Friday, 1 May 2009

Chapter 4 Uxbridge Garage




Earlier I had mentioned that all the routes at Uxbridge were on one rota so that meant quite some time route learning. This time I had learnt my lesson and sat at the front and took notice of where we were going. It worked as I don’t remember ever going the wrong way on the numerous routes out of Uxbridge. In 1968 these were the 98 and 98A from Hillingdon Station to Hounslow Bus Station, 204 Uxbridge to Heathrow, 207 Uxbridge to Shepherds Bush, 223 Uxbridge to Hounslow Bus Station, 224 Uxbridge to Laleham, 224A and 224B to West Drayton and Yiewsley and a peak hour service 225 to Wraysbury via Poyle industrial estate.
Having completed my route learning there was one more task to overcome.
I had trained on an RTW, that’s the eight foot wide version of the RT buses I had driven at Edgware. Uxbridge garage had the legendary Routemaster. This vehicle first saw service during 1957 as a prototype. The RM was a 27ft 4in long and 8ft wide and was allocated to both the Central Area and Country Area. In June 1965 production switched to the RML which was a 30ft long version of the RM. The Routemaster is still going strong today in London nearly 50years after first entering service, it is a wonderful vehicle to drive and its demise will be missed by bus crews and passengers alike. [By 2008 only a few were in service on vintage route 9]
But back in 1968 I had to be typed trained on the RML which was allocated to the extremely busy route 207 serving Uxbridge, Hayes, Southall, Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush. I had been told to report to London Transports training school at Chiswick on a Monday Morning at ten O’clock. That weekend I had spent with my fiancée and her Grandparents in Bath. It had dawned on me whilst there that I had been told to attend Chiswick in full uniform. Remember I had said Chiswick was like the army. Well soon after starting at Edgware I had given my driving cap to my young eleven year old nephew Neil to play with, I didn’t like wearing a cap and did not intend to.
Panic set in; no cap no training no job. I rang up Neil and pleaded with him to find my old cap and meet me at Paddington Station early Monday morning. Neil, being a very resourceful eleven year old, met me on time at Paddington with one drivers cap resplendent with cap badge.
So back to Chiswick for a very arduous days training. Having spent the last year driving in service I had picked up quite a few bad habits which had to be ironed out by a typical sergeant major of an instructor. For example, being told to pull up at the next bus stop I indicated by means of the indicator switch on the dash board, “you are not turning left driver, you are slowing down, give the appropriate hand signal.” Hand signal, what’s that? Oh yes something I last did over a year ago. And so it went on all day until the instructor was satisfied that I could handle a Routemaster the London Transport way.
Although Uxbridge garage was situated in Denham a mile outside the town the canteen and all other staff facilities were within the station forecourt at Uxbridge. Most changeovers took place here as well as our meal breaks. We also shared our canteen with the train drivers from the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines also bus drivers from Amersham on country route 305, Hemel Hempstead and Garston drivers on country routes 347 and 347A and drivers from Staines and Windsor operating country routes 457,458 and 459.
We drivers from Uxbridge operating red buses into London always felt superior to our country area green bus cousins, after all we were paid £1:00 a week more than the Country Area. There was however one exception to this feeling of superiority.
Most of our duties started from Uxbridge Station, so having signed on for a duty at the Garage in Denham we then had to proceed to the bus station in the town, for which we received a payment of twelve minutes travelling time. Quite a handy addition to the pay packet at the end of the week. Now nobody would walk to the bus station so we would congregate in the entrance of the bus garage whilst one driver would stand by the road until a country bus would hove into view and would yell out “bus up” we would then all run out and board the bus up to the town. Our London Transport passes, affectionately known as ‘stickys’ (I never found out the origin of this name) were also valid on all London Transport trains and all of the London Transport Country Area buses. Our passes were not however valid on the Green Line Coaches, so if a Green Line coach on route 710 or 711 approached, forget it, with head held high they would drive pass with an air of contempt for us lowly bus drivers.
I used to love getting to work on early turns from my flat in Hillingdon. A quick couple of minutes walk up to Hillingdon Underground Station and then if very lucky a cab ride with a friendly train driver on the staff train to Uxbridge, a very strange sensation on a foggy autumn morning just to see green or red signals appear out of the mist.
From Uxbridge to the garage at Denham took about ten minutes to walk, there was always this all pervasive smell of malt in the air, from the large manufacturer in the centre of the town, which accompanied me on my brisk walk along to the garage.
