Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Chapter 3 Edgware Garage

Early on the morning of Thursday 20th July 1967 I presented myself to the Depot Inspector at Edgware Garage to commence route learning.
Edgware Garage had five bus routes. They were the 142 Watford Junction to Kilburn Park Station. The 292 Borehamwood, Rossington Avenue to Colindale, Annesley Avenue. The 240 from Edgware Station to Golders Green Station. The 114 from Edgware Station to Ruislip Station- extended to Ruislip Lido on Sundays, and finally the 251 from Edgware to Arnos Grove Station.
All of these routes I had to learn with the exception of the 251 which was a ‘one man’ operated route, (political correctness had not crept into the English language in 1967). As the 251 was driven only by the elite of the garage, the most senior drivers, there was very little chance of junior drivers ever working that route so route learning was considered a waste of time. All the routes at Edgware were operated by RT and RTL double deck buses except the 251 which was operated by the RF type single deck vehicle.
I spent my time route learning standing on the platform at the rear of the bus chatting to the various conductors and conductresses, a bad place to be if one wanted to see where the bus was going.
Conductresses were always known as clippies most probably because of the fact that they would punch or clip your ticket when issuing it to you.
Having finished route learning I reported yet again to another depot inspector to be told in a stern voice “Hey didn’t you use to go out with my daughter.” Oops who me, I can’t remember my youth being misspent. It turned out that Depot Inspector Banham had a daughter Mary, we were friends in the Junior school, even went to her birthday parties and then I recalled that young Mary had at one time told me her dad was a bus driver. There was one time when Mary and I were walking pass my elder brothers house and I waved to him. The next day when I saw my brother he asked me what on earth I was doing, he was fourteen years older than me and married so I thought he meant what was I doing walking out with a girl at my young age, no what he meant was why was I walking on the inside of her instead of on the right of her. See a different world then, short hair cuts and the correct way to accompany a young lady.
Inspector Banham allocated me my first duty for the next day, 292s to Borehamwood. The Rotas at Edgware were divided into three. The 251 comprised of one rota whilst the 292 and 142 were on a second rota and the 114 and 240 were on a third. This practice of having groups of routes on separate rotas was common practice in all London Transport garages and the only exception as far as I am aware was at Uxbridge garage where all routes were on one common rota.
Next morning I set of for Edgware, a fifteen minute walk from our house. I was really excited, my first day on my own without an instructor looking over my shoulder. Having signed on I went in search of my bus with my conductor. Both the conductor and driver have a duty plate and a vehicle variation plate, (running plate). The duty plate tells the crew the starting and finishing times of their duty and the time and place of their meal break, it stays with you. The vehicle running plate details the days complete working of the bus, its time and place of departure, passing points and all of its journeys until it arrives back at the garage at the end of the day. This plate stays with the vehicle. I understood the duty plate but the running plate was a complete mystery to me, as my conductor was soon to find out. He had told me before I had got in the cab that we were going to Borehamwood via the Green Man. Fine, off I went, along Hale Lane to the Green Man, left into Selvage Lane and then up the A1 Barnet Way. So far so good. Left into Shenley Road but from then on my ears were assailed by a series of rapid bells, with the conductor beckoning me to reverse as I’d sailed pass the turning. I told you route learning from the back of the bus was not a good idea. Eventually I found my way to Rossington Avenue. Next it was a short journey back to Manor Way. Having arrived there more by luck than judgment I asked the conductor how long we had here, non was his reply we were already running late, and I thought I was running to time, I guess reversing at every intersection takes a few minutes out of the schedule. The rest of that first day soon passed. One scene does however remain with me. I had happened to look back into the saloon to see the bus full of women with all their shopping, all chatting away to each other completely oblivious of me. Hey I thought, they don’t realise this is my first day and they have complete faith in my ability to get them home. I had by this time of the day finally realised where I was supposed to be going.
Within a few days I was called over by a depot inspector to be allocated a permanent place on a rota with a regular conductor. I was on the 142/292 rota with conductor Brian Huckle. Hence started a year of pure fun and chaos.
