Fifty years later, a group of friends who traveled 40,000 miles around the world on a double-decker bus from Bristol are reunited.
Mike Conway, Sally Rich, Bernice Poole, David McLaughlin and John Winter were among a group of 11 men and women who responded to an advertisement to travel the world in the iconic red vehicle.
The eleven-member team of foreigners between the ages of 19 and 34 took the bus between 1970 and 1972.
They took the bus called ‘Sir George White Special’ from Bristol to Canada, America, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Now five have reunited in Bristol to mark the journey, with Bernice Poole saying: ‘It has modeled my life. We’ve all learned so much from it.’
Mike Conway, Sally Rich, Bernice Poole, David McLaughlin and John Winter were among 11 strangers who got together to travel the world in a double-decker bus
The group that traveled 40,000 miles around the world on a double-decker bus from Bristol has been reunited 50 years later
The group set out from Bristol for Montreal, Canada, in March 1970 – with help from the bus’s namesake, Sir George White.
Sir George, from South Gloucestershire, helped launch the bus with a bottle of West Country cider – and attended the event yesterday.
The group all had special roles, including a bus chief, four drivers and several mechanics.
The idea first came to Roger Poole and Bernice, who was his girlfriend at the time. Roger has since passed away.
The pair advertised the idea twice in the local paper – signing John to come along.
Braving the “scorching” desert heat and frigid cold in the prairies, the group spent 22 months aboard their sub-50 mph bus.
The group traveled thousands of miles and worked along the way, picking fruit, planting lily bulbs, cleaning restaurants and as drivers.
They had to drive over difficult routes and mountains, and because the bus was too big for American roads, they caused damage to bridges and overhead wires.
The bus often attracted the unwanted attention of the police and at one point was only allowed to continue after the intervention of Ronald Reagan – then governor of California.
Arriving in Montreal aboard a cargo ship, the group traveled to Toronto and up the US East Coast, visiting New York and then Texas before heading to Mexico City.
After Mexico, they went to California for work, then braved the winter in the Canadian prairies – at one point assembling a means of controlling the bus from outside the cabin after it froze solid.
From there, the group headed to Toronto and back up the US East Coast, visiting NASA’s Cape Canaveral rocket launch site, where part of the group departed and headed home.
Braving the ‘scorching’ desert heat and frigid cold in the prairies, the group spent 22 months aboard their sub-50 mph bus
The group traveled thousands of miles and worked along the way, picking fruit, planting lily bulbs, cleaning restaurants and as drivers (left and right)
The rest moved on – heading back to Mexico, through Central America and to Peru, where the bus was sadly wrecked while attempting to cross the Chira River.
They came to a low-lying bridge that the biplane could not cross.
Instead, they floated the bus on the river by using a special raft, but as it floated on the water, it slid into the water.
Their epic journey came to an end when the bus sank – while attempting to cross a river in Peru.
John, now retired and in Derbyshire, says the trip was a life-changing experience.
He said, “It was an amazing journey, bringing so many people together in such a small space that there was inevitably arguing.
“But it was unlike anything any of us had ever done. I stayed with the group for about a year.
“We all rotated as leader of the group, I was leader of the group for three months – by then I had had enough.
‘The bus was really the hero of the story, we had completely demolished the top floor to fit in beds and living space.
‘It was actually very comfortable – although very warm at times.
“Unfortunately, we bought a bus that was too tall for American roads — so as soon as we got there, we started building bridges.
“Most of the time the police were very good and sometimes gave us escorts, but eventually we were stopped in California by a determined policeman who wouldn’t let us go.
The bus often attracted the unwanted attention of the police and at one point was only allowed to continue after the intervention of Ronald Reagan – then governor of California (pictured, in Florida)
Mike uses a fishing rod to check the height of the bridge in San Salvador – the group 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
The bus was transported on ships all over the world (in the photo the vehicle is unloaded in Colombia)
“We had to pull the bus off the road, but eventually got permission to continue from Ronald Reagan—then governor of California.
“We met him briefly, which was nice, if only for a little while.
‘We Brits were very popular back then, thanks to all the pop stars. We received a lot of attention from local media.
“We also brought a lot of British goods to sell. We sold a lot of horse buyers to hippies – they did very well.
“The journey was often hard work, first we went straight to Mexico to see the 1970 FIFA World Cup, it took 48 days and in the end England didn’t make it to the final.
“When we were also leaving Mexico City, the bus almost got run over by fans shaking it – it was pretty scary and we had to keep driving the bus back and forth.
The group called the bus “really the hero of the story,” allowing them to travel the world
Their epic journey came to an end when the bus sank – while attempting to cross a river in Peru (pictured, the bus sunk in the Chira River)
The bus was completely destroyed after the vehicle sank in a river in Peru (pictured, after the bus was picked up)
“We had to make money while we traveled, so we worked in California picking fruit and even renting out our bus to clubs and bars.
“They would pay us because of course the bus would attract some interest. We even tried to do some advertising for a while – although we didn’t have much luck there.’
David McLaughlin, the driver and mechanic, told the BBC: ‘Central and South America, the roads are completely different and it was an adventure.
“You were climbing mountains – and biplanes are not made for climbing mountains.”
The five met yesterday for the first time in 50 years at Aerospace Bristol, arriving in an almost identical bus
The event was designed to help launch a new book ‘Bus to Bust’ by group member John Winter, now 79, a former journalist – which lasted nearly a year
John said the last leg of the journey was treacherous, saying, “The last leg of the journey had only five members of the group left – and by the time the bus got lost in the Chira River, only three were left about.
“They had been chased by angry people as they traveled the Trans-Pacific highway, destroying telephone wires and bridges.
‘In the end the bus had dozens of dents in the roof, but it still worked.
‘They tried to cross the river Chira on a wooden boat, but it hit a sandbar and fell off.
“Then they tried to pull it out of the water with metal cables, but eventually destroyed it.
‘Everyone then came home on a container ship in early 1972.
“That part of the world is just much more dangerous now and the US has much stricter visitation laws.
“I think people would struggle to do it again. Today I can only imagine it would be a very different experience.’
Sally Mears, who was part of the crew, told the BBC: ‘My heart sank when I saw the bus [go down].
“I knew this was the end of a lifelong journey.”
The five met yesterday for the first time in 50 years at Aerospace Bristol, arriving in an almost identical bus.
The event was designed to help launch a new book ‘Bus to Bust’ by group member John Winter, now 79, a former journalist – which has been around for nearly a year.