I was by now familiar with the workings of bus garages and soon found out who my new conductor was to be, although I was surprised to find out that Uxbridge operated all routes on one large rota. This meant that it would take over a year to come back to the same duty. My new conductor was a quiet young Asian lad, whose name I cannot recall, with whom I thought I got on quite well. However after a few months I signed on one morning only to find I had been allocated a new conductor called David. Later that morning in the canteen I found my old conductor and asked him what had happened. It was typical of garages in the sixties that the new immigrant drivers and conductors would want to work together. In the canteen the work force split into three distinct groups, the West Indians who were always involved in loud games of cribbage, the Asians who would be talking quietly amongst themselves and the rest of us. So I would in fact never join my conductor at meal times and I guess he felt he would prefer to work with an Asian driver. So now I was paired up with David a nice young boy who wore cowboy boots and could talk endlessly on the subject of hair styles and clothing, he later left to take up a position as a hairdresser in Uxbridge which I am sure suited him better.
Breakdowns on the buses were a very rare event back in the days of the RT, RM and RF as they were very reliable buses. At no time at Edgware garage can I remember breaking down and whilst at Uxbridge I only broke down twice. Once on the 204 to Heathrow Airport I ran out of fuel. While waiting for the engineers to arrive a lady in one of the houses brought out a cup of tea for my conductor and me. I just cannot see that happening to day. The second breakdown occurred on the 223 to Hounslow. Just before West Drayton railway station I found the bus had become stuck in top gear and was unable to get over the bridge before the station so I got out the cab and went around to the back and asked a lot of fit young male passengers to help push the bus over the bridge into the station forecourt which would be off the main road and out of the way. This they did with out too much effort. When the engineers turned up they cursed me for getting the bus over the bridge as they reckoned they could have turned the bus around and got it back to the garage in top gear whereas now they had to fix it at the station so they could get it back over the bridge. Oh well you can’t please everybody.
My fiancée and I had by now decided to get married so this meant looking around for a flat to rent. It just so happened that when I mentioned this to my landlady, Connie Quinn, she said that the people next door had the upstairs of their house to let. I therefore met with Mrs Daisy Gardner and her husband to arrange to move into the flat in September of 1968. My wife to be, Annette, had collected quite a few things for our new flat and it was my job to get them from Bath to Hillingdon. I would leave Bath with a couple of suit cases full of things and go straight from Paddington to the garage at Uxbridge, sign on and then drive on route 98 to Hillingdon, stopping opposite my flat, nip around to the back of the bus, retrieve the suit cases then dash across the road to pop them in the flat.
After our honeymoon Annette and I moved into our new flat with our somewhat neurotic landlady Daisy who was forever going in and out to the shops and keeping an ever watchful eye on her large ginger cat. Meanwhile Annette had obtained a job at RAF Uxbridge working as a clerical assistant. We were therefore able to meet up for lunch or I would walk with her to work. If I was on route 207 to Shepherds Bush she would ride with me from the bus station at Uxbridge up to the RAF station at the top of Hillingdon Road.
Unlike other garages where groups of bus routes were on separate rotas Uxbridge routes were all on one rota this meant it would be many months before one worked the same duty. Also it could be quite a few weeks between working route 207 which could be a little bit confusing, not the route but the fact that the 207 was allocated to Routemasters whereas all other routes were worked by the RT bus. Upon pulling up for the first time with a RM ones right hand would be flapping about for a non existent hand brake until the brain remembered the hand brake on a RM was on the left hand side.
The 207 was the busiest route in the garage and three round trips was the scheduled duty but this was rarely achieved with usually the third trip turning short at either Hanwell or the old tram depot at Acton. The headway between buses during the peak hour at Ealing Common was just fifteen seconds, four a minute, what a job the inspectors there had in maintaining that headway, especially as the Uxbridge drivers would hold back near Hayes End so that the 207A operated by crews from Hanwell would find itself in front of us having come up Coldharbour Lane from Hayes.
We at Uxbridge operated the RML which was the 30 foot version of the Routemaster whereas Hanwells allocation was the 27 foot RM.
The 207 was a very busy route and one Christmas one of the conductors had just finished his duty on the 207s when an inspector asked him if he’d like some overtime, the air turned blue as the conductor pointed out that he’d just taken £100:00 in fares which was a enormous amount for those days and if the inspector required another conductor the inspector could do the job himself.
Not only were we supposed to do three rounders to Shepherd Bush but the stand time in the small yard at Shepherds Bush Green was only two minutes. I was at that time a smoker but never being able to drive and smoke I soon found I was wasting a fortune in half smoked cigarettes. No sooner had I alighted from the cab and lit up some officious inspector would call out “time to go driver” so I would stub out most of the cigarette. As Annette did not smoke I decided I might as well give up. It was as many have found out no easy thing to do, but fortunately I did manage to stop. If I met Annette from work and she saw me smoking it was not because of the pressures of work, to me there were none, it was because Daisy had threatened to evict us from our flat because of some small thing or other.
