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
Comparing performances of buses of the different manufacturers and of individual Daimler vehicles was another source of interest. After gaining experience of driving only Daimlers (other than the Royal Tigers), during which there were opportunities to compare their performances with Leylands and AECs, I became disillusioned. How could a comparison be made between vehicles in the normal course of service driving on only one type of bus? But this was a regular occurrence for any driver that way inclined, simply because of the large number of buses on the roads anytime during the day.
Neck-and-neck starts from traffic lights, particularly at peak times, were just one way of relieving the monotony of this ‘adjectival joab’ for many bored and frustrated drivers! It was extremely disappointing to find that the average Daimler double decker, which we were permanently stuck with, was slower in both acceleration and top speed than Leylands or AECs. As mentioned before, one of the ploys indulged in by a few Newlands drivers, and I suppose this went on with drivers in other garages who had vehicles that were difficult, was to be on the lookout for any opportunity to apply for a changeover.
If a bus developed a rolling defect such as a ‘sick contaminated bus’, of course the vehicle wasn't immobilised, and for those passing along Pollokshaws Road, unless the contamination was very bad a changeover at Copelaw Street would be arranged. What could happen was that a handful of the least conscientious Newlands drivers in this situation would try to press on into 'foreign' territory well away from Larkfield, report the fault, feigning that it had just happened and hope that the vehicle would be taken out of service. Larkfield being the main centre for this operation, all defects occurring on the road up to a certain level of seriousness had initially to be reported to a time keeper, who passed it on to 'control' by the internal telephone system. This worked sometimes when Larkfield might be too busy to deal with it, and if so the nearest garage was instructed to provide a replacement vehicle, which was driven out to where the bus was standing by a fitter or a shunter.
But a suspicion arose among delinquent drivers that certain buses in poor condition were held in reserve for this eventuality, to be used for any change over in order to discourage its misuse. Usually, with rolling defects affecting Newlands drivers, the change-over took place in Pollokshaws Road at Copelaw Street. A successful exchange was only likely if the defect was mechanical and couldn’t be repaired by the fitter who attended at the roadside. I once reported a sick contaminated bus and arrived at the changeover point to find one of the newest Leylands waiting, only to be bitterly disappointed when a handyman appeared from it with a steaming bucket of disinfectant and a mop! He cleaned up the mess and drove away with the prize. This occurred during my first year and the bus I was denied the pleasure of driving was one of the last Leyland PD2/24 vehicles to be delivered.
Because it was adjacent to the bus works in Butterbiggins Road, Larkfield's allocation of vehicles was the most mixed of all the garages. Their fleet ranged from very old clapped out heaps due for scrapping, awaiting entry to the works for overhaul, or brand new vehicles waiting to be allocated to another garage. But if there happened to be a shortage of spare vehicles, any bus that had gone through the works and had passed the roadworthiness test and was about to be despatched to its home garage was sent out. At this time Larkfield Garage had all the old Daimlers from D1 to D66 which, along with the Albions, were among the most aged vehicles owned by the transport department that were still in service. The year after I started at Newlands, Larkfield drivers petitioned the management, through the union, to have what they called a more equitable distribution of old/new vehicles. They cited Newlands as the main example of a garage with the highest proportion of relatively new buses when compared with what they had. Soon after this, 15 of our wide body pre-selects were exchanged for D1 to D15.
Initially it caused resentment among the Newlands drivers, but in time it was agreed that the old vehicles were in most cases better to drive than the ones we had lost. But I don’t remember anyone in Newlands wondering what the Larkfield driver thought about the move they had agitated for. In my own case a significant event occurred during the first week we had them and before the good qualities became apparent. I was driving D1 on the number 48 service when the inner terminus was still at the Broomielaw under Central Station Bridge before the one way traffic system was established. Driving over Glasgow Bridge from Bridge Street you turned left into the terminus location in Broomielaw and departed by KGV Bridge to Wallace Street then back into Eglinton Street.
It was at a quiet time and the bus was empty, and with a couple of minutes to wait before departure time, my conductor and I were sitting inside when a policeman came on board and joined us. He looked about him in a knowing kind of way and said 'great old buses, these'. Ah, I thought, maybe he has the same interest as me and might know something significant. He was an enthusiast and was able to tell us the vehicle was 13 years old and would be disposed of after another two years. He added, and soon I had to agree with him as I gained experience with them, that these old Daimlers were more substantially built and had easier controls than most of the newer ones with pre-select gear change controls of a newer design.
