THE "BUS" SCHOOL
DRIVING THE ALBION ‘VENTURER’ B92
THE LEYAND ROYAL TIGER 'WORLDMASTER' SINGLE DECKERS
AN ESSAY ON DRIVING GLASGOW CORPORATION TRANSPORT DEPARTMENT SERVICE BUSES BETWEEN 1960 AND 1974
by George Rountree
THE ‘BUS’ SCHOOL
Composing timetables and arranging the duties for crews requires a high degree of planning, making the system set up to do so difficult for anyone with no experience of its workings to understand. That system will still be in operation except that now there are fewer buses and operating staff because of single-manning, and this must make it much more difficult for the time-table compilers to make up a shift rota, known as the duty roster, to make the best use of staff time.
When I started work at Newlands, tramcars were still operating from there supplying vehicles for a single route, the last one on the south side, the number 3, Mosspark to University service which was withdrawn at the end of August that year, and both forms of transport shared the depot. For a view of the depot in 1960 see p42 of my book OLD POLLOKSHAWS. The tram sheds were known as depots and this term continued in use until the change was completed, then the designation became garage. But tram drivers who qualified as bus drivers never became reconciled to calling it a garage; for them it continued to be 'the depot'.
In my decision to apply for a job with the transport department, it was a case almost of having to do something I had wanted to try, but there were one or two drawbacks, which made me rather wary. In other circumstances, shift work would have been undesirable. But it happened to coincide with the ending of my employment as a wholesale tea salesman, and an urgent need to find employment with occasional free time during the day during which I could continue to supply the customers I had collected.
From hearing my father-in-law Tommy Berney, a tram driver in Newlands who retired in 1967, talking about his work, I was aware that the job involved a significant element of discipline but did not know how severe it was and how well I would cope with it. Another aspect was that although traffic density was much less in the 1960s than it is today, because of the withdrawal of the trams the actual number of buses on the road was much greater than in recent times. At peak periods all the main roads around the city, not just the main thoroughfares in the centre, were thronged with them. This situation had been worsening since the war ended and reached a peak with the withdrawal of the trams in the early 1960s.
On one occasion on an early shift I was driving east along Barrhead Road at the peak of the morning rush hour, when I was brought to a stand at Pollok golf course. It was at the tail end of a traffic hold up which stretched all the way out from the city centre! On another occasion the end of the queue was encountered at Eastwood on Thornliebank Road. These examples were certainly worst cases, but the most remarkable fact about the congestion was that buses were a significant proportion of the vehicles involved. But bear in mind that while car ownership was increasing it was at a far lower level than today, and it was before motorways were built in Glasgow.
I knew also from Tommy Berney that with the low level of unemployment at the time with few people willing to take on the job, the Transport Department were very short staffed and that high wages could be made by crews, known collectively as 'the green staff' from the colour of the uniform, working overtime. The real shortage of drivers was caused by the number of additional buses being put on the road to replace the trams that were being withdrawn. With the tram withdrawals programme coming to an end, drivers available for retraining was coming to an end, and general recruitment was significantly lower than what was required. Fleeting thoughts had passed through my mind about applying for it, but no more than that until it became obvious that I was about to loose the tea salesman job, so I put in an application. After an interview at the Transport Department head office which was then at the corner of Renfield Street and Bath Street, at the age of 29 I was accepted as a learner driver, to train to qualify for a Public Service Vehicle (PSV) licence at the department's driving school at Butterbiggins Road, Larkfield at Eglinton Toll.
Aware of my defective colour vision, acquaintances used to ask how I got through the application test. At that time it consisted of the interviewer producing a miniature set of traffic lights, then going through the sequences and asking what the colours were. Many of the red lenses of older traffic lights still in use then had STOP printed across them in black letters, so my answer to them was that you would have to be illiterate as well as colour blind not to know when the red light was showing. The miniature traffic lights test was easily passed with the answers, top - red, centre - amber and bottom – green!
Another question at the interview was one that totally baffled me was, 'Have you any convictions?' After hesitating briefly I answered no, but I could not for the life of me understand what convictions, religious, political, racial or whatever had to do with driving buses, and all I can say now was that it showed up just how naive I was then. It was only later when talking to another, I have to say typical, applicant I happened to mention that question. I was about to sound off about its seeming irrelevancy, when he said 'Oh aye, I had to tell them about mine - two for assault and one for breach of the peace!' It was obvious that I was entering a very different world from the one I was used to.