By this time Annette was pregnant and getting up in the morning was beginning to get a bit of a chore, so as I would drive past our flat on early turns on the 98 to Hounslow I would see if the bedroom light was on. If there was no light I would pull up and quickly run over to the flat, run upstairs and awaken Annette. I would tell David my conductor to tell the passengers the driver was just popping in to see his wife and the passengers could make what they liked of it.
About this time Annette and I had decided to go to Australia. Annette wanted to go back and see her parents who lived in Canberra and I had always wanted to see Australia. We therefore paid a visit to the Australian Embassy in London and much to our surprise were told we were both eligible to emigrate under the ten pound scheme. As Annette was over here on holiday this seemed most odd however Australian logic was as follows:
“The first time you [Annette] emigrated you were a child and had no say in the matter, this time you are married and still have no say in the matter”
I did not want to give up bus driving and was assured that bus drivers were needed in Australia, so things were set in motion for us to emigrate to Australia as soon as our baby was born. Sadly we lost our first baby, a boy, still born on December the 10th 1969, but plans to emigrate continued throughout that winter and a departure date was set for the following June.
One person we would miss would be my nephew Neil. My eldest brother Roy had died from asthma when I was eighteen; he left two young children, Deborah six and Neil eight. Very rapidly Neil became a very independent soul and would often turn up unaccompanied at our flat in Hillingdon where Annette would empty all his pockets of sweet wrappers and fill his stomach up with baked beans. As well as turning up at our flat I would often find him at bus stops along any of the routes I was on. I could be driving through Ealing when there would be young Neil at a bus stop
“I thought you might be here about now” he would say. How he knew I don’t know but I guess it would stand him in good stead for his future career as a London Taxi driver.
The winter of 1969-70 saw some thick foggy nights. It was often bad on route 207 through Hayes and Hillingdon on the approach to Uxbridge. Yet somehow we managed to keep to time or even ahead of time some nights.
Uxbridge garage at Denham was on the main Oxford Road therefore it was important that buses did not stack up along the main road on the evening run in, to that end an Inspector was always on duty up near the town and would hold early running buses there. One bad foggy evening I had arrived five minutes early in Uxbridge, gaining time where the road was clear.
“Do you know you are five minutes early driver?”
“No” I replied, “it was a bit foggy so I just kept going”
“Funny that, the driver in front of you said it was so thick he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, and he was ten minutes early”
Another meeting with authority was even more unfortunate. Some of the duties on route 204 terminated at Heathrow Airport and allowed the crews to have breakfast in the staff canteen. Ten minutes wasn't quite long enough but a five minute early arrival and five minute late departure would ensure adequate time for breakfast. One morning strolling back from the canteen I noticed a smartly dressed gentleman in a trilby hat standing by the cab of my bus. When I got to the cab he said
"Excuse me driver but what time are you due to depart"
"Don't worry about that mate we're on our way now" I replied
"Oh I do worry about it" he said producing a key fob which indicated he was a senior official of London Transport "just make sure you depart on time in future". Somewhat chagrined I climbed into the cab and set off for Uxbridge.
The cab of the RT bus was quite basic, a lever to pull to start the bus, three operating pedals, an indicator, a handbrake, a red metal flag which lowered in front of you to warn you of low air pressure, headlight switches, a windscreen wiper switch, but most of all a good heater.
On a cold winters morning it could get nice and warm in the cab so much so that it wasn’t until the bus drifted to the nearside and the wheels hit the kerb that you realised that you had nodded off, what is referred to now-a-days as micro sleep. I doubt that the passengers reading their morning papers or busy chatting had even noticed. All the buses allocated to Uxbridge had saloon heaters so that passengers and conductors could also stay warm, except the vehicle allocated to the 225 route. As this was a peak time only route and the vehicle allocated was a Saunders bodied vehicle without a saloon heater, which seemed a bit odd as it was generally cold in the mornings and evenings. So cold in fact that on arrival at Wraysbury on cold winter mornings the conductor would come around to the cab and climb up in with the driver just to get warm. Winter passed and summer soon arrived and finally after almost three years driving those big red London Buses I was Australia bound.
I

4 comments:

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  3. hi thanks for the memory I used to be a driver at uxbridge garage in 1966 and had a conductor called Winston cumberbatch clive lane ps I am now retired at 77 and live near sandwich in kent

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  4. Enjoyed your memories. I was loaned as a conductor from Tring to Garston to work the 347 in 1974. Also RMLs. I used to be amazed at the 3X higher takings boasted by 207 conductors riding with me to the Uxbridge LT garage. All were very friendly and in uniform never had to show their sticky. Loved the Uxbridge station canteen which along with Watford Junction, ranked the best. Occasional visits to the LT Museum in Covent Garden rekindle the fun of those days.

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