Thoughts and memories of 6 years with the staff and buses of Crosville Warrington 1972 - 1978 or ‘it’s a great life on the buses, upstairs or down inside’!
Where do I start covering a period of 6 years working at a depot where ‘anything can happen in the next half hour’? So I will try to be logical with a few thoughts of my own, on the buses, staff, and happenings! Yes it was a good time with a great lot of people...can we go back and do it again?
A little bit about me since, I am now a train planner (hobby and work merge) and live in Somerset (how I miss proper Cheshire cheese and Cheshire new potatoes), married twice and on my own again, that’s life I’m just too easy going and getting older. Still I have a son, I’m proud of, that overhauls Sea King Helicopters for the RNAS/ RAF and includes ones for a certain VIP pilot. He even gets to the old Crosville areas when at Valley at Holyhead (me jealous – never). Guess what, he even knows what a Lodekka is and has been with me occasionally when I help out Quantock Motor Services down here as a conductor. So far I’ve worked on SLG118 (the old ex Edge Lane tow bus) and 6 Lodekkas including DLG881 ex Crosville plus a Southern Vectis open top VR. Never broke down on these but mustn’t forget just in case Warrington 30571 or 32799 ex directory!
The depot atmosphere at Warrington was great especially on early spare, the chance of working on a one man route as a conductor for a change of scenery if you were lucky, even an easier turn with a SMG to Heatley Heath or perhaps a 140 to St Helens. If not Liverpool again, it was fun on our shift with John from Helsby (I’m sure he had shares in Brylcream) but the other shift was good as well even if the atmosphere was like London smog with Bill Hardman and Ted both with Capstan full strength along with Teds tea boiled in a sauce pan to make it stronger. Just a thought that I mustn’t miss, the phone connection between the depot and Arpley bus station was an old fashioned one that you wound a handle to make it work and ring at the other end.The Fleet from a conductor’s viewpoint.
Mostly were Bristol Lodekkas with a few ‘intruders’ from the old North Western company when the routes were absorbed by Crosville in 1972. Vehicles were in NBC all over green with a few still in Crosville Green and Cream still. Later all were in NBC green with a white band between decks. This list is not exhaustive as vehicles were loaned from other depots as required or through breakdowns.
DLG789 – oldest vehicle there when I started, rattles well but had an incredible turn of speed for a 4 speed box. I loved it and the old tungsten light bulbs. Graham from Wigan could keep on time with this even on a peak hour H5 and this kept the person who worked in Edge Lane depot office happy as she got home to Gainsborough Road in time for tea.
DLG889 – same as above but never had anything special about it..just not as much fun
DLG1 – came a bit later and had a 5 speed box, really nice to work on I later took my test in this and failed. Later used on the open top routes in North Wales
DLB14 and DLB15 nice buses and nicer to work on as they had the smoother Bristol engine
DFB23 –DFB25 Liked or hated 3 consecutive vehicles all different. DFB23 was 4 speed box and went well when looked after and really ‘couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding’ when not maintained to its best. DFB24 later fitted with a 5 speed box and went well, there’s a picture of this in the Crosville History Part 2 book on the 37 in Altrincham. DFB25 again later with a 5 speed box, I just loved this bus to work on as everything worked as it should. One day I was on the 1555 H5 off Liverpool with DFB24 and we slowly ground to a halt on Brownlow Hill in the City centre with clutch slipping badly, smoke in the lower saloon and had to ask several of the passengers that had pensioners passes to get the 40 corporation bus to lessen the weight. I can’t remember the drivers name but he lived next to the Longford pub and used to bang the steering wheel in frustration at times. Needless to say it took a hammering on this trip.
DFG27 Came from Runcorn just didn’t do anything special until ‘Warringtonised’ with a 5 speed box and a bit of grease! Still in existence as an Open top vehicle now moved to Barcelona and is painted red.
DFG63, DFG75, DFG79 and DFG81 All front entrance 60 seat vehicles DFG63 was always here the others followed as time went on. Real workhorses and the most reliable vehicles in the double deckers. All except DFG75 gained 5 speed gear boxes. DFG81 was converted to open top for North Wales like DFG27 and is now preserved in Shropshire.
DFB54 and DFB55 same as above but had Bristol engines and kept the 4 speed box. DFB54 was always a troublesome vehicle and really sluggish seeming to love to spread diesel from the injectors at the earliest opportunity. DFB55 was just the opposite a really nice bus and fast with it. A certain Harry Mather used to save me this for a late H1 to Liverpool if I agreed to a bit of overtime the next day!
