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  WEB NEWS 20  

In this issue of WHOTT Web News we take a brief look at friends memories.

  A Delightful Decade - Phil Doddridge (Friend 73) recalls an important period in his career.  Today Phil is a keen model maker and collector and often displays at rallies a splendid re-creation of Western National and Royal Blue coaches in model form.

The Western / Southern National Omnibus Co. Ltd ran an Engineering Department Learner's Scheme which, on the whole, was very good.  I joined the company as a shop boy on 2nd January 1956 - seven of us started together that year.  I was immediately put with an engine fitter rebuilding Gardner, AEC and AVW engines.  To join the Learner's Scheme we had to travel to Exeter head office in Queen Street to take an entrance examination to enable us to start at Plymouth Technical College on a full day release for six years.  There was actually a drop in pay on joining the scheme from being a shop boy.  It was a very good scheme as most applicants from other companies only had a half day release and with the other half day coming from their own time.

We had to pass each end of year exam to continue into the next year, and there was the City & Guilds Motor Vehicle Mechanics Work exam after three years.  Within the Works, we moved around section to section every six to eight months, taking in all aspects of bus chassis repair work, electrical, fuel pumps, differentials, axles front and rear, engines, gear boxes and steering boxes.  Training continued with an examination after five years to gain the City & Guilds Motor Vehicle Technicians Work with a National Craftsman’s Certificate. There was a dock section where light docks, heavy docks, and complete unit changes took place, not just on Plymouth based vehicles but on others from all over the company’s territory.  As a result we could be working on vehicles from as far away as Penzance in the west to Bournemouth in the east, or Trowbridge in the northeast corner of the region.   The Laira workshop was also the main repair centre for all vehicle components and a fleet of seven lorries was used to distribute parts from the stores to the area workshops on a weekly basis. With a fleet in excess of 1000 buses and coaches working from 31 depots across the region, it took some organisation.  Plymouth had its own running service department as did other area depots at Penzance, Bideford, Taunton and Weymouth, each under the control of an “ARE” (Area Engineer).  Bournemouth had an “ESRB” (Engineering Superintendent Royal Blue).  All vehicles reaching their mid-life major overhaul were programmed through the Laira workshops, including spring tempering.  Resets were done by Brambers and a little electrical work, like rewinds, was done by another outside contractor.

After qualifying as a Fitter there was, of course, no more day release for college and it was now a 44 hour week over 5½ days, still moving around the workshop as required.  There were three grades of fitters, just pennies per hour difference in wages. 

In 1962 the recovery vehicles went through a programme of refurbishment or replacement.  The engines for the Ford Canada recovery lorries were stripped and overhauled and the AEC Matadors, bought about that time, passed through the workshops and were fitted with new superstructures made in the bodyshop.  Vehicles coming to Plymouth for repairs and docking did so at the rate of one per week on the pits and one per week in the bodyshop for a repaint.  Small body repairs were done whilst on the pits before vehicles returned to their home depot.  Some spent longer in the bodyshop for timber frame repairs and or retrims before painting.  Units changed at the depots returned daily to the workshop on the company’s lorries.  The lorry drivers, who between them visited all depots, were the proverbial grapevine.  News of something happening in Penzance could reach Bournemouth in a matter of hours, often before Head Office in Exeter knew anything about it!

Twenty-five Royal Blue Bristol L6B / Beadle C31F coaches had their bodies removed, the chassis lengthened to 30ft and units overhauled before the chassis were driven to ECW at Lowestoft for new FB39F bus bodies to be fitted, some with swept up rear skirt panels for services using the ferry.

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Royal Blue coaches can be seen receiving bodywork attention suggesting this is not a summer-time shot!  The workshop foreman’s hut can be seen far left and Bristol K/L radiators are stacked in the foreground.  This view is taken along the Tilefer building which is now dismantled but in the custody of WHOTT, ready for re-erection as the main museum exhibition hall.  It is inspiring, to look at this picture and imagine the building, once more, housing a variety of vehicles and restoration/maintenance activity.  Hopefully construction will commence in 2006…   The central area of workshop showing portable cranes for lifting heavy components and alternative platypus cradles  for lowering components from underneath vehicles.  The bodyshop is in the background and on the right are enclosed workshops for fuel pumps and special components where cleanliness was essential.  Although not visible, there were similar workshops for Setright ticket machine mechanics.

My early career in the commercial vehicle industryJohn Sykes (Friend 274) reflects on his career in the commercial vehicle industry, providing a fascinating perspective on developments as they affected the West Country region.

My father worked for Maudslay Motor Co. as a sales rep. covering the south and east Midlands from 1947-9.  Maudslay was taken into the ACV Group and in 1950 he became AEC sales rep. for SW England.  This resulted in the family moving from Lichfield to Exmouth.

