Chapter 9 Green Line Coaches
One morning at the beginning of November 1972, having signed on, I was looking at the notices when I saw that there was a vacancy on the Green Line rota. Going onto Green Line meant a permanent rise in pay as the Green Line coaches were one man operated, being the junior driver at Tring I believed I had no hope of getting the position, but I still put in for the vacancy. When I got home I explained to Annette that with a baby on the way the extra money would be useful, but it meant I would be away all day as my meal breaks would be at Chelsham garage in Surrey, whereas on the bus rota on spread over duties I would come home for my breaks, but there was very little chance of getting the job being a junior driver. I had forgotten about my application when one Friday afternoon sitting in the canteen at Hemel Hempstead at the bus drivers table I over heard a Tring coach driver on the Green Line table behind me say,
“I see that Dave Streatfield has got the coach position”
I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to finish my shift and see Charlie Hall the Depot Inspector back at Tring. Once back at Tring I saw Charlie Hall and asked him when do I start on the coach rota, thinking a week or two maybe.
“To-morrow my lad”
Talk about being thrown in at the deep end, I don’t think I slept that night.
It turned out that all the drivers at Tring were happy on the rotas they were on and that the vacancy had occurred because one of the coach drivers, Peter Letissier had become a Depot Inspector, another vacancy on the coaches had also occurred when Dave Davis also became a Depot Inspector, and his place was filled by Chris Wren who had even less seniority than me.
So dawned Saturday November 25th . I signed on about 9 o’clock and waited to take over my coach outside the garage. Surprisingly for November it was a sunny day and felt very warm to me. My coach arrived from Aylesbury and I exchanged a few words with the driver who wished me good luck. Oh boy what a journey, a busy Saturday, trying to remember how to issue tickets on the Almex ticket machine, and trying to remember where on earth I was supposed to be going.
Leaving Tring, the first town was Berkhampstead and then on to Hemel Hempstead, but not going into the town which was served by Green Line route 708, the 706 served Two Waters Garage and then on to Apsley and Kings Langley. Just getting through Watford on a Saturday was a nightmare, and it still is. Leaving Watford one climbed up to Bushey Heath and then down to Stanmore. Now having left the countryside of Hertfordshire behind we started heading into Central London via Edgware, Cricklewood, and Kilburn, finally arriving at Victoria and a couple of minutes rest, in my case none as I was running late by then. Next down to Pimlico and over the river Thames to Vauxhall. On through the heavily populated suburbs of Brixton, Streatham and Norbury before arriving in Croydon again very busy on a Saturday. It was at South Croydon the ‘Swan and Sugar Loaf’ pub that the 708 and 706 went their separate ways the 708 following the same route as the 706 from Two Waters now went on to Godstone and East Grinstead whilst the 706 turned left and began climbing to Sanderstead, Hamsey Green and finally Chelsham. What a relief, no errors with the tickets and I had remembered the route.
Now the rota vacancy I found myself on was Instructions, this meant I would be covering for Green Line drivers who were on holiday, or covering for those off sick. I only knew from week to week what I would be doing and this continued for nine months until one of the senior coach drivers retired and I at last had a permanent rota position and could plan ahead. Although I was still on six months probation which now meant I could find my self driving Green Line coaches, driving buses or even conducting on buses.
Now this really use to confuse my friend Dave Adams who had recently been made up to an Inspector at Hemel Hempstead. The first time I had encountered Dave was when I was a conductor on one of the lunch time buses from Apsley Mills. I was stuck at the front of the bus jammed up against the bulkhead behind the drivers cab, with what seemed like hundreds of women passengers in front of me, how on earth was I supposed to collect all their fares. We had stopped at a bus stop and Dave had boarded and seeing my predicament called out
“don’t worry mate, you stay there, I’ll collect their fares and sort it out when you can get back down here.”
Now during that first six months when I came off at Hemel for a meal break Dave never new what I was doing, driving or conducting on the 301s or on the 706 swinger, he was for ever confused.
