Same Shot, Different Day

Here we have a photo taken on the 19th of April 1985, a Friday, in Holmes Chapel. It was Easter time and I had a week off, armed with one of Crosville’s Weekly Wanderer tickets and ready to Explore.

I wanted a safari suit for days out with Crosville but my mum wouldn’t let me

Based as I was in Runcorn, an hour the wrong side of Chester for heading off into Wales [and without the benefit of the rail travel the Rideabout ticket offered – for a premium] I decided in view of the moderate daylight hours to spend a few days exploring previously uncharted former North Western territory not so far from home in Cheshire.

That’s me in the corner: none of the places visited in this account are shown on the map. We are in between Warrington, Northwich, Congleton and Macclesfield

It’s important to bear in mind that at this time nobody could imagine that one day North Western buses would once again ply the streets of Alty and the lanes of rural Cheshire. This was a year and a half before bus deregulation and, though there were murmurings in the world of public transport, few ordinary punters had any idea of what was in store…

Finding myself at Altrincham at lunchtime my next move was on a previously untried route, quite an obscure one and peculiar in being one of a few former North Western routes numbered in Crosville’s H series. H-routes were supposedly operated by the Merseyside depots Liverpool, Runcorn, and Warrington. I think that Warrington may have had some limited involvement in these Cheshire operations at times but the H39 service I took was operated by Congleton depot and went nowhere near Warrington. Was there a plan, I wonder, when carving up the old North Western operations, to have a Crosville outstation of Warrington at Altrincham to operate these routes?

The bus waiting for me at Altrincham was a disappointment. I was hoping that this irregular service would provide an enjoyable ramble on one of Congleton’s dual purpose RELL6Ls but it was not to be. Dual purpose Leyland National ENL829 was to be my ride and the driver hadn’t even been bothered to wind on the destination blind from the usual K of Congleton’s routes to the exceptional H for the H39 service. To make matters worse, the bus was missing the offside section of its bumper…

Though the bus was ultimately destined for Congleton I planned to abandon it at Holmes Chapel [as seen above]. After a short wait, I could connect with another journey operated by Congleton, only this time it was an odd Crosville-operated trip on a PMT service. This transfer of work between National Bus Company subsidiaries was after the MAP revisions of the early 1980s, where the survey must have indicated that Crosville could operate the run at less cost from Congleton than a PMT bus which would have been Burslem-based. By this time such services would not operate without substantial local authority support, so the authorities were starting to have a say in what economies could be made.

The 319 was a long established route serving the lanes around Goostrey and the notable Jodrell Bank radio telescope. I expect that the mid-afternoon trip would normally have been busy with schoolchildren but this was a school holiday. While waiting for it to arrive I changed the lens on my camera from standard 50mm to telephoto 135mm, making the perspective of the following photo very different even though the buses were parked in exactly the same place. This is sister bus ENL833 waiting time before my next trip.

These photos are the perfect illustration of the value of standing back and zooming in to photograph vehicles in a more natural proportion to the landscape around them. The standard 50mm camera lens and its wide view makes it necessary to stand too close to the vehicle just to make it big enough in the frame. This close-up wide-angle approach means that that the surroundings are diminished to the point almost of irrelevance. A more distant viewpoint, reduced field of view and slight magnification gives a more balanced perspective of a vehicle in the street or the landscape. Though I was standing further away, the buildings in the background figure far more importantly in the telephoto view. Also the bus looks more rectangular, like a bus does in the real world.

But just look at that destination display! The K is once again left untouched and the third number track is left in limbo between the 8 and the 9. No destination is shown [it should have read “319 Goostrey Circular”]. At least the bus is intact this time. But, really…

Many years later I was in Holmes Chapel enjoying an unhurried, meandering return to base with a preserved bus after its successful MOT test. I decided to pay tribute to the conscientious staff of Congleton depot by parking Crosville RELL6G SRG181 in the same place again and recreating the composition with the same destination display. Same shot, different day.

This is an excerpt from a longer account of the day in question which will be published in ebook PDF format with these and many more illustrations in full HD. This will be given away free, but only at the time of publication, to my e-mail subscribers. To ensure your copy you can sign up in the box on the right of any page on this site. The ebook will be published in the coming weeks: don’t miss out!

On the edge

This is the third stage of my morning trip from Garston to Liverpool in August 1985. Previously I had caught a Bristol VR of the MPTE fleet on the 86 and arrived in Catharine Street to photograph a now preserved Dennis Dominator.

Leece Street in Liverpool delimits the southern edge of the city centre. Heading away from Lime Street along Renshaw Street it is where you turn left to head for the Philharmonic Hall. The turn is landmarked by St Luke’s “bombed out” church on the corner. In 1985 the city petered out beyond that point, “China Town” wasn’t the feature it is today and many crumbling and abandoned buildings were to be seen on the road out to the Dingle.

On my way into the city centre, on foot by now, snapping at passing vehicles with my camera, I paused by Rodney Street: using my 135mm telephoto lens, the towers of the Liver Building loomed over the rooftops of the Rapid Hardware complex in Renshaw Street as I zoomed in on the buses climbing Leece Street.

MPTE Atlanteans 1057 and 1049

To the right can be seen an attractive but neglected building which has been replaced by something rather less characterful but no doubt more functional. The vehicles featuring here are two Atlanteans of the many “old school” buses bought after the “new generation” evaluation bus featuring in my previous post from this day. The Atlanteans are on two of the major “south end” routes heading for the arterial Smithdown Road towards Garston. The 80 following up behind would proceed onwards to Speke.

Over my shoulder, another one of those beloved MPTE VRTs was coming down Hardman Street [the continuation of Leece Street beyond the Rodney Street intersection] on the 86 so I swung round and it was duly captured on film. The buildings seen behind have held up very well in comparison to the one shown above. The one next to the traffic light is the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, much reputed for its exotic urinals and not a bad place for a pint to be had [in the bar, not the urinals]. MPTE 2105 was pictured heading down for the city centre and the Pier Head beyond.

East Lancs bodied Bristol VR 2105 in Hardman Street

Further variety then appeared in the form of a Crosville Bristol VR with the more familiar ECW bodywork [but with a Leyland 501 engine rather than the Gardner motor featuring in the PTE examples] heading out of the city for Warrington.

Crosville DVL406 being pursued by MPTE 1912

DVL406 was on the Warrington allocation, returning on the H1, one of the three Crosville services from there to Liverpool. This was a long-standing Crosville interurban service in decline: it would cease to exist just over a year later, after deregulation. Prior to the MAP project [which was the National Bus Company’s pre-privatisation exercise to trim away unnecessary mileage and consolidate operations] this service had a 20 minute daytime frequency. After the survey it was reduced to hourly, with a complementary service as far as Widnes and then to Runcorn also operating hourly as H25. The H1 and H25 combined to make a 30 minute frequency between Widnes and Liverpool via Hale. After deregulation, all Crosville main line services along this road became H25 to Runcorn and the H1 was no more.

DVL406 had been new at Wrexham and used on the D1 service between Chester and Llangollen but was replaced after a year or two when a batch of Gardner-engined VRs arrived at Wrexham. Most of the 501-engined DVL class were concentrated on Merseyside. DVL406 was a bus I would drive in service on the H25 myself out of Runcorn a couple of years later.

Bringing up the rear is MPTE Atlantean 1912 on another 86 working, slightly obscured by another 1980s phenomenon, a Skoda [or is it a Lada?] remarkably with both brake lights working! After this I moved on to the city centre proper and took a train to St Helens. There is more to relate of this day another time.

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.

