Regional operator in Victoria awarded for unwavering school bus service

Robert Gloster of AJ Gloster and Sons has led the Underbool to Ouyen school for almost 50 years. After so many unstinting services to the regional Victorian community, Gloster was recently surprised with a well-deserved award.

Gloster won the BusVic School Bus Driver of the Year award for 2022

Robert Gloster has been driving buses for almost 50 years. Most of the time it does the daily run from Underbool to Ouyen – 51 kilometers as the crow flies – and drops off pupils to and from the school in Oyen. Despite this long service to his local community in the Victorian Mallee, Gloster was completely surprised when he was rewarded for his efforts.

In July, Gloster was chosen by the Bus Association of Victoria as the top school bus driver for 2022.

After receiving the award at the Bus Vic Maintenance Conference and Show Awards Ceremony, Gloster admitted he was completely surprised by the recognition.

“I never considered that I would even be a contestant — I had no idea at all,” Gloster told ABC. “My wife Colleen had to pass on the details of the award nomination to the Ouyen school and then get references from students past and present.

“I still don’t know how she did it without me knowing. We went to the conference in Melbourne and when they announced it I didn’t understand for a few seconds, it was a total surprise.”

The award was slow in coming for Gloster. As a third generation member of the AJ Gloster and Sons business, he continues the family tradition in the Mallee area. The operator started in 1945, when Gloster’s grandfather Joe was given the contract to run the Underbool High School race in Ouyen. Gloster’s grandfather first used an old Lend Lease truck chassis for the contract and had a manufacturer 60 miles away build a body to put on it.

After receiving an education at Mildura Tech School in the 1960s, Gloster left unsure of what he wanted to do for a career. He eventually joined the family business at AJ Gloster & Sons in 1968, when he began his apprenticeship in auto mechanics.

“When I first started working with the company, I didn’t need to drive buses for a while,” says Gloster. “Soon it became clear that they would need drivers, so that’s when I got my licence.

“I started driving in emergencies on our small food service before moving to the main Underbool service in Ouyen.”

From there, Gloster became the full-time school road driver each morning and afternoon, returning to Underbool after the morning run to work in the automotive business before returning to Ouyen for the afternoon run. . Since then, he has witnessed changes in the way modern diesel buses, power steering and air conditioners have evolved over the decades.

Operator Victorian Mallee has seen many changes, particularly in bus and coach technology. In 1949, AJ Gloster and Sons purchased their first purpose-built bus in an early Bedford design. From there, the business grew rapidly. As bus technology evolved, so did the regional operator in Victoria.

In 1964 he bought three Bedfords before switching to an International Diesel with Ansair bodywork in 1984. This was replaced in 2001 by a MAN model with AB Denning bodywork.

Gloster says his grandfather remembered the early days of the operator when the roads were nearly impassable.

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“After sandstorms in dry conditions, the driver often had to make several attempts to overcome some of the climbs,” says Gloster. “Without air conditioning, power steering or synchronized gearboxes, it would have been a difficult time for the driver and the students.”

In 1955, AJ Gloster and Sons received a second contract. The contract was to pick up students from farms south of Underbool and supply the existing high school bus line on the highway in a small town called Torrita. This bus would then return on a similar route taking the children to Underbool Primary School. Gloster says the service ran until the contract expired in 2004 due to a lack of numbers.

Currently, AJ Gloster & Sons operates a 2020 Mercedes-Benz model with an Express body that Gloster says looks more like a coach than a bus. With a 43-passenger configuration, Gloster says racing just got a whole lot easier with air conditioning, automatic transmission, air suspension and more comfortable seats.

“With this bus, it’s so comfortable and spacious,” says Gloster. “School children are doing pretty well today”

Such is the nature of the Gloster family business, he received his bus driver’s license from the Taxi Branch at the age of 20. This started a long relationship with the school department which led to him winning the Bus Vic School Bus Driver of the Year award. 50 years later.

“We always pick up students along the highway and we always have a reasonable number,” Gloster said. “As well as not having to cross many level crossings, the layout has been the same since the start of the contract in 1945.”

But this regular route every day never bored Gloster. He says the highway he drives every day changes constantly, providing beautiful views of the local farming community depending on the time of year. With the children on board every day, Gloster says he has been able to develop relationships with the students and the local community to keep them safe and follow them on their educational journey.

“It’s so rewarding to talk with the kids every day as they get on and off the bus,” Gloster said. “Quite frankly, I looked back recently and thought, where did the time go?

“It’s never been a chore because it gets you up and crunching every day. My dad Ray is still working in our garage at the age of 95, while my brother and business partner Doug sometimes drives when it’s is necessary.”

It was this connection to the Mallee community that helped Gloster win the award for 2022. While not in the limelight, Gloster says winning the School Bus Driver Award for this year of BusVic was a special achievement.

“I was quite shocked, it was a very nice surprise,” he says. “It’s great to be recognized, but we do all of this work to keep our community viable.”

Despite building great relationships with students, parents, and the community over the years, Gloster’s position as the primary driver of school service is not guaranteed. Recently, his son and fourth-generation employee at the company, Cameron, drove the road while Gloster underwent surgery.

Despite only being away from his seat for a few weeks, Cameron has already reveled in listening to the young passengers and ferrying them to and from school each day.

Although his father wants to return to his position, it can be difficult to get Cameron out of the driver’s seat. But Gloster is adamant he still has many more years to run the school.

“My health is good so I will continue to drive when I can get back,” Gloster said. “Cameron will be driving more than before, but hopefully I’ll get back to school. Building relationships with the kids and communicating respectfully with them and their families every day is something I’ve loved doing over the years. generations.

“This race is an integral part of our business and has been for a long time, so we will continue to transport children to school as long as we have plenty of them in the area.”

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