Life, pre-AC

Eggy was doing his pre-trip inspection when the explosion happened.

Our typical pre-trip involved standing 10 feet from the curb, gazing hopefully at our vehicle and muttering “Looks like a bus to me.” In this case, that method probably prevented serious injury.

After the bang and the appearance of a white cloud, Eggy took several frantic laps around the Scenicruiser before realizing he was okay. The blast was a Freon line bursting. He had just created his own personal Ozone Hole.

Our solution to every AC problem, back in the day, was to pump in more Freon. Apparently, there is a limit.

Bet you think this is about HVAC maintenance. Gotcha. By now you should understand that I know precious little. This is about bus life before modern AC.

Motorcoach AC first turned up just prior to WWII, and was still optional until at least 1960. Yet early ones had 4-cylinder “pony” motors to run the compressor, in an effort to allow the main engine to concentrate on things like climbing hills. When the 8V71 was developed, we finally had an engine powerful enough to both move and cool the bus.

This was good, because the pony had separate fuel tanks.  Some were diesel, some gas, offering a statistically significant number of opportunities to pump the wrong fuel in the wrong tank. Many of those opportunities were seized (pun intended).

Until the 1970s, coaches had windows that slid opened. That was nice if your AC pooped out (or your bus was built without it). In the days before power steering, real brakes and enough horsepower to actually motivate a bus adequately, drivers had an additional responsibility: On hot days, checking the mirror to make sure that passenger parts weren’t dangling from the window was de rigueur.

“Parts” is correct… arms, legs and heads could all be seen sticking out on occasion.  Even before our litigious times, it was considered bad form to lop them off on truck mirrors. The only thing more distressing than having a passenger’s body part hammered by a tree limb… was returning an incomplete customer to their loved ones.

Sometime in the ’70s, manufacturers made sliding windows optional and ended a fun, if harrowing, era. Modern seal glazing has largely resolved this problem, but roof hatches still occasionally assist Darwin’s efforts.

Hormones could be a problem. We carried mostly teenagers. After dark, we put the girls on one bus and boys in another. On coaches with sliding sash we dared not run side by side, or pass.

A lacrosse team once stuck their sticks out the window and rowed in unison down the interstate. On occasion, putting this delicately, passing truckers saw several moons.

Racing a Scenicruiser one day on the old Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike, my pal Chuck thought the ‘Hound had rolled over. Our bus hammered past him before Chuck realized that “turnpike” meant tolls and our competition was slowing for a booth.

He roared through that jewel at 35 and backed up to pay the toll. Chuck wasn’t alert, but he was smart. He backed just enough to make me pay through the rearmost window, which was open, due to an asthmatic AC. Chuck didn’t want to face the irate toll taker. I didn’t ask for a receipt.

In 1978, a friend was driving an old Fishbowl Suburban when a passenger came forward, pointed back to an open window and mentioned that a stoned guy had jumped out—two toll booths ago. They never heard anything from, or about, him.

Maintain your darned air conditioners. The good old days were exciting, but not that “good.”

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