Ooooh nooo next DFB91, DFB93, DFB94, DFB95 and DFB96. All 70 seat vehicles with 4 speed boxes and none of them really performed that well compared to other companies with similar buses. The only thing that made them tolerable was the good heating system even in summer. DFB95 is supposed to be alive still in Carolina USA.
DFB130 - DFB132 these rear entrance buses came from Chester, all 5 speed and generally in good condition and a pleasure to work on. I took DFB130 to Weymouth for a bus rally in 1976 which is a story in itself.
DFB140 Ex Runcorn, really nice bus, always seemed exceptionally clean. Prone to injector leaks as some of the Bristol engine showed. Regularly worked past my house when it was new to Runcorn depot, so I had a soft spot for it.
DFG170, DFG185, DFG231 and DFG237 Standard 50 seat rear entrance Lodekkas all were 50 mph top speed and DFG237 was the last vehicle I worked on (with Graham Ratcliffe) as a favour from Harry Mather as it was one of my favourite (even after 6 years the platform door was exceedingly stiff to close!)
DFG251-DFG253 and DFG258 ‘The Semi’s’ named as they were semi – automatic 70 seat front loading Lodekkas with a really unusual gearbox vocal scream, not forgetting their tendency to deposit flywheel oil on the platform and smell of oil . You either loved them or hated them. DFG251 was just quiet. Not that fast or noisy. DFG252 was a real screamer with a perfect tone. DFG253 ex Runcorn depot sounded a bit throatier...a Bonnie Tyler version! DFG258 nearly as good as DFG252/ I loved these but there were some that didn’t...yes Eric with the M & S oil aroma spray so he could ask for a change over!
DAA516 Ex North Western AEC Renown 75 seater’s and big. It was really fast and powerful with a synchromesh gearbox so was liked by the drivers. The horn was like a ships one..useful to knock out of gear so as to be quiet and sneak up school kids after they had alighted then Paaaaarp. Mmm (but Doug really laughed at it)
DEG402, DEG403, DEG407 Dennis Lolines ex North Western brought in to replace Lodekkas but did not last the course, fast and powerful with sliding doors but suffered from corrosion and single skin bodywork. Rather like working on a badly designed cold, damp greenhouse that rattled.
DVG268, DVG272, DVG285, DVL332 Bristol VR’s were really One Man Operated vehicles but most enjoyable to work on as a conductor, they had a tendency to ‘bounce’ along but that was ok by me.
SMG367, SMG369 and SMG386 converted coaches to one man operation with bus seats limited use for one man routes as they had crash gearboxes. Still good to use crew operated on the Liverpool’s on quieter trips. Bert the union rep used to use the bell on these when working the 13/ 13A to stop and start even though the door was alongside the driver; he stuck by the rules on this one. SMG386 was converted to a tow vehicle and now is privately owned in Porthmadoc.
EMG435 Coach conversion again...Phil’s’ bus for on the 216 Risley – Haydock route. If ever it was sent to Liverpool there would be hell to answer to the next day from him.
CMG557 A full coach with hand operated door, 5 speed crash gearbox (a bit heavy along with no power steering) and I loved it on any route. One day on the 856 I had two vehicles to manage as conductor, CMG557 and ENL860; drivers were Mike Withers and Billy Brown. The day started with John the foremen saying choose who has which one and Bill lost. Coming out of Blaenau Ffestiniog over the Crimea pass trying to change into 2nd gear from 1st after the 1 in 5 at the bottom of the hill was an episode that I will never forget watching and neither will Bill trying. Mike offered the words of ‘where’ve you been and you look like a hot melt’! Bills answer is unprintable but we all laughed.
SSG610, SSG639, SSG642, SSG644, SSG645 Designed for rural services and usually on Welsh routes, loaned to us when the rebuilding of Dunham canal bridge required a route diversion on very narrow lanes. Could also be seen crew operated alongside 75 seat one man operated MPTE buses.
CRG29 a Bristol RE coach, used on anything and was a really useful vehicle as the ‘Fat Controller’ might say.
SRG44 SRG49 Standard Bristol RE buses and nothing special.
SRG74, SRG87, SRG88 Loved these as they had a switch on the platform for conductors to operate the doors and besides that they only had 42 seats. My first trip on a Chester was Sunday lunch time with SRG74 instead of a double decker. It was spring time and underestimated the day trippers so had over 20 people standing. We should have had a double decker but conned Harry Mather into believing it would be a quiet trip this Sunday.
