The day with no end

(At least that’s what it felt like)

I have to admit, when it comes to weather reports, I’m a skeptic. The weatherman says were going to get a foot of snow and all we get is a few flakes (most of them driving cars). So when the weatherman said this storm might very well be the storm of the century, my usual refrain of “Yah, right” could be heard throughout the house. By noon the snow had started piling up and I was starting to take things a little more serious. When I was to report for work (5:55 pm) the roads were starting to rut and get slippery. When I took over my bus at The Square driving was defiantly getting unfavorable. Jimmy Stewart (the driver I was taking over from) had thought to bring a shovel with him and at shift change offered it to me. I didn’t really want it but thought “what could it hurt?”

My shift starts out with the last run to CSU as route six, once at CSU I become Route 61 (driving routes three and four throughout the night). Getting to CSU was a little slow but the roads were still quite drivable. I arrived at CSU empty and after taking a couple of loads of students home found few riders throughout the evening. As the night progressed the snow fall became heavier and heavier. Car and truck traffic continually got lighter and lighter as people decided to either stay home or abandon their stuck vehicles. There were very few snowplows plying the streets so it wasn’t long before I was very careful about where I stopped the bus. Slowing for stop signs and creeping up to red lights until they turned green so you could use the busses momentum to keep from getting stuck. I used that shovel Jimmy left behind more than once to get the bus moving again.

The night routes provide service using only two busses running four routes. As I said earlier my bus was Route 61, switching back and forth from Route 3 to Route 4. The other bus that was out was Route 62. Route 62 switches between Route 6 and Route 7. That route was being driven by one of the more senior drivers, Cathy Williams. Cathy has been driving for Transfort for about eighteen years. Each time we met at CSU, our short exchanges would be about how bad the roads were getting and our methods for getting un-stuck. There was a time or two we questioned why we were even out there when so much of the town had been closed by the storm.

At one point during the evening I had entered CSU ahead of Cathy. When I turned onto Meridian a snow plow came charging towards me and basically hemmed my bus onto the side of the road with a huge snow bank. I tried to get enough speed to jump the bank but got stuck part way over. I called Cathy on the radio to warn her to hold back until the plow had passed Pitkin. Once the plow had passed Pitkin, she could drive up to where I was by using the cleared or wrong side of the road. The passengers I had on board mostly wanted her bus so I just figured she could stop where I was, take my passengers, then leave me to see what I could work out. Cathy had something different in mind.

I was trying to get the bus rocking but the transmission wasn’t being very co-operative. The bus I was driving that night was #32. Being one of the older Gilligs of the fleet, the transmission didn’t shift very well and was also very fussy about the engine idling in between shifts, so rocking (going forward and back) was difficult at best. Cathy pulled up on the plowed side of the street and stopped. She came over to my bus and asked if she could play. I got up out of the driver’s seat, grabbed the shovel and said “Go ahead, have a ball!” As I went out to start shoveling snow out from under the wheels and carriage, Cathy started the task of trying to rock the bus. Between the two of us (with the encouragement of the passengers) we got the bus rolling again. Unsticking the bus only cost us about ten or twelve minutes but left me with a rather hot transmission. We stopped briefly at the CSU transit center to use the rest rooms then eased off again to our appointed routes. Most of the rest of the evening was spent cruising around our routes with light passenger loads. There were a heck of a lot of people out walking and skiing, just not many riding the bus.

On the first part of my last loop (Route 4), I encountered a large group of stuck cars on Mulberry. I had no traffic behind me so I called dispatch to request an alternate route. We had been following an alternate route down Crestmore to Skyline while there was construction, so that’s the route I suggested. Dispatch oked the suggestion. I shifted the bus into reverse and backed all the way back down Mulberry to Crestmore and turned in. I got through Crestmore ok but when I turned onto Skyline the bus ground to a halt, I was stuck! This wasn’t just rock the bus kind of stuck, this was “abandon the bus” stuck.

