Friday, 10 July 2009

Chapter 15 Amersham Garage

Monday 3rd April 1977 saw myself and five other Tring drivers assembled in the canteen at Amersham garage. We didn't feel out of place for too long with many of the Amersham drivers coming over to our little group and introducing themselves. A few minutes later in came their Chief Inspector ‘Jerry’ Coe who introduced himself with a warm smile. Jerry explained to us that as well as route learning all of us would have to take another full PSV test so that we could drive the Bristol BN buses that served Amershams’ rural routes. My greatest disappointment on transferring to Amersham was to find that although Amersham had taken over most of High Wycombes bus routes there was to be no transfer of its Greenline route, 711 High Wycombe to Victoria. Amersham had lost its own Greenline service 710 Amersham to Baker Street on the 13th October 1972. At that time the need to regain my full PSV was more important than going back on the Greenline.
Rather than take a new test on the current Bristol BN, a short bus, it was decided that we should be tested on a full length vehicle. To our surprise it turned out to be a Harrington bodied vehicle used on coach tours with panoramic sky lights and an entrance door set back from the front of the vehicle. Our instructor had had two weeks to go before his retirement and had the unenviable task of getting six drivers, who over a number of years had become set in their ways, through a full PSV driving test. A full day was used just to become accustomed to driving a vehicle with a crash gear box. Then when we were asked to perform a gear box exercise a deathly hush descended up the bus. “Have you never heard of a gearbox exercise?” No one had, and so began the slow process of finding a very quiet road and driving up and down it first changing up through the gears and then changing down through the gears, a long and arduous task, remember this coach had no synchromesh gear box. Eventually we got the hang of it and then proceeded on to the finer points of driving, like continually checking mirrors and reversing. Each time I’ve taken a PSV driving test, and this was to my third, the procedure for reversing has been different. Some times you had to reverse using mirrors only, at other times you were allowed to look out of the cab when reversing on the offside. This time when drivers were having difficulties in reversing the instructor told them to poke their head out. “Ah so it’s ok this time then”
So a week later I found myself back at the training school in St Albans garage, remember RF training five years earlier? To day global warming is in the forefront of weather conversation, well I have noticed that over the years the winters have become much shorter, but it was no surprise to me to find it snowing a couple of weeks into October 1977. Amongst us six drivers from Tring we had to decide who was going first and whether the snow was going to ease up or get thicker. I opted to go first. With the snow settling fast I was glad to get the gearbox exercise and the emergency braking over with early on in the test. Putting my head out during reversing had its own problems, I didn’t want my glasses getting covered in snow. After about forty five minutes I arrived back at St Albans to be questioned on the Highway code and to be told I’d successfully past my test. I had now regained a full PSV license.
Back to Amersham and back to driving buses. Apart from the 353 Berkhampstead to Windsor, the 305 Uxbridge to Chesham and the 336 Watford to Chesham all the other routes at Amersham were short distance routes serving small villages around Amersham such as Lee Common, Ballinger, Chesham Moor and Missenden. Then there were all the routes that Amersham had absorbed from High Wycombe. These were mainly High Wycombe town service routes. I believe it was these routes that finally drove me to return to Hemel Hempstead two years later. A lot of the duties at Amersham consisted of dead running (out of service) to High Wycombe bus station and then spending the rest of the day going in and out of High Wycombe bus station each time on a different town service, which meant each time you came into the bus station it was at a different stop from which you had left, very confusing for both driver and passengers whenever I got it wrong which was quite often.
A prime example of getting it wrong was on route 362 High Wycombe to Chesham. In the evenings we would bring back a group of ladies who had been to bingo in High Wycombe. The A404 is a long fairly fast road between High Wycombe and Amersham and I was driving along at a good pace when all of a sudden the bingo ladies all called out “Hey you’re one of those new Tring drivers” “How do you know?” was my reply. “You’ve just gone pass the turning for Holmer Green like all the other Tring drivers”. Fortunately I was able to take the next left turn and go through Holmer Green the wrong way round.
