Friday, 12 June 2009

Chapter 11 More Coach Workings

Under an agreement with the T&G and London Country, coach drivers could be required to do bus work up to three quarters of an hour prior to commencing their coach duty. I mentioned earlier that the 387 Tring to Aldbury was the exclusive workings of drivers George Prentice and Fred Sennet, except on Mondays when one was resting and the other scheduled a late turn. So it fell to the coach rota to provide a driver for a couple of trips. Well George and Fred knew all the regulars and they knew George and Fred, no putting out the hand for the bus to stop, no waiting at the bus stop if you were a bit late, everything ran quite smoothly and every one caught their train to London from Tring station, but not on Monday mornings they didn’t.
The phone never stopped ringing at the garage on Monday mornings.
“Why didn’t the driver stop, George and Fred always did, alright I know I didn’t put my hand out”
“Why didn’t the driver stop, I know I wasn’t at the stop but George and Fred always stopped for me”
Perhaps as coach drivers even forty five minutes of bus work was too much. Mind you things have sunk much lower these days as will be seen later.
Since arriving back from Australia my only means of getting to and from work was a motor bike a humble Honda 50 . Not long after starting at Tring one of the drivers had a Honda 125 for sale. We had just moved into our maisonette and were very short of money and my mother who was very generous and visiting us at the time said I'll give you the money for the bike. To go with the bike I required a good pair of motor cycle boots. These I had seen in a motor cycle shop by the bus stop in Norbury south London. So the next day I thought I 'll stop there and go into the shop and get those boots. Unfortunately the coach which I had taken from Tring to Aylesbury bus station that morning decided to break down on me, the engineer from Tring Harry Ketteringham was soon on the scene and rapidly got the coach started so no time was lost, as I left Aylesbury Harry called out "don’t forget to leave it running when you get to Chelsham otherwise you wont get it started again."
Needless to say Harry’s words had deserted me by the time I’d reached Norbury and pulled up outside the motor cycle shop. Switching off the engine I explained to the passengers that I’d only be a couple of minutes. I soon returned with a brand new pair of boots, got into the cab, pulled the starter lever, nothing, one dead Green Line coach. The passengers knowing nothing of Harry’s instructions not to turn the engine off just assumed the coach had broken down then and there. Fortunately all the passengers were going to Croydon so I was able to transfer them onto a 109 red central bus for the remainder of their journey. I then crossed the road to Norbury bus garage where I rang up Tring for instructions. I explained that the coach had stalled, something that you cannot do with a pre-select gear box, was called a stupid idiot and told to take my meal relief at Croydon bus station after the engineers at Norbury had got the coach started, by means of shorting out the starter motor with a screw driver. It never ceased to amaze me how engineers could fix any broken down RT or RF bus with just a screw driver and a wooden mallet, these days if a single warning light comes up on the dash board it means you can be stuck somewhere for ages and the bus can be off the road awaiting a new light bulb for weeks.
I don’t know about fixing things, but one night at West Hendon we were nearly all fixed. During the early 1970s the IRA made habit of leaving nasty packages on buses and trains. Just after leaving West Hendon one evening a lady passenger informed me that there was a suspicious bag under a seat at the rear of the coach. As luck would have it I was about to pass Hendon police station near Brent Cross. I pulled up outside the police station, went inside and informed the duty sergeant that we had a suspicious package on the coach. The duty sergeant called for a police officer to go and check out the package. I took the police officer out to the coach and then took him to the rear of the coach and showed him the package which was in fact a sports hold all. Now who was the most stupid, us or the police officer. We all stood around him whilst he pulled out the hold all, held it up, and proceeded to shake it. “No its not a bomb” he said. Just as well as we would have all been blown to pieces.
Mind you what does happen when someone dies? There have been a few occasion when drivers I have known have been involved in fatal accidents. In each case the fatality has not been the drivers fault. None the less in all cases the drivers have been traumatised. But with careful and patient handling by our senior driving instructors all have managed to get back in the cab and resume there normal duties after a while. It also leaves the rest of us with the thought that there for the grace of God go I. There is however one strange experience that will always stay with me and make of it what you will.
One of the bus drivers at Tring was Ray Taylor. Ray was always happy and had this disconcerting habit of coming up behind you when you were paying in your takings and standing on your right and tapping you on your left shoulder. You would instinctively turn to your left and find no one there only to turn quickly to your left to see Ray grinning at you.
One evening at home with my family I was standing in the kitchen when I felt a tap on my left shoulder, of course no one was there as I could see Annette and the children sitting the other side of the room, I told them what I had felt explaining it was the sort of feeling like someone tapping you on the shoulder. I put the feeling down to a muscle spasm. The next day I was in the town (Aylesbury) when I met Johnny Hercules. John asked if I heard about Ray Taylor, I said no. John told me that Ray, who was only in his thirties, had died the previous evening of a massive heart attack.
Keeping to time was something we took pride in years ago, but there was one day every year when timings use to go out the window and that was the Thursday before Easter. Maunday Thursday was the busiest day, traffic wise, of the year with everybody trying to get away for the Easter holiday. You would start to lose time from the moment you reached Croydon and by the time you arrived at Tring you could be over an hour late. Yet there was one Tring coach driver who seemed immuned from this and that was Jack Webster. One particular Easter I had suffered from an upset stomach and phoned in sick, however the Tring Inspector Ron Wright persuaded me to come in on standby and just rest at the garage rather than lose a days pay, in fact it would be double pay for Easter. So there I was sitting in a deck chair outside the garage watching late running coaches when Jack Webster pulls in on time. “I don’t know” says Ron “I’m sure that bloke has his own way of getting from Chelsham to Tring that we don’t know about, I’ve never known him to run late”
Another reason for Jacks ability to keep to time was told to me recently by my good friend Vic Hillsdon who was at one time a conductor on the coaches.
Vic as a young conductor was asked to pair up with Jack on the Green Line from Tring to Aylesbury and back. Vic recalls that travelling at speed towards Aylesbury near Aston Clinton Jack saw a car parked on the nearside of the road and traffic was coming towards them, without slowing down Jack called out to Vic and asked if there was room to get through. Vic couldn’t believe they would make it but Jack sped on through with about an inch to spare. “well why didn’t you say something, you’ll have to be a lot quicker than that if you ever want to be my conductor”
I guess Jack knew instinctively the size of his coach, that plus a good turn of speed, always allowed him to always keep to time.
There was one piece of work I was required to do that day. Near the end of the standby shift Ron asked if I was fit enough to do a piece of driving, thinking maybe Ron wanted me to do a relief coach to Aylesbury I said I was alright. “good, grab that single deck bus, I want to collect some fencing from the Worlds End garden centre at Wendover” and so we drove over to Wendover and I waited outside while Ron went and collected his fencing which we loaded onto the bus and I drove him to his house in Tring where he unloaded the fencing and then we drove back to the garage, I signed off and went home.

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