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Tag Archives: Buses

  • Bristol Lodekkas by Stephen Dowle

    By the mid-1970s the FLF Lodekka was well into the second half of its lifespan, but it was still a familiar sight almost everywhere. Alder Valley's Gardner-engined No. 676 (GRX I44D) leaves Reading for Newbury on WEdnesday 18 th February 1976. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    The design problems of double-deck buses were basically two: to keep the height as low as practicable and to maximise seating capacity within the available dimensions. In the early days of the motor bus a full-width cab was placed behind the engine and the passenger-carrying bodywork was simply grafted onto the chassis behind them. This primitive configuration, known as 'normal control', squandered much passenger-carrying, revenue-generating space: in the years before the Second World War it gradually disappeared, to be replaced by a new spatial arrangement known as 'forward control'. In this, a half-width cab was placed alongside the engine, allowing the upper deck to be extended forward over the top of it.

    This optimised the use of space, but the difficulty of headroom remained. Damage to bodywork caused by overhanging branches was the least serious aspect of the problem: almost every bus operator had to contend with low railway bridges, which made it impossible to operate double-deckers on certain routes. This meant using single-deckers at more frequent intervals, with all the associated extra costs. To reduce height a very unsatisfactory alternative layout was developed: the gangway of the upper deck was placed to the offside and recessed into the ceiling of the lower deck. Not only did this imperil the heads of those passengers who were incautious in rising from the seats beneath, but the four-abreast seating of the upper deck was inconvenient for conductor and passengers alike. This, the hated "lowbridge" layout, made such buses, sometimes known as "skittle-alleys", about a foot lower than the standard height.

    The NBC's standard 'leaf green', even when fresh, was not the most beguiling of liveries and always looked dowdy by the time a trip to the paint shop was due. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    It was to address the "lowbridge" problem that the Bristol Lodekka was developed. Bristol Tramways constructed two prototypes, which took to the roads in 1949, one in the company's own operating fleet and the other with the West Yorkshire Road Car Co. The new vehicles great innovation was a re-designed transmission in which the propeller shaft was offset to one side and drove a drop-centre, double reduction rear axle. The lower deck gangway no longer needed to clear the shaft and could pass through the dropped middle section of the axle. The step from the entrance platform to the floor of the lower deck was eliminated (in the early days many passengers came a cropper when attempting to mount this vanished step) and the entire vehicle could be correspondingly lowered. It became possible to provide conventional upper deck seating within "lowbridge" dimensions. The lowbridge bus became obsolete overnight.

    The prototypes (which I know only from photographs) must have been the ugliest buses ever constructed. They had massively wide radiators, a bizarre front bumper, ill-considered window-spacing and their reduced height did not conduce to shapely proportions. The first production vehicles, dubbed the LD-type, appeared in 1953. The body builders, Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft, had espoused the 'new look' front (a lamentable fad in post-war bus design) in which the engine, radiator and nearside wing were enclosed within a rounded structure called a cowl. The squat, bulbous lineaments of the bus gave it a faintly toad-like appearance, but in the late 1950s new regulations permitted the construction of 30ft double-deckers, and a facelift of 1962 resulted in an improved frontal treatment. These changes considerably improved the vehicles looks. By the time production ceased in 1968 extended bodywork, which mostly went to Scotland, had made the Lodekka a handsome and imposing bus, able to accommodate 78 passengers. It was also made available with semi-automatic transmission and a larger engine, the 10.45-litre Gardner LX.

    The upper deck interior of an Alder Valley FLF with coach seating. (Bristol Lodekkas, Amberley Publishing)

    My book, Bristol Lodekkas, is a selection from photographs I took during many enjoyable journeys around the country between 1975 and 1980. The Lodekka was clearly nearing the end of its tenure, but as the period opened was still a familiar sight almost everywhere. In Scotland, where well-tried types had tended to be ordered for as long as they were available, the earlier versions were still numerous. I give an account of the motives that led me to take the photographs, and of my long association with the Lodekka as both passenger and professional busman.