Brian was a bit younger than me and hailed from South London. Conductors had a special harness which was fitted over their shoulders to hold the Gibson ticket machine in place. Brian wore his around his waist, I was to find out how handy this was later on. Although most of the time he was a happy friendly type of person he did have a quick temper. The first time I knew of this was when I was in the canteen and one of the drivers rushed in and told me to go and get my conductor out of the sports hut, he had lost his temper with another snooker player and had hit him over the head with his billiard cue. Brian could certainly look after himself.
Night time journeys on the 142 to Kilburn could be a bit of a trial for the young conductresses having to cope with the many drunks encountered between Cricklewood and Kilburn so most of the conductresses would swap duties with those of their male colleagues. I had no such worries with Brian on the back.
One Saturday afternoon I was sitting at Bushey Station on the 142 waiting t0 depart when a passenger came up to the cab window and said some men were attacking my conductor and I ought to go and help him. I looked in my nearside mirror to see the sight of a number of male passengers go flying off the platform onto the path. No Brian was ok. A quick two bells and off we went. When we got back to Edgware he explained that as soon as the passengers tried to have a go at him he quickly released his ticket machine harness from his waist and swung it around like a sling shot, chased them down stairs and literally threw them off the bus. Brian was a very handy guy to have as your conductor, we remained as a crew until I left Edgware.
My best friend Robert Malyons’ father was a bus driver. Roberts father always had a dry sense of humour which was often lost on me as a young teenager. When ever I think of my eyesight test at London Transport Headquarters I remember a remark Robert senior said to me one day in the canteen at Edgware. I had commented to Bob that I had waved to him when we were passing each other on the 142s in Cricklewood Broadway and he hadn’t acknowledge me. “David I can’t see across he road, as long as I can see the bus in front I’m ok, I just follow that and as long as its not a 16 going to Victoria I’ll be fine”
Let me tell you about those running plates. As long as you read them correctly you were ok. Now the 292 terminated at Borehamwood opposite ‘The Shooting Star’ public house. Remember in 1967 nobody had heard of drink driving laws and so each evenings run to Borehamwood also meant a swift half in ‘The Shooting Star’. The quicker we got there the longer drinking time we had. Now like all drivers I left the running of the bus to the conductor or conductress, especially conductresses, woe betide any driver who tried to tell his conductress what to do, they ruled their bus like they ran their homes, you came and went when they said so.
So when Brian said it was time to go we upped and went out to the bus, saying a good evening to the Inspector who must in retrospect been half asleep. I went at full speed to Borehamwood, never picking any one up all the way. When we got to the terminus at Rossington Avenue there was Driver Micky Cambell having just arrived with the bus in front of us. “Blimey you must be early, we’re ten minutes early.” There was a fifteen minute headway between us so that made us nearly twenty five minutes early. Brian had misread our departure time. We were now the proud owners of the record for early running on the 292s.
It was assumed by London Transport that both driver and conductor would have an accurate watch and both have copies of the bus running plate. One morning we arrived early in Elstree and an Inspector boarded the bus. A few minutes later he came around to my cab. “Your conductor hasn’t got a watch so what is your excuse for running early driver?” I told him I hadn’t got a copy of the running plate. “Well perhaps you two idiots could sort yourselves out!” Brian duly came around to the front of the bus where I handed him my watch and he gave me his copy of the duty plate. It’s quite amusing to see a London Transport official jump up and down in rage.
The first time I drove to the terminus at Borehamwood I was greeted by this very fierce looking Bulldog called Patch who insisted on sitting below my cab and barking at me. Being new to this experience I was frightened to get down from the safety of the cab. Brian came to my rescue. “Just call out chocolate and he’ll stop barking” This I did and Patch stopped barking, but when I got out of the cab he started at me again. “Well go on then, go and get him some chocolate.” On the wall by the pub was a chocolate machine into which I put sixpence and got a bar of chocolate for Patch. Patch would then join us on the bus and consume his reward. This he did to all drivers. Was Patch harmful? No the poor old dog had hardly any teeth due to eating all that chocolate. Some days in the summer Patch would come and sit with Brian and me upstairs at the front of the bus. With the warm sun and a stomach full of chocolate Patch would soon nod off and often fall off the seat onto the floor.
