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We enjoyed a brief visit to Markfield, my brother and myself, to have a
look at a couple of ex-LCT buses we had both last worked on some 30
years ago. We were there by invitition of Andrew Tucker, Richard
Worman, and John Arnold, and for us to give the group a couple of old
destination blinds that had been gathering dust in my loft these past
30 years. Don't ask, either how I came by them, or why I took the
trouble to take them all the way to Hull with me.
John used to work in the bodyshop at Abbey Park Road, long before my time, and so is well-used to the vagaries of destination blinds, how they wear, and how they fit. It was as well, as with no more further ado, he took out the cheap and nasty paper blinds then in the front of 190, and quickly rolled the 1961 quality canvas blinds onto the rollers.
We had a good tour round of the buses undergoing restoration, and these photos taken by Jeff are a record of our visit.
|My first sight of bus 190 - a vehicle I last saw in 1973 when I left the city to work in Hull. Sounds hold so many memories, are so evocative, as I found out when John started the engine to move it forward a bit to give us access to go aboard, so tight are they parked in this space. These front-engine Renowns were amongs the least popular amongst drivers and conductors, but personally, I didn't mind them. They were a tad too hot for conductors upstairs in summer for my liking, but even so, I still worked with some conductors from the 'sub-continent' who always kept their greatcoats on, even if it was hot enough to bake bread inside. Nothing would induce many of them to remove their coats. Like all AEC's, they were sharp on the brakes and heavy to steer, but I generally got on all right with them. Done a few 'turns' around The Park on this blighter, and most memories seem to be on Nether Hall, or Stocking Farm, and especially the old 87 Eyres Monsell that departed from from York Road bus station. Most Leicester folk will say, "where?" Yes, there was a little bus station in York Road, where the Pheonix Theatre is now.||The cab of 190, taken through the missing window from the platform. What really brought the memories tumbling back was sight of the air-pressure "STOP" flag - and the screws for lifting the windscreen on warm, sunny days. There was nothing quite like bowling along back to town down Uppingham Road on a warm day with the screen up and the cab window open behind. Talk about airflow! Those were the days. Mind you, when it rained, many of those same windows used to leak like a sieve, even in the newer PD3As.|
Moving onto rear-entrance Renown, No 40. Looking forward, upstairs, and work very much in progress, showing how much needs to be done. Many thousands of hours, I should think. Even with panels removed, wiring exposed and fittings laid across seats, the atmosphere of these smart buses was very fresh and modern for their time. My memory of them as a conductor was how bright and airy they were upstairs, and particularly at night. No straining the eyes to see the stage numbers on the old Ultimate ticket machine in this light!
|No 40 downstairs, and a similar picture. A vast amount of work and dedication is going to be required to get this bus roadworthy again. Sitting inside the lower saloon a while, I could even "hear" the gentle wheezing of the suspension when at the terminus, with the engine stopped, as passengers boarded and sat down. All in my imagination of course - there wasn't a breath of air in these tanks. The Renown's predecessor, the even less-beloved Bridgemaster, was even more chesty - they could wheeze for England. They used to sound like an old man on his last legs.|
| Looking to the platform in the lower saloon of No40. The long
back seats were 5-seaters, as against the 4-seaters in all the
Leylands. These vehicles were amongst the earliest to have full-length
strip bells in both saloons, a boon to any conductor and driver, with a
mind to time-keeping when busy. Taking fares, issuing tickets and
change, all at the same time as keeping an eye on the platform and then
having to find and reach for a single bell push in the older PD2s and
PD3s, was not easy to new conductors. Strip bells meant you just had to
raise your arm whilst watching the platform, and there it was.
A real bonus to any
conductor, and for the driver, the bell in the cab on these AECs wasn't
so loud, and seemed to be in a higher key. It made a "ting" rather than
a mighty "CLANG!" of the PD3s that took the polish off yer' eardrums.
The other over-riding memory is, of course, that these buses were warm,
even without the doors. The only thing that most drivers had against
them was the heavy steering, and being AECs, not a very lively turn of
As a new driver, it took me a little while to cotton on to the fact that the engine was not exactly fore-and-aft like most engines. It not only was slightly out of line, it was tilted too. This was to enable the prop shaft to the rear wheels pass to the side of the central gangway on its way down to the offset diff, so allowing the lower saloon floor to be an inch or two lower. This meant that selecting gears was not a straight back and forth action, but pushing the stick slightly out and away from oneself. In fact, the line was exactly in line with the cab wall, or the engine bulkhead on that side. It wasn't much out of line, but enough to constantly grate the synchro-mesh if one wasn't aware of it.
|Compared even to the Leylands, that also had East Lancs bodywork, these did seem extra spacious. There was room for a large man to move about, somewhere to hide his heavy winter coat, store his ticket box, and still have room for a mashing of tea - somewhere. A can could be safely tucked behind the bottom step of the stairs, and the space for pushchairs etc, was reasonably generous. Nothing to stop a chair rolling out, though, should a thoughtless parent park one facing the wrong way. I got sick to death of going back to look in bushes and hedges for escaping push chairs. It wasn't funny, and the baby didn't usually think much to it either!|
And so, back to 190 - literally. They were parked so tight that we could only climb aboard through the back door. So in we went - to be confronted by all those memories of 30 years ago.