    The Lodekka represented the final form of the half-cab, front-engined, double-deck bus that was a familiar feature of the streets for fifty years and an 'iconic' British vehicle recognised the world over. Alas, it required a crew of two and the economics of the modern industry made it obsolete. Bus operators, or their accountants, now demanded vehicles suitable for driver-only operation. The need to place the passenger entrance alongside the cab entailed the rear transverse-engine layout that remains with us to the present day. Mechanically, this configuration is far from satisfactory and I imagine many of today's bus company Chief Engineers must repine for the simple, rugged workhorses (such as the Bristol Lodekka) available to their counterparts forty years ago.

    Stephen Dowle's new book Bristol Lodekkas is available for purchase now.

  • Yorkshire Rider Buses by Scott Poole

    Yorkshire Rider Buses 1 5155 was one of five low-height Northern Counties-bodied Leyland Olympians delivered during 1998, looking very smart in the Yorkshire Rider livery. (Yorkshire Rider Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    Scott Poole has taken several years in compiling notes and suitable pictures to bring a pictorial history of Yorkshire Rider buses into print. With help from noted and respected photographer Malcolm King and additional work from David Longbottom, all blended with Scott’s own archive of Yorkshire Bus pictures. It is hoped that this book with a brief history of the company with evoke memories for former employees, locals and bus enthusiasts.

    Yorkshire Rider can kind of trace its roots back to the halcyon days of the former Corporations of Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield and Leeds, along with Todmorden. There are also many milestones and events which would improve transport around the West Yorkshire area. Huddersfield became the first municipal transport department to run electric trams from 1883. Bradford began operating its famous trolleybuses from June 1911, with the final examples running in late March 1972. Leeds employed many forward-thinking managers, resulting in four reserved tramways, new improved trams and the two 1953 Roe bodied Coronation cars. Halifax brought in the reliable and hardworking AEC regent and Leyland Titan double deckers to cope with the hilly enviros of the area.

    Yorkshire Rider Buses 2 During 1988, Yorkshire Rider was purchased by the management and employees, becoming the first former PTE operation to be sold. MCW Metrobus 7600 illustrates the fact of the new status at Otley. (Yorkshire Rider Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    As the new rear engine buses arrived the corporations were quite happy to continue with traditional front engine classic designs. But as the mid 1960’s arrived, Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield and Bradford took many examples of the Daimler Fleetline and Leyland Atlantean chassis, with Alexander, Roe, Metro-Cammell and Weymann bodywork, with new brighter or improved liveries.

    However as 1969 arrived the classic British Electric Traction (BET) and Transport Holding Company (THC) were combined to form the National Bus Company (NBC) and by 1972 the traditional liveries gave way for us Yorkshire to the bland poppy red and white livery. West Yorkshire’s main municipal companies were casualties of the 1974 local government act, which saw the creation of the Metropolitan County Council and with it the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (PTE). Following the newly created PTE and NBC, saw much needed integration of the local transport network, with new ideas injected into the crumbling rail network, countywide ticketing, new explorer and day dripper tickets, inter operator co-ordination.

     

    Yorkshire Rider Buses 3 Yorkshire Rider launched a new standard of service within the Halifax and Huddersfield region of the network. Flagship was brought about to improve service reliability, appearance, better customer relations and dedicated driving staff. (Yorkshire Rider Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    But as ever the dreams were shattered by the 1985 Transport Act or deregulation as it became better known, which saw companies split and new fresh competition rise into the streets of West Yorkshire. This is where the newly created Yorkshire Rider comes in, it was managed by former PTE staff and like every other operator had to bid for services the company wanted to run. Depots, buses and offices were kept or leased for a period of years, older buses were purchased to reduce the short fall of vehicles and a new brighter livery was introduced to the buses in late October 1986.

    Yorkshire Rider took control of the former PTE depots, apart from Middleton in Leeds and Longroyd Bridge in Huddersfield and many of the 992 new PTE buses, apart from fifty plus new Leyland Olympians and MCW Metrobuses because of lease agreement’s. Rider saw of competition in Leeds and Huddersfield, introduced the Flagship standard of service, brought in new Scania and Volvo buses and even purchased the remains of the former West Yorkshire Road Car company in 1989.

    Yorkshire Rider had absorbed the West Yorkshire buses and services into the fleet by March 1990, then it introduced the ‘Building on a great tradition’ former bus company liveries, as a nod to the past. It was in 1988 that Rider became the first of the former PTE’s to be brought out by management and employees, which saw the arrival of fifty new buses in the shape of Leyland Olympians and the final MCW Metrobuses for the company. As mentioned before Yorkshire Rider then turned to Scania for both double and single deck buses with a sprinkling of Volvo saloon chassis too.