SRG174 Deep windscreen nice vehicle was really a short lived style before the curved windscreen came out.
SRG209 A standard RE with the distinction that a certain west country pasty tried to cut in half with the bus shelter in Daresbury on a very icy day. I really think that one of his 9 lives was used up that day, just as well as he was a real character and a real busman.
SRL238 – SRL246 These were magical, Bristol RE, lower in height for the canal bridge on the 38 route, powerful Leyland engine and a high speed axle, all would do 90 mph and SRL238/ SRL241/ SRL242 did more... yes I think I’ve have been over the ton with our staff bus driver ‘Ted’ home to Runcorn in 12 minutes!! Other tales, well, I had one on the 2100 H1 on Christmas eve and on the return trip overtook the 2030 H1 in Penketh that had CRG29 (happy days and there were no passengers about) on that trip between the 2 of us we carried 3 passengers and they were all mine! That was the only trip I had ever run that early but was instructed that last bus should be in before 2330 as its Christmas! We were all home before midnight. Another thought was after an early turn I went shopping to Chester for a railway book and Joe90 was on the SRL playing his mouth organ as we went along to entertain the passengers. Even though they were fast they were never used on express routes.
A certain person that runs the website had a heavy foot with these and really appreciated their speed.....OOOPs sorry Bob!
EPG724 and EPG725 Seddons had the desire to go where they wanted to not where you wanted them to. Very light on the front end and weren’t liked so when it was found their engine grounded on leaving the depot onto New Chester Road it was a favour to all on being reallocated to Wrexham or somewhere.
ENL852, ENL860 and ENL933 Leyland Nationals, like Marmite you either like them or don’t – Marmite yes Nationals not really from my point of view. ENL933 was a newer one and faster the other two were of the variety that rolled over on every bend and heating was from the roof, where, my physics O level reminds me hot air rises, so much for clever designers.
Crew Operated Routes 1972 – 1978The Routes.
C30 Warrington – Chester .Morning Helsby BICC journey and 2 trips on a Sunday (until 1974)
H1 Warrington - Liverpool via Widnes, not forgetting Polycell Works and Dunlop extras
H2 Warrington – Liverpool via Prescot
H3 Liverpool – Rainhill Stoops odd journeys on Saturdays
H4 Liverpool – Rainhill Stoops odd journeys on Saturdays
H5 Warrington – Liverpool via Cronton
H21 Chester - Runcorn – Liverpool via Halewood. Peak hour additional journey from Widnes
H23 Helsby – Widnes morning additional peak hour journey
H25 Runcorn – Liverpool via Speke. Morning Journey
H32 Widnes – Runcorn Early journey to position for the H25 and the 0930(SX) from Keckwick Lane to Warrington
H37 – H39 Warrington – Rocksavage Works (Weston Point)
H47 Higher Legh – Lower Peover
J21 Sutton Weaver – Dutton Primary School
4 Dallam - Padgate school service
11 School service
12 Warrington – Arley via Appleton Thorn, morning trips in peak hour, soon became one man operated then by the agreement went over to Warrington Corporation for the next 7 years.
13/ 13A Warrington Central Station – Walton (Stag) or Gainsborough Road
34 Wilderspool Causeway – Loreto Convent (Altrincham)
37 Warrington – Altrincham the 1505 and 1705 off Warrington
41 Lower Walton – Lymm Grammar School
77 Warrington – Houghton Green 2230 journey as it reversed at the terminus so needed a conductor for a short period
78 Warrington - Fearnhead
79 Longford – Woolston
140 Warrington – St Helens (0630 Sunday morning trip for miners at Clock Face colliery)
856 Warrington – Pwllheli (summer Saturdays only)
858 Warrington – Llandudno (summer Saturdays with a Rhyl additional service running back earlier and daily to Llandudno in school summer holidays)
A day in the life of or were events that happened calculated by someone up above?
My career at New Chester Road depot began at first as a Sunday part time conductor to make up my wages of £9.36 a week working in Crosville’s Crane Wharf head office as an accounts clerk, you weren’t on full pay in the office until your 21st birthday! So on a Friday in June 1972 4 days after my 18th birthday (the traffic commissioners were in the office and brought my badge CC136932 in personally as a favour, that sort of thing wouldn’t happen these days. I rang the foreman at Warrington to see if there was any work and the rest is history, me preferring the job as a conductor to being sat behind a desk. So that’s how it started.