The dimness of the interior of the shed added to the sense of being
back in Abbey Park Road, and just arriving for a late turn in winter,
perhaps to take 190 out for a school run - to pick up about 350 of the
little so-and-sos. School runs - not my favourite duty. I recall
Beaumont Leys to be a particularly rough school - phrases like "Little
Animals" come to mind - the wonder is that ANY buses survived! I wonder
what those "little animals" own kids are like now, and their grandkids
- giving them hell with a bit of luck!
The large black bulge at the bottom of the stairs is the spare tyre. No, not normally carried there in the luggage rack.
| "FARES PLEASE! Look out, you villains, I'm coming amongst
Oh, hell - I've forgotten me' ticket machine!"
It really was amazing to be seeing all this. Even though we only had
three of this type, in some ways, it was more evocotive of the
atmosphere of my time at LCT.
Perhaps I recall working this particular type more vividly - there being only the three of them, they tend to stand out in the memory, with particular incidents coming strongly to mind. Perhaps this was the exact bus in which I inadvertantly caught the lead of a lady's pet white poodle in the doors one day on a 26 to Welford Rd. I stopped to pick up at the recreation ground by the prison, looked over my shoulder as an elderly lady climbed on, closed the doors, and I was into second gear before I realised. My first defence is; it was a long lead, a VERY long lead. My second defence is; it was only a little dog, and I could only just see it in the bottom of the mirror.
The semi-transparent fibreglass roof upstairs gave an extraordinary amount of light from streetlights. You could still see to issue tickets even if the bus' own lights were switched off. But it was unbearably hot in summer, when it was literally a sun roof. Temperatures of well over 90degs were often achieved.
The typical upper saloon view on one of these front-entrance Renowns - and 190 looks here ready for service. It's hard to credit that it's now well over 30 years since I drove one of these, and even longer since I ran up and down the stairs as a conductor. I was thin then, like an advert for Oxfam, and the bag hung heavy on my shoulders when it was full of copper and thre'penny bits. And the ticket machine hung heavy on my other shoulder - aaahh - t'were an 'ard life working for LCT.
And so back to the cab - it all looks very tempting, and just as it was when I left it. But - can I still climb up there, I wonder. What really made me smile was the sight of the STOP flag sticking up to warn the driver that there was no air in the tanks. In those days, you could still move the bus even without air. These days, it's air that holds the brakes off, which is why we occasionally see a modern double-decker stranded halfway round a roundabout or in the middle of a large set of traffic lights. Air leak; so no air; so no move. Simple as that.
Made it ! That wasn't so bad - but why is it the seat feels as if it doesn't go back so far as it used to - or have they moved the steering wheel? As I sat there, I almost felt that I could have set it up for an 87 to the Monsell and took off down Welford Road. We used to get these a lot on those, especially when they went from York Road. And for some reason, also on the 26 to Welford Road, terminating at the city boundary at the Wigston Stage. Come to think, we had them a lot on 22 as well, to Braunstone Lane, and now the common factor just hit me - they were all swingers ! No, it's not what you think. Swingers was our colloquial expression for any route that wasn't linked to another route for cross-city working, ie, it swung round and went back on the same route. Oh well, never mind.
My reverie was short-lived - before I knew it, Andy and John had got me changing the blinds, or rather, winding them on to the very end. And the gears were STIFF - I'm sure they used to be easier than this. I got quite a sweat on. But of course, that's what we were here for, to donate these two old LCT blinds to the Preservation Group. It had been decided that, for now, 190 bus was the one they would go in. And to do that, the old ones had to come out.
Of course, by this time, we had already done the photo-shot of handing over the new blinds, with the Star of the Show, Bus 190 in the background. As Andy Tucker looks on, John Arnold, (with the mousetache), former bodyshop employee at Abbey Park Road in the late 50s and early 60s, looked very eager to get his hands on these historic objects from the days of his youth . . .
And before I could say "Chief Inspector" or even "White Report", he was changing them over. I've never seen anything done so fast! We all helped to roll the 'new' blinds onto the rollers, and I for one was astonished on the removal of the existing blinds to discover that they're now made of paper instead of canvas! John was very amused at my astonishment. But in no time at all, the job was done, and John flew off upstairs and we looked on increduously as his hands quickly appeared in the destination compartment, and with the speed and efficiency of an expert, the first of the new blinds was duly fitted.
And before I knew it or could catch my breath, would you believe it, they had me back in the cab and changing the bloody blinds again!! This was the hardest day's work I'd done in some time.
By the time I was done, I was completely cream crackered ! I need to have a word with my Union Rep. And I need a nurse. My blood pressure is a bit high, as can be seen by my ears glowing like rear lamps.
But 190 did look a treat, and a lot more like an original Leicester bus with the older blinds in - and lifting the lid, she was just as nice underneath as well
And the significance of the 24 Saffron Lane? The first route I worked as a conductor, in October of 1968. My first day on the road was with Bert Chalmers as my training conductor, and if I recall correctly, the bus was a PD2, and the barrier was right down Rutland Street, outside the church near the old Odeon.
A long walk from Humberstone Gate, but of course, soon the new Operating Centre and canteen would be just up the road. Then they moved the 24 into Bowling Green Street at the back of the Town Hall. So happy memories all round.
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Early Bus Memories
a separate page of text,
a child's-eye view of memories of
the Midland Red and LCT buses in the 50s
and then on to memories of the
Corporation Driving & Conducting School
at Abbey Park Road in 1968.
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