During my time at Edgware I met my future wife Annette, who at the time was staying with her grandparents in Bath. Annette and her family had emigrated to Australia in 1958 and Annette like most Australians had decided to return to the UK for a working holiday. I thought it would be a good idea if I were to work near her and so I applied for a position as a driver on Western National buses at Calne depot in Wiltshire. Unfortunately after waiting some time for an interview with the depot manager it transpired that I was too young to be a bus driver. The minimum age for bus drivers nationally was twenty five. Because London Transport had problem recruiting staff a special dispensation from the Traffic Commissioners allowed London transport to recruit drivers at twenty one. There I was driving buses in London yet unable to drive anywhere else. So it was to be train rides to Bath or even hitchhiking some days to see Annette.
My mother was now talking to me again, in fact she was continually going on at me for being a bus driver, now things got even worse when she found out I was going out with my cousin Annette. Rather than send letters to our house, where my mother would open them given the chance, Annette would send them to the Garage. These letters I would read through in a dream whilst sitting at Watford Junction until Brian would awake me from my fantasies and tell me to get a move on.
I said earlier Brian was a happy sort of guy, but all of us have off days and woe betide the passengers when our off days coincided. One such morning occurred when we were on route 142 Watford Junction to Colindale. Normally when the conductor was on the upper deck he would stand at the rear of the saloon to have a clear view in the mirror at the top of the stairs. He would be able to see when the rear platform was clear and then give the driver a bell signal to move off. However some conductors would remain at the front upstairs and tap on the floor above the driver to signal to move off. On this morning the tapping became more pronounced as the journey progressed until a point was reached where I was getting a headache from his continual thumping. I retaliated by accelerating badly and braking harshly, and so we continued to annoy each other whilst the poor unfortunate passengers bore the brunt of our ill temper until we reached Colindale. Over a nice fried breakfast in a hot and smoky café, which was filled by bus drivers from both Edgware and Cricklewood depots, Brian and I quickly sorted out our problems and the rest of the shift returned to normal.
Remember earlier I had said about way the conductresses ran the buses, well these two instances stand out in my memory.
One evening in the summer we were on our way to Golders Green on route 240. When we reached West Hendon my clippie came around to the cab and asked me if I wanted some fish and chips.
“Wait a few minutes then and I’ll pop in and get some”
After a while she came out from the fish and chip shop and I was expecting her to hand me mine so I could eat them on the way to Golders Green, not so,
“Come on driver, get your foot down the sooner we get to Golders Green the sooner you get your fish and chips”
And that’s what I did arriving about ten minutes early. There we were, sitting in the evening sun on a bench in Golders Green bus station enjoying our fish and chips when over strolls an Inspector.
“Leave this to me” said my clippie.
“What are you doing here ten minutes early driver?”
“If he hadn’t got here early his chips would have got cold, wouldn’t they, would you like a few chips inspector?
With that we all sat in the sun eating chips and nothing more was said about early running.
On another occasion the same clippie had told me at Golders Green she had dropped some change off the back of the bus on the previous trip from Golders Green to Edgware. If she spotted the change she would give me a few rapid bells and could I stop. What she didn’t tell me was where she’d dropped the change and how much.
Going up the long steep Bittacy Hill I got the rapid bells. Now even in the best of conditions you did not want to stop on this steep hill, but I did and managed to get going again, which says a lot for those old RTs. Arriving back at Edgware I asked her if she’d retrieved her money.
“Oh yes, it was only a shilling (5p) but I told the passengers it was half a crown (12.5p) to make it look good.”
If I’d known what she was up to, no way would I have stopped, but as I said they ruled the bus.
Have you tried tobogganing on a ticket machine box? No, well it’s good fun. One winters evening near Christmas it had been snowing and instead of staying in the canteen on our meal break it was decided that a group of us would adjourn to The Railway Tavern in Edgware High Street for our break. The ticket machines in use by London Transport at that time were manufactured by Gibson’s. They were contained in an oblong box approximately 12 inches by 9 inches and about 6 inches deep. As I said the clippies ruled the roost so we drivers were often seen carrying the ticket machine boxes. It was thick snow so what better way to get from the garage to the ‘Railway Tavern’ than by tobogganing on the ticket machine boxes, how on earth the travelling public could have faith in us drivers I never knew.