Anglesey initiative

Friday, 11th July 1980. I am celebrating the end of my O-level exams with a Crosville Rideabout ticket. I had just been for a ride on this bus, Crosville MTF701, on service N60. This was quite a short lived experiment and, like a lot of other services, a victim of the National Bus Company Market Analysis Project. The N60 was a circular service with several variants around the lanes of south-east Anglesey linking places like Llangoed, Glanrafon and Llanddona which had previously been terminal points of trips from Bangor.

Introduced early in 1978, it was operated out of Bangor but the minibus spent the day based at Beaumaris running round its route, with drivers coming out with single deck buses from Bangor to connect. Occasionally they would swap over to return to base for breaks.

I think that the perceived benefit was linking the alternative terminal villages up by way of roads that a full sized bus might have difficulty getting through.

So as the photo was taken we were awaiting the arrival of Crosville RESL6G SRG85, the connecting N57 service back to Bangor which would be bringing passengers out for the next N60 loop.

I have the timetable book from 1979 where the connecting services were conveniently adjacent on the centre pages. I kept the staples in the scan to prove it. Take a look at the cover first…

1979 Crosville timetable cover
The cover of the 1979 Crosville timetable for Caernarfon, Bangor and Anglesey.
Not sure how I ended up with Colin Austin’s copy…
1979 Crosville timetable Bangor - Beaumaris - beyond
If this is too small to read you can zoom in, usually Ctrl+ keys

Might as well bookend the timetable with the back cover, showing the range of bargain fares available at the time:

Rear cover of Crosville 1979 timetable showing fare offers

I was enjoying the luxury of my first Rideabout ticket and that morning had been hauled out of Chester by BR locomotive 40 080 pulling Mk1 carriages. My day also featured SRG176 out from Bangor to Beaumaris, DFG189 on M13 and semi-automatic FLF DFG257 on M81 seasonal service at Rhyl. It ended with a ride on CLL327 on the seasonal daily service X4 from Rhyl to Runcorn.

By October 1980 the N60 service was abandoned and the full-sized single deck buses from Bangor would extend beyond Beaumaris to one terminal point or another as they had before.

MTF701 and its sister bus MTF700 then spent some time at Barmouth, I think on rail replacement duties related to the closure of the rickety railway viaduct over the Mawddach estuary and there being a weight limit on the most direct diversion route. There is more to be said about MTF700 and the service it was bought to operate, but that will be for another posting.

Cruising the Cambrian Coast

Bristol style

Continuing the progress of the party which was following the Crosville D94 route through the middle of Wales on a particularly appropriate and authentic vehicle of the 1980s, we last looked at the little village of Llandderfel by the Dee. From there we headed for Dolgellau via Bala. Bala is a busy ribbon along the A494 and so is not a good place to stop when there is tourist traffic. A bus stopped on the carriageway can cause tailbacks and the resulting photos are correspondingly cluttered. On quiet days pleasant views can be had.

At Dolgellau we paused in Eldon Square where the main bus stop for the town can be found. On sunny days the square is unfavourably oriented and the sun will spoil your pictures… as it did on this particular day, so we took ERG280 on a lap of honour around the town’s little one-way system to catch the sun in the right direction. The day’s variable lighting is evident in this view of what English people call Smithfield Street. Looks like some sort of tragic incident occurred here the previous Christmas.

ERG280 in the spotlight entering Dolgellau along Ffos-y-Felin

After Dolgellau we made our way along the tricky narrow road on the north bank of the Mawddach estuary to the terminus of the D94 at Barmouth. Sadly, we found that the bus terminus has been moved from its traditional park along the wall of the Cambrian Coast railway line near to the level crossing [as featured in hundreds of photos down the years]. There is a replacement bus parking area but with a rather bland backdrop of seaside flats that I won’t bore you with. It was a useful lunch stop before we moved along gently via the coast road northwards towards Blaenau Ffestiniog.

In the 1980s Crosville’s YFM-L batch of REs, of which ERG280 is evidently one, became concentrated in West Wales. One or two could often be found operating out of Dolgellau and its outstations at Barmouth and Tywyn. There was a good chance of one on the R38 which operated between Barmouth and Maentwrog, a tiny village situated at an important confluence of strategic routes at the north end of Cardigan Bay. The bus interchange was at the top of the hill beyond the village of Maentwrog at Tan y Bwlch, outside the Oakeley Arms pub. Up on the hillside above is Tan y Bwlch station on the Ffestiniog Railway. I once had the idea of taking a bus up there [as Crosville used to in the 1970s with their Bristol SCs based at Blaenau] but when I wrote to the Ffestiniog Railway asking whether it was possible to turn a bus at the station in the 2000s, I received a rather stern reply warning me not to try.

So after a seaside lunch of fish and chips we were on our way north. Beyond Harlech it was too good a location not to pull over for a photo with the hilltop castle looming behind in peculiar light. The atmosphere provided some texture in the background too, which was nice.

Those poles should be edited out really

Looks like the D94 got a bit lost there but in truth we didn’t have a destination on the blind to use. We had more luck on arrival at Maentwrog.

Scene of many a Crosville photo, “Maentwrog Interchange”

ERG280, though strictly a Wrexham bus, looks at home here. Buses came from Pwllheli, Porthmadog, Dolgellau, Barmouth and Blaenau Ffestiniog and all those bases had members of this batch on allocation at one time or another. Many an MW, RE or LH came by, SCs too, though I never saw one in service in Wales through being too young and I haven’t seen one photographed here.

I have quite a few shots of venerable Crosville vehicles at Maentwrog but probably the most remarkable was Crewe’s SRG191 which went on holiday in West Wales in the summer of 1985 before going home to die. I rode it along the same route we followed in ERG280 but in July 1985 when it was operating out of Barmouth.

SRG191 at the Oakeley arms on 25th July 1985

SRG191 operated variously out of Dolgellau, Barmouth, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Pwllheli [and Porthmadog outstation] and Holyhead [at least] in 1985. I have a photo of it at Aberystwyth working in from Dolgellau. After gallivanting around Wales all summer it was back at Crewe by the winter. All the remaining Crewe dual door SRGs were withdrawn when the new EOGs entered service on the Coastliner service on the first Sunday of 1986. The ENLs displaced from the L1 were sent to Cheshire, mostly Crewe but also Northwich as I remember.

I will leave you with a link to flickr where a few photos of Maentwrog over the years are hosted, including one of sister ERG277.

Once is never enough

You may remember a short while ago my recent and very brief stop at Llandderfel in pursuit of a Lloyds of Machynlleth Scania…

Lloyds on Traws Cymru T3 at Llandderfel

…and how I had accumulated photos of Crosville REs at the same location over the years. I present this evening some photos taken when a small group of intrepid enthusiasts took a preserved Crosville RE along the old D94 route which is now the T3 on which Lloyds operate.

Crosville dual purpose Bristol RELL6G ERG280 is a familiar sight on the road at transport events and has been used for a few private outings over the years. In its day it was allocated to Wrexham depot and, though not a regular performer on the D94 in my experience, I am sure that it must have operated the service many times during its long life at Wrexham. In September 2008 we followed the D94 route to the sea at Barmouth from Wrexham railway station, which was the official starting point of many journeys back in the day. The service was joined up from several shorter routes to replace the Ruabon to Barmouth railway service in the 1960s after the infamous Beeching cuts.

I read recently that the route was 67 miles from end to end and would be a full day’s work when a driver did a round trip.

In my other piece on this part of the world I mentioned that I used to ask the driver to allow me to leave the bus at the war memorial while the bus ran to the village and back, when I would get a picture of the approaching bus and get back on. On the occasion of the 2008 visit, there was no need for that because we were in control of events… so to cover the route in full I guided the bus into the village.

Llandderfel village square is no longer the official stop!

