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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

"Nunhead Garage.....put your money in...."

In my last blog on Monday I mentioned our resident Obsolete Fleet conductor, Harry Cook.

A former Croydon Corporation tram driver he converted to motorbuses and in due course, as a senior and permanently affable man ended up one of the high quality staff chosen as a driver to be in charge of London's first minibuses - Ford Transits - in 1972, in his case from Stockwell.

At retirement age, Harry was called into the Stockwell Garage Manager and thanked for his 40 years' service, 250 private hires to his credit, never sick, never late, and no complaints.

Sharp as ever, Harry brought out the Croydon Corporation takeover agreement which provided for all its employees to be retained for as long as they were fit and capable. Despatched to Chiswick he passed a driving assessment, and to Baker Street to pass his medical - they had to keep him on.

By the time he was 69 or so he indicated his intention to retire from driving, so was thanked for his 44 years' service, 255 private hires, never sick, never late, and with no complaints - as the Garage Manager said "we will miss you"

"Oh no" he said cheerfully, "I said retire from driving - I want to go conducting!" (Which he did).

Eventually with pressure from the Trade Union he did indeed leave Stockwell to come and work for us. He was exactly the right person to work 'on the back' of ST922 where his cheery disposition was a hit with tourists.

But his work ethic was astounding for a man in his 70s. Every morning he would open up Nunhead Garage and check all the buses for oil and water. He would sign in all the staff and send them out on time. Then he would go out on ST922 and work the first half of the duty on route 100. During the lunch break he would come to our office at 17 Air Street, balance yesterday's takings (all coin of course) and take them to the bank. Then he would work the second half of the duty on route 100, go back to the garage, see everyone in, lock up and go home.

Seven days a week.

In about 1979 he achieved another first. Route 74Z between Baker Street and the Zoo was doubled in frequency and used two buses. They were to be one-man operated with two AEC Regent Vs we bought from Devon General (507 and 508 RUO). However they weren't quite ready so we used two D9s instead.

Sadly we only had one conductor so Harry would travel to Baker Street on the first bus, collect the fares and send it off. He would then board the second bus, collect all the fares until he got to near Lord's cricket ground. Then he would get off, cross the road and catch the first one on its return journey! Back to Baker Street and start again. And to give you an idea the journey was about 7 minutes' long so that shows you how intensively he was working.

Thus he conducted two buses simultaneously for a whole day - probably the first and last time a London bus conductor ever did such a thing! The only change was that for the afternoon he worked from The Zoo end southbound, with the peak flow, rather than from the Baker Street end.

He lived a very long and happy life. He put this down to his smoking of Capstan Full Strength cigarettes which he believed warded off all possible germs and diseases. He also wore his London Transport cap at all times - he considered it a passport to international recognition and free travel.

A work ethic we rarely see today, and one which we really miss, of course.

And as for today's title. Well you have to remember there were no mobile phones, and calls from staff were generally made from public callboxes. You dialled the number, and when it was answered there were rapid pips whilst you inserted coins. Once enough money was paid then you were connected. Many of our old staff will remember Harry's voice as he said "Nun'ead Garidge.....put yer money in....."


Monday, 27 December 2010

The Birmingham Routemaster

This is another nostalgic holiday blog and is about the Midland Red D9 - a vehicle which I came across professionally at Prince Marshall's Obsolete Fleet.

Seven D9s had been purchased and converted to open top for operation on the Round London Sightseeing Tour. Initially this was done by basing them at Stockwell Garage, but in due course they were replaced by convertible open top Daimler Fleetlines from Bournemouth. The D9s moved to Nunhead Garage which was rented by Obsolete Fleet and were operated by our own staff.

The D9s had something of a parallel history with the Routemaster. Midland Red also designed and built its own vehicles at the time and the D9 was its integral double-decker designed for low weight and fuel economy. It has been called the 'Birmingham Routemaster' although it was rather less sophisticated and more spartan than the London model.

One important difference was that the power assistance for the brakes and steering had no Routemaster accumulators to store energy. What you got was what the engine was delivering at the time. That did mean you could get going the moment the engine was started, without waiting for anything to build up. And on interurban work they had powerful brakes and light steering. However that lured you into a false sense of security. In city traffic after a good brake application, the bus slowed and when you applied the same force this time the assistance had more or less dried up. And if now a motorist or pedestrian got in your way the brake pedal was rock solid, you used every ounce of your strength and grabbed for the very robust handbrake which came back many clicks.

If you banged your elbow on the cab window you knew you had as much handbrake effort as there was as well.

Steering was equally uneven. As you turned a corner, if you were less than firm with your actions part way through the assistance dried up and once again you found reserves of your own strength to avoid disaster.

No little wonder the Stockwell crews soon lost their enthusiasm for them especially since internal documents describing them to the Trade Union said they were "broadly comparable with the RCL".