I opened the front doors to access my situation, the snow was above the first step! I stepped out, the snow went up to my knees, yup, defiantly stuck. I called dispatch to explain my situation. I asked dispatch if I should try to dig out but was informed to stay in the bus and stand by. At this point dispatch had called Cathleen (operations manager) for suggestions as to what to do. I had sat in my bus for what seemed like a long time when a new voice came on the radio, it was Cathleen. She informed me that help was being dispatched.

The help that was being dispatched was in the form of Steve, the mechanic on call for that evening. Steve is a big burly fellow who used to drive over the road for years and finally settled down as a mechanic for Transfort. Steve was going to come out in a big truck with a snow blade on the front to try to either plow a route out for the bus, pull it free or just rescue me and abandon the bus. What dispatch didn’t tell me (after waiting some time) was that Steve couldn’t even get out of the parking lot at Transfort! While all this was going on, Cathy had been called off route to rescue residents of a housing development who’s roof had collapsed leaving them with no where to stay. After taking the residents to the Plaza Inn by the freeway, Cathy radioed in that she too was now stuck.

After sitting in my bus for a couple of hours, I found out Steve had been stuck by him coming on the radio and announcing he was now rolling. Not feeling real confident Steve was even going to make it to where I was I just decided to start digging the bus out. By digging for a while then resting for a while, I managed to get a good portion of the snow out from around the wheels and some of the body. When Steve finally did arrive, he promptly got his truck stuck right there behind the bus. Steve figured if he could get his truck rolling again that maybe we should just abandon the bus. I shut down the bus, secured it, then climbed into Steve’s truck. Before we could get the truck rolling again, Cathleen called us on the radio and said a snow plow from streets was coming to rescue us. This gave me the impetus to go back to the bus, start it then go back to digging.

Even though it was still snowing pretty hard, I was able to get enough snow moved that the bus was now able to move back and forth about ten feet. Seeing the movement I was able to get out of the bus, Steve started charging the snow behind the bus with his snow plow. Steve had cleared a large section behind the bus but also created a large snow bank right at the rear of the bus. Again I went back to digging, this time Steve helped. When most of the bank was gone, I climbed back into the bus and shoved the snow back and forth until the bus broke free. By this time Steve had backed out onto Mulberry and was shouting words of encouragement to me over the radio. As I approached Mulberry, Steve called for me to stop as a car was coming down Mulberry. After stopping, once again I was stuck, out came the shovel and I was back at it.

While I was shoveling, Steve tried hooking a cable between the bus and his truck to see if he could pull the bus free. All that achieved was getting Steve’s truck stuck again. We unhooked the cable and started back to shoveling. When I thought things looked pretty good, I started rocking the bus. Mulberry was quite a mess with drifts and ruts of snow and ice so once I was able to break free and back out onto Mulberry, Steve motioned for me to just keep the bus rolling. I didn’t dare stop and turn the bus around, instead, I backed all the way down Mulberry to Taft Hill Road. I backed onto Taft just as the light turned green (at least I think that’s the color the light was). Slipping and sliding I made my way to College Ave, it was relieving to hear Steve on the radio saying he was rolling again and not far behind me. It was also about this time Cathy called in on the radio that she had flagged a tow truck for help and was also rolling once again.

Turning on Trilby Road I felt home free, Transfort’s yard was only about a half mile away. When I informed Cathleen I had turned onto Trilby, she told me to stop and let Steve get ahead of me. Seems the driveway into the yard was one big drift the busses couldn’t possibly get through. While stopped Cathy was able to meet us on Trilby, it was comforting to see her bus pull in behind me. By now it was just after 5am, Cathy and I were arriving just about four hours late from our routes. The morning supervisor and maintenance person arrived and started helping to clear the driveway. Cathy and I were finally called in with the instructions of “Keep your speed up and you should be able to plough your way in.” Not knowing what to expect, I rolled towards Portner Road. I was up to about twenty five when the turn came into sight. I could see where they had been clearing the snow, but also how sharp I was going to need to turn to get through. I swung a bit wide and fed the front of the bus through the opening in the drift, as I counter-steered for the driveway the back of the bus hit the drift and corrected just enough so I could get into the driveway without taking out the mailbox. After this night, rolling into the sights and sounds of the bus barn felt like pulling on an old security blanket.

 

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Copyright 2009 Pokie Parmidge