Back in the 1980s the bus would turn round in the square and, on reversing, would be unfavourably oriented for photography, with the sun behind. As can be seen here, I have done my best with strong sunlight coming from the left but the shadows spoil the shot somewhat. There was another problem… unknown to the party on the bus, the bus stop in Llandderfel had been moved away from the village to the road behind, with a turning circle provided up the hill beyond. This meant that motorists had no need to keep the square clear for buses every day and we had parked cars to contend with.

Ultimately, the blue car seen here belonged to hill walkers who were out and about, making it impossible for the bus to turn right when reversed. The shrubbery seen to the left of the frame is adjacent to a wall on the bank of the River Dee which was closer to the bus than it may appear here. There was nothing else but to edge forward and then reverse out of the village the way we came in, to the bewilderment of the few souls milling around.

ERG280 returning from the turning point now provided at Llandderfel

After making use of the new turning circle we were free to head back to the war memorial.

ERG280 on its return to Llandderfel war memorial

Though the sun is more favourable here, there are still strong shadows in summer to contend with. We got the shot anyway.

Corwen depot’s regular performer in 1985, ERG276

ERG280 went all the way to Barmouth that morning calling at Dolgellau along the way. There is more to relate but a break is compulsory at Barmouth [unless operating out of Dolgellau or Corwen] so this will be in another episode. If you have any photos or memories of the D94 or its successor services, feel free to add comments or links below.

Dedication to the cause

Photography is an art, right?

And if you do your art properly, it means mind, body and soul. Sacrifice. Engagement. Forward planning, knee-jerk reactions. Whatever it takes. Getting wet, even…

A little while back I posted a photograph of former Crosville Bristol LH SLL620. It’s a vehicle I rode in service a couple of times, one of a type of which I’m particularly fond. It’s always a pleasure to reacquaint myself with it at the running days its owners kindly participate in. But back in 2006, and I gulp as I realise that that is fifteen years ago, it was under other ownership. I found myself invited along on a ramble around Wales with a view to finding attractive photographic locations pertinent to its previous time in service, or to others of the same type.

It was a day of heavy showers, and in North Wales they can be serious showers.

We had already spent time hiding from a downpour in the old stone shelter at Llangwyfan Sanatorium near Denbigh…

From the shelter at Llangwyfan Sanatorium

Llangwyfan Sanatorium was the terminus for short workings from Denbigh on Crosville service M76, winding along the back roads between Denbigh and Ruthin, the sort of roads where grass grows in the middle. Buses had to wait at a point en route when operating southbound if a northbound bus was due, because there was nowhere for buses to pass on the long stretches of narrow lanes. A sign in the photo above warns off drivers of large vehicles, but it is still a bus route.

Our furthest destination from the agreed meeting point at Wrexham that day was Cwm Penmachno, a disappointment because parked cars prevented our reversing at the terminus to pose the bus for the classic photo at Glanaber Terrace. At the Cwm you are a four-mile walk from Blaenau Ffestiniog. There is no road but the path will take you nearly 1000ft above the starting point, over the pass and down the other side.

On the way back from the Cwm we rounded a bend after a little bridge called Pont Llechwedd-hafod to find a tiny terrace called Rhyd-y-Grô. I called out for a photo stop but there were no other takers as the heavens had opened again.

Rhyd-y-Grô. Very twee.

I didn’t spend a lot of time composing this shot, I must admit. It was sheeting down. But I look back in satisfaction that this is the only record of the halt because the other so-called “enthusiasts” didn’t want to get wet.

A little further on is the village of Penmachno proper. There was even a pub there, I hope there still is. Here was an opportunity for one of those shots where the road seems to be impossibly tight but is negotiated hundreds of times a year by buses with little ado. I can imagine the blind corner being problematic, though, when vehicles meet unexpectedly.

The Eagles inn at Penmachno. You can still get a bus here from Llanrwst.

There are many more photos of this extremely enjoyable day for another time. And then photos from other enjoyable days with other enjoyable vehicles. I will revisit them all. In the meantime, perhaps these pictures will inspire some to go out and find some interesting locations near to wherever they are. Post your links to your favourite pictures out in the wild in the comments below!

As seen in 1969

This beauty has been the talk of the Bristol fan groups over the last week or two after participating in a Royal Blue commemorative road run along the south coast of England.

Its frequent appearances in the forums had me reminiscing about my now very distant childhood, rather more than 50 years ago when the same bus looked very much like this: not, as now, because of a painstaking restoration but because it was still fresh out of Lowestoft. It was the first bus I became familiar with because of its special colour scheme and luxury seating and it made a big impression on me at a tender age.

As far as I can make out I started school in October 1968, at the start of the half term before my 5th birthday. At the time I lived 500 yards from my school and would be collected at lunchtime and taken home to be fed. This was after an incident with school dinner prunes I had better not go into in case any of you were thinking of eating soon. The walk home was all downhill but sometimes if we were a bit late I would be taken back to school on the bus… ERG53, mostly.

At the time it was the newest single door vehicle on allocation at Crosville’s Runcorn depot. New in June, it spent a short time at Heswall before settling at Runcorn. It was usually selected to operate the 144 service [joint with North Western, hence the unCrosville-like route number] to Northwich.

The 144 times as they were in 1968

It so happened that the 1307 departure from Runcorn coincided with my need to climb Bridge Street to Delph Bridge which was just by my school. So I remember the excitement of seeing it coming along and how I sat on the side-facing fuzzy green seats with their swirly pattern. It was all shiny and very modern-looking!

All my earliest memories are of bus rides. The Widnes Corporation PD2s to Hough Green on Thursdays to visit my grandmother; a Bristol K to Weston Point to accompany my father as he went to collect his pay packet from Castner’s gates. The dual purpose Bristol MW in a similar livery to ERG53 here that was waiting to take us back. They all made their mark.

The Runcorn bus network in 1967, before the new town was built

In 1969 we moved to a larger house away from the town centre which was good because it meant more bus rides! Our local routes in that year were operated mainly by elderly LD6Bs which were soon replaced by brand new one-man RELLs with centre exits. My bus to school, though, was a schoolday extra, the J16, which could turn up any old bus. The demoted LDs would still come along on this trip, and some elderly MWs, with stitched leather seats rather than Rexine, were regularly used.

Coaches also appeared relatively often and the most memorable event was the appearance [I can still visualise it in slow motion] of brand new RELH6L CRL261 [TFM261K] in the summer term of 1972 when I was 8. I boarded at the stop across the road and my mother was on the doorstep waving me off. She was amused at how astonished I was. The TFM-K batch was the last to be delivered in Crosville’s classic cream and black livery, in fact only the first arrivals were so painted, the latter examples arriving in National Express white. The ones that were cream were quickly repainted so that by the autumn the whole batch was white. Any photo or sighting of them is to be cherished!

But my abiding memories of ERG53 are its regular appearances in my street from 1969-71, early in the morning on a works service that started its daily diagram. I had the bedroom overlooking the street and would go to the window to watch the buses go by. As I grew up I could predict when favourite buses would return as I got to understand the trip lengths, frequencies and interworking with other routes. But I would be up and out of bed before anyone else to watch ERG53 glide down the road. I think my last ride on it in Runcorn was in 1971 or 1972 on the J17 service. I still remember standing watching as it drove away up Heath Road until it disappeared beyond the traffic lights and into the distance, the three rear windows in the cream upper half of the livery that marked it out as a special bus. As 53 left Runcorn to work on the Cymru Coastliner service, brand new Seddons arrived, painted in the same livery [with a bigger, brighter, more modern-looking fleetname] because of their dual purpose seating. I liked them too but 53 remained in my memory as an absent friend.

Later, in 1977, I would finally be reunited with her in the PMT depot at Biddulph. The depot was shared with Crosville who assumed the North Western operations around the town when that company was fragmented in 1972. ERG53 later moved with her Crosville stable mates from Biddulph to an outstation on the site of Congleton’s cattle market until withdrawal in 1981 as I remember it.