They were very reliable in operation - mean miles between failure in the 10,000+ range which is many times more than we enjoy today and their main weakness was in the electrics which we rather made worse when we removed the roofs and exposed the upper deck floor to the elements.

I very much remember by first outing on the RLST with one. A quick explanation by garage staff and off I went. I recall being very tired at the end of the day!

A more traditional bus operation was also provided by D9s. London Transport's own staff shortages meant that the seasonal enhancement to London Zoo was provided instead by us with a D9 outstationed at Guards Coaches in West London. We went to Wandsworth each day to collect a conductor.

In time we bought a further three D9s and used them as closed tops. We also bought the stock of Midland Red spares and kept these amazingly reliable vehicles going for many years. A number are preserved including one of our open toppers.

I always thought they looked better after conversion - those side windows were made by cutting the main side windows in three and using the tops and bottoms. And the front windows could open - not that there would be any point!

(And unlike the Marshall-refurbished Routemasters which look like they can but can't!)


Monday, 20 December 2010

This weather reminds me of a trip over 30 years ago

Looking back exactly a year I see there was a snow story then as well so no surprise that we are back into the bad weather. Once again well done to all the staff who have braved the elements to keep services going. As it happens the media has been very focussed on the effect on air travellers especially with the Christmas getaway being so badly affected. There are, however, lots of good local stories which in many cases demonstrate just how hard people have been working to keep bus services going.

Saturday should have been and end-of-season excursion with at least one Routemaster bus to the village of Imber. (For when we were last there see the blog on 18th September). Imber, you will recall is one of those villages requisitioned by the MoD during World War II and never given back. A carol concert in the still-standing church was planned for Saturday afternoon but when the roads became impassable it was cancelled, and so with it the bus service.

It has been customary to have a few tales from the olden days in these Christmas blogs so this one relates to a day in about 1978 when Bruce Swain (of RTL453), Terry Stubbington (RT190), the late Alan Allmey and I went to Wombwell Diesels to collect RF362 and a collection of parts. We drove RF332, the Cobham towbus, to up South Yorkshire through the night.

In those days the interior of the Cobham towbus was very spartan and we slept on the floor in sleeping bags in and around various 6V batteries which were aboard. Alan had a free-standing paraffin heater on the go as well. Alan drove the interesting bit from Cobham to the M1; after that we all took it in turns to sit in the slow lane of the M1 in the blizzard for a couple of hours at a time.

Arriving in the Barnsley scrapyard area in the early hours we tried to get some sleep - Alan pointed out that if the zip of my sleeping bag made all the right connections with the terminals of the batteries and the paraffin heater I would briefly be very hot and then very cold in perpetuity.

The following day we worked in thick snow removing components from RTs and RFs, loading them onto RF332 before setting off with RF362 in convoy.

An expedition (of which there were many) in the heyday of volunteer preservation efforts and in very similar weather conditions to today.

Luckily Bruce Swain has kept the photographic record of those trips and that means our seasonal photographs are indeed of RF332 and RF362 on this very mission and demonstrating the weather!

This story was also related by me in the programme which accompanied the events on the last public day of the old Cobham Bus Museum at Redhill Road in October.


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

New engineering training unit

I was in Aberdeen on Monday for the launch of our new mobile engineering training unit.

The bus is the unique East Lancs Vyking bodied Volvo B7 which worked for us in London for some years. It is now transformed into a state-of-the-art facility on both decks with computers, teaching aids and some bus components all wired/plumbed into a test rig. It is powered by a marine generator which runs amazingly quietly powering all the systems.

Very soon it will set off on its everlasting national orbit of engineering facilities across the country. The vehicle has been designed to offer both Managerial and Engineering training utilising two classrooms (one upper and one lower), providing training to up to fifteen people at any one time. Wherever possible training offered will be aligned with a recognised National body such as the IRTE thereby offering a professional development for our engineers and managers.

For practical training we have a fully functioning electrical training board provided by PSV and J Lewis Auto Electrical, which covers a complete charging and starting system including-inhibitors and engine bay micro switches. Secondly we have a fully operational air braking system board, provided by AP Group. – this provides for training to be delivered on both basic brake and more complex advanced air brake systems. In the near future additional boards will be developed to cover door systems and high pressure common rail fuel systems.


Thornton Brothers for the conversion
AP Group for the Air Brake board
Volvo for the supply of Air Brake products and training material
PSV Transport Systems for joint supply of the Electrical board
J Lewis Auto Electrical for joint supply of the Electrical board
Streamtec for the supply of the White Boards
Alexander Dennis Door and Ramp systems plus training material
Wrightbus Door and Ramp systems plus training material


Friday, 10 December 2010

New Hydrogen

Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse performs
the official fuelling ceremony on WSH62991

Is it so many years since we first embarked on the Europe-wide trial of Hydrogen Fuel Cell buses using specially-built Citaros from Mercedes Benz? These vehicles made their debut on route 25 before moving to the RV1. They were so successful that the two year trial lasted three.

