From construction contractor to driving motorcoaches, Dennis Farnum shares what a ride his second career has been. He has enjoyed the view from the driver’s seat for 13 years, of which 12 have been with VIP Tour & Charter Co. in Portland, Maine.
“I was a general contractor for 30-plus years. I was approaching an age where I no longer found pounding nails in the dead of the winter pleasurable, so I decided to go for my commercial driver’s license (CDL),” said Farnum.
He started out driving a school bus for the Lake Region School District in Bridgton, Maine, but needed more hours.
“I was given an opportunity to join a great family company (VIP), who took me under their wings. I found my passion and fell in love with motorcoach driving,” he said.
Farnum has also had the opportunity to use his driving skills to support Gold Star Awareness’ Wreaths Across America program, which has been a meaningful experience for him.
For the past several years, he has transported Blue and Gold Star Families as part of the Wreaths Across America to Arlington National Cemetery. The nationwide (and beyond) program was started by Worcester Wreath Co. Owner Morrill Worcester in 1992 with donations and the laying of 5,000 Christmas wreaths at the Arlington cemetery.
Bus & Motorcoach News caught up with Farnum to talk to him about why he loves driving a motorcoach, his career highs and lows, and his passion for the business.
What’s the biggest tip you received and the story behind it?
My biggest was a $1,000 tip with Van Galder Tour & Travel. I spent a week with this group, which flew in from Chicago and various Midwest states. After picking them up in Boston, and we traveled throughout the New England states. We travel to Bar Harbor, Maine; Mount Washington, New Hampshire; Montpelier, Vermont; Boston; and into Rhode Island. The group was amazing, enjoying a lot of fun and laughter. In fact, one night they invited my wife to join them for dinner. Gene Van Galder, the owner and tour director, was very interactive with his group, and we hit it off with mutual respect. He at one time owned a fleet of buses in Chicago and now has merged with Coach USA. I enjoyed talking, laughing, sharing friendships and showing off our beautiful countryside on the East Coast.
What is the strangest or most bizarre group you have ever driven?
I have enjoyed driving the “Boo-Bus” to Salem, Massachusetts, for the past number of years. The motorcoach driver — Mr. Bones, of course — and everyone dresses for Halloween. The bus is decorated very elaborate with ghosts, goblins, skeletons and witches.
What is your go-to phrase?
Unbelievable. Yep, yep.
How many miles or states have you driven a bus?
I’ve driven more than 400,000 miles in 14 states and three Canadian provinces.
What is your favorite and or least favorite destination and why?
Philadelphia is my least favorite city to drive through because of the narrow streets, which were originally designed for horse-and-buggy travel. My favorite destination is Washington, D.C., Arlington National Cemetery for the Wreaths Across America event, which is always an emotional journey of gratitude and sacredness.
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what is your favorite bus feature?
Air seats (especially since I need a hip replacement). Those long miles and dips on the interstate are quite painful. Another favorite feature is my backup camera, which saves lives and eliminates errors.
What is the best compliment you have received?
One time I had to parallel park my 45-foot bus, which I called Baby. I did not realize there was a crowd of people outside watching me. I parked 4 inches from the curb and made a perfect move right back into the spot. Suddenly, the crowd of people outside the bus stopped and cheered. It was a great feeling of accomplishment and achievement.
Another time I was carrying the Blue and Gold Star families with the Wreaths Across America processional down to Arlington National Cemetery. One of the policemen I was following realized he took the wrong exit off the highway. You see he could make a U-turn at the bottom of the ramp — which was fine for him as he was in his car. I however was driving my 45-foot bus and followed him off the exit as well. I made a U-turn in the middle of a Washington, D.C., intersection. The people on my bus clapped and cheered me. When we reached our destination, a lot of the policemen in the convoy were congratulating me, providing another feeling of accomplishment and achievement.
What is your funniest or most memorable story?
I once transported a group of agricultural college students, in February, to the University of Pittsburgh in Western Pennsylvania. The next day, I drove them 75 miles further west from the campus to visit a rural, huge dairy farm. They were there to observe the advanced practices in dairy farming. When we were about to leave, I had trouble with my bus. After much deliberation, I determined it was the idle pulley on the alternator that had broken apart.
The family that lived there was very gracious and so kind. They ordered and had pizza delivered, for the whole gang. The farmer got permission from the school to transport the students back to the university. It was a long night.
Prevost, located in New Jersey, had to order the part and have it delivered. The closest shop that had the idle pulley was 75 miles away. Prevost hired a taxicab company to deliver the part. In rural Western Pennsylvania, there had been a mixture of wind, rain and snow all day. Down this muddy, snow-covered roadway … you see this yellow taxi, a little past midnight, driving down the snow-covered road — with two drivers — just to hand-deliver the part for my bus. I was very thankful, but it was also a hilarious and welcome sight. It was 1:30 a.m., and the farmer, two taxi drivers and I were working on the bus in the dooryard of a huge dairy barn. After a successful repair, we all headed to our respective destinations. I went back to the university and got into the hotel about 3:30 a.m. that morning.
What is your best piece of advice for a newbie?
Do not depend on your GPS … GPS is only a reference point, know where you are going. Know your bus, do your pre- and post-checks, know what your bus can and will do. Above all, be kind and smile, it will help give your passengers a sense of security. Drive like you are carrying your children/grandchildren. Remember, you are carrying the world’s most valuable commodity — people.
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what is your favorite bus to drive and why?
I call my favorite bus Baby because I was the first one to drive her home. I was able to pick her up in Jersey and drove her back to Maine. She is a beautiful 2015 Prevost x3-45. Prevost buses are fabulous to drive. I enjoy the air seat very much. My Baby handles like a dream and rides like a Cadillac. It is a pleasure, and the most enjoyable vehicle I have driven thus far.
What is your career highlight?
I have had the honor of transporting wreaths for Wreaths Across America to Arlington National Cemetery for the past several years. Started by Worcester in 1992, it is now up to 3.1 million wreaths nationwide and worldwide. I have formed many rewarding friendships with many dear people; some days, it feels like a family reunion. It’s such an honor to be able to pay respects to fallen heroes. You get an unexplained feeling of reverence and sacredness as you enter those grounds. I feel so honored and blessed to be able to feel a part of this great organization, which I hold in high regard.
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