After service with Crosville, ERG53 spent time with Liverpool Community Transport doing hires for community groups and schools, which saved it from being scrapped as most of the batch were [although sister ERG52 also survives at Birkenhead]. But it was to be a long time between rides on the old girl.

August 2012 and I attended the Bristol bus rally for only the second time and found ERG53 also attending. Having caught a Bristol MW to the Avon Valley Railway on the shuttle service, I was waiting for a suitable vehicle to take me back to the rally site when what should appear? I was able to take a photo on its approach using a telephoto from a bridge over the road. Looking back at the photo now I am struck by the unusual view of the cream roof and rooflights from my elevated vantage point… just like watching from my bedroom back in 1969.

To make an enjoyable weekend complete I was then able to travel back to Bristol on 53, my first ride on her in 40 years.

Clean, sweet heat?*

I posted this image, of an aide-mémoire issued to Crosville bus drivers in the 1970s, a few weeks ago and wrote a few thoughts about semi-automatic gearboxes, as discussed in the card on pages two and three.

I did not refer to the fourth page which refers, as you might expect from the cover page, to the use of combustion heaters. At the time this was issued, it referred uniquely to Webasto heaters though later I came across Duple Laser coaches fitted with Eberspacher heaters which worked in a similar way. Essentially, a low combustion of fuel created heat and air would be blown over the unit to circulate the heat around a chamber in the side wall of the bus, to emerge from vents into the saloon.

You can still buy these heaters [albeit new models] brand new today – one will set you back about £3000 – and perhaps they are still a regular feature of 21st century coaching. I don’t get out much on modern coaches to have any knowledge of that.

The problem with Bristol-manufactured coaches in the 1950s, 60s and 70s was that the engines were sometimes too efficient: Gardner engines were renowned for fuel economy and running cool. In the winter the driver of a Gardner-engined bus would often be seen in his cab wearing an overcoat. The day’s Daily Mirror might be stuffed over the radiator grille to try to keep some heat in the bus’s cooling system. In a coach this could cause mass hypothermia if a coachload had to sit there for four hours or so with inadequate heating. So the combustion heater could be called upon to heat the saloon of such a bus effectively.

Crosville had these heaters fitted to most of their coaches from the 1960s and also to some “dual purpose” buses fitted with coach seats in a bus body. The “DPs” operated lots of interurban routes where passengers could be on board for half an hour, often an hour or more. So the comfort of those people in winter became a concern. The 50 Seddon DPs of 1971-72 were fitted with Webastos as were the 24 1972-73 Bristol RELLs.

Crosville ECW-bodied RELH6L coach ERL267 heads a line of Crosville participants next to Sherdley Park at the open day arranged by St Helens Transport Museum in September 2010. The grille for the Webasto heater can be seen on the waist rail beyond the fleet name but ahead of the rear axle.

In later years the use of the heaters could be hit and miss. It was recommended to use paraffin [kerosene] but ordinary bus diesel did the job and was often used instead. It didn’t burn as cleanly. As the years went by, lack of maintenance could be an issue. Heaters would misbehave or simply not work at all. By the time I started driving buses the newest coaches in use were fitted with Eberspachers that nobody seemed to know how to fire and I suspect were not being filled anyway.

My favourite coach was a venerable 1974 RELH6L with ECW body [a lot like the one above] which we were using on local express services that were well patronised in the late 80s. It was the only one and the oldest coach in the depot but the garage allocators knew it was my baby and would allocate it to me frequently because nobody else wanted to drive it.

One morning I was driving to Liverpool on the X4 service which linked Runcorn and Liverpool via Widnes, Cronton and the M62. Ripping along the M62 I felt a bit cold, so when I had a traffic light go against me at the end of the motorway [the Rocket interchange] I fired up the Webasto during the wait. A short distance after the junction there was one of the limited stops where a number of passengers would alight so I pulled over to let them off and was about to pull away when a little voice called out… “driver”. Looking in my interior mirror down the bus, thick smoke was filling the saloon and the smell of sooty diesel was creeping forwards. This looks like a good time to take a look at page 4…

The procedure above must not have been followed to the letter by the last driver to use the heater [who, driving a bus which would have been relieved many times during the day, may not even have realised it was working]. The heater was probably still running until the bus was switched off in the depot leaving partially-combusted fuel in the system.

That morning, the fumes were unbearable so quick action was needed. A roof vent was pushed open, forced air ventilation was switched on and the door was left open as we drove away. No-one died and though almost asphyxiated the passengers were generous in their restraint. The X4 did cover the better parts of Widnes…

Do you have any memories of buses fitted with Webasto heaters?

* “Clean, Sweet Heat” was the advertising slogan adopted by Manweb to encourage the uptake of storage heaters in 1972. It featured on posters on the side of Crosville Bristol Lodekkas that year but I can’t find a photo of one. If you see one, please send me the link and I’ll post it here.

Serving the College by the Sea

Student days in Aberystwyth for many in the 1980s meant living by the sea [which was nice] and having to go to lectures on campus which was a mile away and 300ft above. A daunting feat for the unfit and quite a tiresome commute even for the most athletic.

To bring some solace to the life of the typical Aberystwyth town-dwelling student [quite a lot lived on campus, it must be said] the University College of Wales teamed up with Crosville to provide an hourly shuttle bus to and from the university campus and the town below. To complicate matters some lectures were held at the Old College by the pier and some students had ten minutes to get from one site to the other. So the lectures and buses were timed to facilitate transfers for the poor students concerned, as shown here:

“But it’s all in foreign” I hear from the back. Well, students had to pass a Welsh fluency test to get in in the first place, so it should be simple enough to read a bus timetable, eh?

No, I jest. In Wales even in the 1980s the rule was that all official notices in public organisations should be bilingual to encourage the use of the native tongue. This was a significant about turn from the many years that the Welsh language was suppressed by the British government. At the university, this bilingualism was enforced and any society daring to put up a notice around the campus that didn’t have a Welsh translation would soon see it defaced with a huge CYMRAEG!!! slogan in marker pen or on a sticker. So the bus timetable also came in Saesneg.

The bus pass was £9 per term for unlimited use at the time, which worked out at 90p a week. Considering that the fare on public buses was about 30p to the university, this was great value. The first term I was there I put in for my pass right away.

They asked for my full name

Many a happy ride was had on whatever buses were available at the time. Aberystwyth was the engineering centre of the South Cambrian division and would service and repair buses allocated to depots at Machynlleth, Aberaeron and Newcastle Emlyn. So there was a fairly fluid exchange of buses around the area and I had such treats as Bristol LH SLL615 of Aberaeron depot, Plaxton-bodied RELH6L ERL302, HVG932 and 933… the latter pair were ex-Sheffield/South Yorkshire Bristol VRs with highbridge East Lancashire bodies rather like the later batch of VRs delivered to Merseyside PTE.

HVG932 was later allocated to Liverpool for ferry shuttle work and driver training duties and by great fortune I was allowed to “type train” in it when training to be a Crosville driver myself.

For the most part, Crosville’s regular allocation of vehicles would be scheduled to operate in between local trips around town. At the top of this page is this photo of DVG517, Aberystwyth’s first new double decker in many years when allocated in 1981. It is seen on the promenade, where there were many seafront halls of residence for the university.

Crosville’s Aberystwyth stalwart DVG517 loading for an early departure on the promenade

The route in town was a circular one, arriving via North Road, running along the prom to the pier, then Pier Street, Great Darkgate Street and North Parade. Services departing from town would commence at the top of the prom [as seen above] by what was then the police station, then follow the route to North Parade and onwards to the campus via Northgate Street and Penglais Road [or Penglais Hill as it is often called]. At the time service buses did not serve the promenade or Great Darkgate Street so a photo in those locations was a bit of variety. Since then local routes have been diverted to serve those roads.

