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.