At that time AEC did not have a strong presence in the South West, with certain PSV exceptions.  AEC had a tenuous agreement with the Mumford Motor Group to sell and support the AEC product in the SW.  This arrangement never really worked and in the early 1950s Moyle Garages, based in Paignton, were appointed to represent AEC in Devon. Wincanton Garages Helston were looking after AEC’s interests in Cornwall.  My father’s territory covered an area west of a line from Bristol to Bournemouth.  He worked from home and reported to a Regional Office located in the premises of the AEC dealer in Southampton, JH Prince & Co..

In 1953 I joined the Mumford Group as a premium paying pupil apprentice.  I think my father paid a fee of £500 to enable me to “learn the motor trade”.  I was mainly based at Motor Macs (Exeter) Ltd, a Mumford Group Company.  I also attended Exeter Tech.

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The first AEC Purchased by John Hill was in 1964 when this Mark V Mammoth Major was supplied by Commercial Motors of Exeter.  The unusual height of this 24 ft long refrigerated van body was to allow hinds of beef to be hung from roof-high supports when the vehicle was running on Continental meat export work.  The body was designed and built by Vincents of Yeovil Ltd.

  Pangs of Nostalgia.....as Bert looks back - The matter of the cost of fuel has been in the news quite a bit recently. As the whole movement of vehicle preservation relies on fuel of one kind or another, it is worth looking back at this precious commodity and exploring the ups and downs it has encountered along the way.

So cheap was petrol that there was a time when it could be bought in tins and its cleansing properties put to use in washing down oily garage floors!  By 1960 one could purchase four gallons of petrol for £1-00.  At just five shillings (25p) a gallon nobody was really concerned that this liquid energy was either worth taxing to any great extent or that it would ever run out.  The real boom in car ownership was yet to come and excess consumption of the oil bi-product was never contemplated.  Today one litre of petrol is nudging £1-00 and at 4.546 litres to the gallon that represents an over-eighteen-times increase in forty-five years! 

Between the wars engineers “played” with its development so that, by 1939, when the prelude to World War Two loomed, there was a certain readiness to put the research into practice.  Even before fuel rationing had taken its grip, the Government recommended that 8% of the country’s major fleets should adapt to alternative propulsion.  The Tilling Group, which at that time owned nearly thirty bus companies with some 8,000 vehicles, was fortunate in having the services of one, William J Morison.  Morison had become Chief Engineer of the Eastern National Omnibus Company at Chelmsford.  He had joined the National in its formative years under Thomas Clarkson who was arguably one of the country’s leading exponents of steam propulsion.  He spent a great deal of time with Clarkson on all sorts of experimentation, even designing and building a car in his own name.  This period of practice provided a firm base on which to test his thoughts and determination to succeed with any technical innovation and gas propulsion was now at the top of his list.  Working under other wartime exigencies, it would take Morison much of that period to improve the way the system worked and it would not be untrue to say that Service 1 from Maldon to Chelmsford was as much an experiment as to get its passengers home!  The Tilling Group were also owners of the Bristol Tramways & Carriage Co. which built most of the chassis and some of the bodies for many of its subsidiaries and it rested with them to construct a trailer suitable to carry gas producer equipment that could be towed behind the bus.  They manufactured 600 2T2 type trailers of which 82 were supplied to the Western and Southern National companies.  However, this was not the only type of producer used.

 Meanwhile Mr Morison was busily experimenting at Chelmsford and eventually called for a meeting of company engineers to attend a three-day course there between 14-17 June 1942.  This was a prelude to the introduction of trailer mounted gas producers throughout the group, the first consignment of six being allocated to Maldon depot where the engineers could see, first hand, how well they were performing.  A known fact was that performance on hills was severely compromised when running on gas so Taunton depot had been selected as the main centre in Western National’s territory where the Somerset levels offered a wider choice of participating routes.  Here an AEC Regal 3034 (DG509) had already been equipped with a trailer for use on the Burnham-on-Sea service.  Taunton’s Dock Foreman attended the Maldon course and was allocated two Leyland TS3 petrol engined vehicles 3004 (TM6906) and 3007 (TM6909) to monitor on two local routes.  Amongst the observations made was the fact that every night the sparking plugs would be removed and a clean set fitted, the dirty ones being left for a female fitter to clean and reset ready for the next night.

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Open staircase Leyland 2907, on the Strand at Barnstaple, was gas propelled from 28 Oct 1942 to 26 Sep 1944.


Driver Rene Anderton stands proudly alongside Dennis mace 615 in Taunton.


Archive update

2005 rally is recorded

Royal Blue reflections

Points of View




The scene at Truro on 16 September 2005 when the second Royal Blue run stopped for tea en route to Penzance to be greeted by a large number of onlookers, complete with reminiscences, as a result of coverage for WHOTT on Radio Cornwall.


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Web News 19

Web News Index

Web News 21


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