DVG517 passing through Great Darkgate Street, used only by UCW services in 1985

Nowadays Crosville is no longer in existence to serve the students of Aberystwyth and there are no Bristol VRs for the poor dabs but the mantle has been admirably picked up by Mid Wales Travel who provide a student service and extend their student card’s validity to all their services in town. Moreover, they offer discounts on other routes, which the Crosville/UCW scheme did not. A Mars bar [the gold standard inflation index] in 1983 cost 16p and in 2019 was 74p, 4.6 times more expensive. The £98 price tag of a Mid Wales student pass in 2020 is only 3.6 times more expensive than my UCW pass for 1983. Kids these days don’t know how easy they have it.

Then and now [2]

As a sequel to the previous post, the same day I took the photo of Lloyds newfangled Optare whatsit on the X28 at Comins Coch I had earlier driven from Corwen to Dolgellau along the former Crosville D94 route. This now calls itself Traws Cymru T3.

Having scoped out the current timetable for the T3 service in advance, travelling from Cheshire via Llandegla and arriving just ahead of a departure from Corwen for Dolgellau, I set off in the direction of Llandrillo to lie in wait and snap it entering the village.

A surprise was in store when it arrived for, as well as arriving very promptly, it was a double decker. I have had the pleasure of a round trip to Aberystwyth on Crosville Wales Bristol VRs via this route back in the 1990s but haven’t been along by service bus since so it was pleasing to see another decker in use after all this time. This is a former Go-Ahead Scania Omnidekka now with Lloyds Coaches. It is seen cresting the bridge over the River Ceidiog which comes down from the Berwyns [over there to our right] to join the River Dee over to the left a bit.

The driver seemed in a bit of a hurry so I dashed back to the car in the little car park across the road to give chase. Expecting to pass the bus waiting time in Llandrillo village, I found myself instead in pursuit of a bus that was well on its way.

Knowing the route well enough I realised that the service would then involve a double run to Llandderfel allowing me to snap it as it came back to the war memorial overlooking the River Dee. I have taken a few photos in this location in bygone days when I used to travel between Aberystwyth and the family home by Crosville bus. Though a fair bit slower than going by train it was much cheaper on a £3.15 Day Wanderer ticket. Moreover, there was a good chance of a long and enjoyable ride on one of Corwen depot’s Bristol RELL dual purpose saloons into the bargain.

A recurrent theme of these pages, on the subject of travelling with Crosville in Wales, will be the kindly co-operative drivers who would pull over to allow me to photograph the bus somewhere interesting. In the case of Llandderfel, the village square where the bus turned was poorly oriented for photography, the sun being behind the bus as it reversed, so I used to ask the driver if I could jump out at the war memorial, leave the bus to go to the village and back, then get the picture of it on its return to the junction and jump back on. I was never refused.

ERG276 operating out of Crosville’s Corwen depot, seen at Llandderfel on the 9th of January 1985

Here are two similar black and white views of Corwen’s ERG276 operating the D94 weeks apart in 1985. The first one was in snow with harsh, low sun on my return to Aberystwyth after the Christmas holidays in January 1985. The second was after a weekend visit home on the 14th of March in rather duller weather.

…and again on the 14th of March 1985

Back to the 21st Century and I am in pursuit of the Lloyds Scania… at the last minute, approaching the war memorial in my car, it seemed there would be nowhere to park in the narrow lanes… but fortunately there was a gate to a field with a little recess in front. Climbing out of the car, the approaching bus could be seen over the stone walls….

Luckily the driver spotted me as I dashed over the road to get the shot and stopped abruptly so I could get the picture. I would later catch up with the bus again but that’s for another day.

So there you have it, two Lloyds buses snapped on the same day in exactly the same place as their Crosville forebears, 36 years previously, on the same routes [albeit now renumbered]. The other post showing the Lloyds X28 and Crosville S14 is linked on this page below and to the side.

There are more of these contemporary takes on 1980s photos to come as well as a host of other photos and facsimiles of transport publicity material and tickets. Sign up alongside to be notified of each post and benefit from forthcoming extra HD e-publications with full-screen photos. These presentation files will not be shown on this site but distributed to subscribers only.

Then and now [1]

Did I mention that I used to live in Wales? Between September 1982 and December 1985 I was a resident of the sleepy Welsh seaside resort of Aberystwyth. In my final year there I lived at the top of Penglais Hill, the one you crest coming into town on the main road from the North, giving the most stupendous view of the town below. The descent is so steep that the illusion is created of the sea being in the sky, especially when you have a telephoto lens on your camera. The town seems to be built up in a big pile.

The university is built mostly towards the summit so town-dwellers had quite a climb to get there. When I lived at the top I was just a stone’s throw from the rolling countryside beyond the town. Being a bus photographer with a telephoto lens some excellent opportunities were to be taken for the sake of a fifteen minute walk or so.

In 1985 I had the keys to the university’s photographic society darkroom and I shot quite a bit of black and white film. I used to buy bulk rolls of Ilford HP5 and cut it to length and load it into my own cartridges. As a student on a budget it was the most economic way to do photography by a long way but it meant a steep learning curve. That sort of thing has never put me off so there are a lot of black and white films in my archive, over 100 36-exposure negative rolls in fact. Most of these photos were never printed at the time but have since come to life thanks to the invention of the transparency scanner.

In fact, back in the 1980s I had the prescience to anticipate that one day I would be able to do “special effects” on photos, like film studios were starting to do on the cinema screen. Photoshop hadn’t been invented but I knew it would be one day. So I shot lots of negatives.

Crosville’s last in the ENL series of dual purpose Leyland Nationals at Comins Coch in 1985

The one above was taken around lunchtime on a weekday at Comins Coch. Comins Coch is a small village just beyond the summit of Penglais Hill off the Machynlleth Road. It is not to be confused with Commins Coch, on the A470 between Machynlleth and Caersws near the railway line from Shrewsbury. That one has an extra m. The bus is being driven by “Fletch” who was then the senior driver at Machynlleth. That’s what my memory is telling me but I am wide open to correction here. He was noted for his star turn at the wheel of Crosville’s preserved Bristol SC SSG612 at the Mid Wales Festival of Transport in 1983. On the Sunday of the festival I rode a British Rail HST from Aberystwyth to Welshpool, caught the SC from Welshpool to Machynlleth and probably had a milkshake in the National Milk Bar before catching the HST back to Aberystwyth from Machynlleth station. I have a photo of the SC somewhere but I think it has still to be scanned.

Fast forward to today and Comins Coch still exists of course but Crosville, their Aberystwyth depot and ENL978 do not. Only yesterday I was able to update the picture, standing in pretty much the same spot as I was 36 years ago but this time to photograph Lloyds Coaches Optare YB14BCZ on the X28 service, largely the same as the Crosville S14 service pictured above, except that the Lloyds service extends past the Crosville depot that isn’t there along a road that didn’t exist to a supermarket nobody even dreamt of in 1985.

As is often the case in “then and now” photographs, there is considerably more foreground foliage. The scene is quite recognisable, though, but of course the hilltop is flecked with wind turbines.

Lloyds Coaches have been on the scene in Mid Wales since 2001 and have taken over the former Crosville depots at Machynlleth and Dolgellau, expanding into the vacuum left by the withdrawal of Arriva from West Wales and the collapse of GHA Coaches and Express Motors. Their operating area now stretches from Bangor in the north as far south as Lampeter.

Zigzag Wanderer

Some classic Crosville publicity here for you. Probably from 1984-85, the post-Wanderbus Crosville Wanderer ticket. In my younger days you could buy a Wanderbus which was valid all day on all National Bus Company stage carriage services south of the Mersey and the Humber. Except you could go to Widnes and Warrington and you couldn’t go to the Wirral. So read the small print.