Before being accepted for the driving school which was based at the rear of Larkfield Garage, applicants had to be tested for competence on the road. All the instructors were inspectors, and the man in charge, Mr. Dunlop, was a member of a well-known Pollokshaws family of three brothers, all of whom worked for the transport department. I was one of half-a-dozen applicants to go out with him for a test on an ancient pre-war AEC bus, fleet number AR278, with a crash gearbox and the remarkable vehicle registration number BUS 177. These letters (of the original Govan area allocation US) indicated that it was one of a number of vehicles that had of necessity been reconditioned instead of being scrapped during the period of shortage of new buses between 1950 and '54. The ‘A’ in the fleet number indicated that it was an AEC built vehicle and the ‘R’ was for reconditioned.
There are two photographs of that vehicle taken at this time in books in my collection, and in both it is displaying an ‘L’ plate. The first, in black and white, will be found on page 69 of Stewart Little’s book GLASGOW BUSES, published in 1990. On page 75 of Alan Miller’s book, STREETS OF GLASGOW, published in 2004, it is in colour and the vehicle has been repainted in the then new colour scheme introduced during 1960s. Jimmy Dunlop drove us up to Aitkenhead Road in the Kings Park district where each applicant had to drive around for a few minutes.
The gearbox was going to take some getting used to, and never having previously driven any vehicle with a crash box it was the only aspect I was worried about. One or two of the others had problems too with the gear change, but there were other difficulties that caused Jimmy to shout rather roughly at them. I had undergone an eight-month period driving a half-ton Ford van in my job at that time as a tea salesman, much of it in the town centre, and I felt confident and was well prepared to cope with heavy traffic. During that period much valuable experience was gained with the traffic conditions and learning road-craft, of which road positioning was a vital component that stood me in good stead. The only aspects I was concerned about were, would I be able to cope with the steering and the gear change?
Although modern the newer buses then had what was called the syncromesh gear change mechanism which allowed the changes to take place smoothly, the older vehicles still on the road had the old ‘crash’ gear change system. When changing gear with the old system it involved moving the actual gears on adjacent shafts in a gearbox by means of the gear lever. Much experience was required to be able to time the change so that the gears linking engine and wheels were turning as near as possible at the same speed. If this wasn’t done the result was a loud grating noise as the teeth of the gears clashed against each other. In the new synchromesh system, cones were fitted to the shafts which when they came in contact with each other during the operation made the different speeds matched up almost instantly. However, even with syncromesh, it was still possible to crash the gears if the change was done too quickly before the speeds did match.
Before the advent of buses with rear engines, older models had driving cabs separate from the passenger compartment, a type known as a half-cab, where the space on the near side next to the cab above the engine hood is open. The enclosed but not cramped driving position was high up above the front offside wheel, and was entered through a single forward-hinged door by climbing up the wheel using a wheel nut as a step. At that time the new models being introduced had sliding doors. The cab door of the Albion 'Venturer' fleet number B92 which I drove on service in June 1960 (purchased new in 1949 and is currently in Glasgow Transport Museum) is of the hinged type.
Having their uncovered radiator grills mounted well out in front, the vehicle manufacturers were more easily identified than today’s buses which tend to be anonymous unless you know where to look. During the time being written about the ones owned by the transport department were Albions, Leylands, and AECs, and they had the manufacturer’s name on the radiator. Daimler was the odd one out in that they were identified by a distinctive shiny chrome simulated wavy radiator top, like the radiators on the Daimler cars of the period. On that exciting occasion in King’s Park I could hardly wait to get to actually drive a bus, and when my turn came I went round and climbed into the cab eagerly.
