Sir George White Special / SWNS
A group of friends who took a London double-decker bus 40,000 miles around the Americas have reunited 50 years later at the release of a travelogue of their adventure.
Over a hard country cider, the remaining crew members reminisced about how the idea first came to Mr. Roger Poole and his new wife Joan, who have since died, and all the trails and tribulations which followed.
Of the 11 that set out, Mike Conway, Sally Rich, Bernice Poole, David McLaughlin, and John Winter reunited in Bristol on the 50th anniversary.
Mr. and Mrs. Poole advertised the idea twice in the local paper, drawing in John Winter, who tagged along for 1 year and is now publishing Bus to Bust about their journey.
“The bus really was the hero of the story, we had totally torn out the upper floor to fit beds and living space,” said Winter. ”But it was unlike anything any of us had ever done. I stayed with the group for about a year.”
The eleven men and women were just strangers when in March of 1970, they sailed the bus called the ‘Sir George White Special’ from Bristol to Canada before embarking on a 40,000-mile trip.
Braving ‘blistering’ desert heat and bone-chilling cold in the prairies the group spent 22 months aboard a bus that couldn’t go past 50 mph.
The group traveled thousands of miles and worked along the way, picking fruit, planting lily bulbs, cleaning restaurants, and chauffeuring cars.
They had to negotiate tricky routes and mountains and because the bus was too big for US roads they caused damage to bridges and overhead wires.
“Usually the police were very good and gave us escorts sometimes, but eventually in California we were stopped by a determined policeman who wouldn’t let us go,” Winter said.
“We had to take the bus off the road, but eventually were given permission to drive on by Ronald Reagan – who was Governor of California at the time. We met him briefly which was fun, though only for a moment.”
Their epic trip came to an end when the bus sank trying to cross a river in Peru.
The Sir George White Special in 1970 – SWNSFive of the 11 strangers who set off in the ‘Sir George White Special’ (L to R) Mike Conway, Bernice Poole, David McLaughlin, Sally Mears, and John Winter
David McLaughlin, the driver and mechanic, told the BBC that “Central and South America, the roads are entirely different and it was an adventure.”
Their intent after California was to make it to Mexico City for the FIFA World Cup in 1970, where England couldn’t make the final four years after winning it for the first and only time.
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“While leaving Mexico City too we almost got the bus knocked over by fans shaking it – it was quite scary and we kept having to drive the bus back and forth,” said Winter.
Going south, McLaughlin explained that double-decker buses are not geared for climbing mountains, but in the end, it was a body of water that set Sir George down for good.
“The final stretch of the journey only had five or so members of the group left – and by the time the bus was lost in the River Chira, there were just three left,” wrote Winter.
They had come across a low-lying bridge that the double-decker could not pass. Instead, they floated the bus on the river using a special raft, but as it drifted across it slid into the water. Everyone came home on a container ship in 1972.
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“That part of the world is just much more dangerous now and the US has much harsher visiting laws,” Winter wrote observantly. ”I think people would struggle to do it again. These days I can only imagine it would be a very different experience.”
Sally Mears, who was a member of the crew, told the BBC her heart sank “when I saw the bus [go down] I knew it was the end of a journey of a lifetime.”
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