That Sunday Duty 407 1423 H2 to Liverpool and back followed by the 1800 H1 return trip. I was asked if I needed any tuition on a setright or route learning, no its my hobby and I learnt a lot in the head office also assisted by drivers’ at Runcorn depot where I used to take the fares while they had a cuppa on my travels. I arrived in plenty of time got a machine, cash bag from Cyril the foreman (a white haired smart ‘old school’ person with a lot of common sense) and looked for my driver named Harold Isherwood. Harold wasn’t the fastest of drivers and really scooped up the passengers but even with that fault was a really nice person. The day went well and had DLG887 on the H1 with DLB15 on the H1. Harold was surprised that I was quick on the bell and knew the stops so he was happy. Three months later I was full time with a note from Head Office that I was the only person ever that had moved out onto the road!
The next part of my memories are the in between and just short paragraphs on events that happened, no order just a few thoughts that have been scribbled down.
We had a split duty that did the 1505 and 1705 37 route to Altrincham in the afternoon and I was with Eric Whalley using DFB24 or DFB25, this was a nice afternoon split turn second half, just a bit long being 4 hours. All was going well till approaching Lymm on the second trip outward duty, there was a bang and a horrible grating noise from the engine, oil went everywhere on the road. That was the end of that and Eric decided that we were here until someone towed us back. On ringing the depot we got the news that wasn’t really wanted, Runcorn depots tow bus was out on a breakdown of their own and we would have to wait till the Edge Lane (Liverpool) tow bus got to us. It was now about 1745 and both of us thought of a cuppa to pass the rest of the afternoon. Suddenly a woman from across the road called over to ask if we wanted a cup of tea. We told her we had broken down and will be here for over an hour, good she said...mmmm good?...we are all having egg and chips for tea would you like some as well! So needless to say word got about and she was given a few free journeys. The tow bus turned up and arrived back about 30 minutes later that the booked finishing time.
On the Saturday before Christmas in 1973 I was booked on for a duty of 0555 and 0930 H1, nice turn and 1250 finish with Jack Mason if I remember. The first trip was busy for some unknown reason and the second we got hammered, DLB908 was the vehicle, a favourite type of mine, over 500 fare paying passengers during the day and cashed in £104. I never took that much again for about 3 years even after fare increases.
During 1975/1976 there was a severe shortage of spare parts and our vehicles in general were older which culminated in a work to rule on one occasion, we were down to 1 bus SMG367 (the rest being signed off with minor defects) and it was being used crew operated on the 81 to Dam Lane to keep a joint service running, as well as keeping the bus close to home. Harry Mather was on and as expected just a bit agitated about it all. Don’t break it he said, it all works and if that comes off there’s no buses so you will all be sent home. Well on changing the destination blind at Dam Lane I noticed one of the bulbs in the destination box was out. A quick chat to Tommy (Cross) my driver, both of us were aghast if we signed it off, all would be sent home and if we didn’t the union would be on our backs. Well we got back with our little plan. Parking it up right next to the canteen door, Harry said that’s not the place to park in to Tom, I quickly jumped off ran over to DLG789 and pinched the bulb off the platform light and back onto the SMG. We drove off around the block to put the bus on the stand when out of sight I swopped the bulbs over. All lights were working again. Harry really told us both off for messing about but the day after he got the story about how we stopped everyone from being sent home bought us both a cup of Nellie’s best tea.
As most will remember I am a smoker and as the rule book said ‘Thou shalt not smoke on duty’! Well needs must every 30 minutes or so and most of the time if an inspector appeared you just threw it out of the door before he got on where possible. My favourite was to rest a cigarette in the waybill holder on the platform. One day Tommy Bennett got on a bit sharpish and I had been collecting fares so stood hard against the waybill hole hiding the ciggie. He checked the lower saloon and on his way past me to go upstairs, just said, there’s smoke coming under the stairs – get rid of it. He was fair nothing else said but point made.
Another trip was with Wilf Pownall and we had CMG557 on an H1, stopping at the block of flats between Garston and the fire station a pensioner struggled with the steps saying to Wilf, who had looked despairingly at them, these steps are no good for a 67 year old, wait till you get to my age. Wilf took the bait and told them they were 2 years his junior!!!
Wilf had many tales as he was a real Crosville person having been there in the 1930’s even telling stories of how he used to put the luggage on the roof with a tarpaulin when on express routes. Oh and we both smoked the same cigarettes.
Then there were the Dowell’s, husband and wife, both really nice and were straight to the point about things...they had a great big soppy Golden Retriever or Labrador dog (can’t remember which) but the temperament was just like Hughie big and soft but can bite as well !
