, so I put it all out of my mind. With the exception of once asking Ken if he was interested in farming, I forgot about it.
The weeks past and I was enjoying bus driving. It was stimulating and interesting. The start of my route was the Mount Dandenong Hotel, up Ridge Road to the TV towers, picking up High school and Upper Gully Technical school pupils. Then down to the five way junction at Kalorama, back along the main road to Olinda, then down the mount to Upper Gully, and back to the high school, to finish in Belgrave. One morning, everyone seemed to be late. Every stop I had to wait for someone. I could not blame them. The Mount Dandenong area was really cold in winter and very hard to get out of bed for some. I had got back along the Main Road to Falls Road where there is usually six to pick up but only five were there.
“Where is John, is he coming?” I asked.
“Yes, he will be here.” Was the reply.
But from where I was parked I could see almost to the end of Falls Road and no sign of John. I would be late if this kept up.
“If I drive down to pick John up, is there another road down there to get back on the main road?”
“Yes.” They said. “There is a road that takes you to the store on the main road.”
Fair enough, so I drove down Falls Road. I was nearly to the end when John sauntered out of his gate as though he had all the time in the world.
“OK, where is this side road?” I asked.
“Back about one hundred yards.”
So I drove back.
“Here it is, they yelled.”
All I could see was what looked like a walking track.
“It does not look a road to me.” I said.
“Yes, yes, it is, we use it every day to go to the store; it is a little bit overgrown a bit just here.”
So I turned the bus in. The undergrowth was brushing both sides of the bus. I could not see anything behind. The jungle had closed in nearly all around. Then about one hundred yards in, the undergrowth cleared from the track and I could at last see the back of the bus. That was good. But there is something strange up ahead, Hell, it’s a creek, and to make it interesting a bridge, or maybe not a bridge. Well, it was a bridge once but all the decking was gone, leaving two big logs across the creek. The logs had flats cut on their top sides to accommodate the decking that wasn’t there. The logs were about eighteen inches in diameter. I could not back up, the undergrowth was too thick, and I could not turn around. No going back now. I ran the old girl up to the logs and jumped out to check my wheels against the logs. OK. Then I looked across the creek, through a heavy drizzling rain. A very muddy bank sloping up from the creek about fifty yards to the ridge. It will take a bit of momentum to get to the top of that lot. The bridge did not worry me at all but that bank was a big worry. I backed up as far as I could into the under growth, the whole bus was quiet, I looked into the rear vision mirror and all eyes were on mine. This only happens when I am in trouble, I thought. Ah, well, here we go. I selected first gear, and with plenty of revs, charged across the clearing, over the bridge and up the slope. We were going well, the back wheels were churning out reams of mud, I could just about see over the top of the ridge, when the old girl slowly stopped and with wheels spinning, we slowly started slipping backwards. Now this was a bit of a problem. The back of the bus was snaking from side to side. Then when all appeared to be lost, we must have hit a tree root. This stopped the backward movement, then another root; we are going forward again, then another root, and another, and another. Suddenly we are sitting on top of the ridge. That was easy, wasn't it? The chatter started up again, I looked into the rear vision mirror and everybody was chatting away as though nothing had happened. The road from here to the store undulated through the forest. It was still very slippery; we were sliding from one side to the other. But I knew we were OK. Just before the store I stopped and pulled huge lengths of bark off the old girl, gave her a pat and then we were off.
We were nearly to the high school when I had a vision of tomorrow’s headlines in the paper. School bus with fifty five children on board falls into creek in the middle of state forest. Oh, dear, that wouldn’t be too good, would it? Then another. I am standing in Mountjoys office trying to explain to him how I had managed to drop 49 and a bus load of passengers into a creek in the middle of the state forest. That made me feel a little uneasy too. Sometimes these things just happened, and maybe Ken Young wasn't so silly. I do hope that my passengers enjoyed that trip, because I do not think I will go that way again.
At morning tea time, George Ebbels was there, George is the captain of the CFA in Olinda. George would know what that road was. So quietly I asked him about the road from Falls road to the store. George thought for a moment then said.
“There is an old fire trail there, but we have not used that trail for about five years, the bridge is out.”
“I drove that way this morning.” I said.
George looked hard at me and then laughed.
“No, no, no, he said, shaking his head. We cannot even get our four wheel drive vehicles along that track.”
I suppose it is just as well the story did not get around. Driving the Tourist Route would have to remain the secret of fifty-five passengers, 49 and me.