Derbyshire man reunited with adventurers who took London double decker bus 40,000 miles around the world 50 years ago

A Derbyshire man who who helped take a London double decker bus 40,000 miles around the world with a group of friends has been reunited with them fifty years later.
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John Winter joined the group of eleven men and women who were just strangers when they answered an advert to travel across the globe in the iconic red vehicle.

They took the bus called the 'Sir George White Special' from Bristol to Canada, America, Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. Braving 'blistering' desert heat and and bone-chilling cold in the prairies the group spent 22 months aboard their less-than 50mph bus.

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The group travelled thousands of miles and worked along the way, picking fruit, planting lily bulbs, cleaning restaurants and as chauffeurs. They had to negotiate tricky routes and mountains and because the bus was too big for US roads they caused damage to bridges and overhead wires.

(David McLaughlin, Mike Conway, Bernice Poole, John Winter and Sally Mears. Five of the eleven strangers who set off in a bus to travel the world in 1970(David McLaughlin, Mike Conway, Bernice Poole, John Winter and Sally Mears. Five of the eleven strangers who set off in a bus to travel the world in 1970
(David McLaughlin, Mike Conway, Bernice Poole, John Winter and Sally Mears. Five of the eleven strangers who set off in a bus to travel the world in 1970

The bus often attracted the unwanted attention of the police and at one point was only allowed to continue after the intervention of Ronald Reagan - then Governor of California. Their epic trip came to an end when the bus sunk - trying to cross a river in Peru.

The eleven-person team of strangers aged between 19-34 took the bus on its journey between 1970 and 1972. Now five - John, as well as Mike Conway, Sally Rich, Bernice Poole, David McLaughlin and - have reunited in Bristol to mark the trip. The five met up for the first time in 50 years at Aerospace Bristol - arriving on a near-identical bus.

The event was to help launch a new book 'Bus to Bust' written by John Winter, now 79, a former journalist - who tagged along for nearly a year. John, now retired and in Derbyshire, says that the journey was a life-changing experience.

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He said: "It was an amazing journey, putting so many people together in such a confined space there were inevitably arguments. But it was unlike anything any of us had ever done. I stayed with the group for about a year.

The Bus Crew with the Sir George White Special on their seventies adventureThe Bus Crew with the Sir George White Special on their seventies adventure
The Bus Crew with the Sir George White Special on their seventies adventure

''We all rotated as leader of the group, I became leader of the group for three months - by which time I'd had enough. The bus really was the hero of the story, we had totally torn out the upper floor to fit beds and living space. It was actually very comfy - though sometimes very hot.

"Unfortunately we bought a bus that was too high for the American roads - so as soon as we got there we started hitting bridges.

"Usually the police were very good and gave us escorts sometimes, but eventually in California we were stopped by a determined policeman who wouldn't let us go.

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"We had to take the bus off the road, but eventually were given permission to drive on by Ronald Reagan - who was Governor of California at the time. We met him briefly which was fun, though only for a moment.

Sir George White Special being unloaded in Colombia.Sir George White Special being unloaded in Colombia.
Sir George White Special being unloaded in Colombia.

"Us Brits, thanks to all the pop stars, were very popular at the time. We got a lot of attention from local media. We also took with us a lot of British goods to sell. We sold a lot of horse brasses to hippies - they did very well.

"The journey was often hard work, at first we headed straight for Mexico to see the 1970 FIFA world cup, it took 48 days and in the end England never made it to the finals.

"While leaving Mexico City too we almost got the bus knocked over by fans shaking it - it was quite scary and we kept having to drive the bus back and forth.

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"We had to make money as we travelled, so we worked in California picking fruit and even renting out our bus to clubs and bars.

THe bus journey ended when it sank in the River Chira, PeruTHe bus journey ended when it sank in the River Chira, Peru
THe bus journey ended when it sank in the River Chira, Peru

"They would pay us because obviously the bus would gather a bit of interest. We even tried to do some advertising for a while - though we weren't very lucky there."

David McLaughlin, the driver and mechanic, told the BBC: "Central and South America, the roads are entirely different and it was an adventure. You were climbing mountains - and double-decker buses are not geared for climbing mountains."

The group set off from Bristol to Montreal, Canada, in March 1970 - with help from the bus's namesake Sir George White.

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Sir George, from South Gloucestershire, helped launch the bus with a bottle of West Country cider - and attended the event yesterday.

The group all had dedicated roles including a bus chef, four drivers and several mechanics.

The idea first came to Roger Poole and his new wife Joan, who have since died. The pair advertised the idea twice in the local paper - drawing in John who tagged along.

Arriving in Montreal aboard a cargo ship, the group travelled to Toronto and down the US east coast, visiting New York and then Texas before heading to Mexico City.

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After Mexico, they headed to California for work and then braved winter in the Canadian prairies - at one point rigging up a means of driving the bus from outside of the cab after it froze solid.

From there, the group headed to Toronto and down the US-east coast again, visiting the NASA rocket launch site at Cape Canaveral where some of the group left and headed home.

The remainder continued on - heading back to Mexico, through Central America and into Peru, where the bus sadly was destroyed while attempting to cross the River Chira.