TWO EXHILARATING EXPERIENCES
The following stories are of two exciting events which related to something that preoccupied some drivers was how fast will it go! As soon as I had settled down and was beginning to feel comfortable with the job, I too began to take an interest in this aspect. What soon became apparent was that the Gardner diesel engines of all the modern Daimlers were governed to a maximum speed in top gear of 39mph. This was most noticeable with the latest models from D218 to 262, although of all the buses in the Corporation's fleet, the last five, D263 to D267, were the most interesting and will be described below. It was a strange feeling when driving these other vehicles for the first time on the level, usually out Barrhead Road, when the speedometer needle would go up to 39mph and remain there. With a full load it would take longer, but even loaded and going downhill it was unusual to clear 40 or 41mph. Consequently, during busy spells with the vehicle well loaded, to keep to the timetable it was necessary to take the engine up to peak revs in each gear if it was possible between stops.
The first occasion with that aspect of driving was with a Royal Tiger. As their Leyland engines usually had a maximum rev setting higher than the Gardeners, a 45mph maximum wasn't unusual. There came a day when I took up on the 40 service at Nether Auldhouse Road bound for Cathcart, and became aware that there was something different about the performance of this vehicle. They were powerful buses, and regardless of load it was usually possible to achieve peak revs in top gear between the longer bus stops. This one seemed to be able to keep accelerating beyond the normal governor limit. But the start/stop requirements of that part of the route meant it wasn't possible to achieve the limit until Barrhead Road was reached on the return journey to Hillington Estate.
Without having to stop on that long relatively straight road with a fully loaded bus, it was a breathtaking experience keeping the pedal fully depressed until we were approaching the Boydstone Road junction, when the speed peaked at 65mph. But I still get palpitations when I recall what happened next. At that time, before the National Savings Bank was built, Boydstone Road was narrow with a single lane each way, and for some reason the camber in Barrhead Road at the junction favoured it, which meant there was a slight hump in the nearside lane of the main road. As I realised this, traffic conditions meant that I couldn't steer, swerve more likely, out into the other lane to avoid it, and when the bus hit the hump it felt like a plane taking off. The landing too was a bit rough, but I managed to keep control and unwind before reaching the Damshot Road stop. Passengers on board must have been aware of what was going on, but no-one complained because with a full bus meant you were usually running late, and my explanation would have been that I was simply trying to make up time.
On another occasion, when walking past the driver I was relieving at a busy time of a 45 bound for Bishopbriggs at Shawlands Cross, he gave me a knowing look and said with his eyes popping 'that's some bus', but did not elaborate. It was a 7'6" wide Daimler in the fleet number range D67 to 116, and I've mentioned before that unless you're running early and have to dawdle, because of the Gardner engines being governed, with a busy bus the normal procedure is to go to peak revs in each gear. I was immediately aware that there was a significant difference with this one also; it seemed to go to a higher peak than usual. The first opportunity to find out what it would do had to wait until going down Springburn Road past Sighthill, where the maximum speed achieved was 55mph! This was another exhilarating experience, only this time it was with a double decker. In both cases it seemed likely that a fitter working on these engines forgotten to re-set the governor.
THREE VEHICLES WITH SUPERCHARGED ENGINES
The five Daimlers with the highest D numbers mentioned above, 263 to 267 are worth devoting a paragraph or two describing their superior performance over those with Gardner engines. Initially ignorant of their existence, the first time I drove one it was immediately apparent that there was a different power unit under the bonnet. As well as producing a deeper sound, when accelerating it had a peculiar whistle that rose and fell with the revs, and the performance was significantly better than any of the other double deck buses in Newlands. When I mentioned this to another driver he said 'aye, that's right, the engines of the last five in the fleet are supercharged'. I found this hard to believe, even although the extra power and the whistle seemed to confirm it.
As experience of the Newlands fleet was gained it became apparent that these five vehicles did indeed have different power units, and checking under the bonnets found all five had Daimler engines, three of which were supercharged, 263/4&6. Over the years, getting to drive any one of them was the highlight of a working day, but the difference between them with and without the supercharger was slight. Perhaps the supercharger was mainly to reduce fuel consumption.
While still governed to a higher maximum speed, their acceleration made them better than any other bus likely to be encountered. It was peculiarly satisfying to turn the tables when, after waiting at a red light and being aware that the driver in the Leyland waiting alongside on the right was expecting to forge ahead and leave us standing and cut front at the next stop. Many looks of amazement were observed in the offside mirror on the faces of drivers from other garages being left behind in what they regarded as their superior vehicles. While performance of the other Daimlers could vary quite significantly, there is no recollection of noticing any difference in that way at anytime with the superior five over these years, and the same could be said of the Leyland ‘World Masters’.
