The Bridge at Dozan, Bolan Pass, near Quetta, Pakistan

The Bridge at Dozan, Bolan Pass, near Quetta, Pakistan
The bridge carried both road and rail over a creek bed. The bed had to be dug out by hand over many days, with much help freely given by locals. Click on the photo and scroll down, to bring up the story of this bridge. Go to: to find more.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Epic Journeys 1968 to 1976

Sydney to Calcutta:
Albert left Australia on October 8th, 1968, and would take 132 days to deliver the fare paying passengers to their destination. This was to be the first of 15 journeys.
"As the GPO clock struck ten o'clock Albert began to move, bedecked with balloons and streamers. Half-way down George Street there was a distinct lack of power and the bus came to a stop . . ." and so began Albert's log to London!

Leaving George Street Sydney
With a top speed of only 50 kph round-the-clock driving was applied. After finding a low rail bridge at Narranderra, getting lost in SA's Riverland, traversing a bone shattering unsealed Eyre Highway and being shaken by an earthquake in Meredin, Albert finally arrived in Perth . . relatively unscathed . . 6 days later.

Along the Nullarbor: Trip no. 1
The next phase was to find a ship to take the bus to India. Despite earlier research the ship expected to be seen in Fremantle was not there, but others were. In the event it was one to Singapore, a scary floating transfer in a barge, then a second ship to India.

Albert's "crew" of 13 sailed aboard the good ship "Centaur", a wonderful 5 day line voyage from Fremantle to Singapore from a past era, then by "jungle train" through Malaysia to Bangkok, then by air to the "City of Joy", Calcutta."Home away from home" : the galley and forward lounge

Calcutta to Quetta
Once all were safely reunited in Calcutta Albert took to India's Grand Trunk road with the daily challenge of cyclists, ox carts, wandering cows, low bridges and dangerously overhanging trees, all demanding the driver's attention and care. Not surprisingly the journey was slow, but fascinating always.

 A routine soon set in to keep moving until late at night as best protection against intense curiosity from over friendly locals. Early every morning groups of villagers would be crouching roadside talking the name A-L-B-E-R-T and debating whether they were seeing a double or a triple decker bus.

 The next major obstacle was at Dozan in the Bolan Pass, Pakistan, along the route via Quetta into southern Iran, where it was necessary to dig out a dry riverbed plus a piece of the mountain, well assisted by railway workers and the local tourist and highway departments (see picture below - the railway crosses the parallel road via a bridge too low - out of picture).
Quetta to Istanbul
From Quetta a desolate Baluchistan led to the Iranian frontier at Zahedan then long dusty days over stoney desert to Esfahan and Tehran, our half-way point. Now mid-winter and cold . . the engine block froze up, but the lesson learned was invaluable - if it breaks - you fix it. Local tradesmen demonstrated skills long discarded in the west and a few days later Albert was rolling again.

Approaching Tabriz it was so cold the diesel froze. With a 44 gallon drum inside the bus and a fuel line via a window - the engine was kept running 24 hours a day. Entering Turkey the temperature fell even further (-27 C) followed by the vision of Horason bridge necessitating wheel removal and military assistance.
The Turkish military to the rescue
All help unhesitatingly given in the warmest and most friendly spirit (see below).

 Along the Black Sea coast a welcome thaw set in before climbing again to Ankara to join a modern highway and Turkish drivers, who apparently can see round corners. After 4 months of travel, Australia's Nullarbor heat, the tropics, crossing oceans, deserts and mountains, and then into the freezing zone of northern Iran and Turkey, the arrival into Istanbul was a real comfort, a place to prepare for the final leg to London . . .
In the mountains of Turkey: breakfast stop approaching the Black Sea
Istanbul to London
All past obstacles were there to be overcome, an accepted part of the challenge. Now safely in Europe - Albert having crossed the dividing Bosphorus waterway - the crew were looking forward to a smooth ride to the English Channel with, hopefully, some bonus wayside comforts to be included. But not so!

Snow was falling again as the bus departed for the Edirne border and travelling through Bulgaria, a country then closely allied to Cold War Russia, was like the weather, far from welcoming. As the highways became busier with frenzied European traffic Albert was beginning to feel a little bit slow and out of place.

 After Salzburg came the autobahns of Germany; it was late afternoon. The first overhead bridges strangely displayed clearance signs in feet and inches, in English, each just a few inches over Albert's height. Then, without warning - Bang! A long weary night followed stopping at every bridge across Germany.

 The ferryport at Zeebrugge arrived in a misty dawn but with some relief, crew confidence being that across the Channel double-decker bus height would no longer be a problem. Victoria Coach Station staff provided a great reception for the long distance arrival and agreed to make a bay available for Albert should there be a return service to Sydney. However that, friends, is another story too!
Victoria Coach Station, near Buckingham Palace London
A winter Monday: 17th February 1969, 132 days out of Sydney.

Slightly amazed driver, conductress and coach passengers meet the aliens!

The bus returned to Sydney in 1969, departing from Bay 1 at Victoria Coach Station as promised by the superintendent and taking the same route beneath the rail bridge at Dozan where the river-bed had been cleared in advance by the local highway authority after the annual spring water flows.
Dining lounge, downstairs front
In 1970 the third journey, Sydney to London, went via the Khyber Pass and Afghanistan to avoid the Bolan scenario yet again. The new route had only one height diversion (read the book!) and was much enjoyed by travellers as Afghanistan, a starkly beautiful country, was becoming a popular destination.
A year-round timetable was drawn up for a regular service between London and Bombay, being trip Nos 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9, and then trip No 10 running right through to Sydney and Trip No 11 from Sydney back to London. Trip Nos 12, 13, 14 & 15 operated between London and Calcutta.
In 1976, with political tensions rising in Iran, trip No 16 was planned to return ALBERT back to Sydney for a well earned retirement. However, the pace of revolutionary fervour beat our schedule with travel through Iran being considered impractical, so Albert had to be rested in England.
Over the years ALBERT made more than 150 border crossings without ever being held up for serious scrutiny and not once was a bribe proffered to smooth the passage, this at a time when other vehicles were all too often seen marooned at check-posts with neither body panels nor owners.
The bus earned universal respect as a friendly ambassador for all those on board and was always welcomed and smiled upon by officials and the countless friends made along the way for whom the name A-L-B-E-R-T was one they could read, remember and say - in any language!

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