The National Bus Company withdrew the Wanderbus ticket on the 30th of April 1983. Crosville immediately implemented their own replacement ticket charging the same price of £2.97. The price had remained unchanged for several years and I hear that some unscrupulous people reused tickets a year after they were bought because the Setright ticket couldn’t display the year. I seem to remember being told that drivers were supposed to set the stage number to the year to prevent this but in my experience you were lucky to find a driver who could remember how to issue a ticket at all. You were supposed to issue a sequence of three 99p tickets with the “SPECIAL” type applied.

So here we have the successor ticket to the Wanderbus, the Wanderer, which is Crosville only. Not valid on PMT or Trent services. But valid on South Wales Transport buses on a joint service all the same, and now, unlike the Wanderbus, across the boundary into and out of the PTE areas. The price has finally gone up to £3.30. Still great value to people like me who got up early to maximise the mileage.

That bloke would probably get reported now.

Step on, step off, stay awhile. The Weekly Wanderer was the successor to the Crosville Explorer weekly ticket which, unlike the Wanderbus, was valid on all Crosville bus services including those operating entirely in Merseyside, like the Prescot services from Liverpool and the services from Heswall and West Kirby into Birkenhead. I remember riding on ERG56 from Birkenhead to West Kirby on an Explorer week with a man behind me repeatedly whistling the same few bars of “Is This Love” by Bob Marley. It was intensely irritating at the time but now when I hear that song I’m back on ERG56 in 1978 in the sunshine.

This is my last ever Day Wanderer from a Setright machine.

The 9th of December 1985, issued on SNL807 on the T10 service as I made my last trip from Runcorn to Aberystwyth to arrange to move my belongings back to Runcorn where I was to become a trainee bus driver a week later.

Looking at my notes I made a special trip on CTL50 on the new X5 to Liverpool [on which I would have paid extra] before catching MPTE Atlantean 1745 to the Pier Head, then a ferry to Birkenhead for a C1 to Chester, which was operated by Chester’s DOG154.

From Chester I took SNG371 on the D25 to Wrexham. In my notes [and I remember this] it says that DVG482 reversed into the side of the SNG in Chester bus station. The VR veered over into the same lane as the SNG and stopped just as it made contact with the National ahead of the rear axle. I was sitting as usual on the offside seat after the step and I saw the side of the National flex slightly in front of me on the impact. The VR driver realised at the last second and just drove off. Not a mark on the National.

This put me on a later working on the D94 than I usually took. The 1105 from Wrexham which I usually used was a Corwen working and was almost always one of their ERGs 271 or 276. The following working was around 1300 and operated by Dolgellau and this day it was the now preserved SNL588 but unfortunately back then it was before it was fitted with its Gardner engine.

This left me with a long wait at Dolgellau for a bus to Aberystwyth so I took a ride to Blaenau Ffestiniog on SNL575. I knew that this would be my bus back to Aberystwyth because it was on a diagram unusually operated by three depots: It would set off from Aberystwyth in the early afternoon around 1 p.m. and meet a southbound bus from Dolgellau outside Machynlleth depot. The drivers would change buses then return to their own depot. The Dolgellau bus then did a school bus in Aberystwyth and a Penparcau circular before heading north back to Dolgellau, again swapping drivers with a southbound service only this time at Esgaergeiliog, between Machynlleth and Corris, basically on a straight stretch of the A487 in the middle of nowhere.

In the meantime the Aber bus went beyond Dolgellau on a trip to Blaenau [the one I caught] this time meeting a Blaenau Ffestiniog bus at Trawsfynydd for another driver swap. The Aberystwyth bus would spend a short time at Blaenau before returning to Dolgellau, swapping crews again halfway, before undertaking the return trip to Aberystwyth with another driver swap at Esgaergeiliog as above.

What this meant was I had a terrible day with no VRs and no REs, instead spending most of the day on four Nationals and an Olympian.

My return to Runcorn later that week was I think by British Rail, laden with luggage. A large and very heavy trunk full of books was carried by the Crosville parcels service to Runcorn depot at no charge after I explained my circumstances to the staff at Aberystwyth depot. I can imagine the language used by those involved in loading and unloading it at Aberystwyth, Dolgellau, Wrexham, Chester and Runcorn. Thanks guys.

The following week I was given a staff pass and never had to buy a Wanderer ticket again. As a driver I don’t think I ever issued a Day Wanderer for Crosville but I remember the evening Wanderer being popular for trips to Liverpool, Frodsham and Chester.

This is the back of the Setright ticket. I was never taught what the numbers on the back of the ticket signified. It looks like you could build the date using the elements [i.e. a number between 1 and 31]. But I am guessing. You were supposed to punch them for transfers I think. Any suggestions leading to enlightenment would be welcomed.

Gloom is glorious

Mention of Aberystwyth in the previous post made me wistful for my time there.

This view is representative of one of the many grey, drizzly days of wet air coming off the Irish Sea I endured, or perhaps became inured to and ultimately came to see the beauty of. I loved dark winter evenings especially Sundays when barely a soul could be seen on the streets, there being no Sunday trading and all the pubs being closed by law. Smoke would waft in the air from the many “real fires” in the terraces in the town centre. It reminded me of old Runcorn when I was very small.

There used to be referenda every few years to decide whether the ban on Sunday pub opening should be overturned. There was one during the years I was there and, despite the student population being eligible to vote, more Chapel wrinklies actually got off their arse to vote. And the ban went on.

This would be 1984 or 85. Crosville’s Aberystwyth depot ran a National Express route to London. Not to Victoria but Catford as I remember, presumably such an obscure place as Aber being thought not to merit a stand on Victoria coach station. A few Cardboard Leopards were allocated in full NX livery to operate it but this one is shown having returned from the marathon Pontrhydfendigaid circular [The Bont for convenience] S65 variant. So it must have been a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.

Somewhere I still have my car graph from those days, one I made by standing in front of the chart on the wall in the depot and drawing it roughly before copying it onto graph paper in my billet. I think this may have gone on to do a trip to Clarach but it’s a long time now. It looks like the driver has just taken over, the emergency door flap standing proud and the passenger doors open. An Almex ticket machine is ready on the stand.

ELL21 wasn’t considered worthy of full coach classification [as CLL21] despite its use on NX services and carrying full NX livery.

Wrong side working

Hard to believe this is over 30 years ago. My memories are quite hazy now… I have some amazing photos from the experience, probably the most intense omnibological immersion in all my days.

My interfaces with this phenomenon were twofold: the first time when I saw a Southdown “Queen Mary” PD3 appear in Aberystwyth one evening, either 1983 or 84, I don’t remember now. That evening there were a few familiar faces milling around and I was invited to join them for a pint in the Unicorn if I remember rightly [it was my only visit to that establishment, it not being a regular student haunt, but I think it had a connection to the former Crosville depot super].

Fast forward to 1989 and I was invited to join the party. The trips – actually a seven day package holiday – were arranged by SOES, the “Sheffield Omnibus Enthusiasts’ Society” who are still going strong it seems, but no mention of holiday tours on the web site. I think that more recent tours have been arranged without the direct involvement of the Society on a more informal basis.

It was the only time I was to indulge but it was an enjoyable experience with visits arranged in advance to operators and organisations with some very interesting vehicles for the time. I had a ride on a Gardner engined AEC Regent V on which I could see the ground whizzing by through a hole in the floor beneath my feet. A research team of organisers had been out to verify the accommodation, scout for interesting vehicles and meet the people who would welcome us on our way round.