Meanwhile back at home things were reaching a head and I decided the best thing was to leave home. A search for lodgings far away from Edgware led me to Elmers End in South London, but the one room accommodation on offer in South London put me off. I approached my own Garage Manager with a request to transfer to the Country Area Windsor Garage. He being a lot wiser than me said, “ you don’t want to go out that far, try Uxbridge, that’s far enough away”. He of course had still retained a driver for the Central Buses.
So one sunny morning I travelled out to Uxbridge to the furthest reaches of the Metropolitan Railway, and Piccadilly Line. I soon found a very pleasant one room flat in nearby Hillingdon and paid a five guinea (£5:05 new money) deposit to a Mrs Connie Quinn. Within the week my good friend Ken Smith had transported me and all my worldly possessions to Hercies Road Hillingdon and I reported to Uxbridge Garage.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Chapter 2 Chiswick Driving School
Before attending the London Transport driving school at Chiswick I had to apply for the job of Bus Driver at London Transport headquarters in London.
As I said earlier, when I left school with a reasonable amount of qualifications I became a research engineer with the GPO research station at Dollis Hill North London. For the last three years I had been involved in research into digital communications and micro processors, which by a small quirk of fate would eventually lead, forty years later, to this lap top computer on which I am now typing this manuscript. However the big red bus proved to be too alluring.
I took a half days leave and attended a job interview at London Transport headquarters. One entered a very large room which had various desks with signs on them saying, Bus Conductors, Underground Train Drivers, Train Guards and Bus Drivers. I was very tempted to apply for a job as a train driver, but knowing that train drivers at that time were required to have exceptionally good eyesight, I decided to walk over to the bus drivers desk. I had at the age of sixteen been turned down by the RAF because of my eyesight not meeting their high standards. Even any standard was to be sorely tested very soon!
Having signed a job application form and given a brief interview in which I was asked “what on earth are you applying for this job with your qualification” I said I really enjoyed my preliminary drive and thought I would like working for London Transport. This appeared to satisfy the interviewer. One thing I didn’t know at the time was that my pay as a London bus driver was to be higher than that of a research engineer. The GPO paid me ten pounds a week where as a London bus driver earned twelve pounds a week. The ensuing years would see this pay differential swing completely around and see bus drivers wages fall below average earnings.
I was told to go into the medical examination room. Here I had my blood pressure taken and given a brief examination. I was then told to go into an adjoining room and stand on the yellow line. Not knowing what this was for I walked into the room, saw a yellow line on the floor and stood on it. Next a young lady walked in and said “would you mind turning around so that you face the eyesight chart and not the door!” I hadn’t even seen the eyesight chart, what a start to my driving career.
Fortunately I did pass the medical and eyesight test and was allocated to Edgware garage. I was told I would be sent a letter and travel voucher telling me when to attend the driving school at Chiswick.
When I told my parents that I wanted to be a bus driver my mother went mad. She said she wouldn’t talk to me again, and told me I was throwing away all my education. I tried to pacify her by saying that just because I was taking a preliminary test did not mean I had to become a bus driver. However once having been accepted as a driver after my interview in London I then had to put in my resignation to the GPO. I told my mother that even then I could return to the GPO within six months with out loss of my position. This did not pacify her.
A cousin who was visiting from Australia said to me that I had to do what I wanted no matter what other people wanted of me. Thanks to Sally, my future was set. Whenever I see her even forty years on she still asks if I’m doing all right as if she were personally responsible for me becoming a bus driver, but I am still glad I took that advice of hers, and it is one I have passed on to my own children.
I was now partially disowned by my family; my father would still talk to me, although as he worked all day as a cost clerk at Hendon Town Hall and in the evenings worked as a telephone operator at Stonegrove telephone exchange Edgware, I didn’t see him very much.
