At age 75 and after 15 years on the job, Ed Bailey is retiring from driving the Mammoth Trolley.
Charismatic, kind, and a cowboy in every sense of the word, Bailey will be leaving the community to take on his next adventure. The Sheet had a chance to catch up with him before he rides his Harley off into the sunset.
Before Bailey got to the Sierra, he had already lived a life that most people could only dream up.
Raised as a Jehovah’s witness in the South Bay area, he had a strict upbringing.
“In school I had to be the best behaved kid, always well-dressed and proper,” he said. “And any little thing they could find to punish me for, they would.”
This is perhaps what led Bailey to have a rebellious, stubborn streak as he entered his teenage years.
By the time high school rolled around, he had developed an attitude towards school, purposely skipping out on classes and flunking them.
“I made it a point to get F’s as much as possible. In my head, I would rather get an F than have a teacher pass me with a D- despite me not learning anything. I didn’t want them to get away with that,” he said.
After flunking out of the 11th grade twice and growing bored of the beach scene, Bailey decided he wanted “real adventure”. He chose to enlist in the service, despite this being prohibited by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Jehovah’s don’t join the military. So, out of rebellion, I enlisted in the service,” he said. “And all the adult males in my life who heard me express this said, ‘whatever you do, just don’t join the Marine Corps.’ So… I joined the Marine Corps,” he explained, chuckling.
He ended up serving in Vietnam.
“While I was in Vietnam I was a cheerful kind of guy. Something really serious would happen and everybody would be shaken, but I would somehow be able to be real light about it and make jokes about it, and get my buddies laughing,” he said.
Bailey’s sergeant would later write a letter to Bailey’s father telling him that his son was very valuable because he was a morale booster; he’d make people laugh all the time, and whenever “sh*t hit the fan, he was out there ready to go.”
Upon returning from the war, Bailey was heartbroken about how American citizens welcomed him and fellow comrades back.
“We were called baby killers, guys were getting spit on, it was awful,” he said. “And this was after everything we had just gone through.”
Looking for a way to display his resentment towards the disrespect he received, he began befriending outlaw bikers. He became good friends with the Hell’s Angels in the Hermosa Beach area, and ended up joining the group.
“At no time ever, between going to all their different events, did I feel like I was being disrespected. And I really liked that,” he said.
He ended up getting swept up into the biker-gang scene, finding himself brushing up with the law on more than one occasion.
“I got arrested and went to jail 22 times- 15 times in just 13 months. Every single time it was for getting tickets and refusing to pay for them. I’d just sit it out in jail instead,” he said.
Bailey was in his early 40’s when he realized that he didn’t want to live as an outlaw biker anymore.
“Part of what got me out of the biker gang lifestyle was that I knew I was going down the wrong road. If I stayed on it, I would’ve ended up in prison forever or dead early. I realized I was holding onto a lot of anger and resentment and negativity that at the end of the day was bad for me. Luckily, I had all of that Jehovah’s Witness Bible knowledge in my head from my upbringing, which I let guide me,” he said.
So, wearing greasy jeans and an old army jacket, a rolled up sleeping bag slung over his back and the new testament in his pocket, Bailey hit the road with two dollars to his name. Not knowing exactly where he was going, he began to hitchhike northward.
“The Bible says that the Lord looks over people who believe, so I was like, ‘I guess I’ll put that to the test.’ I had no idea where I was going but I had faith that something was coming. And I had enough faith to keep putting one foot in front of the other until it happened,” he said.
He was eventually picked up by a man named Johnny Jones who worked at Yosemite. Jones came to like Bailey and offered him his first job at a quarter horse ranch.
Ed spent the next 10 years working as a horseback guide in Yosemite. After going to horseshoeing school, he worked at various packers before eventually working at Kings Canyon.
“You cannot tell me that prayers don’t work. I went from biker gangs and bar room brawls to riding horses in Yosemite. Prayers work. It’s just a matter of what you choose to pray for,” he exclaimed.
It was only when Bailey got married at age 48 that he stopped being a professional cowboy; his wife insisted that he get himself a year-long, more steady career.
“Cowboying was all I knew. I didn’t know anything else. There was a ‘help wanted’ sign to work at 711 and I was like, ‘hell no’. There was one for Denny’s and I was like, ‘even MORE of a hell no’. Then there was truck driving, which didn’t sound as bad as the rest of the options.”
He ended up going to a truck driving school in Phoenix, AZ and began to drive for Swift Driving Company.
“My wife was proud of me, but I wasn’t proud of me. I hated that I traded my saddle for a bucket seat in a truck.”
He drove all across the country for the next four and a half years.
“I gained weight, I was unhappy. I missed nature. I eventually called my wife from a truck stop in New Mexico and told her I couldn’t stand to do it anymore. So she told me that she didn’t think we should be married anymore. Needless to say, that hurt.”
Upon quitting truck driving, Bailey got hired by Mammoth Mountain as a lift operator. “I had no experience in anything aside from packing mules and driving trucks. The manager asked me why he should hire me, and I repeated some corny statement I heard during a motivational business speech and said ‘’cause I’m teachable and trainable.’ And so I got the job.”
Soon after, the trolleys came to Mammoth. They were looking to find drivers used to operating large vehicles. Bailey signed right up.
Bailey found that he loved driving the trolleys; Very different from the solitude he felt while truck driving, the ability to connect with passengers and brighten their days was a far cry from the solitude he felt while truck driving.
“The trolleys we initially drove had a CD player built into them. I would bring my own music to play, which was old fashioned rock and roll, good blues, good country. And everybody loved my bus because of my music. I’ve had the whole trolley dancing going down Main Street.”
His trolley became known as the “party bus” in town.
One fun night in particular stuck out to him:“I was playing a CD called Latin Party Music. The Macarena came on, and everyone was doing the dance- in the aisle, standing on the bench seats, swinging all about. It was awesome.”
One night, he recalls hearing a man turn to his friend and saying, “If Whiskey Creek played music like this guy plays music, then maybe we’d still be there!”
Ed found that bringing joy to his passengers made him the happiest he has ever been.
“When I dropped everyone off at the Village, I would first get out of my seat and stand up, and face everyone and say good night to them. I would then high five every single person on their way out.”
Passengers would give him hot meals, fresh coffees; he’d even get Christmas cards sent to him from some frequent riders. “The other bus drivers don’t get that kind of stuff,” he said. “But it’s because I give a lot of myself to these people. I make them laugh, I show the little kids attention. It means a lot to me.”
The house he has been living in went into foreclosure recently, and Bailey made the decision to leave Mammoth. He plans to pack up all of his belongings into his truck and his 6-by-12 trailer (including his Harley Davidson) and head south until he reaches Arizona.
He’s excited to spend more time outside, watch less TV, and keep meeting and connecting with people.
“My career as a trolley driver has been more fun than I can even think of. I’ve had moments when I’m going to the Lakes Basin with only one family on my trolley. And they ask me questions about how I got here and how I got to the job, and I end up telling them about my biker days and my anger and how I overcame it by learning to be forgiving and the whole bit,” Bailey said
“And I can tell that they want their kid to hear me,” he continued, “and pay attention to what I am saying. And I’ve had these people literally tell me that I will be one of their main memories from their whole vacation, because I touched them.”