Eunice Rocheford smiles as she reminisces about passengers on the buses on which she worked as a conductress. (Picture by Gercine Carter)
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DAILY, EUNICE ROCHEFORD sits on her patio and reminisces, watching buses go by the busy intersection near her Bloomsbury, St Thomas home.
She has fond memories of the years she spent as a conductress scampering along “running boards” of jitney buses owned by the private Rocklyn Bus Company or when she collected bus fares on the Government-owned Transport Board buses.
“I start with Miss Rock. I used to work down there first and then the skipper put me on the bus. He had a canteen at the Brick factory at Greenland to sell to the workers and I used to work it. Then he asked me to work on the bus as a conductress,” she said about the switch to a job at which she spent four decades.
She was in her late 30s when she began earning $42 a week for conducting on Rocklyn buses that plied the rural routes of Rock Dundo, Shorey Village and Hillaby.
“I used to work Rock Dundo. Every morning I used to make six o’clock from Rock Dundo. I would go down at 6 0’clock and make 7 0’clock from Orange Hill and den I would go back in town and load and carry down the children that going down to Alexandra, Miss Leacock private school, Coleridge & Parry and then we would bring back de bus and put it down till 2 0’clock.”
Hearing her speak, you understand this is a Bajan with deep country roots, still basking in the satisfaction from the job she once did serving her “country people”.
In expressive Bajan dialect she said: “De people in St John used to like to know when Miss Rocheford working, because deh know deh gine get where dey going. I would never leave dem pon de road. I know sometimes pon a night we mek midnight bus. When I go up to de driver and I tell de driver ‘yuh got a inspector of police, I want you to drop her up to Sherbourne [St John] to the first gap. You can’t put her under the trees’, he would always say all right.
“Sometimes when you go up to Hillaby, the rain may be falling, you may got Sergeant Cummins and you may got those rest in the bus. You drop them at District D Police Station.”
Aware of the transportation difficulties of people living in rural areas at that time, she always packed in passengers on her routes.
“Those buses were licensed to carry 40-something people but they used to got in ’bout 300 and when you meet one of Miss Rock buses coming through Spring Vale Hill, dem buses coming through there pulling pon a second gear, six people sitting down and six in front,” she said.
Rocheford particularly remembers looking out for “Maurice the reporter”.
“He did live up in Fisherpond Road, the canes come in, and you can’t see a road. I would say, ‘Lord have mercy, he one got to go through that road and nobody at all getting off wid he.”
“It din nuh car nothing and de buses ain’t going through dem roads – Bailey Alley, Claybury Hill, you got to get off de bus and walk.”
She had to walk from her home in the darkness of four o’clock in the morning to be in time for the staff bus that transported her to the point where she would “start the route” at five o’clock.
Rocheford as many stories about her experiences. “I remember the first bus going down to Martin’s Bay. When we get up to Martin’s Bay that morning, the people like deh was seeing glory. Every man’s house light up and every man’s door steering open looking to see the bus coming.” She spent 12 years working on that route.
After 40 years working on buses plying St John and St Andrew routes, Eunice Rocheford tells many a story about her experiences.
Then there were the school children she transported on her route.
“The 3:30 bus used to go to this school in St John [Presentation College] and you would pick up those great people children. Dem in a bus with their bags in the seat, and when you get down by St George you meet St George children all up Gun Hill coming to get home. I pick them up and the Presentation children would quarrel.”
“I would tell dem ‘look, yuh parents ain’t hire this bus, yuh know. Dem is school children too and I carrying them down.” A “strict headmaster” at Presentation College always responded positively to her complaints for those boys.
Rocheford was in control of her bus. Those were safer days when “yuh could walk through town with de fare bag and nobody wouldn’t try to snatch it like now when yuh would get de money take way from yuh”.
With a certain candour, she pointed out: “People in dem days didn’t like these now. You would meet a own-way body in between, but de people that used to drive pon de bus was human beings. They used to behave duhself.”
For her kindness to many a passenger, this popular conductress would often be rewarded with gifts from the land, “a lot of food, because everybody in St John used to plant food”.
“St John people used to treat me real good and I love them,” said the 78-year-old great grandmother who is no stranger to hard work.
As a schoolgirl at Holy Innocents School she and other children from her St Thomas neighbourhood spent summer vacations working on a plantation for one shilling a day. Those were the days of work “gangs” – groups of people on the plantation led by a “driver” supervising their work.
This is where she learnt a work ethic that later earned her the respect of her employers at the Rocklyn Bus company and at the Transport Board, where she was one of the last conductresses to be laid off when fare boxes were introduced by the board.
“We had to scale the running board like a man,” Rocheford said of those days when she worked on the jitney bus. She laughed when she reflected on the more advanced Mercedes Benz and Leyland models, saying: “Dese good buses now can’t pull anything.”
With a wave of the hand, she added: “Dem old time days did nice days, doh. You can’t get those days back.” (GC)