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Angus McIntyre retires after 40 years behind the wheel

Angus McIntyre retires after 40 years behind the wheel

Longtime trolley driver Angus McIntyre will be retiring at the end of May! (We made sure to get the trolleys in the background of this picture :)
Longtime trolley driver Angus McIntyre will be retiring at the end of May! (We made sure to get the trolleys in the background of this picture :)

After driving buses for 41 years, Angus McIntyre has announced he will be retiring at the end of May!

His last official day will be Tuesday Monday May 31 (celebrations are planned!), but until then you can catch him driving the 7 Dunbar/Nanaimo or the interlined Main/Victoria routes in the evenings. Congratulate him if you see him!

I spoke with Angus last week, and asked him to share his reflections on the city and transit after 40 odd years of service. It’s a long period to think about—he notes that he actually worked through six decades, starting in the last four months of 1969 and finishing in the first half of 2010.

“Very few people in this company achieve that goal [of 40 years driving],” he said with a laugh. “You have to start quite young and be durable to make it through.”

You can read the full interview below (and see this post for more on Angus!).

40 years in any position is an achievement. Considering that, what kept you going in the same position year after year?

Oh, the enjoyment of the work. The change in equipment. There’s always something changing. Everybody who works here, you have to be prepared for change. Because it’s always happening on a continuing basis, and as long as you’re an employee that can deal with that you’re fine, but if you aren’t able to deal with all the various changes they keep throwing at you, it makes it more challenging.

I know you’ve always been a trolley driver. I was wondering if you could talk about how the trolleys have changed over the years.

Well, the first trolleys, the Brills, we still have two examples from the 40s and 50s, were a very good vehicle for their time. Very durable. There were no right hand mirrors, and we had to learn to drive without a right hand mirror.

Why no right hand mirror?

There just hadn’t been. And there wasn’t the traffic. They felt it wasn’t as necessary back then. But eventually it was necessary. Traffic was building, there were some accidents, so they brought in right hand mirrors and they were knocked off as fast as they put them on because we weren’t used to them being there.

I’d always been interested in driving the old Brill trolleys. At 21 I went down, I got hired, I went on my first night on my own on the Victoria, then the 25 Victoria. And we were still making change, handling money. There were various challenges on the job then. We didn’t have a long rush hour like we do now. There was a very intense rush hour at 5 o’clock. A huge surge at that time. And over the years the rush hour has extended and extended over and over until finally you could say it’s 2 pm to 7 pm now. It’s a long rush hour.

So the Brills finally reached the end of the line in 1984, and we got the Flyer 900 trolleys to replace them. And they still had manual steering. Here we were with this new equipment and the company was still buying buses with manual steering. We were the last holdout. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that we were buying buses with full power steering.

And of course I stayed a couple of extra years for the opening of the new garage at Marpole, and the new trolleys, the artic trolleys. So each generation has come along and I’ve been able to be a part of that, and that’s been quite important. We were lucky that the Transit Museum Society has been created and the old buses have been kept and used for special events and community service and so on.

And these are things that you look back on. I get behind the wheel of the Brill—we had them out for a Motor Bus Society convention a couple of weeks ago—and it all just falls into place. You sit down behind the wheel, you use a few muscles to get your manual steering going again. And even though years go by, you feel at home. And memories come back. You start looking out the window and memories come back.

What do you think of?

You drive down Seymour Street and you look at a canyon of condo apartment towers. Before, everything was low rise. There was Seymour Billiards. The Penthouse is still there. There were lots of surface parking lots. One of the aspects I’ve enjoyed is that we have this window we look out of, and we see the city change. You see it grow and develop, and in some negative ways too. You see Woodwards close, and East Hastings go down the drain. All of these memories, eight hours a day driving the streets, are kind of filed away. So the equipment is all part of it. It just ties the whole thing together.

I’d read in a previous interview that your starting wage was $3.40 an hour. I was wondering what did $3.40 bought you back then.

In the city it bought you a house. We did, we went out and bought houses. In 1977 when I bought my house in Dunbar, it took one bus driver’s salary to buy a house in the city, even on the west side. And now it takes eight bus driver’s salaries to buy the same house. And that’s a huge change, in the city and the job and everything, the affordability of housing has massively changed.

So reflecting on these 40 years in transit, what are you taking away from it? In terms of experience, in terms of wisdom? Memories?

You learn a lot about human nature, majorly. Human nature in many ways hasn’t changed a lot. There’s some basic tenets that are still there. As I explain to the newer drivers, there’s a harder edge to things now.

The other thing I’ve definitely thought of in the last week or two is that we’re getting our first test buses with a shield for the driver, that can be moved into place if you need it. That indicates to me that we’re in another time and things have changed. So it’s a time to reflect and say why are we now needing shields? Why has society changed to the point where 50 people a shift walk on the bus without paying? And we just push a button and continue on. That would have been unthinkable 40 years ago. The bus would have been parked and the police would have been there. Supervisors. Because society then, it wasn’t in their makeup to walk on without paying.

That’s been a little harder for me than for the newer drivers because I just find it hard to sit there and let this all happen. I usually say something as they get on: I’m logging them on as an unpaid fare, and this sort of thing. But you know. People tried to fudge the transfers long ago. Everything was smaller scale. The fare was 20 cents and you got four tokens for 75 cents, and that saved a nickel. A nickel was half the price of a cup of coffee.