On the morning Tuesday July the 4th 1967 I set off for Chiswick. Although I had never been in the Army I have been told by many ex servicemen that London Transport was run on the same lines as the Army and Chiswick proved to be no exception. There was a very large parade ground which was dominated by drivers and conductors in there smart uniforms of light weight summer dust jackets in silver with either blue or green cuffs and dark navy or dark green trousers topped of with a smart cap with a shinning badge denoting your rank. Manoeuvring amongst these ranks of drivers and conductors were the Red Buses of the driving school of which I was soon to be driving. But first the class room. Into this room were herded all the new potential drivers and conductors of that weeks intake. We were given numerous forms to fill in, most seemed to be about who we were going to leave our London Transport pension funds to in the event of our death. There were forms about pensions, benevolent societies, sports clubs and one for joining the Transport and General Workers Union. All of which I duly signed up to. I now belonged to the Union, I had a pension, I could join all sorts of sporting activities and if I were to fall sick I could claim sickness benefit, all I had to do now was to learn to drive a bus to the standards required by London Transport and pass a driving test to obtain a Public Service Vehicle licence.
Next the kitting out shop. We were marched to this building and moved like a conveyor belt along this long counter behind which stood formidable persons who supplied us with our uniform.
“What size hat do you wear?”
“I don’t know”
“This looks like it’ll fit son”
“Trouser size”
“Don’t know”
“Try these; they’ll stay up with braces”
“You look skinny this jacket should fit m’ lad”
All of sudden we were out of the room with our uniform in a kit bag ready to meet our driving instructors. At this point drivers and conductors were separated never to meet again until your first day in service at your garage.
As drivers we went into yet another class room where we were to meet our respective instructors. There were four of us drivers allocated to Edgware garage and our instructor was a wonderful instructor called George Martin.
George was short in stature and balding with a surrounding halo of ginger hair and ginger moustache to match. I only realised he was balding when I first saw him with out his resplendent cap with its Blue badge denoting him to be an instructor. His first instruction to us was to make our way to the canteen for a quick cup of tea before commencing our training.
On the way to the canteen I was accosted by this large gentleman in a suit and trilby hat. “Excuse me lad, if you want a job here to-morrow I would suggest you get your hair cut this evening” not knowing who he was I just said yes and continued over to the canteen thinking bloody cheek. George, who had witnessed the incident, asked me what was said, so I told him.
”Do you know who that was? That was the chief of the driving school! So you’d best get a hair cut”
Oh well of to a good start then. A hair cut then meant almost a short back and sides. Thank goodness that rule was to be forgotten as time passed.
After tea we went out to meet our bus. We were first shown all around the bus familiarising ourselves with the position of mirrors, radiator caps and learning the correct procedure for climbing into the cab. Having learnt how to get into the cab correctly we then had to learn how to get out correctly.
As time progressed I soon learnt that London Transport had a correct way for doing everything and that the London Transport way was the right way.
Although as a very young inexperienced driver I often fell way short of those standards as later chapters will show.
Now I could get into and out of the cab safely I was now shown how to start and stop the bus smoothly without throwing any potential passenger to the floor.
After about an hour's instruction it was time to head off to Edgware Garage. For the second time in my life I was about to drive a bus on the open road and this was not a quiet Sunday morning but rush hour on Chiswick High Road. On the training bus the window which separates the drivers cab from the saloon of the bus had been removed so that the driving instructor could shout directions at you from his position two seats back from the front nearside of the saloon. Although in George's case shouting was never necessary. His quiet confident manner would put you at ease and shouting was never needed. I was soon headed out along the Chiswick High Road and eventually arrived back at Edgware Garage.
Each morning I and the other three drivers would meet at Edgware Garage and await the arrival of our instructor. On the bulkhead of the bus was a small blackboard with the words “Accidents are caused, they don’t happen” Over the course of the next two weeks I was to learn that this was in fact the case. I was taught how to look ahead and read the road, to look for potential hazards, to always be aware of what was around me and always to concentrate on what I was doing.
