The view from the Driver’s Seat: Jeff Horan, 64, has been a driver for 13½ years, working for Avalon Transportation LLC and its predecessor, West Valley Charter, in Santa Clara in Northern California. He also drives for Whitecastle Tours in Livermore.
Bus & Motorcoach News caught up with Jeff to talk to him about why he loves driving a motorcoach, his career high and low points, and his best tale about life on the road.
What’s your biggest tip?
$3,000. I did a nine-day park tour with a German group. The tour guide made it sound like I was the best driver ever. I guess they bought it.
What’s the strangest group to ride in your coach?
SOCAL Gay/Lesbian Bondage Club. I drove the group to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. What I saw I can’t really describe, but, oh my, there’s lots of leather, chains and whips. I didn’t realize the woman sitting next to me was a male high school principal. It was a strange ride, but they were a great group — very respectful and kind folks. I would drive them anytime.
What’s your go-to phrase?
During a safety briefing, I say, “Hello, my name is Jeff. I hope you are as excited as I am about my first bus trip.” It gets them every time!
How did you become a bus driver?
When I left law enforcement after an injury, I needed a job. My friend taught me to drive an MC-9 and a 102 (both MCI), and he introduced me to West Valley Charter, and history was made.
What did you do before commercial driving?
I served in the Navy for eight years, an 18-month sales career (copy machines, yellow pages ads, cars, life insurance) and 17 years in law enforcement as a police officer and dispatch supervisor.
How many states have you driven a motorcoach in?
I’ve driven through 46 states, only missing Maine and North Dakota. Of course, it’s too hard to drive to Alaska and Hawaii.
What’s your favorite location?
Pottsville, Pennsylvania. People are super friendly there.
What’s your least favorite location?
Death Valley! It’s in the name.
From the perspective of the driver’s seat, what is your favorite bus feature?
What’s your funniest travel story?
My guide during a Grand Canyon trip got a bad case of snow blindness after taking the group for a walk on a bright sunny tale. He couldn’t see a thing. I’ve experienced this before. You can’t open your eyes; they burn too much. It’s like your eyes get a snow burn. I had to tell him everything we were seeing, so he could tell the group about them. He recovered by the end of the trip. Just for a couple of days, he couldn’t open his eyes. Afterward, he asked for me to be the driver for all of his trips.
What’s your best advice for those new to the driver’s seat?
Get out of the bus and see the beautiful sights, BS with other drivers, learn from their experience, treat your passengers like royalty — they pay your bills.
What’s your favorite bus?
Prevost H3-45. Reliable, comfortable and driver-friendly.
What’s your scariest story?
On a Christian camp snow trip, there was really foul weather with heavy snow, wind, ice on the roadway. I told my customer, the youth pastor, we needed to depart immediately if we wanted to get home that day. She agreed, but then decided to let the kids stay for lunch. She then stayed for worship services. It probably snowed 3 feet during her delay.
I installed hard chains. My group finally boarded. We were just pulling onto the road when a newbie driver, who had never chained up before, forced his way in front of us, and started up the road out of the camp. This road is two-way, but only one lane wide, with 72 sharp curves and a 2,000-foot increase in altitude in 3.4 miles.
He got up to the midway point on the road, and his chains came off, and wound around the axle. So, the road was blocked in heavy, blinding snow. The fire department from the camp came and cut off his chains. They properly installed a new set of chains, and he moved on.
I released the parking brake, and my bus immediately started sliding sideways, toward an unobstructed 800-foot cliff. Then, I tried to stop. I tried applying gentle throttle to try to get the chains to dig in … nothing. Kids were screaming bloody murder, seeing the cliff was unavoidable. Suddenly, the bus stopped.
What happened next?!
I opened the service door which was partly overhanging the cliff and ordered everyone to quickly — but calmly — swing in front of the bus, and meet in the middle of the road. I was terrified. The passengers all got out safely, and I evacuated also.
The fire chief saw the whole thing. He was beside himself with gratitude that we were safe. The chief asked me to back the bus back down the hill. Nope! I would not get in until the bus was stabilized.
They brought up a front-end loader and placed the bucket under the engine compartment, so if I started sliding, they could push me back to the road. We all survived. We were stuck for an additional night, along with all the other buses on the road behind me.
It ended up that two buses who got out earlier, when I wanted to leave, T-boned at the end of the road. I couldn’t have got out at all. When we made it back to the church, the pastor gave me $500.
If you ever go to Hume Lake Christian Camp in Kings Canyon National Park, ask them about the bus that almost killed 50 kids. That was my trip.
Of course, the details have been added to by camp staff, who tell of kids scrambling out the roof hatch, and emergency escape windows, etc. The fire chief has added about a 2-foot berm all the way up the road. No doubt it was a miracle that saved us all.
If you are a motorcoach driver and would like to be featured in From the Driver’s Seat, contact Shandra Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org.