Those were the only savings. There were no monthly passes. Everyone had to put something in the farebox. There were no seniors passes, transfers had no return trips. So I would say one of the biggest improvements I’ve seen is accessibility to the service. Through the monthly passes, and the seniors passes. People that really should have the access have it now. And they can use the seniors passes in any city in the province.

What will you miss most?

I’ll miss the equipment and I’ll miss the people. I won’t miss the traffic, or the protest marches, and disruptions and all that. [laughs] That always added a little dimension to the day – you’re cruising along and all of a sudden the street’s closed and there’s a march, and everyone’s running around. It makes the day interesting too if you have that happen, and trying to get back on time, and so on.

But I have regular passengers, friends, people that come to visit. And having worked the Nanaimo bus for a long time, I’ll miss the regulars. You look forward to seeing them on a certain trip. Carol finishes work at the Vancouver Sun at 11 o’clock every night, and there she is heading home to Dunbar, and we have a chance to chat and visit for a few minutes. And it helps her day too, it’s something she looks forward to.

The people aspect has always been pretty strong for me, right from the beginning. My first work was substituting for Marie, who was one of the conductorettes on the streetcars, back in the Second World War. She was off on compensation for a couple of months, so I did her work for six weeks. And it was 4pm till midnight with Friday Saturday off, coincidentally exactly what I’m doing now. And I started to meet all her regulars and they all wanted to know where she was, and when was she coming back, and she did come back, and I met her. And she was just a wonderful lady, every time we got together she had stories.

So that was an introduction to the job I felt very fortunate to have. Because that introduced me to the fact that it wasn’t just this crowd of people all the time coming through, but there were parts to it that were very human and close.

I look back on it and it’s just an amazing number of people. I still count passengers and I carry about 450 a night, about 700 on the Main and Victoria. I have to do some totals—I haven’t done it for a little while—I’ve had 3 million or so. Maybe 2.5 million, it’s hard to say at the moment.

Wow. I just can’t imagine having the opportunity to touch so many people’s lives!

So how do you feel about coming to this point now?

It creeps up on you. A lot of my regular passengers get on board now and say, ‘Oh, three months! It’s three months to go!’ They all know it’s coming.

Each day I leave for work at three o’clock, and now there’s a lot of things that I would like to get done that I can’t get done because I have to leave for eight hours. Ten hours when you count getting ready and travelling to the garage. There’s a lot of e-mail connections I have, there’s Transit Museum Society activities. I have a large collection of slides I’ve collected over the years in and around the city. Mostly transit related, and on trips I’ve done around North America. There’s quite a treasure trove of material I want to share with people. So I plan to do some scanning and digitizing and sharing. There’s quite a lot of people I know through the Internet, and even before there was a large community of transit fans. To be able to take these images and scan them and share them will be a big plus.

For a number of years, Heritage Vancouver has done a tour called the top 10 endangered heritage sites in the city, and I’d driven a TRAMS bus for that. And they’ve made me an honorary member of that. But I’ve never been able to go to the meetings because they’re always on a Wednesday night! Finally, I’ve gone to the meetings and they’ve expressed an interest in my collection. The Birks building, I took pictures before those were taken down. A lot of the images I even forgot I had.

Another project I really like is then & now shots, which I’d like to do. Plus I live in an old house built in 1928 and it’s had a lot of deferred maintenance. I have a lot of projects planned, and my neighbour wants me to help out. So I knew it was time when it felt harder and harder to get out of the house.

It’ll be a change because the daily commute and camaraderie with other drivers will change. But it’s a turning point and my friends who have retired can tell you that they are waiting patiently for bike rides and trips, and I can see how much they’ve enjoyed it. I’m ready to be a part of that. It’s been a big change to sit down and reflect on 40 years.

Also, I’ve been through four major labour disputes—that’s another aspect of leaving at this point. The companies change. And that’s the part people are always surprised at. Here you are doing the same job for 40 years and you’re working for four different companies.

But I always stayed driving, because even though I could have put in for training, or to be a road supervisor, or do all these different things, my real calling was driving the trolleys. And that was what I wanted to do.

You look back over 40 years and you realize, I ended up doing what I wanted, where I wanted to be. And not everybody can say that.

Will you keep on riding the bus, and driving for TRAMS?

I will still keep my license current to drive the buses for TRAMS and the old Brill trolleys and so on. A friend of mine has some antique buses and he’s asked me to drive it for some tours and so on. So that’s a very different kind of scenario, you’re not on a scheduled service, but you’re in a much more relaxed kind of situation. So that part I’m very excited about.

And they’ve already issued my new pass, the retirees pass with the yellow background. The first thing they do when they take you in the retirement session is plop you down in front of the camera and take your picture.

That’s all I had to ask. Is there anything you had to add?

Other than that… the best thing was to stay on an extra couple of years, work out of the new garage. Bring in the new garage, and do tours of it. And just see a whole new generation of diesel buses. All the Novas are here, and we’ve been watching the Canada Line zip along back and forth out there. All this has happened.

So I’ll still be part of it, but in a different way, and that’s how I’m looking at it. I’m really feeling very optimistic. I’m looking forward to my final night, running around and doing some crazy stuff.

Fantastic. Thank you so much.