Fondly remembered [part 1]

In the short time I have been maintaining this site I have learned of the passing away of two loved and respected figures from my time in Mid Wales.

In an earlier post I showed this photo of Crosville’s last ENL romping through the little village of Comins Coch as it approached Aberystwyth on its way from Machynlleth.

ENL978 was the last of Crosville’s ENL class

In a comment on a Facebook thread linking to my page it was revealed that the driver shown here, John Fletcher, who I had only ever heard called “Fletch”, then the lead driver at the sub-depot at Machynlleth, had passed away only recently.

The news made me feel very sad and I thought back to the rides I had had on his bus and particularly one day in the summer of 1985 when Machynlleth depot operated an extended S18 service. This usually ran from Machynlleth to Dinas Mawddwy but, for the summer holiday weeks that year, it continued once weekly over the dramatic mountain pass of Bwlch Oerddrws to join the S13/S14 Aberystwyth-Dolgellau route at Cross Foxes. From Dolgellau it extended to Barmouth, allowing visitors a few hours at the seaside before returning mid-afternoon.

On the 25th of July I caught the special S18 at Dolgellau. I had arrived ahead of it on SNG357 on the S14 service from Aberystwyth and walked back along the route a short way to take a photo of Gardner-engined Leyland National SNG409 arriving from its climb over the Bwlch. When it appeared I had the bonus of snapping an inspector’s mini in pursuit of 409. On the platform an inspector can be seen standing.

Gardner-engined Leyland National SNG409 arriving in Dolgellau with inspectors’ mini in pursuit

The minis were used so that inspectors could intercept buses without the drivers’ knowledge that they were in the area. The general public see ticket inspectors as the threat that persuades them to pay the correct fare for their trip for fear that they could otherwise be caught cheating and have consequences to suffer. What they may not have realised is that the platform staff were under much greater scrutiny for their adherence to the rules and there were more rules to apply to the staff than the passengers. So when inspectors were at large it was not unusual for drivers to give one another a signal as they passed.

In the Merseyside area this was generally a “thumbs down” sign but, when the minis were introduced, drivers adopted a two-hands-off-the-wheel alternating up-and-down movement of the hands to denote the act of steering. This would signify a sighting of the inspectors’ car in the area. A bus going over the Bwlch would be easy prey for the inspectors with no chance of the driver knowing that they were at large.

As I joined Fletch on SNG409 in Eldon Square he was breathing sighs of relief. The long climb up to 1200ft at the top of the Bwlch reduces the bus to a low gear and a crawl so he thought it a good time for a crafty smoke. As the bus crested the summit he saw the mini parked up ahead and just had the time to drop the offending fag out of the cab window undetected.

His morning had another stressful moment in store on the road from Dolgellau to Barmouth. The road winds along the Mawddach estuary and was bordered by stone walls along much of the way. There were places where it was very difficult for wide vehicles to pass. It may have been improved during the last 35 years, I sincerely hope so!

The nightmare scenario was the oncoming caravan driver. Many tourists would come to the area in the summer time. Unfortunately, not all of the drivers were familiar with the hazards on what passed for the main roads. An unfamiliar and inexperienced motorist towing a caravan could wreak havoc on roads like these. So there was a big groan when we rounded a bend and saw up ahead the Wrexham driver of the D94 service returning from Barmouth having met a caravan coming the opposite way.

Pulling up behind the impasse I had a golden opportunity to capture the scene, one frequently encountered but rarely depicted. The photo shows how little space the drivers had to work with. Bear in mind that, after passing the caravan, the driver of the D94 had to pass the bus we were on! Eventually we did and no damage was incurred by any vehicle.

I have been informed that in later years Fletch worked for Evans of Penrhyncoch and was made responsible for the Mid Wales Motorways operations out of Newtown when they were taken over, driving a school bus outstationed in his home town of Machynlleth into Newtown in the morning and working at Newtown during the day. After that he is said to have worked for Lloyds of Machynlleth.