Daimler buses up to D216 were clutchless with pre-select gear changes. The gear selector was mounted on the steering column, on the right underneath the steering wheel convenient for fingers operation. The mechanism was in the form of a metal sectored selector, with the lever pivoted near the steering column having the lodging positions for each gear laid out in a curved row. The selector itself was shaped to fit between two fingers of the right hand when gripping the steering wheel, and could be moved within the gears range without actually engaging one until the gear change pedal in the position occupied by the clutch pedal was depressed and released. This arrangement was simple to operate, but certain vehicles had a serious flaw you had to be aware of.
The normal method was to select the gear then operate the pedal to engage it. But as the bus would not normally move until the throttle pedal was depressed it was possible to work it as a conventional clutch pedal, and unskilled drivers familiar with ordinary vehicles sometimes did this until they learned to use it properly. But operating it carried the risk of 'kick-back'. A few buses had this quite alarming failing that you were unaware of until it happened, and the only way to avoid it with these vehicles was to slam the pedal to the floor each time. This might seem easy, but doing it uses energy and after a couple of hours of ordinary driving, with the left leg getting tired that was when you had to watch out because this was the very time you would be caught. The pedal itself had a powerful return spring, and the act of releasing it for it to catch the actual below-the-floor lever of the gear selected, normally ended with the pedal in its normal reposed position.
The mechanical arrangement of the levers under the cab floor was such that it was possible for the engaging mechanism to release one and fail to catch the next one. Here I write in ignorance of the actual mechanical set up, but when it happened there was nothing to prevent the pedal, with its strong return spring, from rising up its full distance which brought the pedal-head close under the front, lower edge of the driver’s seat. The reaction was sudden, and while spring pressure was usually light in the normal operating range, when it became totally disengaged, the farther the pedal came up the stronger the force it exerted, so that there was never time to get your foot clear.
In wet weather, when the grip of the sole of the shoe was reduced, the foot could abruptly slide off the rubber of the pedal head sideways. This caused it to come up suddenly with its full force and bang with a loud metallic thud against the underside of the cab floor. This illustrates the risk to the ankle, the Achilles tendon actually, being jammed between the pedal top and the sharp edged front underside of the seat. Occasionally, when relieving a driver he would be limping and would pass on the warning to 'watch out for that adjectival gear pedal or it'll have your leg off!'
With the cabs being quite high up, if you were caught out and your foot was trapped, in order to free it you had to go through the following pantomime visible to everyone on the lower deck. Having the foot and ankle jammed under the seat, the pain was agonising. With the bus still moving and keeping a firm grip on the steering wheel, you had to rise up and brace your head and shoulders under the cab roof, then push down hard, making sure to force the pedal all the way to the floor viciously. Doing this helped to relieve the fury at being caught, to avenge the pain and as a reminder to do it with each gear change.
DRIVING MIRRORS AND THE STOP/GO BELL
Rear vision mirrors on buses at that time were tiny and difficult to adjust compared with those of today. There was one on each side and a third was mounted high up in the cab. Today’s buses have the entrance/exit near the driver which makes it easy for him to see the movements of departing and boarding passengers. On vehicles that were known as ‘back-enders’, driver and platform were at opposite ends, so that depending on the number of passengers on the lower deck, on a busy bus it could be difficult to see what was going on at the rear. To do this, the mirror fixed in the cab above head height, allowed you to look through a window high up in the cab rear wall to be aware of what was happening on the lower deck. At one time it was mandatory for drivers to wear their hats at all times particularly when driving; a rule that was strictly enforced on the trams on which, with certain exceptions drivers stood all the time. It didn't apply on the latest streamlined trams with a rather different cab layout which included a seat. But bus drivers found that wearing a hat could interfered with the view through the interior mirror, so this rule was relaxed.
Trams had no warning horn as such. As mentioned before, they had a foot operated bell that was worked by pressing on a metal plunger in the floor, hence the lines from a Broadway song of the 1930s from the musical show 'A Street Car Named Desire' sung by Judy Garland (?):
'Clang, clang, clang went the trolley,
Ding, ding, ding went the bell...'
The 'dings' were of course of the other bell conveying signals between conductor and driver.
The bell code on buses used by conductors to signal to the driver when to stop or go was one beat for halt at the next stop and two for go. Three bells meant 'full up, don't stop till the next bell!' The operating system was by push-buttons on the bulkhead on the rear platform and at the rear of the upper deck. Some older buses had a chord fixed at the rear of the lower deck roof which was suspended through spaced out metal rings attached to the ceiling to the front at the cab, where the forward end was attached to the clapper of the bell. That arrangement sometimes caused a problem, because if the bus lurched when someone was walking along the passage, they naturally reached for the handrail which was also fixed to the roof. If in the stress of the moment they missed it and caught the bell cord, the driver was usually less than pleased.
