Ken Wilkinson: Cook

I first met Ron Sverldoff In late 1960 when I was 16 years and working on a Thames River sailing barge. He had just gotten his driver’s license and bought a Standard Vangaurd van. The radiator leaked and the exhaust made a racket. Little did I know how this meeting would change our lives and lead us to the other bus trip crew who would eventually join us.

Ron was an original “Energizer Bunny.”  He always had an incredible smile and was just full enthusiasm. Every possible weekend he planned trips to Branshatch or Silverstone, for car races of any kind. Ron loved the idea of sailing and would have liked having a job on the barge with me, but he was already employed, working for his father’s construction company. In 1961

I joined the British Merchant Navy and for the next four years I saw Ron every time I came home on leave. In 1965 I started working for Ron’s father’s company, J & S builders.  We also worked for Ron’s Uncle Jimmy, who owned a movie location and TV service company. We were able to visit the movie sets to watch the filming, we made an incredible amount of money at our construction jobs, and it was a really amazing time in our young lives.  That’s when Ron decided that we needed a bus so we could travel all together to the race tracks instead of each of us taking our own cars.

Our first bus was a Trojan mini-bus. On this bus, enroute to the tracks, the boys first discussed the original idea of traveling around the world. Everyone had a different idea ofd what type of vehicle, an old limousine, an ambulance, or even a Mini Mokes, but it was Ron who said, ““It’s never been done in a double decker bus!” The idea faded that night, except for Ron who continued to be enthused and talk up the idea.

In early 1966 Ron found our second bus. He arrived at the Elm’s Pub and said to me, “I’ve found a bus, we have to go and buy it tonight.” I asked how much it cost and Ron said it was 25 pounds. I had the money in my pocket, so we jumped into Ron’s car and drove straight there to see an old 1949 bus, previously owned by a Boy Scout troop. We met the seller, paid in full, received the papers and I drove Ron’s car home as he drove the bus right off the lot. We stopped at the 24 hour Le Manns and syncrhonistically we discovered later, my future sister-in-law, Stephanie Crutcher Deutsch, who was visiting England at the time, was there as well.

Eventually, others began to be attracted to Ron’s idea of round-the-world travel in a double-decker bus: Rob Carter, Chris Price, Skip Reina, Dave Dawson, Albert Pidgeon, and Derek Jones. We set up a meeting with the BMC in Longbridge, but after they had met us, they declined to help us in any way. Ron was became engaged full force about acquiring a Double Decker bus. He went to the local bus company and was told that all the used buses were sold under contract by one seller, Sid Twell.  Ron called him up for an appointment and we met him the next Sunday afteroon in Lincolnshire. He loved our idea and he told us he knew exactly what type of bus we would need. Three weeks later, Ron called to tell me I must meet Mr. Twell in Maldon that day at 4 pm. I arrived and he had three buses lined up for me to pick one. I had no idea how to select a bus and I just looked at the buses, pretending I knew how to deliberate. I finally was asked “Which one?”  I arbitrarily chose 0N059. After money had exchanged hands, he gave me 5 pounds back as a contribution to our trip.

As I was leaving to find a phone to call Ron, the manager of the bus company told me then and there I had to move the bus off his property. I explained that I had never driven a double decker bus before. He said, “You can drive can’t you?”  I said yes, and he said, “Well then, just drive off and take it easy.” It took me 20 minutes, driving up Moldon high street in second gear. At the top of the street, there was a Blue Boar pub. I pulled in and parked the bus, but I didn’t know how to turn the engine off.  Finally, I put it in gear and just stalled the engine. I went in and called Ron, who showed up hours later. He climbed right up in the driver’s seat, started the bus as as if he’d done it all his life, and we took off!  On the way home there was an older couple waiting at a bus stop. Ron stopped and the confused couple got on and we asked where they lived. When dropped off at the end of their street, Ken told them they didn’t have to pay the fare. This was the beginning of our trip!

We drove the bus to Ron’s Uncle’s house where we would build out the conversions to the bus. The conversions were Skip’s ideas. We all helped, but Skip was the overseer of the projects. We started to divy out titles and assignments. Albert became the Treasurer, I became the Cook, Chris Price, the Photographer. We all agreed to put 145 pounds into a kitty to pay for the conversions. We also had to buy a set of tires, which cost us more than the bus! Ron started to search for sponsers, trying Philp (who declined to sponsor) but  Cadburry gave us milk and cocoa.  May and Baker agreed to give us some odds and ends.  Thus began our trip around the world and we planned to leave on the journey in early 1967.