To Draw A Line
Small scrapes and very small accidents were a part of life bus driving. The place where most accidents happened funnily enough was right across the road from US Motors. Buses pulled up to let Belgrave passengers off. Then the South Belgrave and Gembrook buses would back up a little to swing across the bridge and head for their destinations. But private cars often pulled in right behind the buses, sometimes so close that the bus driver could not see them through the rear mirrors. The buses often pushed in a grille or two. This was a bus parking area and cars were not supposed to park there. This did not stop some of the car drivers complaining.
I only had one accident and that was at the Devils Elbow. I was driving up one afternoon in 49. I was in second gear with a big load. I was tucked into the corner very slowly edging around when a little red car flew around the corner just over the white line. He panicked, pulled back to his own side then overcorrected and ricocheted off 49’s skid rail about the middle of the bus. He then wobbled down the road until he got under control and then he kept going. Just as well he kept going because there was no way I was going to stop here. All accidents have to be reported, so I told Don Cameron the next day. Don laughed and said we would not hear from that driver and we didn’t. I don’t know how he knew. Apart from a little red paint on 49s skid rail there was no damage, so it did not worry me.
I was driving on the Gembrook run every second Sunday and it was a nice change from the school runs. For a start, the pick of one of the two best buses we had at US Motors got me off on the right track. My start time was seven thirty am at Emerald garage and I finished at Emerald at seven thirty pm. Both the buses were the latest SB models with a new five speed gearbox, radio, heater and a seat that adjusted in and out or up and down. Just wonderful, a more powerful engine, improved steering and riding. They were like a big car to drive.
I would go to the news agent on Saturday night and get a sporting globe which had a kick to kick description of all the VFL games on that Saturday. So at lunch time I relaxed in Gembrook for forty-minutes, had my lunch and a little read. It was all just right. That is until the big red truck started to appear. It was a 1955 model four ton Ford tray truck. An Italian driving, he would pass me going up in the morning when I was coming down. He was no trouble going up, but later in the day, he must have had a little too much Grappa, because he was all over the road, mainly on my side. Even this was no trouble if I met him on a straight stretch of road, but it was only a matter of time before we met on a corner and I was not looking forward to that. The red Ford was starting to get to me. If I saw him going up I knew that sometime in the afternoon I would meet him coming down. I reported this crazy driver a couple of times to Don Cameron but because he had no front number plates and I could not get a registration number, nothing was done. Also, he did not stick to any schedule and I could meet him at any time of the afternoon.
One evening, the last trip from Belgrave to Emerald, it was about seven pm, was just coming on dusk and I had the parking lights on and the interior lights on. We were approaching the Temple Road intersection, a sweeping left corner with a steep bank on my side. I had not seen the Ford going up today so I not expect to see him coming down. Anyway, I had never seen him this late before so when suddenly there was this red truck straddling the double white lines, he caught me completely by surprise. I had a quick glimpse of a panic stricken face and hurried tugging on his steering wheel. I did not have time to think. I pulled the bus hard to the left and the left wheels into the dirt gutter. Luckily for me, the council had not cleaned the gutter for a very long time; it was full of gravel, leaves and twigs. The bus still leaned over alarmingly, and I knew it was only inches away from wiping out the side. Not a good feeling as the truck swept past very close. The screaming of his brakes and the blue smoke off the tyres left a lasting impression. I did not forget for a while. He weaved down the road and then was gone. I could not pull out of the gutter; it was too close for comfort to the bank. If I pulled out I would wipe the back of the bus on the bank. I would not be a favorite son if I rubbished the flag-ship, would I? I looked up ahead; the bus stop opposite Temple Road was cut into the bank about ten feet and the gutter followed around the cutting. Just there I could pull the bus out without damage, so I headed there. I was concentrating on what I was doing, when bang, click, click, click, click all the way down the side of the bus. Hell, I’ve hit something but I did not know what. I pulled out of the gutter and stopped to let a passenger off. An older man, he tapped me on the shoulder as he got off.
“Son, that was close, wasn’t it?”
“Too close.” I said.
I turned the engine off and got out to have a look at the damage. The left hand mirror was hard on the side of the bus. It would be broken that’s for sure, but no, I pulled it out and it was OK. How lucky was that. I looked along the side of the bus but couldn’t see anything. What a relief. I glanced along the bank but couldn’t see what I had hit. So I headed for Emerald, dropped my passengers in Emerald, then went to the garage and parked. It was too dark by then to have another look, so I went home.
Next morning after my school run, I was in the workshop keeping an eye out for Don Cameron. I could not report my near miss until he came in. Next thing Geoff Martin, the store man came over.
“I just had a phone call from Mabel Johnston in the office. Tom Leggett has rung in to report bus 69 is damaged. He will be down in Belgrave at eleven and will call in.”
Don Cameron came in and I told him what had happened. When bus 69 came in I did not want to look at it. I was busy anyway. They did not need me. Everyone else had a look. Joe McAulliffe the painter was doing a bit of work on the side of the bus. I wasn’t feeling too good. Joe came over to me after bus 69 had left.
“Rob you have missed your calling. You should have been a painter. 69 had the straightest and neatest black and yellow line that I have ever seen. It went the full length of the bus; across every window and the back of the rear vision mirror.”
He saw the look on my face and then said.
“Don’t worry, I got all the marks off she is OK.”
Geoff Mountjoy and Denton Cameron had their heads together for a while and then both drove out in Mountjoys car heading for Selby. An hour later they came back and disappeared into the office. Next thing Senior Jones appeared, the three of them got into Mountjoys car again and headed for Selby. This is getting to be quite a drama. When Don came back he came over to see me and he said.
“The whole story was written in the tyre marks. That truck was about three feet over the double lines and lucky for all concerned you had the bank on your side. We had to show senior Jones to impress on him how close we were to having a head on. He is going to put a stop to the truck as soon as possible There would have only been seconds from the time you saw him to when you hit the gutter. He had nothing to do with missing you, you missed him. His skid marks continued down the road for about one hundred yards before he got it under control.
“What did I hit?” I asked.
“We looked at the bank and we could not see what you hit until I leaned on the bank and looked toward the bus stop. The only thing that stood out at all was the road junction sign but it was too close to the bank for you to hit. But when we looked at the edge of the sign there were the scuff marks. Don’t ask me how you could lean over so far and not touch the bank but it was good driving. Well done.”
Don turned to walk away then said.
“Tom is not too happy with you marking up his bus, but I will have a word to him.”
Its funny isn’t it how these drivers get so wrapped up in their buses. It makes you sick, doesn’t it?