Wednesday, December 8, 2010

REAL BusSpotters

Here's a guilty secret, a confession.

Many years ago I was party to an act of deceit and betrayal of trust.

In 1973 I lived in Dunedin with a partner and about that time it was decided to do away with the city's trolley bus system. The trolley buses were mostly sold to China (at that stage still in the Maoist communist era). Or maybe that was a bit later when most of the buses went off to China but one was definitely removed from service in the mid 1970s.

One very rainy night my partner and I were bussing home to our flat in North East Valley on a trolley bus. George Street, Dunedin, with all its beautiful old gold-rush style Victorian turreted mansions sticking up through the trees on the hilly west side of the road, George Street with its distinctive orange sodium vapour street lights, its rain-drop diamond coated trolley wire catenary overhead and withi its shiny wet asphalt underfoot looked really attractive. But there were'nt too many people around to enjoy it. In fact apart from the fairly elderly bus driver and my partner beside me, the only other people on the bus were a couple of blokes - a large man with a beret and lots of badges on the lapel of his tweed style coat and a much smaller companion. Indeed the contrast in sizes was such that they could have played slightly comical villians in a Walt Disney family comedy movie. And villainy, it turned out, was indeed a foot (or abus).

We were sitting fairly near the front of the bus and the large man was conversing with the driver, and obviously had been talking for some time before we boarded. My partner and I were able to hear everything and apparently this large man and his companion had come down from the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Auckland to arrange for the museum to get a Dunedin trolley bus for their heritage collection. The bus driver was telling these two men that this bus we were in was definitely the best in the trolley fleet, and how he almost always got allocated this bus on his shift, had been rostered this particular vehicle on late shift on a regular basis for years, presumably because he was one of the old hands, or a good mate of whoever allocated buses in the afternoon. He was telling the MOTAT men of all the other almost as good buses they could choose from.
"I only have a year to go to retirement, take any bus you like but leave me this one, it handles so well, leave me this one to see out my retirement".
"Of course Bill" [or whoever] said the large beret wearing man, "We won't take away "your" bus, you can be sure of this. We can respect that"

At that point a trolley bus appeared heading in the opposite direction. "Hang on a minute" says Bill [or whoever ] the driver, "I've just got to see this bloke about something" and he pulls the trolley bus into the curb. The bus heading in the other direction does likewise and Bill skitters across through the rain to have a few quick words with his workmate.

The large beret wearing man turns to his companion with a huge self satisfied and superior smug smile and gives his companion a thumbs up sign "This is the bus we are taking".

My partner and I remained mute party to this deception, perhaps got off the bus shaking our heads or grinning to each other, certainly we never said a word to Bill [or whoever]....but how this stays with me still, preys upon my mind. How I've lived with the long years of shame I don't know. Especially as amongst the shame it still makes me laugh!

Ah fickle humanity... And Fanatics! All morality is twisted to the supreme cause!! Where would we be without them!! These were REAL busspotters. Not like those flakey people that do blogs!

All this was triggered by seeing this YouTube of a Dunedin trolley bus, including a trolley going up through the parkland on Opoho Hill. You've heard the story now see the movie, it may even be the VERY SAME bus, what a spotter score! - at the 24 hour Yube Cinema [here or see side bar].

And like whatshisname in Dostoevesky's "Crime and Punishment" haunted by 1974 a year later living in Auckland, Grey Lynn, not too far from MOTAT what should I see coming down the road ? Oh no! A Dunedin trolley bus going past on a low loader truck.

Arrggghhh! True horror movie stuff. Riddled with guilt, party to the deceit, everywhere I look the world accuses me! Alas I forgot to run blindly onto the road and get killed beneath the wheels of an passing ARA bus (as I suspect would happen in a really, really, good story) but all other facts are horrifically true!

One last footnote - I just went to check the MOTAT website (and other bus and trolley bus museum sites and can find no trace of this bus, or any trolley bus withdrawn in 1974. Yet I did not dream this, or did I ? Arrhhh am I going mad!? Any readers know more?).

There is a really good, beautifully clear, photo of a Dunedin trolley, I imagine from the 1960s, in the livery I best remember, on a tribute blog here, to a man who amongst other good things fought to save the trolleys

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post and the links to the photo and vid. It’s great.