Each morning it was a pleasure to walk to the garage. The mornings were clear and fresh with the promise of a warm day to come. Each day we would take it in turns to drive for a couple of hours ending up around lunch time at Chiswick or even some ‘foreign garage’. After lunch, if we were at Chiswick, we would practice reversing manoeuvres. As the reversing part of the driving test was taken within the driving school at Chiswick it was impossible to fail the reversing exercise, why? Because we could cheat.
The parade ground on which we practices reversing was laid out with large sections of concrete some what like a large chess board. There were also numerous spots of dried oil on the floor. To reverse a bus one had to drive the bus in reverse and perform a left hand turn and place the bus parallel to a line of cones. This all being done by mirror observation. But if you had listened carefully to your instructor you will have been told that whilst reversing, a quick glance out of the cab will show you a small patch of oil, or the intersection of two slabs of concrete and when you are along side this point put full left hand lock on your steering wheel and your bus will line up with the cones. Of course don’t let the examiner see you do this!
So two weeks of intensive training soon passed, during which time we were told to use our own cars as little as possible so that we could get use to the pre-select gear box of the RTW bus. One of the tricks the instructor had to make you aware of your vehicle width was to take you up Church Street, Kensington which ran between Kensington High Street and Notting Hill Gate. This was a narrow road and often very congested with parked vehicles. However the number 52 bus negotiated this road on its long journey between Victoria and Mill Hill. I was very familiar with this route. As a young boy I would often use it to go to the Science museum in Kensington, although on one occasion I remember approaching Hyde park Corner feeling a little travel sick, my mother noticing this, quickly removed me to the rear platform of the bus and promptly gave my stomach a good squeeze, leaving a trail of vomit for the following taxis and cars to plough through. At least I arrived at Victoria feeling a bit better. My mother was a nurse from a very young age you know!
I digress; the trainee driver would be driving up Kensington Church Street and following the route 52 bus which would just have enough room to drive between parked vehicles when all of a sudden the instructor's voice would call out “you are six inches wider than him!!” As I said earlier the service vehicles were generally RT types which were seven foot six inches wide where as the RTW type we were learning on was eight foot wide.
At some point near the end of our two weeks instruction our examiner would ask us to pull up at a bus stop and pick up, another instructor. If we had looked carefully we would have seen that this instructor did not have a blue badge on his cap but a beautiful gold and red cap badge. This was a Gold Badge Inspector, one not to be messed about with. His purpose was the reverse of the instructor, he was not on board to put you at your ease, but to try and upset you. He would criticize your driving, make loud remarks to your instructor, in fact anything to get you flustered. In one instance I remember him telling a fellow trainee that his seat was positioned incorrectly. Within the next few minutes that driver who up to then had been driving without any faults had managed to clip the kerb a couple of times, all because he had allowed the Gold badge Inspector to irritate him. After that experience which we all went through George pointed out that we must learn to ignore those things on the road which could easily distract us from driving our bus safely. Some how as the years have passed these things have become more numerous, bad and inconsiderate driving by others, and of course now we have become one man operators, sorry one person operators, we now have passengers shouting at us or yelling into mobile phones or generally doing things which distract us from driving those same passengers safely to their destination.
Finally the day of my driving test. Over the last two weeks I had taken in all George had told me, I’d familiarised myself yet again with the Highway Code, last looked at four years earlier when I’d passed my car driving test. I had become accustomed to driving the same bus every day. Unfortunately one small surprise awaited me. George told me that our bus had to go in for servicing and that I would be taking my test with a group of trainees from Leatherhead Garage. Help! I would be driving a strange bus and be with other drivers who I did not know, country drivers at that.
London Transport Buses was divided into two groups, Central Buses, the Red Buses of London and London Country Buses whose buses were of the same type but were painted in Lincoln green and operated from garages in such far flung places as Tring in the north, East Grinstead in the south, Windsor in the west and Dartford in the east. They also ran the Green Line Coaches which provided fast journeys from the Home Counties into and through central London.
