Friday, 7 August 2009

Chapter 19 Greenline Coaches at Hemel Hempstead

My hopes of getting a permanent position on the Greenline rota were squashed by Bob Stevens the Transport and General Workers Union Representative. When I mentioned to Bob about applying for a vacancy on the coach rota he said to me “not for a year my lad, you may have company seniority but you can’t come into a garage and jump the queue.” I had come across one of the most tricky problems which in later years as a T&G Rep I found to be a minefield, that of company seniority, garage seniority and rota seniority. In later years with the introduction of differential rates of pay according to rotas, mini bus rota, contract rota and big bus rota, seniority became very important and would mean a pay rise or not if a driver wanted to change rotas.
During the debate, we as a trade union had, over the introduction of mini bus workings into the garage I well remember Bob’s words, “if you let mini buses into this garage you will split the garage and see your wages fall.” Bob was of course absolutely right. The introduction of mini buses into the garage was in fact a very clever divisive manoeuvre by management. No longer was there a single rate of pay for all drivers as it was under London Transport. After many years of long drawn out negotiations between the T&G and management we achieved a single rate of pay for all drivers although it takes three years to reach the maximum pay rate. To this day I considered Bob Stevens the best T&G Rep I have ever met and always held him in great respect.
I waited out the twelve months and eventually regained my position as a Greenline coach driver. I worked for a number of years on the 708s which ran between Hemel Hempstead bus station and Victoria. I would often meet my mother in Edgware and sometimes I would take my young son Mark along with me, he would get off at Edgware and stay with his Gran and I would pick him up on the way back from Victoria. Whilst Mark would come out with me Heather was still to young and stayed at home with Annette. On one occasion I was on a spread over duty and went home for my break taking my ticket machine with me. At the side of the Almex ticket machine there is a very small round locking nut which when set correctly prevents the issuing of any tickets. I'd left Heather on the floor playing with the ticket machine knowing that I'd left the locking nut in the on position. Well the next thing I knew Heather had not only turned the locking nut but had also issued a £9.99 ticket. Well done Heather, that took a bit of explaining back at the garage.
Spread over duties were still worked on the coaches but instead of the four hour break being taken at the garage the break would be taken at Victoria. Having set down passengers on Buckingham Palace Road I would then drive around to the London Transport garage in Gillingham Street and park the coach up for four hours in the basement of the garage. The entrance to the basement was via a very narrow, descending spiral ramp decorated with mostly red and green paint.
Parking in the basement was tight and one of our inspectors would supervise the parking of not only our coaches but those of Luton and other garages who parked up there so he had to make sure you could get out on time and not be stuck, not a nice job as it was dark, warm and full of diesel fumes.
Having parked up the coach and had a chat with Roger or Geoff the two resident London Inspectors or Controllers as they were now called I would make my way up to the LT canteen in Victoria garage.
One morning I was sitting there having breakfast when I heard a distinctive voice coming from a table of bus drivers. I looked around and at first couldn’t believe it. It was my old conductor from Edgware, Brian Huckle. I got up and went over to meet him and he was just as surprised as I was. We hadn’t seen each other for more than fifteen years. Brian had left Edgware not long after me and taken his PSV driving test and had become a driver at Victoria garage, got married settled down and started a family. That was the last time I saw Brian as not long after that things began to change on Greenline and we longer took breaks at Victoria garage.
Greenline passenger numbers had been in steady decline for some time. Work patterns were changing also more people were using cars, and one could access the city quicker by using motorways. The Greenline fleet had mainly consisted of Leyland Nationals buses which I described earlier as one of the worse types of vehicles to put onto Greenline coaches, this also in my opinion lead to a decline in passenger numbers. Luckily senior management had a change of heart and rather than see a complete withdrawal of Greenline services decided to revamp the service with a rapid replacement programme of new vehicles. Plaxton and Duple bodied coaches started to arrive in the early part of 1977 when St Albans garage received its first new coach. By the first weeks of 1980 all 150 RS and RB type coach was in service.
It was certainly a good feeling to be driving ‘proper’ coaches through London. I don’t know if you have ever noticed but nearly all bus and coach drivers acknowledge one another with a wave when they pass each other and we all have our own idiosyncratic way of waving. There is one driver at Hemel who will actually take both hands off the wheel and wave to you.
