Derry busmen hijacked countless times at gunpoint still love job after 40 years
Two bus drivers from Londonderry with an incredible 80 years behind the wheel between them have recalled how they faced gunmen more than 20 times during the Troubles.
Johnny McLaughlin (65) and Noel Christy (58) had their dedication recognised yesterday as they were presented with long service pins by Translink chief executive Chris Conway.
As he marked the milestone of four decades in the job, Mr McLaughlin revealed that Ulsterbus used to try and trade hijacked buses for older ones.
Mr Christy, meanwhile, told of the terror he felt when a paramilitary put a gun to his head as a nervous accomplice on his first hijacking provided back-up.
Mr McLaughlin, who left his job as a coalman when he was 24 for the "security" of the buses in 1977, was well aware of the risks he faced as a driver at the height of the Troubles.
"I am from Creggan, so I knew there was every chance I would face hijackers while driving a bus in the city," he said.
"It was something you took for granted. That's not to say it didn't affect you, but so long as you just lifted your bag and left them to it, you were left alone.
"The thing about a job on the buses was it was a secure job, a job for life, and there weren't too many of those around in Derry, so the risks of being hijacked were worth it.
"This was something that we were all so used to, but if you were in a good bus, Ulsterbus - as it was before it was Translink - would try and negotiate with the hijackers, so that they would exchange an old bus for the newer one.
"It didn't bother me being hijacked as much as being attacked by random drunkards, which was frightening.
"Things have changed now. We have a fantastic fleet of buses, which have cameras installed everywhere to protect both the driver and the passengers.
"Looking back over the past 40 years, I have met some incredible characters and I am glad to say that, hijackings aside, I haven't had to deal with too much drama - no rushes to the hospital with pregnant women in labour or people taking heart attacks.
"I'm going to keep driving on a part-time basis for another five years, so I'm not ready to hang my keys up just yet."
Mr Christy is just as determined to keep working, and like Mr McLaughlin he would highly recommend the life of a bus driver to anyone.
"This is a great job where you get to meet some incredible people every day," he explained.
"My father before me was a bus driver, and he came to me when I was just 17 to say that there was a bit of work in the Ulsterbus garage covering holidays if I wanted it, so that was how I started.
"When I was 21 I learnt to drive the bus and have been behind the wheel since. Like Johnny, I had my fair share of hijackers to cope with. The worst was one night when two boys got on the bus and one of them put the gun to my head and told me how nervous the other one was because it was his first time hijacking.
"It is laughable now looking back, but at the time I was really frightened of this second boy, because he could have done anything.
"You get to know people over the years, and I have seen older men and women from all over the city who got the bus when they were wee girls and boys and watched the changes in them.
"For me, it is the little things that mean so much, like the times when a passenger hands you a bar of chocolate or a packet of sweets and says 'thanks for waiting until I sat down', or when someone takes the time to go into the depot and tells your manager about a wee kindness you did."