BLIZZARD, Eric

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Inducted into the Shell Rimula Wall of Fame at ReUnion 2011.

Eric John Blizzard was born on 28 April 1936. After qualifying as a mechanic Eric joined the Withers family Parlourcars business. Here he quickly gained a reputation as a trouble shooter with the ability to iron out the mechanical and operational problems.

His first taste of touring came in 1957 when drivers would call in sick and Eric was told to put on the uniform and conduct a tour to Phillip lsland or Warrnambool. This was quite an ordeal when there were passengers on board as he had no formal tour training in commentary and route finding.

His first tour to “The Centre” was in 1959 driving a White bus No. 29. Eric fell in love with the wide open spaces, the scenery and of course the challenge to get the passengers to their destinations. ln the early 1960s, he transferred to McGeary's Coaches, which was a co-forerunner of the present day A.P.T. Group. Eric drove their vehicles for the then up-and-coming Centralian Tours.

In 1969 Eric became the first owner driver for Centralian using a freighter built Albion Viking VK4l. He called his coach "Miss Denise" after his daughter. Then in 1970, with the aid of survey maps, Eric crossed the Gunbarrel highway from Kalgoolie eastbound via Giles Weather Station and Docker River to Alice Springs, the first time a coach had made the trip. This event was reported in Truck and Bus Magazine Volume 49 No.9. Eric couldn't enthuse the Centralian people to advertise the tour, so he filled the coach with his own past passengers.

ln 1972, Centralian Tours circulated their Summer Holidays Tours, with each driver having their own brochure. Passengers could then travel with the driver of their choice. Eric operated a tour via lnnamincka and Birdsville skirting the Simpson Desert to Alice Springs. The locals along the way told Eric he was mad and that a coach could not make it. For the best part of each day, the Albion, loaded with camping gear, plodded along in first gear with the temperature guage hovering around boiling point. That Albion probably saw more of Australia than any other coach. This tour was a sell-out and had to be repeated. Many passengers travelled each year with Eric.

Centralian Tours folded in 1973 and Eric sold his Albion and joined Australian Pacific coaches as a driver-mechanic. Then in 1975 he worked for the Volvo organization and in 1985 was employed by Ryans Bus Company in Essendon as a mechanic. He remained there until his retirement in 2008.

Eric is a past-president of Australian Long Distance Experienced Coach Crew {ALDECC} and attends their annual reunions. ln his retirement, he hopes to retravel many of the tracks he blazed all those years ago. With the surname of "Blizzard”, Eric was affectionately known as 'Snowdrop’. As one of the most knowledgeable and respected drivers the industry has seen, he could write a book about his experiences in the outback in the days before the sophisticated coaches of today were introduced.