I boarded this unfamiliar bus and sat upstairs whilst the first trainee climbed into the cab and began his test drive under the watchful eye of the examiner. The examiner told the trainee to pull up near Marble Arch and told him to turn off the engine and alight from the cab. I was called down to the saloon where I was told to climb into the cab and follow all instructions given to me, if I was unclear as to the instructions I was to ask again. The bus did seem a little different, as of course no two vehicles are the same. I drove along Bayswater Road and was instructed to turn right into Park Lane and follow the directions for Victoria; this meant negotiating Marble Arch which was always very busy. As if often the case no sooner had I turned into Park Lane than the traffic came to a standstill. The examiner leaned into the cab and said quietly “forget Victoria driver take the next available turning on the right and we’ll head back to Chiswick” To do this required me to cross four lanes of traffic, but in those days cars did seem to give way to buses and I was soon driving back up Park lane and heading back towards Chiswick. After what seemed like hours I was told to pull up at a bus stop, turn off the engine and come back to the saloon. I climbed down from the cab and another nervous trainee took over.
Well that part of my test was over, one more part to go and for that I had to wait until I got back to the driving school. We waited in an anti room whilst each trainee went into the examiners room to be questioned on the Highway Code and finally told whether he had passed or failed. I entered when my name was called, went in and was told to sit down. I was asked a number of questions on the Highway code which I answered correctly. The examiner then went over my test drive. The only criticism he had was that I had been diving rather cautiously towards Turnham Green. I told him that it was a vehicle from Leatherhead, different from the one I had been training on. His reply was “well driver, you’ll be driving different vehicles every day at your new garage”
That was it, I knew I’d passed. It was a wonderful achievement as I was then the youngest driver with London Transport. The examiner handed me a form which had to be taken to Penton Street Public carriage Office near Kings Cross, so that I could obtain my Public Service Vehicle drivers licence and badge. I went over to the canteen were I thanked George for all his hard work, and now back to Edgware Garage. Hold on driver, there is one more test that you must take before you leave Chiswick. Of course every day when we were at Chiswick we would watch safely from the path in front of the main school building the bus on the skid pan doing its crazy gyrations, and occasionally we would lose our nerve and move away rapidly when it appeared some poor driver was going to get it wrong and fail to get the skid under control.
There was at the time an advert for a famous brand of chewing gum which told you that chewing gum would keep you calm under any circumstances, and showed a red London bus on the skid pan at Chiswick. It soon became apparent to me that the Skid Pan Bus Instructor had not seen the advert or had a pathological hatred of chewing gum. “Get rid of that muck before you get on this bus!” so I surreptitiously got rid of my piece of gum and boarded the bus.
No one was allowed up stairs although we were told the bus had only tipped over once in all the time it had been in use. My turn to get up into the cab soon came, which was just as well as one can get a bit disorientated spinning around all the time.
The purpose of the skid pan training was twofold, one was to teach you how to handle a bus which starts to skid and the other was to give you supreme confidence in the ability of the AEC Regent RT bus not to tip over no matter how badly it was driven.
Training commenced by driving the bus through an area being continually sprayed with water with the road surface very wet. The instructor would lean into the cab from behind you and tell you to hit the brakes hard and then recover from the ensuing skid. On my first attempt like all the other drivers I had a bus skidding toward the training school out of control. Soon however with a bit of shouting and good instructing I soon realised that as soon as I heard the wheels began to lock up I had to release the brakes, something that dose not come naturally to a driver. The brakes were then applied in rapid succession until the bus was brought under control. After the instructor thought we had mastered the art of controlling a skidding bus, which could take a few trips through the skid pan, and before we thought we could get down he had one more surprise for us. “Right, now we’ll show you what can really go wrong. This time when we go through the water I want you to take both hands off the steering wheel and keep them off and don’t be afraid to build up a bit of speed”
Once through the spray I took both hands of the wheel as told, the instructor leant through into the cab and pulled the hand brake on and at the same time pulled the steering wheel hard around. This caused the rear wheels to lock up so that the bus began to pivot around its rear end very rapidly The effect in the cab was amazing, there was very little sense of movement within the cab but the whole of the driving school began to rotate around the cab and at one point to tilt over to one side. Upon seeing the school go around for the second time I did notice some of the newer drivers moving rapidly away from their advantage point in front of the school. The bus had spun around twice and gone up on its two offside wheels and bounced back down again and come to a halt all in the space of about a minute. And some drivers volunteered to stay on the bus for another round trip. Not me, I was ready to go back to Edgware with George and see what awaited me as a fully fledged driver.