The 706 swinger:
It was the practice of Green Line routes to be operated by the two garages at opposite ends of the route, for example 711 Reigate-London-High Wycombe operated by High Wycombe and Reigate, 708 Hemel Hempstead-London-East Grinstead operated by Hemel Hempstead and East Grinstead and 706 Aylesbury-London-Chelsham operated by Tring and Chelsham garages. One of the advantages of the London Transport schedules was that the Green Line routes should fit in with the seven and a half hour day, which included a meal break. To this end a Tring coach duty would normally consist of a round trip from Tring to Aylesbury, to Chelsham, an hours break at Chelsham garage, then back to Tring. Many people saw Tring as an out station of Hemel Hempstead but in no way did we at Tring consider ourselves to be any ones out station. We were a self contained happy little garage with our very own gas stove on which we’d warm up our pasties bought from the bakers shop next door. Well it was good enough for us as most of our meal breaks were either at Hemel Hempstead or Chelsham. However it was not deemed suitable for the Chelsham crews to have their meal breaks at Tring.
Therefore all Chelsham drivers came off at Hemel Hempstead for their meal relief and a Tring driver who had travelled down as a passenger from Tring would then take over the Chelsham coach and work it from Hemel Hempstead to Aylesbury and back to Hemel Hempstead. He would then pick up another Chelsham coach and to the same working again. There were I believe two such duties and it was these duties that were known as swingers.
An odd working of this system required the Tring driver of the 706 from Chelsham that arrived at Hemel Hempstead about 21:30 to pick up the Chelsham driver from the previous coach who was on a meal break at Hemel Hempstead. The Chelsham driver then travelled to Tring were the Tring driver would finish for the day and the Chelsham driver would take over and continue to Aylesbury and then be the last through 706 of the night back to Chelsham, this being the only time Chelsham drivers worked into Aylesbury. This Tring duty did have one drawback which I was soon to inadvertently rectify.
The Chelsham driver was supposed to be waiting on the stop on London Road outside Hemel Hempstead Garage, it was stated so on his duty plate, however no such instruction was printed on the Tring duty plate. Most of the Chelsham drivers would be waiting for us as we drew up at the stop as they knew we wanted to get to Tring on time as we were finishing our days work. One driver ‘Frank,’ a very keen snooker, player would keep an eye on the stop from the snooker room at the garage and would only come down to the stop when he saw you pull up. One night I was on time and wanted to finish on time so after waiting a couple of minutes, and knowing ‘Frank’ was most probably still playing snooker, I set of for Tring thinking that’ll serve him right for keeping me waiting.
I was paying in at Tring, having left the coach on the stop opposite the garage with passengers for Aylesbury but no driver, when there was an almighty commotion as Frank came flying through the depot door with a raging Inspector Reg Murray in tow.
Reg had to drive Frank up from Hemel Hempstead when Inspector Murray realised I had continued to Tring without Frank.
“Right Driver I am booking you for leaving the Chelsham driver behind”
“Fine Reg, but here is my duty plate, just show me where it states I have to pick up the Chelsham driver at Hemel Hempstead”
I was right it didn’t say anything on the Tring duty plate about waiting or
picking up a Chelsham driver. So Reg couldn’t do anything about it, but the next day that duty plate had been amended, so no excuse for leaving Frank behind next time.
During the mid seventies a number of garages received an allocation of Bristol LHS buses with 7’6in wide bodies. These short vehicles were designated BN and had crash gear boxes. Now when I took my first PSV test in 1967, although I passed out on an RTW which had a pre-select gear box, my driving licence allowed me to drive any type of bus or coach. However London Transport found out that many drivers taking their driving test on the pre-select RTW would soon leave to go to provincial or municipal bus companies whose vehicle were usually of the crash gear box type but would not have to retake a PSV test. So whilst I was enjoying the sun down under the Traffic Commissioners altered the PSV licence to reflect the type of gear box that the bus had. When I came back to England in 1972 and took another PSV test on an RT my new licence only allowed me to drive buses with an automatic or pre-select gear box.
Much to our surprise, due to severe vehicle shortages within London Country, Chelsham had sent out a BN on the 706. The driver on the swinger duty that day was Tring driver Ted Francis. Now Ted had been a driver for many a long year and had driven crash gear box buses before so without a further thought took the BN to Aylesbury and back. Unfortunately word soon reached the ears of both the Hemel Hempstead and Tring Trade Union representatives.