Each year a bus would be hired for the week. I remember that open-top buses were used a lot – I think the Southdown PD3 seen in Aberystwyth was open top – and the year I went the bus certainly was. DFG27, a converted open top FS Lodekka then with Crosville Wales, was used. I think we picked it up at Rhyl depot on the Friday evening and returned it to Llandudno Junction on the Saturday after the holiday. I say “we” because I was one of the nominated drivers for the week which involved two half-days at the wheel on the tour itself and positioning journeys to and from the official start and end points in Yorkshire.

Somewhere in my boxes there is a souvenir booklet reporting the events and places we enjoyed during the week which will help me piece together my memories of the time and give more context and meaning to the many photos I shot. There is a lavishly illustrated book to be written about this holiday so I won’t go into any detail here, there are too many to mention. I’ll just put the idea on the spike and present these views of the holiday bus looking quite at home but actually on the wrong side of the country where the sun rises over the sea in the county noted for its Tigers and tea.

A thought for the pause

By the time I started to learn to drive buses, with Crosville in 1985, a bus driver’s left foot had little to do, except perhaps to give a sticking cab door a kick at the end of a shift. Certainly in the region in which I was working, buses didn’t have clutch pedals. The gearboxes were mostly semi-automatic and new buses were coming with horrible fully-automatic boxes that took the decision to change gear out of the driver’s hands altogether.

Nevertheless, the thinking at Crosville at the time was to use venerable Bristol Lodekkas with “crash” gearboxes to train drivers, since if you can drive one of those you should be able to drive anything. The mystery of the crash gearbox is very easily resolved. To stop the gears making an awful crunching noise you have to listen to the engine sound and just as the engine is revving at the right speed for the next gear, foot down on the clutch and shift the gear lever just at the same time as the foot is going down.

Changing up the gears is straightforward enough… clutch down, release gear, wait for revs to die, then clutch/select next gear in one co-ordinated move. The tricky bit is changing down where, once the gear is in neutral, the engine needs to be faster to change down, so has to be revved up, but just the right amount for the particular road speed in that gear. It takes a little while to get the hang of it but you get an ear for it.

Crosville G220 in Ince on one of the days I was learning on it

Back in the 1960s Bristol Commercial Vehicles, which built almost all the new buses for Crosville in that decade, had a reputation for making life hard on drivers with these crash gearboxes whilst their competitors were fitting their vehicles with synchromesh gears [which could be changed in one go like a manual gearbox in a car] or preselector gearboxes with electric or air-operated selectors. But a new invention came on the market and by 1967 Bristol finally gave companies the option of buying their buses with controls that made life much easier for the driver: the semi-automatic gearbox!

I will deal with this booklet in two parts since the semi-automatic gearbox and combustion heater were two very different things.

The gearbox is described as a very intricate and expensive luxury, to be treated with respect. …

As you can see from these instructions, the gearbox was designed to be changed in a similar procedure to the crash gearbox but without the need for a clutch pedal and without the risk of failure. These gearboxes were tolerant, unlike the manual counterpart which demanded absolute precision. Similarly changing down:

I have to say that I followed this guidance when driving… it wasn’t hard to do. But there were lots, and I mean lots of drivers who realised that the gearboxes were very tolerant of being slammed from one gear to the next with little loss of power in the process and so better acceleration. So pausing between gears on these devices became something of a rarity as the years went on. Sadly that reduced the life of the gearboxes and added to the cost of bus operation through the need to replace gearboxes prematurely. Gearbox abuse was considered such a serious problem by the National Bus Company that they got Tony Bastable in to give the drivers a jolly good ticking off.

I will leave you with a link to that very video all trainees had to sit through, me included, in a room at Sealand Road Works. They Don’t Grow on Trees

And another, the Wikipedia entry for Self-Changing Gears

In the wild

Bus preservation is great, we have some splendid examples to cherish of vehicle types we have loved in your younger days, and sometimes from way back before our day. It’s our memories brought back to life, our heritage for all to see and appreciate. Museums and rallies have their place in this scenario, where we can come together and enjoy all this beloved machinery. But these places and events have their limitations with static displays and crowds of people milling about… these buses deserve to be depicted in another environment, in the real world!

I have been extremely fortunate to have been invited along on private excursions on a number of preserved buses and even co-ordinate a few such trips with the help of willing owners and enthusiastic passengers. The beauty of these days has been the freedom to pose the buses in pleasant locations, be it in their home from their working days or perhaps further afield. One of the earliest I remember was on Crosville Bristol LH6L SLL620 which had operated in the Wrexham and Denbigh areas. So we took a tour starting in Wrexham and, working outwards along Crosville routes through Denbigh, we made our way to Llanrwst and ultimately Cwm Penmachno, places formerly frequented by the LHs based at Llandudno Junction and its outstation at Llanrwst.

The photo above is at Bwlchgwyn, a village up in the hills outside Wrexham on the Ruthin road. The photo was taken on the 19th of August 2006 and happily the Kings Head appears still to be functioning as a pub. Apart from the 21st century van poking its nose into the road there is little in the photo to date the view. With the cheapness of digital photography hundreds of photos can be shot and stored on memory cards on a day like this. Though I have shared some of my pictures from this day previously, there are many views of different locations that remain unpublished. And many days such as these have taken place with hopefully more to come. With such great locations on offer, it is a good exercise in trying to find pleasing and original compositions using geographical features, buildings and landmarks. These owners spend vast amounts of time and money on their buses and they deserve recognition for their contribution to heritage preservation. I think there is no better showcase and tribute for a preserved bus than this… out in the wild.

Shortly after the pause at Bwlchgwyn we were in Llandegla village where short runs on the D8 service used to turn. The village is quiet and pleasant and has an attractive backdrop being overlooked by Moel Famau, just visible here. SLL620 probably paused here in its days working out of Wrexham looking a lot like this.

A great day was had by the small party on the bus and wonderful souvenirs were created.. I will no doubt return to this subject again… and again…

A Unique Express Service?

A little while back I showed the cover of the 1956 Crosville summer express timetable given to me by a very kind inspector who kept me chatting for a while at his information kiosk. The most interesting service shown inside has to be the 159 route [“double deck vehicles may be operated on this service”] from Liverpool to the North Wales coast. For it was, as far as I am aware, the only scheduled bus service to cross the Mersey on the Widnes Transporter Bridge. Leaving Liverpool by way of Wavertree, Woolton, Hunts Cross and Speke, the bus served Hale and Widnes before the crossing to Runcorn. There exists a photo of a Bristol LD in service on the Transporter but I do not have the right to reproduce it here. I can suggest a site on which it can be viewed, however.

Happily, I can share the pages from the timetable detailing the times and fares:

The unique 159 service?

I am intrigued to see that the service stopped in Devonshire Square in Runcorn. The road bridge from Widnes opened in 1961 before I was born and a new bus station in High Street by the new market hall was provided to receive the extra buses coming regularly from Widnes and Liverpool. Before that time I know that many buses terminated at the South Bank Hotel in Waterloo Road near the Transporter gates offering onward travel to and from Widnes.

Incidentally, the bus terminus in front of the hotel building still exists.

The South Bank bus terminus as seen in 2008.
The Transporter was at the bottom of the slope on the right

Walking from there towards the river leads to the former access to the bridge and the platform across the river at West Bank can plainly be seen. A photo can be seen here with the view from the Transporter arriving on the Widnes side wih a Widnes Corporation PD2 about to reverse up to the bus stand to meet the arriving passengers. A view looking back towards the Transporter at Widnes is here. Compare the thriving shop with today’s scene of desolation as two road bridges have now abstracted all the passing trade!

As far as I was previously aware, buses accessed the South Bank terminus via Waterloo Road rather than Devonshire Square. Does anyone know if the service operated via Bridgewater Street or Egerton Street on its way to and from the Transporter? I suppose that Devonshire Square may have been wide enough for buses to turn around in those days. It would be great to hear from anyone who remembers those days and can explain what went on.