On the then relatively new back enders, in the confined space of the cab the bell was often far too loud, and one of the first things any driver who valued relative peace and quiet, was to muffle it. In the rear wall of the cab above head height, between the door and the interior rear view window there was a panel on which was mounted the toggle switches for the upper and lower saloon lights. Behind the panel which unscrewed at the top and hinged down, there was a shallow compartment to give access to the wiring, and the bell was fixed in this space. If it was as it had been originally fitted the clangs really were loud, and if you were the least bit sensitive to sudden loud noises, the sound could be unbearable.
With the newer Daimlers, which in the early 1960s were less than a year old, most of the bells were still in their original condition and, as they were enclosed, to get access to them you had to carry a screwdriver to open the panel. Although it was strictly against the rule that forbade interfering with equipment, doing this allowed you to wedge a folded up wad of paper or discarded cigarette carton under the edge of the bell, which reduced the noise to an acceptable level. Over a period of time the bells in all the vehicles received this treatment, but occasionally, taking up one newly returned after an overhaul at the bus works and driving blissfully on, you could be shattered the first time the bell was used because the muffler had been removed. When that happened, it was a case of getting to the terminus as fast as possible to make time to shut it up before you were driven round the bend.
I used to wonder how some drivers could be so insensitive as to be unaware of the level of noise. On asking one I had relieved the previous day and then been deafened the first time the bell was used, if he had been aware of how loud it was? His reaction was to think for a moment then in a manner that indicated that he had more important things to worry about, said that he hadn't noticed! On finding the bus you had just taken up had an unquenched bell an alternative was to come to an arrangement with your conductor not to use it except in an emergency. But some were aware of the implications regarding the rules governing its (mandatory) use. However, this could be double edged, because a long time might pass without it being required so that you forgot about it. Then just when you had let it pass out of mind and had drifted into a state of comfortable automation, letting the subconscious mind deal with all the externals involved with the job, when there would a sudden loud clang for an emergency which had arisen. Or perhaps a lapse of memory by the conductor, or a passenger afraid you were about to pass his stop, jerked you abruptly back into the real world.
DRIVING AND DREAMING
The phenomenon of 'the subconscious mind taking over' while driving is no myth, it was a reality as far as I was concerned anyway. The first time it happened was in the early days and it caused puzzlement and apprehension. It was on a journey that began at the Broomielaw on a warm summer afternoon, when I found myself driving out Barrhead Road with no memory of actually getting there. The most recent impression that could be dredged up was when leaving the Broomielaw, but there was no recollection of anything that had happened in between. Looking cautiously in the inside mirror to see what was happening there, I half expected to find the lower deck in uproar, with a crowd of angry faces and a forest of gesticulating arms, perhaps belonging to passengers who had wanted to get off as far back as Eglinton Toll! Had the bell failed to operate or had we all been affected by the soporific dream inducing weather?
But things was calm and peaceful so I assumed that everything had been done as it should have been. That I really was driving a 21, 39, or 48, and not a 38 and should have gone to the left at Shawlands Cross, or again to the left at Pollokshaws West as a 45 or 57. It was a peculiar sensation, one I think the transport authorities would have strongly disapproved of. This is to say nothing of the passengers themselves, if they had had the slightest inkling of it. It seldom happened but after a time I got used to it. It had to be accepted that it could not be induced, for it was a state of consciousness in which realisation of having been in it only arrived when it terminated. Often in the course of a boring four hour stretch of driving I longed for the ability to conjure it up, to enjoy the sensation of returning to the present and discovering I had arrived at the relief point at the end of a shift.
It was a state of mind that deserves closer examination. But there is little more to add except to state categorically that it did occasionally occur although, usually in the calm and relaxed conditions of summer mid-mornings, afternoons or, less often in the evenings, particularly if the vehicle was easy to drive. I can't recall ever being jerked back by an emergency. It was as if my mind could see into the immediate future and knew that there was a stress period free ahead, with no out-of-the-ordinary happening which allowed it to drift off to dwell on pleasanter things without there being any hazard. I was reluctant to discuss the phenomenon with anyone at the time, but after leaving the buses I mentioned it to other ex-drivers. Some looked at me in an odd kind of way to see if I was joking, but one or two said they too had had similar experiences.