IN 1964, I landed a casual weekend job washing R.G. Carter’s buses using a broom, four-gallon can and a hose. The depot was a very ramshackle, dilapidated but fascinating place. Neither of its two buildings, a house and a former blacksmith’s forge, had been painted for decades.
At the back of the forge was a large roofed canopy where mechanical work was done. The depot yard was dirt. The terminus at Glen Iris was an amazing sight in the afternoons with a sea of school children swarming off trams and trains and from local schools. How did those many hundreds of school kids ever fit on those small buses? Usually the seats were all taken and standing room was at bursting point. I remember being on the bottom step partly out the door unable to get in any further, with another kid behind me who only had about half his shoes on the step. As the bus veered right travelling around Muswell Hill Glen Iris, the bus and passengers lent to the left. Miraculously we managed to hang on. There was often a race amongst school children with the popular drivers to sit on the dashboard, or between the hand rail and windscreen in the older buses.
Of the dozen or so drivers four long serving drivers are probably best remembered. Dave Sale was the standout; he was the “pop star” of bus drivers. Dave (Robert David Sale) was a happy and friendly man, aged in his early 50s who took great pleasure in overtaking another bus which had fallen behind schedule, usually with school children urging him. Dave once had his 1948 Reo bus up to 60mph going down the hill from Warrigal Road to Power Street Jordanville. I dread to think what could have happened if he had to stop suddenly at that speed with a 1948 braking system. Dave stayed with Ventura, on the Glen Iris – Glen Waverley run until his retirement in the mid-1970s. In 2002 aged 92, Dave went on a trip to the UK. He’d always promised his wife Olive he’d take her. She had died in 1995 but he carried a picture of her as his way of fulfilling his promise. Dave died in 2006, aged 96. Ray Allen was probably the strictest of all the drivers; he wasn’t very tolerant of school kids. Tragically Ray’s son was knocked off his bike and killed at the Warrigal Road / High Street Road intersection; apparently Ray either saw it happen or arrived soon after, driving the bus. It’s said Ray’s hair went grey overnight. Ray was well-known for calling out the street names for each stop. Approaching Ashburton Shopping Centre from Glen Iris he would call “Duke St, Highgate, Marquis and Lexia”.
Jack Pearce, aged in his 50s, took pride in his grooming and appearance; sometimes even wearing a bow tie. One afternoon while waiting to depart from Glen Iris, a group of school girls combed his hair, much to his enjoyment. Bernie Walker, younger than most of the drivers, was pleasant and friendly. As a young boy he rode the buses regularly – apparently he always wanted to drive a bus. A Brockhoff worker gave him a big bag of chocolate buttons from the production line and he got stuck into them that night watching TV. Next day, with a headache and feeling a little unwell, he later found out the chocolate buttons contained rum. Bernie was a non-drinker.
Carter’s had five old buses and five fairly new ones. Buses of the ’40s and ’50s were nothing like those of today. They were noisy; had no heating or air conditioning, some had no door; they were freezing in winter and often unbearably hot in summer. It must have been tough going for the drivers of those five tired old overworked buses, going up those steep hills with full loads, engines screaming, gradually going slower and slower as they climbed the hills, crawling to the top. As a lasting reminder of those happy boyhood days, when Carter’s sold to Ventura in 1964, I saved a blackboard used to record the servicing of buses dating back to the late 1940s and destination signs.
I have a set of model buses based on six of the Carter fleet, replicating the SB and OB CAC Bedfords, a curved screen SB, three flat screen SBs and two OBs (see photo above). I’ve also recently purchased a 1963 Comair Bedford, similar to the newest Carter bus (see photos top and bottom left), which I plan to restore.
Grant is keen to hear from anyone who would like to share memories and information or has old timetables and memorabilia. Grant can be contacted on 0418 206 175.