I can’t remember who but they had blonde hair and was a younger driver (ex conductor) had CRG29 on a 38 crew operated on morning, well the 1st of August to be exact, coming into the canteen looking a bit sheepish and shaken. He had just had a head on crash with a driver testing out his new car in Dunham, a Rolls Royce with 8 miles on the clock. Damage to CRG29 - cracked fibreglass and was out in service 15 minutes later. If you’re going to do anything do it in style.
There was another driver from Daresbury, Graham I think, a civil engineer between jobs, he was great and I had a trip into Wales with him in his Mini Cooper ‘S’, we went to the slate quarries and railways of Ffestiniog and Bala then raced a Lotus Elan from Bala back to Runcorn in 54 minutes.
I can’t say how much I enjoyed my work, hobby and work together is a good combination, especially as so many of the staff at Warrington were so nice, just to mention a few (sorry if I missed a few out and the comments made) Billy Brown – Warrington’s answer to Mike Harding, Mike Withers – a really nice person that loved his job and the company, Len Thomas – another great and thanks for a listening ear when my dad passed away, Phil from Wigan – another great, Eric Graham – a friend from the Crosville Enthusiasts Club early days and remember chatting with a cup of tea on a DFG overlooking the bus station and Arpley railways yard. John Warren, who used to pick me up in Runcorn when I was on first bus so he had at least someone in the depot at 0550. There were so many I could go on forever, Brian Barlow – really nice person, not forgetting other depot’s staff Geoff O’Brien of Liverpool who has been a friend since 1969 and owns a DFG and other vehicles and now is on Merseyrail, Bill Barlow of Crosville Enthusiasts fame, Dave Taylor of Runcorn that became South West Trains train crew inspector, Mike Loftus of Runcorn who became a railways operating inspector, and so on Crosville provided such a lot of great people and as for me a train timer/ timetabling specialist. Great people in transport industry and where did they came from - the Crosville stables of course!
Ticket machines were always an issue (sorry for the pun) there were good ones and bad ones and unlike other depots we didn’t have our own machines but kept one till it broke or someone else swapped it over, I always tried to keep one of C1628/1631/2061/2063, the catches were closer to the handle and well lubricated making life easier to issue tickets. The ticket punch was on the left of the machine and was useful to steady it whilst operating the dials and handle with the exception of the Ex North Western ones that had the punch on the right which meant it could not be steadied, or did North Western staff have a third hand...I always thought they were different even the crew operated double decker’s had no place for a conductor to stand out of the way.
One weekend in July 1976 was a probably the furthest south a Crosville Lodekka had ever been (preserved or privately ones excepted). The story goes that a 10 of us from Liverpool depot and other companies arranged to visit the Weymouth bus rally in preserved Liverpool Corporation AEC Regent A36 but this had developed a major engine fault (only sorted last year and is now back in use!) and there wasn’t another vehicle that could easily be used with 7 days notice so I suggested that we take DFB130 from Warrington as a replacement. Well on the Friday I arranged to see Sid Swift and told him what I wanted and was willing to pay staff rates. This sounds quite reasonable, 2 days 500 miles and revenue for Crosville. The conversation was not good Sid said he couldn’t do it as he thought reliability was in question for the vehicle and needed all his double decker’s on a Monday morning not with one with a fault on it somewhere in Dorset so the answer was no. Johnny Williams was foreman that Friday and as usual said never mind but if you will do the Rhyl as overtime then a late he was acting superintendent on Monday as Sid was on his hols and to ask him then! Needless to say I did the Rhyl as a favour (it was cheaper to pay overtime for the short working than give a rest day away). Monday arrived and John said he would agree to it and would I like it cleaned, polished, new adverts and tyre blacking as well! Please I said and thanks, repaying his kindness with the statutory cup of tea. The day before the trip on the Friday I was on the 868 to Llandudno for an extra trip for Warrington Walking Day and noticed DFB130 was marked for engineering after a school run. Off to Llandudno with EPG724 on the868 and Harold Isherwood driving with very few passengers. On the return journey in Prestatyn bus station steam started to come from the rear of the bus, not a good omen as I had an early start the next day. We phoned Rhyl depot and a fitter brought out DFG220 looked at the EPG and said take the DFG. On arrival back in Warrington John showed me DFB130 and she looked superb. Well to cut the story short Weymouth was reached and back with a trip round the Isle of Portland. The trip really is a story in itself with a lot of surprised people on route and at the rally. Many thanks john again and when I paid Sid (back off his holidays) on the Monday my words left him speechless –DFB130 did make it and I even got you a spare Double Decker from Rhyl just in case!