However when driving the old RF coaches or the Leyland national buses through London we were neither fish nor fowl. Red bus drivers regarded us above them and the National Express drivers regarded us as below them. But with the advent of the new coaches we were elevated in the eyes of National Express and soon coaches drivers from all over the country would acknowledge us with a wave of the hand.
With the new coaches came new routes. At Hemel a new express commuter service was started. To begin with the 758 service was to comprise of two journeys each way from Hemel Hempstead Woodhall Farm via Hemel Hempstead bus station and then via the M1 motorway to London Victoria. Myself and driver Phil Marshall were the first two drivers allocated to this new route which soon proved so popular that more journeys were soon added. It was not long before more new express routes were contemplated. The longest one being the 760 running from Heathrow airport to Northampton via Hemel Hempstead Stony Stratford and Milton Keynes. I was privileged to be selected to drive on the new routes. Another route introduced to Hemel was the 750 from Hemel Hempstead bus station to Waltham Cross via Harlow. These routes were all on one rota and they became popular with the drivers. The 758 being the most popular as there were spread over duties on this route which gave a higher than average pay.
About a year after these new routes were running management decided to split the Greenline rota into three services, the 708 going via Watford and Edgware, the 758 express via the M1 and the 760 and 750.
I wanted to stay on the 758s however a lot of the senior bus drivers had seen how easy some of the 758 duties were and put in for the new rota positions. Rota places at that time were always filled on seniority. So Phil and I who had started on the very first 758s found ourselves pushed off the rota. I therefore decided to go back on the 708’s leaving the 760 and 750 to others. Although I still operated these routes on rest day workings.
A couple of recollections come back to me of journeys on the 760. One day I had taken my son out for a ride with me. We were coming back from Northampton and had just come off the M1 at Milton Keynes when there was a loud banging coming from the engine and within a couple of minutes accompanied by lot of black smoke we ground to a halt. Fortunately it was outside a fire station so I told the passengers I would go in and phone our garage for help. Having explained my predicament to the fire officer I rang our garage. It was then that the fire officer said “you cant leave your coach there it’s blocking our entrance” I explained that I believed the engine had blown up (it later transpired that a piston had gone through the engine block) and I couldn’t move the coach. “No problem” he said and within a few minutes he had all the watch outside pushing the coach away from the entrance.
It always amazes me how some people are unable to read time tables. One of the duties on the 760 consisted of a late night run leaving Heathrow and arriving at Milton Keynes at midnight and then running back to Hemel. It was rare to pick anybody up between Heathrow and Milton Keynes and I can’t remember picking anybody up on the way back to Hemel. However one night I was just leaving Milton Keynes when this young couple came running up and flagged me down. “excuse me you don’t happen to go to Hemel Hempstead do you?” Midnight and a coach going where you want, how lucky can you get.
With the introduction of the new coaches passenger numbers started to increase which meant more journeys which put a strain on the new vehicles this meant that inevitable Leyland Nationals crept back onto the 708s on some workings. We at Hemel had some Reliance bodied coaches drafted in from Grays and Windsor garage to help out. Passenger comfort was fine but the cab layout was very spartan and the lack of heating was appalling. I have come back from London in the winter with my heavy duty winter coat draped over my legs with my feet going numb and ice forming on the inside of the windscreen.
One advantage to me being on the 708s was to be able to see my Mum and Dad. Some of the duties required the coach to come back ‘dead’ or out of service from Victoria. On a few occasions I would call in to see my Mum and Dad parking the coach outside their house in Edgware. If questioned by the Inspector as to why I was late back I would say I had to call into Edgware to get some water, if he thought I meant Edgware garage so be it.
During the early part of 1984 my Dads health began to deteriorate. On the night of March 13th he was admitted to Edgware General Hospital. My brother John and his wife Joyce took Annette and me to the hospital to see him. I was on early turn the next day, the 14th. On my way back from Victoria on passing Edgware hospital I passed my brother and my Mum driving out of the hospital, my brother had seen me and as we passed he put his hand out of the window of the car and gave me the thumbs down, my Dad had died. When I got back to Hemel garage I rang Annette and asked her to ring my sister-in-law for confirmation.
Although during my time on the 708s a position on the express rota had become vacant I preferred to stay on the 708s as it made it a bit easier to see my Mum.

1 comment:

  1. Dave, I don't know if you were on the route learning trip to Northampton driven by Bob Stevens. If you were, then you will surely remember the very rough ride we gave him from the back seat - especially the several attempts to find Bletchley Bus Stn!!! I think it is fair to say that most of the drivers that were learning the route pretty much knew where they had to go - but it made for a very entertaining all expenses paid trip out.