Friday, 21 August 2009

Chapter 21 747 Jetlink

I was still on the 708 rota and had already turned down the opportunity to go onto the 758 rota, however a brand new rota was about to be created one which was to take me into the next thirteen years.
One evening in 1984 at our local TGWU branch meeting I had to do a double take. Had Bob Stevens the union rep just said we shall be operating some duties on the 747 Jetlink service from Luton Airport to Gatwick Airport via Heathrow. The Jetlink 747 service had started on the 28th April 1979 running out of Staines garage between Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport and now it had been extended to Luton Airport via Watford Junction and Hemel Hempstead. Yes Hemel was to operate four Jetlink duties but this time and for the first time the union had agreed that drivers would be chosen on suitability and not seniority as this was a condition imposed upon the union by Staines garage who operated the service. Stevenage garage was also to have four duties allocated to the Jetlink service.
I was not the most senior driver in the garage far from it. In fact it wasn’t so long ago I’d been pushed off the 758 express rota by more senior drivers, however, Luton to Gatwick that would be some journey. The next day the proposed rotas were posted in the ‘output’ (what used to be the conductors cashing up room). The duties consisted of an early turn starting at 05:30, two spread- over duties with meal breaks at either Heathrow or Staines, and a late turn signing on at 16:00. There were also to be two spare driver positions. These would cover for drivers on the rota who were on holidays or sick, when not covering these positions the drivers would be on instructions covering any other work.
Having discussed the job with Annette I put in a staff memo requesting a place on the new Jetlink rota. A week later Bob Stevens told me I had got a position on the rota but did not know if it was it was permanent or spare position. I immediately went into see my garage manager, Arthur Harris, who told me I was one of the permanent four on the rota, the other three were Roy Fawkes, Chris Stanley and Bob Carmichael with Tom Spicer and Bob Armer on instructions. A few of the more senior drivers who had applied and failed to get on the rota had a good old moan.
Next came route learning at the end of October. By now Brian Howe, who had replaced Bob Stevens as Garage Rep, was at the garage with one of Staines BTL coaches painted in Jetlink livery to take those drivers on the rota including the two spare drivers route learning. Of course the engineers had to come because if we broke down they would need to know where we were. The Inspectors had to come so they knew where we were, in fact every one in the garage including Pat Auger and her Alsatian dog found an excuse to come for a days outing. We drove first up to Luton and then back to Hemel Hempstead. Then each one of the Jetlink drivers took turns in driving. I drove from Hemel Hempstead to Heathrow via Watford Junction. We served all the terminals at Heathrow. The next driver Roy Fawkes drove from Heathrow to Gatwick via the M25 and M23. At Gatwick we served both South and North terminal and returned to the coach park. Next Bob Carmichael drove from Gatwick back to Staines garage where we had a break and where drivers on one of the spread over duties would take their meal break. Finally Chris Stanley drove back to Hemel Hempstead. I remember Roy Fawkes saying to me on the way back to Heathrow from Gatwick “now this is what I call a decent coach route” and he was right. No more struggling around Brent Cross and central London just a nice run around the M25, who were we kidding.
We started operations on Saturday 27thth October and I was on the late turn taking over from Chris Stanley. I drove up the M1 to Luton airport then down to Heathrow where I took a meal break. This was taken in the booking office where we all got to know the enquiry girls very well. The coach I’d brought into Heathrow was taken over by a Stevenage driver and after my meal break I would relieve the next Stevenage driver and take his coach onto Gatwick and back to Hemel Hempstead.
Although Staines had Berkof bodied Leylands and Stevenage had Duple bodied Volvos vehicles, we at Hemel were allocated two brand new STLs
On all modern coaches as a safety feature it was impossible to open the doors without first applying the handbrake and the brand new STLs were no exception, or should have been. On the first night back from Gatwick I parked the coach up at the top of the yard ready to go through the wash. I got out and went around to the conductors room to pay in. The next thing I new an engineer came storming in. “Driver were did you park that coach?”
“up by the wash” I replied.
“Well you’d better come and see where it is now”
I followed him back out into the yard and to my amazement there was my coach, not by the wash but right back down the bottom of the yard having smashed into three or four other buses with the right hand corner containing the toilet completely demolished.
Oh dear what a shock. I paid in and went home wondering what on earth had happened. Once I had got over the initial shock I realised that I could not have got out of the coach without applying the hand brake and so it wasn’t as if I had left the hand brake off.
The next morning before signing on I had to see Arthur Harris the Garage Manager. I was ready to argue my case but as it turned out I had no need to. Mr Harris told me to sit down and proceeded to tell me that he had received a report from the engineers stating that they had found a defect with the handbrake mechanism whereby the brake would spring off on its own and that the engineers who had taken the new vehicle to Victoria the day before had had a similar experience but without the dire consequences that I had, they had put it down to a one off fault, not any more, the whole fleet of STLs had to be modified and our one repaired.
My first aid skills learnt earlier on soon came into play one night at Heathrow I had taken over a coach from the Stevenage driver and just before I was about to drive off a mother came down to me and said could I help, her very young son had somehow managed to get his finger stuck under a plastic grip on the back of the seat in front of him, like young children do. By trying to pull his finger out it had become swollen. I asked if any of the passengers had any Vaseline based hand creams and one lady produced some. I squirted the cream around the young lads finger and with a little bit of pulling managed to free his finger, all part of the service.

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