The journey on my motor bike between Aylesbury and Amersham took about twenty five minutes and was through lovely countryside. Unfortunately coming home late one night along the unlit Missenden by-pass I met one of the hazards of the countryside. Driving along in the pitch dark all of a sudden in the head light there appeared a solid wall of brown cow hide. As I hit the cow my motor cycle windshield shattered, then my crash helmet visor shattered then finally my glasses, my bike and I went sailing through the air. Fortunately I had a soft landing on the grass verge. When I recovered consciousness I wiggled my hands and toes and found nothing amiss but then my ears detected the movement of big hooves and mooing all around me, Oh no don’t tread on me cows. Eventually I managed to get to my somewhat shaky legs and look around. Not much to see as it was very dark. Then I saw a police car coming along, the police driver never saw the cows either and ended up coming to rest up on an embankment with a bent police car and torn trousers. He came across the road to help me and to call for an ambulance, which I declined. He called his colleagues for assistance and soon we saw another police car coming along in pursuit of another car and using his blue light and flashing his headlight to try and warn the car of the bovine obstruction. Again to no avail, this time the lady driver found the cows to be tougher than her car which had all of its nearside wing taken off. Having located my motorbike and straightened the steering out the police officer asked if I’d be ok to drive it home. I said I’d be ok but could he ring my wife to let her know I could be a bit late, (no mobile phones in1978). When I finally arrived home instead of finding Annette waiting to comfort me and attend my injuries I found she was asleep in bed. Apparently the message she received from the police officer was that I was helping the police with a traffic accident which Annette had interpreted as there had been an accident in which I was not involved but I was in some way helping them as a witness. After this minor misunderstanding I was soon being comforted. It was not until the morning that I soon found how bruised and sore I was. The motor bike had a dented fuel tank where my right knee had hit it and the headlight had cow hide embedded in it. When I took the bike in for repairs the mechanic diagnosed my injuries from the state of the bike. My right arm and shoulder would hardly move and my right knee was badly bruised as were both my eyes and face. Annette joked that it looked like she had been hitting me about. My Doctor advised me to take a couple of weeks off but as we did not get paid for the first three days of any sick leave it was imperative for me to get back to work. So after only a couple of days off, during which my children would not look at me because of the state of my face, I went back to work. Fortunately I was able to borrow my mothers’ car whilst my motorbike was being repaired. Unfortunately I was unable to claim any compensation for the repairs to the motorbike or myself as, even with the help of the police, I was unable to trace the owners of the cattle. The police told me the day after the accident that if any of the cattle were injured they would have been taken to be slaughtered straight away. It was too dark that night to follow the cattle and they would have gone back to the fields from which they had escaped.
Although feeling pretty sore I convinced Mr Coe the Chief Inspector that I was fit to drive. Well I thought I was until I drove into High Wycombe bus station. As you drive down from the road into the bus station you put on the saloon lights and on the MB type buses this requires the driver to stretch his right arm up to the switches above his head, and my arm just wouldn’t move up. Once in the bus station I had to stand up in the cab and put the lights on, needless to say I left them on for the rest of the duty.
Breakdowns as I said earlier were a rare occurrence but as newer vehicles replaced the reliable RT, RM and RF breakdowns became more frequent. Vehicles were no longer purpose built as was the RM for London traffic, with the crew in mind, and the RT although slow could climb almost any hill. The new AEC Swifts and Merlins had a tendency to overheat when shown the slightest incline fortunately when the overheat warning buzzer became to annoying it could be turned off from a switch in the cab, this was ok as the water temperature would revert back to normal when going back down hill. However if the temperature increase was due to low water or even a leak then with the warning buzzer turned off disaster was inevitable. But even so the mechanics at Amersham were nothing if not resourceful. Whatever the breakdown they would come fully prepared with a wooden mallet and a screwdriver, and get the bus going again. I’ve had a bus stuck outside Amersham garage with a jammed starter motor, a screwdriver to open up the access panel in the saloon, a hefty whack on the starter motor casing and the screwdriver to short circuit the starter and off we'd go again.
Bad weather was always a hazard of driving, whether it was torrential rain, fog, snow and ice we would always try and get through. One of the strangest weather phenomena I came across was one morning whilst driving a BN (Bristol crash gear box bus) in Amersham. It was about nine o’clock in the morning and I pulled up near the kerb, a foot away perhaps, pulled the hand brake on and selected neutral when the bus just slip sideways into the kerb. People were slipping over everywhere. It had up until then been a mild damp morning then there was a very sudden drop in temperature causing both roads and pavements to become covered in a fine film of ice. Driving back to the garage was quite a feat. When I got home later I told Annette about it she said she also had problems, she had to hang onto the pram whilst taking young Mark to play school otherwise she and Mark would have fallen over. Within the hour the temperature had risen and all was well again

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