Now over the years both London Transport and the Transport and General Workers Union had made sure that every thing was done properly and by the book. If a new or different type of vehicle came to a garage drivers would have to have a days type training on it. So T&G Representative Bob Stevens of Hemel Hempstead and T&G Representative Reg Bone of Tring soon made quite sure that no driver not trained or who did not hold a full licence was not to drive the BN if it was ever allocated to the 706 route again. Suffice to say it never was. Ted Francis was in the clear as he did hold a full licence. In fact he was a bit put out by being told by the Union Reps that he should not have driven it in the first place.
The Chelsham driver who had bought the BN up from Chelsham was affectionately known as ‘Captain Birdseye,’ named after the character in an television advert for a certain brand of fish fingers who had a large ginger beard. ‘Birdseye’ had a reputation for fast erratic driving and one day manage to crash a BN into a council tractor cutting the hedgerows near Chelsham, and believe it or not he got away with it by claiming he hadn’t seen the tractor as it was painted green and had blended in with the hedgerow. On his days off he would usually be seen outside his favourite shop in Hamsey Green, the fishing tackle shop, giving all the drivers a friendly wave as they went past. Like many bus drivers ‘Birdseye’ was an avid fisherman.
It was not only the bus drivers who were characters but also some of our passengers. I mentioned earlier that when I was at Edgware garage Saturday evenings could be fraught with danger and the conductresses would often change with their male counterparts on the 142s when going through Kilburn. Well we had similar problems at the top of the Edgware Road at Marble Arch. The coach stop was and still is at the top end of Park Lane and under no circumstances did you stop on the Red Bus stops on the Edgware Road, particularly when there was an industrial dispute on at Cricklewood garage.
As a new driver I had been told of this and in spite of people waving at me on the Edgware Road I went sailing by especially when one of them appeared to be an old tramp running across the road in front of me on the last coach back to Tring. The next day one of the coach drivers, Ted Francis, who knew I was on the last coach the previous night said “did you get your free ice cream last night?”
“What free ice cream, what are you on about?”
Ted went on to explain that the old tramp who came running across the road at the top of the Edgware Road was in fact Tony the owner of the Italian ice cream parlour at Marble Arch and if I had stopped to pick him up he would have given me some free ice cream. Needless to say the next time I saw the old tramp I stopped and apologised for going passed last time. Tony was most gracious and said that he guessed I was a new driver, “anyway driver here is one for later and one for now”. The one for later was a large block of ice cream wrapped in newspaper and the one for now, an enormous ice cream cornet surrounded on the top by four wafers. It would take literally from Marble Arch to Watford to finish the thing, you try driving along with one hand on the wheel and one on the biggest cornet you’ve ever seen.
Tony’s wife on the other hand was always meticulously dressed and if she was in the ice cream parlour and one of the drivers happened to go in there nothing would be for free.
Now I had a permanent rota position Annette and I could plan ahead. Annette had gone into hospital early due to high blood pressure so she had hardly had time to get to know our new home town of Aylesbury and she told me later that it was very odd being in hospital not knowing where you were. One morning on the 20th January in 1973 I went to Stoke Mandeville to see how Annette was getting on she being almost ready to give birth only to find she had been transferred to the Royal Bucks Hospital in Aylesbury town centre. The staff at Stoke Mandeville told me to get a move on as Annette had gone into labour. So I rushed into the town and ran up the stairs of The Royal Bucks to the delivery ward, being stopped outside by a nurse who told me to put on a gown before going in. I went in to find Annette giving birth and so held her hand as was the tradition of fathers to be. It was quite an experience to watch our son being born. Afterwards one of the nurses looked at me and said "I thought you were one of the doctors". It made me wonder how many of the doctors hold the mums hands. After seeing Annette and baby settled down I then rode to Tring, in a snow shower on my Honda 50, to my brothers so that I could use their phone to ring Annette's mum in Australia with the good news. It was a few months later that we had a phone installed in our maisonette. In those far of days if the garage needed to contact you Inspector Ron Wright would call around personally, that's a service you don't get to day.