JOHN McNAMEE REMINISCES
They don’t make buses like they used to in the old days.
There was something pleasingly symmetrical about their rounded-front and rear body sections and the robust nature of their chassis and suspension. Their beautiful sweeping lines of duco were a work of art.
Their massive hubcapped wheels and the sturdy rubber of their tyres made them seem invincible on the long, hot, dusty country roads.
You pretty well needed a ladder to hoist yourself up onto the bulbous front mudguards, lift the heavy bonnet and peer into the mysterious innards of these throbbing behemoths.
For a schoolkid they were a magical conveyance.
Inside their leathered and chrome interior was like another world… the distinctive smells, the welcoming aura, and then the juddering and shaking of the whole beast as the driver turned on the ignition and the mighty pistons began to pound up and down.
The beast would come alive like the fabled dragon emerging from his lair in the days of yore.
The black volcanic fumes spewing out of the shuddering exhaust and seeping inside the vehicle’s interior were a heady narcotic.
I was lucky. I had a family connection to one of these fascinating monsters and my early memories of travelling around in their draughty, noisy interiors remain vivid.
My Uncle Tom had a battered 1930s Bedford and he used to run a service around the country roads of central Victoria not long after the Second World War.
The Bedford wasn’t in the best of condition as it was seconded to carry troops and equipment around the state and deliver and collect them from the wartime training camps.
Next morning Tom would give me a couple of bob pocket money to sweep up the myriad butt ends and swirling beer bottles after one of these inevitably riotous and noisome journeys.
Due to the still then shortage of petrol, Uncle Tom’s bus services around the area were somewhat haphazard.
He parked the Bedford in a run-down old garage that used to house the horses and drays in his father’s day.
There was a lot of rodent and other wildlife activity among the old hay-filled horse collars and harness gear and it was quite common for Uncle Tom to have to remove a family of mice from a chewed out passenger seat.
One morning before setting out he discovered a brown snake curled up on the engine cowling. It had obviously crawled into the donk while it was still warm during the day. It quickly slithered off and retreated to the debris in the shed chased by the family’s two snarling kelpies.
Anyway, when I was a young schoolkid, I had to stay with Uncle Tom and Aunty Mary for a few weeks when Dad was away working and Mum was in hospital.
What wonderful times they were!
Uncle Tom’s route was a fairly circuitous one starting off around isolated townships which were well away from regular transport services.
The trouble was, we were about 20 miles from the nearest biggest town and Uncle Tom had to ensure that he got me to school every morning as close to 9am as possible.
At home, Mum and Dad made sure I was never, ever late for school.
Having to rely on Uncle’s Tom’s erratic bus service usually meant I was never ever on time for school during my stay with him.
That meant he had to fire up the Bedford’s rather unreliable six-cylinder overhead-valve Chevrolet engine around 7am to meet his flexible timetable.
His theory was, if people were there waiting outside the old stables when the Bedford belched into life, he’d take them as close as possible to where they wanted to go.
If they were late, too bad, they knew they had a few hours until he finished his round and returned.
Trouble was, due to the kindness of his heart, Uncle Tom didn’t just run a passenger service. He used to have to pick up bits and pieces from the town and deliver them to the outlying properties.
When I was riding shotgun in the little “dickey seat” next to where Uncle Tom would be grinding the wobbly gear stick through its various cog changes, I’d have to alert him to where the next stop would be and what the article to be delivered would be.
“What’s our next stop lad,” he’d shout at me over the roaring of the engine after he’d dropped off a new bassinet for the Mrs McIvor who was expecting her fifth child.
“It’s the crank shaft for Mr Smith’s Fargo truck Uncle Tom.”
Crank shafts for trucks were pretty weighty items in those days so we’d have to drive onto the farmer’s property, where I’d jump out and open the gate and close it carefully again when the Bedford had thundered across the cattle grid.
Of course, you couldn’t just deliver one of these items without a chat and a smoko with the grateful farmer.
So naturally my school arrival times became even more problematical. I didn’t mind too much as the first lesson was usually algebra and trigonometry… not two of my favourite fields of youthful study.
The passengers in those days didn’t seem to mind too much as the bus trips usually turned into a social gathering where you caught up with neighbours to discuss the price of sugar, tea and meat.
And as kids we always had to give up our seats to adults no matter what. And there’d be a stern eye on you if you pretended to be staring out the bus window when an older person clambered aboard.
Sadly, that courtesy seems to be a dying art nowadays.
The majority of bus passengers today are so absorbed in their I-phones etc that they never look up and certainly it’s a rare occasion when you see some bloke or young person leap to their feet with Sir Walter Raleigh-like gallantry and offer their seat to a deserving cause.
It’s also somewhat bewildering on the modern buses to see how people with large cumbersome baby carriages take up all the space in the front side seats which used to be reserved for the elderly, the disabled, or “those more in need.”
All too often I’ve noticed young people will barge their way onto the bus, not dismantle their pram or stroller but stand there defiantly in front of the seats’ occupants, wait for them to stand up and then take over the whole area without a polite please or thank you.
I know the bus drivers don’t want the passageways blocked with baby carriages of any size so they don’t care who gets the seats.
And I know harassed mums, dads and nannies encumbered with the littlies, need to use the buses like the rest of us….but surely they must realise it is NOT their right to claim those seats.
I just don’t like to see elderly people turfed out and having to strap-hang precariously while young people with kids enjoy the trip in seated comfort.
I tell you what, things would have been different on old Uncle Tom’s Bedford!!
Main Pic: Old Bedford Bus, similar to Uncle Tom’s