BUSRIDE SAFE DRIVER HALL OF FAME
Chuck Pona turned in over 3 million miles during his 52 years with Adirondack Trailways of New York
After a career as a full-time coach driver for Adirondack Trailways of New York, located in Hurley, NY, that spanned 52 years and more than 3 million miles without a recordable accident, Chuck Pona officially retired November 30, 2015 – but that isn’t to say he is leaving the company he has loved since he started that career on May 6, 1964.
When BUSRide called to glean a few clues about his longevity and sterling record and welcome him to the 2016 Safe Driver Hall of Fame, Pona was attending the company’s monthly Safety Seminar “just to keep fresh and up to date” in the event he returns to driving part-time.
Joining the workforce
Fresh out of the Navy and back home in New Jersey, Pona began driving for Academy and Shortline Bus Lines at age 20.
“I always respected the gleaming Adirondack buses I saw going down the highway,” Pona says. “I would always tell myself I was going to work for that company.”
He recalls that in order to be hired as a driver, Adirondack Trailways founder John Van Gonsic Berardi Sr. first required applicants to acquire recommendations from two experienced drivers and then pass a basic road test.
“My road test was with a GM4104 4-speed Hydroshift with an overdrive button,” Pona says. “I passed fine, but because I was the youngest driver they would be hiring at the time, and being single, the company took extra measures to keep an eye on me.”
According to Pona, his supervisors tacked an additional 30 days onto the normal 60-day probationary period for new drivers, fearing he might be “a little disruptive.” He made it through and the rest, of course, is history.
“Adirondack is a company I just never wanted to leave,” he says. “It is family-owned and everyone in the company has continued to work together as one big family.”
To date, Pona’s tenure with Adirondack Trailways spans three generations of the Berardi family.
Perfect after all these years
Pona says he can trace the root of his safe driving record straight back to the “Dear John” letter a girlfriend sent him while he was in the Navy.
“I was so shook up, I enrolled in a 90-day psychology course from the Chicago School of Home Studies,” he says. “It actually helped me think for the first time about how to deal better with certain situations in life. I am sure that what I learned in that course helped me later in marriage to my wife of 47 years. We actually met on my bus, when Karen worked for Adirondack as a Trailways hostess.”
As for his driving, he says the class taught him how to manage other people’s behavior — passengers on his bus, and the other drivers out on the road in their automobiles.
“I learned to remain calm and not allow anxiety to build up when anyone was getting under my skin,” Pona says. “I did my best to keep everyone happy and avoid distracting arguments.”
Pona also says that safety always trumped time.
“Time has never meant much to me,” he says. “So be it if I couldn’t maintain my driving schedule safely. I would never try to beat the clock if it meant taking an unwise, unnecessary and dangerous risk.”
Adirondack Trailways Chief Executive Officer Eugene J. Berardi Jr. was a child when Pona came on board, and has come to know his most senior driver as a consummate professional, mentor and friend to his fellow employees.
“His driving speaks for itself,” Berardi says. “It is just as important to commend Chuck for how he is always immaculate in his conduct and appearance, and how he has represented our company for these many years.”