By Estella Gartrell as told to Brian Wilson
It was an unusual accident, the day the Greyhound bus careened down Peach Orchard Hill toward Lower Summerland. The date was March 6th, 1937.
According to oral family history the bus driver, Mike Murphy; on the way up the hill earlier in the day, had gone over a board-covered water pipe, which stretched across the road. The board had been broken on the right side due to water seepage, and Mike just missed it. He reported the matter to the city to have it fixed before he came back. Somebody was negligent! Unknowingly, the whole thing had caved in at the time the bus returned. The wheels hit the spot with a huge thud, and the bus went out of control. As the vehicle gained momentum, it sped downhill at a fast rate. Two thirds of the way down Peach Orchard hill, the driver, pulled the emergency brake not knowing they had lost the airbrakes when they hit the pothole.
George Gartrell, was just returning home from town when something whizzed by him. When he got into the house he asked, “What was that?” “It’s the Greyhound bus!” It had passed him going 80 miles an hour and hit a pole at the end of the straight stretch, finally plunging into the shallow part of the lake. Mrs. Gartrell quickly phoned the local operator, Mrs. Davidson, and told her to have the hospital dormitory cleared, and send the ambulance and hearse immediately.
When the bus hit the pole at the fence that separated the edge of the road from the lake, the Reeve of Peachland, Mrs. Gummow, was thrown from the bus. A passenger from one of the back seats flew forward to the door well, and another woman sitting in the front flew to the back. There were 26 passengers returning from a teacher’s convention in Kelowna. Pandemonium broke out.
A nurse on board took matters into her own hands and proceeded to treat injuries and revive the dazed passengers. Residents from the neighbourhood arrived and were helping to take the least injured patients up the hill to the Gartrell home.
Eight of the seriously injured passengers were left at the beach and were eventually taken to Summerland hospital on stretchers. Most of the others were not seriously hurt.
Dr. Vanderberg was the first to arrive at the Gartrell home. During the pandemonium, someone noticed blood on the floor and traced it to the nurse. She had split both her shins during the crash but had waded into the cold lake water which stopped the bleeding. Dr. Andrews was able to close the wounds with 17 sutures on each leg.
Miraculously, all the travellers survived.
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