As well as the times, the booklet has the fare tables for single and return:

Single fares for the 159
Return fares and conditions

Your comments, answers, questions, criticisms… all welcome. Get in touch by leaving a word in the comment boxes on the site or contacting me at <crisparmour at gmail dot com>.

Double Deckers and the Cymru Coastliner

Between Chester and Caernarfon Crosville had run stopping services and express services for many years. In 1965 a licence was granted to run a limited stop service from the 5th of September along the coast road which saved an hour on the time taken by the stopping services A1-A3 on which passengers had to change buses at Rhyl. The new running time was three and a half hours.

In the first instance, the service, numbered L1, was conductor-operated with coaches and some of these were very elegant double deck FLF Lodekka coaches.

A desktop advertising display board from the 1960s

Here’s an illustration of one of these beasts in the wild, in Alistair Holt’s excellent flickr collection: https://flic.kr/p/2jCA8NL

The service was one-man operated from the the 29th of October 1972. The batch of new buses due to launch this one-man service was delivered late so that E and F registered dual purpose RELLs and even the odd Seddon were pressed into service for the first weeks. The YFM-L batch of ERG-class RELLs eventually held sway on the service for a couple of years. All too soon they were bounced off by a batch of brand new N-registered ENL-class Leyland Nationals with rather effective roll bars. This modification made them significantly more tolerable than the earlier Leyland Nationals which rolled rather a lot. But a batch of coach seated VRs would have been so much nicer!

Those Nationals lasted for more than ten years, far outstaying their welcome and in their later years it was possible to see an occasional double decker on the service in the form of Leyland Olympian buses. If you were lucky a VR might even appear. There exists on the internet [but I can’t find it now, please give a link if you know] a photo of one of the last semi-automatic FLF buses triumphantly arriving on an L1 at Caernarfon Castle Square in 1982 probably pressed onto the L1 by severe traffic delays or possibly a rail strike. But these appearances were quite rare. When the decision was made to replace the Nationals altogether a batch of coach-seated Leyland Olympians was ordered and went into service on the first Sunday of 1986 when coincidentally I had been working for Crosville for all of three weeks.

It was a busy time, with me learning to drive a Lodekka during the day and in the evening going to Crewe to get my last rides on the SRG-class Bristol RE saloons which were going to be replaced by the ENLs cascaded from the Coastliner. But on the Sunday morning I took the first bus from Runcorn to Chester and was able to be the first passenger to board the new Olympian on the first service out of Chester. It was a cold, grey day. There had been snow the previous week.

The cover of the promotional leaflet for the introduction of the speeded-up Coastliner

The EOG-class Olympian coaches were finished in the most striking livery with a huge red dragon on each side leaning forwards on a base of a half-and-half livery of white over a lighter green than the then current NBC green. As seen in the publicity leaflet illustrating this post. Whether the decision had already been taken to use these colours in the livery for the new Crosville Wales company to be formed in the summer I don’t know. But in the end the colours applied to the Welsh fleet were similar. But the dragons were restricted to the L1 buses.

I rode on EOG205 as far as the St John’s stop in Llandudno before catching a bus back. There was quite a buzz on the buses that day with a lot of positive comments from the passengers. I was joined by a thrilled little boy and his mum at the front of the bus upstairs. I think that the dragon livery was extremely effective in captivating passengers and passers-by alike.

During my short stay at Llandudno I took a few photos, the first being the EOG leaving the St John’s stop after I alighted. The driver had waited a little for his departure time.

EOG205 on the first ever departure on the new faster L1 from Chester, leaving Llandudno for Caernarfon

The service was revamped along with the vehicles and another 30 minutes was removed from the running time, partly because by-pass roads were alleviating congestion in the area and partly by using some of those bypasses and missing villages out along the way. Whether the service could have entered a new golden age we will never know because Crosville split in two in the summer. Then deregulation happened in October and the planned and licensed network of which the Coastliner was a part degenerated into a free-for-all and loss-making or marginal services went to competitive tender. Despite [or because of?] frequent revisions of routes and extensions and contractions beyond either end of the route, the Coastliner withered away and quietly died. There is more to this story for another day…

Timetable design

As I have mentioned before, one of the things I like most about old publicity is the graphic design. In the late 1960s Crosville ran a splendid pictorial map on the front of their timetables and I have a few in my collection, including this one from Wrexham and district in 1969:

Crosville’s delightful 1960s timetable cover illustration.

You may have noticed the similarity in the typography here on this site. It is no accident! My favourite detail in the illustration is the alpine man in Snowdonia. And the Bristol RE in Crosville’s “dual purpose” colour scheme of a few years before, of course.

Before my time

I mentioned in my welcome page the inspector in the information kiosk at Runcorn bus station in the 1970s who very kindly handed to me quite unexpectedly a timetable from his earlier days as a Crosville driver.

I had been scrounging for timetable booklets for the 1977 busway revisions just before the full circle of the busway opened in the new town. At this time the busway had also reached the old town via the Astmoor extension. There was a new bus station built on the new busway in the old town centre and a plastic pod was provided as an information kiosk. This pod replaced what had been a chic hexagonal office in the first bus station opened around the time of the road bridge in 1961. In 1977 that had just been wiped out by the arrival of the busway.

I was going on an enthusiasts’ tour the next weekend and hoped to be able to hand out the new timetables to the people on the tour and had visited all the information offices in the town on my bike gathering a handful in each. In the new kiosk the inspector was particularly friendly when he realised what I was doing and he engaged me in conversation about his old days driving coaches.

As I was about to leave, he reached inside a drawer and took out a booklet which he said I could have.

In 1977 this was already over 20 years old. That was already mind-boggling to my teenage self and to learn from the cover that Crosville had existed for over 70 years made me curious to find out more about its history. Eventually a number of books would satisfy my curiosity.

The inspector I later learned was known as Arthur Trevor. When I became a driver in 1he 1980s he had retired but staff who remembered him spoke in reverent tones. I remember his kindness fondly.

Graphic design has come on a long way since the 1950s but I feel very nostalgic for the style of transport publicity documents in the following years. Those days were long before computers made it easy for anyone to cobble up a logo and to composite images on a template. The speeding Bristol LS coach [or a very early MW?] on this design is so tiny you might miss it at first glance. I suppose this sort of cover was rustled up with stencils and screen printed, arcane arts in their day and now incomprehensible in the era of DTP, lasers, inkjets and pixels. The finest for me was the timetable cover design in the late 60s with intricate designs representing a pictoral map of the Crosville operating area. A scan should appear on this site soon. Also to come, some pages from inside this wonderful 1950s express timetable book.

National Colouring Contest

Here we have a curiosity, dating from 1981, the International Year of Disabled People. Crosville employees and their families were invited to win themselves a crisp fiver. All they had to do was design a livery on a template of a Crosville bus. The company’s invitation to participate was on one side and the template on the other. It’s a long read… See you down below!

Well, in the end, they did not paint a two-door National in a special livery, nor convert one with ramps. There was a Bristol RE converted, SRG213, but I don’t remember now what the year was. Was that the bus that emerged from this project?

It’s a bit late now, but if you fancy a go anyway, you can print out and colour in the competition image below and e-mail your entry to crisparmour at gmail . com. Though I can’t return any entries you could win a prize if I show it here.

Want some more? Here’s an International Colouring Contest for you… if the National has left you wanting more colouring book therapy, you could still participate in the contest referred to in the song… simply download Lucia Pamela’s book and fill it all in. In your own time: I think the deadline has passed, Lucia Pamela is no longer with us and… swizzz… no winner was ever announced. If I receive any entries for either, I will be true to my word…