Today at our Lea Interchange depot on the edge of the Olympic Park Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse launched the new generation of hydrogen vehicles.

Two vehicles were available for use and after the launch gave all of the assembled guests a short trip in which, as is the case with this technology, there were absolutely no tail pipe emissions. The white cloud which could be seen on the cold day was nothing more than water vapour.

There are eight of the vehicles in preparation and they will shortly enter service on route RV1 – an ideal central London single-deck route which travels through some of London’s most polluted areas. This trial will allow the entire route to be operated by hydrogen fuel cell buses unlike the previous occasion when usually two were in service.

The launch was something of a relief – one of the key manufacturers, ISE, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in USA during the time the vehicles were being built and this has caused a slight delay in the vehicles being completed.

Unlike the previous operation the hydrogen fuelling is not at a remote site but actually inside our Lea Interchange depot. The vehicles can be fuelled faster and they will easily operate for a full day in service, unlike before when we were limited to about eight hours.

Inside the buses use our traditional purple handrails but the seats are in a special red moquette each declaring the word 'Hydrogen bus'.

BBC and other television news covered the story and Kit Malthouse and representatives of all the main partners – Ballard, Air Products and ISE, as well as ourselves and TfL – enjoyed a ride on one of the vehicles around the Olympic site to Stratford.

We can expect the first vehicles to enter service next weekend and then progressively as further vehicles are delivered.

The offside rear of WSH62991 on the fuelling island
Kit Malthouse and TfL"s David Brown welcome the guests
in front of WSH62992 which was in the new purpose-built
hydrogen workshop

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Nearly Christmas

Despite several long journeys last week I lost only 45 minutes on all of them together which was remarkable given the dreadful weather which I came back to in England.

The bad weather once again reminds us that the public is desperate for information whenever there are problems and all the major transport companies were recording record numbers of 'hits' to their websites as people searched for details. Some websites wobbled under the weight of traffic.

As ever there were those who ventured out in appalling conditions clearly determined to catch a bus or a train. Somehow, they must have thought, it will get through perhaps without thinking how the driver would manage to do so himself.

So here let me pay tribute to all those hardy and dedicated staff who got to work and got going to try and serve the public. I have heard numerous cases where this was gratefully received, although, as ever, there are some unfounded and misguided criticisms especially on some of those more outspoken social media sites.

Yes there will have been delays and problems but the staff were doing everything they could.

I hope you read about 'Iris from Billericay' over on the Omnibuses blog on 1st December where a customer rang Radio 4 to complain the bus services were being withdrawn due to dangerous conditions. Click on the link and read it for yourself.

There will be more bad weather this winter and we will be doing everything we can to keep things going.

Now look over on the right. Phil Stockley's blog is back. Click on it and go take a look.

Now a busy week next week. TWO new launches. Stay close and you'll see them as they happen!

This wintry scene is in fact April 2008 - RM1397 at the very nearly-abandoned Cobham Open Day when there was also unprecedented snow! I now know that Mark Pitman sent me this great photo - thanks!


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Not done this before

No this is not Photoshop! Peter Tork, me and Dean Friedman
in Bordentown NJ this weekend
Now this is an entirely transport-free story. If you aren't interested, look away now.

Whilst I was in New York at the weekend I went to a concert some 65 miles south west down I-95 to see my good friend and famous chart-topper Dean Friedman.

He still tours UK every year and produces new CDs - in fact back on 26th June I ran a story letting you know you nostalgia-fans could get tickets.

But this weekend he was doing two concerts in Bordentown, NJ - "deep in the bosom of suburbia" to quote him and his lyrics. Yes I did get the prize for the person who came the furthest (by about 3000 miles).

The Interstate was very busy with homegoing Thanksgiving traffic so I was navigating along ordinary roads with my iPhone which is a bit scary - I wonder what we did before that?

Now Dean was playing with Peter Tork - if you are my age you will recall he was one of The Monkees which was a US television show which manufactured a four-man pop group and who went on to have successful records and tours in their own right. Peter was, perhaps, the most accomplished musician of the group - an exceptionally good guitar and keyboard (and French horn) player. Not only is he an intelligent and well-read person, he still enjoys playing and singing even though he is now 68. His group - Shoe Suede Blues - still makes CDs and plays around the US. Peter has suffered a rare form of cancer in these past two years - as often with talented people it has affected a place which is critical - in his case his tongue.

But yes he has fought it and was singing (and playing) with great energy at the weekend - still displaying the same musical talent.

So the audience - all native New Jersey people apart from me - lapped up this great line-up of Dean Friedman and Peter Tork. A hugely successful event and one which I am sure the venue wants to repeat as soon as they can.

Now - some websites for you to look at:

If you are a fan of music of this era - be brave and go buy a CD from these guys. They rely on their sales to keep making music.