    By April 1994, Yorkshire Rider was acquired by the Bristol based Badgerline company, who introduced the badger logo and with an influx of over eighty new midi and full-length saloons in 1994 a new bolder and darker livery, for buses in Leeds and Huddersfield. But this was short lived as from 1995 both Badgerline and Grampian Regional Transport, combined to form the FirstBus company.

    9781445669045

    Scott Poole's new book Yorkshire Rider Buses is available for purchase now.

  • The National Bus Company by Stephen Dowle

    The National Bus Company (14) Eastern National's no. 3019 (SMS 45H), new to Alexander Midland and registered in far-off Stirling, was snapped in Chelmsford on Tuesday 15 March 1977. (c. The National Bus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    The modern bus industry is, to me, a foreign country where they do things differently. 'What on earth must it be like now?' is a question that occurs to me often as, dodging Big Issue sellers and drifting, inattentive pedestrians absorbed with their mobile phones, I observe the outlandish vehicles of today's bus operators, whose names are mostly unfamiliar to me. The vehicles themselves seem to look and sound all alike and their poor drivers, sitting in high-vis jackets behind vast expanses of windscreen glass, have a hangdog look.  I would guess that there is little of 'job satisfaction' to be had.

    The National Bus Company (133) In standard poppy red, but with mudguards in what appears to be Western Welsh's pre-NBC colour, that company's no. H1563 (904 DBO) waits at its stand in Cardiff bus station on Riday 7 January 1977. (c. The National Bus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    The modern set-up really dates from 1986, when the state-owned part of the bus industry was dismantled, deregulated and sold piecemeal into private ownership. With hindsight one can see that preparations were being made from about 1980 onwards. My knowledge of the industry is out of date but good of its period, and that watershed year of 1980 fell at precisely the mid-way point of my twenty-year stint 'on the buses' – the first six as a conductor and the remainder as a driver. Until that date, although certain innovations – notably one-man operation – had crept in, the industry was still grounded in methods that could be traced back to the very earliest years of the motor-bus. Afterwards everything changed.

    The National Bus Company (170) Standing on the setts on Saturday 14 October 1978 was Devon General's no. 1337 (JFJ 502N), a 1975 Bristol LH with Plaxton 7-foot, 6-inch body, made for sunken lanes and tours of Dartmoor. (c. The National Bus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    The National Bus Company had come into existence on 1st January 1969. It had a complicated gestation, but was essentially a merger of the Tilling and British Electric Traction groups under the Labour government of Harold Wilson and its Minister of Transport, the auburn-haired she-devil Barbara Castle. Early on there was a certain amount of 'rationalisation' and territorial redistribution as some of the lesser companies were merged and anomalous small subsidiaries were absorbed by their larger neighbours. The old company identities had disappeared as a standard livery, in its red or green variants, with a new lettering style and staff uniform had been established in the interest of 'corporate identity'. My book The National Bus Company: The Middle Years looks at the settled period that followed and takes us up to the eve of the great upheavals that followed in the first half of the eighties. These, the mature years of the NBC, afford us a poignant backwards glance at the 'old days' of the industry, or at least the state-owned part of it, when there was still a substantial amount of two-man 'crew' operation and alongside new, standardised, types – notably the Leyland National – older buses of Tilling and BET provenance were still a familiar sight. Viewed from the present day, through the wrong end of a telescope, it seems a golden age of variety and interest.

    The former Tilling fleets were overwhelmingly of Bristol-ECW manufacture; BET, largely the legatee of tram and trolleybus operators in the more urbanised parts of the country, had more varied fleets dominated by Leyland and AEC chassis. There was a score of body builders from which to choose, and operators often felt bound by a duty to patronise the local firm. The innumerable permutations of chassis, body, engine and company spec made the study of buses endlessly fascinating. Almost all these home-grown builders have disappeared in the years since and with them much of the appeal of the subject. I hope the book will provide an enjoyable nostalgia fix to those who remember the period and give younger readers a savour of that most tantalising era, the one that immediately preceded your own.

    9781445664842

    Stephen Dowle's new book The National Bus Company: The Middle Years is available for purchase now.

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