Friday, 10 April 2009

40 years behind the wheel chapter 1

Forty Years Behind The Wheel
Memoirs of a Bus Driver
David Streatfield

Chapter 1 Hendon Garage

Watching buses running passed Willesden Technical College, on a beautiful spring afternoon, seemed far more interesting than solving quadratic equations. I began to wonder what it would be like to drive one of those big red buses. The next logical step was to actually drive one of those buses, and so began my career as a bus driver.
During the 1960s London Transport were so short of drivers that one could choose the time and place to take a preliminary driving test. I was twenty one and had spent the last three years working at the GPO research station at Dollis Hill North London, and I wanted a change.
Never having driven anything bigger than our family Vauxhall Viva I played safe and arranged with London Transport to take my preliminary test on a Sunday morning from Hendon garage, it should be nice and quiet on a Sunday, and it was.
Sunday the twelfth of March 1967 was a ideal spring morning, blue sky and not too hot, when I arrived at Hendon garage for my preliminary test.
I entered the garage and met my driving instructor, I boarded the bus with him and sat inside whilst he examined my driving license. Earlier in the week I had gone to the Licensing Department at Dawley House Ealing in London to have my driving licence endorsed so that I might drive a large vehicle. He asked me if I had ever driven a vehicle with a pre-select gear box before, I said I hadn’t. “Just use the pre-select pedal as an ordinary clutch pedal until you get use to the pre-select gear shift.” Hendon garage was very gloomy inside and it also had a very narrow entrance. The instructor said he would drive the bus out of the garage and I would take over on the main road opposite Hendon Town Hall. The bus I was to drive was an RTW which was eight foot wide compared with the normal London RT bus used in service which was seven foot six inches wide.
Climbing up into the cab was a wonderful feeling, both nervous and yet exciting. Everything was so large compared to a car. An enormous steering wheel, large operating pedals and a large gear select unit attached to the steering column.
Ever since I was a young boy I had always been trying to work out how the bus drivers changed gears. I would sit in the front nearside seat and look through at the driver but could never understand how the gear shift coincided with the engine sounds. I was about to find out.
I was told to take my time and proceed towards West Hendon. I certainly wasn’t going to hurry. It seemed as if this huge vehicle was propelling me forward and I had very little control over it. However after a short time the vehicle began to shrink in size and by keeping a constant eye on both mirrors I began to feel at ease with the bus. At first gear changes were not smooth as I was using the operating pedal as one would a clutch. A few words from the instructor soon put me right.
With a pre-select box one selects the gear with the gear lever and when that gears is required one pushes the operating pedal down and then releases it straight away. So whilst the bus is in first gear at a bus stop one would select second gear and once the bus had reached the appropriate speed the operating pedal would be used and then either third gear selected, or if the bus were to be slowed down again then first gear could be selected.
I drove along The Burroughs across Watford Way and down Station Road turning left into West Hendon Broadway. Thirty years ago there was no Brent cross flyover nor a Brent Cross shopping centre just a cross roads and a set of traffic lights along side the Hendon Greyhound race track. I turned left again onto the North Circular. I had a feeling then that this was the thing I could do for the rest of my life, there was a sense of freedom and yet one of responsibility. A further left turn took me into Brent Street and finally back to the Hendon garage, parking outside the garage. The instructor drove the bus into the garage whilst I sat inside the bus. Once inside the garage he sat down with me went over my test drive. He said he was very pleased with my steady driving and was glad I had heeded his instructions to take it easy, as many new drivers wanted to rush about which was something you just did not need to do with a London bus. I didn’t tell him I was taking it easy as I was so apprehensive of this large red bus pushing me along.
I was given a form to say I had passed a London Transport preliminary driving test and if I wanted employment as a London Bus driver I was to report to London Transport headquarters at 55, The Broadway for a medical and allocation to a Bus Garage. The next step was not going to be quite so easy.