A view from the north: The Glory Days of Bus Driving.

Once again our former bus driver from the North East shares some light-hearted anecdotes about his times on the buses…

Let me transport you back in time to 1985 when as a fresh faced 21 year old with a rather garish tousled perm (my future sister in law was training to be a hairdresser) and gripping hold of a recently acquired class 1A PSV driving licence, the world was my oyster – well as far as the local corporation bus routes went anyway.

If out on the town, my pub of choice only offered Harp lager or Samson bitter. I could charm the ladies with “now then petdid you know my company vehicle is a Daimler with leather seats?”, they were well impressed I can tell you and they’d be putty in my hands until they realised, erm, there were enough seats for all of them – plus thirty odd more !

 

31-northgate
A shot of my company Daimler with leather seats (ahem). But hey… check out the Durham Constabulary Viva, the Avenger hanging off its bumper and that lovely late Escort Mk2 sneaking into view.

 

On the Corpy was actually a great job to have looking back. The older buses being slow and genteel with very few creature comforts, in fact the cab was as threadbare as the backside of my uniform, but we didn’t mind. In those long gone days when we had the local monopoly of bus transport and before de-regulation, punters were generally treated like dirt and we would look them up and down to see if they were worthy to travel on the bus, some were refused because “I don’t like the cut of your jib” or “my god, you’ve got a face like a robbers dog and will scare the punters” the usual run of the mill insults.

The only time I heard of a driver being seen by the manager formally, was because he had punched somebody whilst having a coffee at the terminus. I believe the driver was told “don’t do it again, now be off with you”. The newer buses Leyland Leopards were real speed machines but had three steps into the bus, so well before low floor buses were introduced we had the problem of the punters on a service we christened “cripple creek” owing to the high number of affluent but elderly residents (we had our own in the midlands – we called it Jurassic Park  ED). If asked if the bus lowered as the steps were too high, we would just wind the drivers seat up and hey presto on they got with no problem. The Leopards would be put on the last buses out of the town centre where some troublesome young `uns who would drink too much on an empty head would get on.

As soon as the town clock struck eleven, that was it – foot down. The last buses into the darkness were normally ram packed on a Friday night, and to avoid bother, us more switched on drivers had a neat trick. We’d cram as many on as we could, shoulder to shoulder, toe to toe then that way they had no room to fight or fall over – just get the buggers home was my motto. Centre exit doors were also a blessing too, I would normally give people about ten seconds from doors open to shut, if you made it fair play… if not it was the next stop. Two way radios were installed and if certain inspectors were on duty, the volume knob would be turned right down and if questioned later; “I must have been in a dip or something and lost the signal

 

69-depot
One of the Leopard’s that were arguably the best buses from a drivers point of view back then. This one seen here in the depot possibly awaiting the fitment of new dilithium crystals for its warp drive… that’s how fast they were. Passengers hated them as getting on and off was akin to scaling and descending the north face of Kilamanjaro. (Image: John Carter)

 

All the buses except two batches of Dennis Dominator’s had semi-automatic gearboxes which needed to be driven as if a clutch was fitted – a pause between changes if you will, otherwise some jerking could result, with comments such as; “the bus stopped with a jerk, then the jerk got out of the driving seat”. If a wrong gear was selected as I did intending to go from third to fourth, but selected second, the resulting deceleration was enough to rip your face off, but I shouted; “bloody dogs” and got away with it.

I dread to think what would happen these days, what with customer service being the number one priority and the bus service itself seemingly coming a very distant second. CCTV is a great addition to the industry but can hang a driver in seconds, sometimes on the grounds of probability. Whilst nowadays we must stand on our two feet and make shedloads of money, a return to the glory days will never happen – and they are times I hark back to with great affection.

 

 

 


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