I am always saddened to hear of old Crosville men passing away but especially when I have been the direct beneficiary of their kindness and patience with a young enthusiast. It was the good nature of these people that inspired me to work in the bus industry and many of my photographs are the result of their generosity of spirit in passing on the latest news, suggesting interesting workings to aim for and pulling up just where I wanted, to let me get the best photo. Fletch was definitely one of those! RIP John Fletcher.

Author: crisparmour

In my fragmented and unremarkable career I have spent over 20 years working in the bus industry in various roles. Prior to that I became interested in transport as a very young child and, as soon as I was considered old enough, launched myself into the world of bus enthusiasts. Off and on I have amassed an archive of photographs of my own and a substantial collection of timetables, maps and publicity. In time I will share much of this with the world with one proviso: please respect my copyright and do not upload my photographs to your own sites or social media. If you like what you see by all means use the "share" facility on each post to share a link so that your friends can come here and enjoy.

One thought on “Fondly remembered [part 1]”

  1. What a nice tribute to Fletch. I didn’t know him personally but certainly recognise him from the pic close to Dolgellau depot. By coincidence, yesterday I did a route tour for the CEC using a mixture of Clive Myers’ ERG 280 and one of Wyn Lloyd’s Solos. The intention had been to get to Hermon – a route that was suspended during the Suez crisis in 1956 and never resumed, but a landslip has closed the road. As a replacement filler, we took the Solo up the road to Tabor and Cross Foxes that is signposted on your shot. The weather was foul at times but it was a lot of fun. We were all ready to run the trip in April last year but it had been postponed three times before we actually got to run it.

    Talking of the Bwlch Oerddrws, I don’t know if I have told you the tale of a trip I did in SLA 34 on 23rd November 1963 over the Bwlch. On Saturdays in those days it was possible to get the 0945h train from Whitchurch to Aber, and drop off at Cemmaes Road. Outside the station would be an SSG waiting to take you up to Dinas Mawddwy. At Williams’ Garage (outside the old railway station there) was sitting SLA 34 having come over from Dolgellau, so I got off and transferred to it. Thanks to it being an omo conversion, it was easy to chat to the driver, who didn’t mind me photographing his steed at that not particularly attractive terminus. He said that much better shots could surely be obtained en route, and he’d be happy to stop anywhere. Off we sped, picked up a few passengers in downtown Dinas Mawddwy, and romped along the first few flat miles, then began the fearsome climb of the Bwlch. The driver turned round on a fierce but straight bit of 1-in-5 and said “how about here”, applied the anchors and out I raced to get a nearside shot. I thanked him and with an impressive moaning hill-start off we went again, for him to repeat the invitation several times, gratefully accepted. Perhaps the most hairy ones were at the Z-bend near the top of the pass. At the Brithdir turn I got off, thanking him profusely – I was aiming to walk down to Bontnewydd and catch the train from there up to Ruabon, which I did. Some of the shots turned out quite nicely, and Ray Stenning used a couple of them in one of his books.

    Over Christmas 2012 I decided to go on a Rail Discoveries holiday in Europe : my wife had died the previous year and I didn’t fancy another Christmas like 2011’s at home. There was a family in the group, from Croydon, who I didn’t take much notice of, but on the last leg on the train alongside the Rhine, we got talking and it transpired that the head of household had spent his early years in Dolgellau. His uncle (Oswald?) had worked for the Grosville (as it was often referred to by siararwyr Cymraeg). I mentioned this journey and commented that the driver wore one of the formal uniform hats with a very large firm flat top. The gent from Croydon exclaimed, in his very South London twang, “I bet that was Uncle Oswald”. They got off at Remagen, as they’d booked a couple of extra nights’ extension to the holiday there, and I never saw them again. I like to think it WAS Uncle Oswald, though.

    Best wishes

    Tony

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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