After moving off in bottom gear, at first I could get not get into second. Eventually, after much grinding I managed it, and that was as far as I could get. However, I was allowed to crawl around the streets for a few minutes during which I paid particular attention to the road conditions and turning corners. Pop Berney had warned me about this, so I took care to watch my position carefully, to keep off pavements and give other vehicles a wide berth and most of all, be seen to be using the rear view mirrors on each side. After a while Jimmy said 'Right, out you get', and after everyone had a turn he drove back to Larkfield. We were left in an outer room then called into his office individually to be told if we had been accepted. I was last, and as half of the others had emerged with long faces, having been advised to take up conducting for a few months then re-apply for the driving school, I didn't think I stood a chance. Conducting didn't appeal to me and I had made up my mind not to take it, so the problem would to be, what other employment was available with shift work?
Then it was my turn, and when I went in he said in a bluff friendly manner he hadn't used previously, 'Yes, I think we'll have you for you did better than the others in watching the road. Don't worry about the gears, you'll soon get the hang of them'. He knew I was hoping to be posted to Newlands and thought I wouldn't need to learn how to cope with a crash box as there was none of that type there. While I was excited at being accepted for the driving school, I learned from Tommy Berney that there was still the possibility of experiencing a mechanical breakdown when out on the road on service and getting landed with an Albion change-over vehicle with a crash gearbox.
Most of the buses I would be driving in Newlands were relatively modern, and all had pre-select or semi-automatic gearboxes. On the pre-selects, the pedal in the clutch position was used to actually physically change gear. The very latest models had the semi-automatic boxes with electro-manumatic two pedal controls, brake and accelerator, but there were still a few of the older manual types, Albions, in service but they were all based in Parkhead Garage. I knew this from hearing Tommy talk about them. He said that in the event of a breakdown a Newlands driver could still find himself landed with one, and if it happened to him he said he would have to send it back!
Fleet numbers of the Albions with crash gearboxes still in service then were in the region of B72 to B112, with registration numbers in the BGE series dating from 1949. A section on fleet numbers in general might be of interest later. There were still a few others with BUS registration letters in use on service, all of these were based in Parkhead Garage also, where no doubt the drivers there were used to them. But there was still the possibility that a driver from Newlands could get one if his bus broke down and needed to be replaced on the 38 route in the north-east of the city. It sometimes happened that the Larkfield emergency service was busy, and in that event the nearest garage to the casualty was called on to supply a replacement.
Acutely conscious of this possibility, I mentioned it to one of the bus school instructors. What would happen if I found myself with an old bus with manual gear change and, knowing the trouble encountered on the previous occasion, had to admit I couldn't handle it? Having heard that this had happened to others I had visions of having to tell a busload of irate people I couldn't drive their bus. He said ‘Leave it with me!’ The PSV driving test was on the tenth day of the course, and for those who passed there was a delay of about a week before the licences came through from the issuing authority in Edinburgh. The rest of this time was taken up driving around learning routes and gaining experience. With up to half-a-dozen learner buses in use at this time, they were seen frequently every weekday. All the vehicles used by the school were 8ft wide Daimlers with the easy to use pre-select gear boxes introduced in 1955 with L-plates displayed. My PSV licence number was MM30059.
The department had a few other even older vehicles than the Albions still in service that were fitted up as snowplough units. They were AECs with fleet numbers prefixed A; this was why the prefix used for the Albions was B), one of which was kept in each garage. Some of my fellow learners who had also passed the test had expressed an interested in the problem I had brought up about coping with the crash gear-change. On the first day after the test the instructor, Chris Watson of Shawlands (deceased), told the first driver on his turn to head for Ibrox Garage, and took us out on another of the BUS registration buses which wasn’t an Albion vehicle. I remember being disappointed because it wasn't as old as the original vehicle I had had the trouble with when being appraised by Jimmy Dunlop. It was almost as if that old vehicle, which looked as if it had been built during the time of the ark, was something that had to be overcome. Although it had the same gear change, this vehicle was regarded as a lesser challenge.
Chris took us out into Helen Street, along Shieldhall Road and into Hardgate Road where he told me to get into the cab. But I had the same problem as before, and after trying a number of times with the same result I felt it was going to defeat me. Each time a gear change was attempted while on the move, there was a grinding crunch along with a powerful kick through the gear lever into my wrist. He assured me that he knew what I was doing wrong, and suggested that instead of depressing the clutch fully and then trying to engage the gear, to ease the lever in as the clutch pedal was going down. That did it! I tried it and it worked; with a little pressure on the stick as the pedal went down it seemed to fall in with only a little help.