Maidstone & District Selected Memories of an Engineer

Maidstone & District Selected Memories of an Engineer

Maidstone & District looked a bit of a conundrum from outside in 1970 - very 'heritage' livery, generally looking smart but lots of modern vehicles: large volume orders for early Atlanteans, Nimbus, Fleetlines, Panthers, single deck Fleetlines... Inside, it continued - a very heritage HQ at Knightrider House and depressingly 'tram-age' maintenance facilities. I arrived as Assistant Engineer by train in the snow on January 1, 1970 and inherited a Hillman Hunter - a nippy car if you could get it started - this one was particularly perverse! I was met by Chief Engineer Vin Owen, who was still wondering why he had moved from the modern facilities at the orderly Trent company. Vin appeared to be in conflict with General Manager Arthur J White from the start. I suspect on the basis that huge investment in vehicles had not been matched with updating of routine maintenance facilities and that Area Managers were interfering with basic engineering decisions! Vin Owen had a simple view of buildings - if it is not required, knock it down and it won't need maintenance. I missed his great clearance of tram paraphernalia from Sheerness depot. These didn't help his relationship with the GM nor when he was travelling in Vin's Austin Westminster car and the passenger door opened going around a bend!
The work study incentive scheme, to enable increases in wages which were only allowed by government if productivity increased (George Osbourne, must have noticed this!), was being implemented root and branch with Jim McLellan of PA Consultants and our Bill Young leading a competent and enthusiastic team. Cleaning was categorised into different tasks and frequencies. A new technical assistant, John Waters, had been tasked with writing revised (if there was one already) maintenance inspection and servicing sheets, making sure that modern equipment was properly catered for and the appropriate frequencies chosen and each written in a natural order of work. This was of course in advance of NBC getting round to doing the same thing. As depot after depot was dealt with, Vin wrote out new rosters himself, and talked each through without too much difficulty - wiping away old Spanish customs as he went. These led to interesting situations: At Silverhill (Hastings 'trolleymen'), the Area Manager wanted to know who would drive the gypsum mine staff night bus as Vin had removed the night cleaner who had done it in the past; and at Luton (Chatham) the Assistant General Manager (on his run down to retirement) was sent to resolve a difficulty and commented that any fool can save money by not doing a job, but if the job needed doing it wasn't a saving! A quote I often remembered in later years!
Vin managed to get new workshops built at Chatham and Maidstone and eventually Area Engineers with equal status to Area Managers. At the rebuilt Chatham ('Luton') garage, we installed the first automated chassis wash that I had seen - it did a reasonable, and certainly fast, job but needed a bit of human tweaking and replacement of the rubber screw pump innards but soon cleaned the Medway vehicles much more frequently than the previous annual clean. Electrics took a bit of a beating at first but eventually vulnerable areas were identified and protected. There was also a straight service lane incorporating Cyclone interior cleaning which worked well but not until I had spent a lot of late night hours resolving problems!
An interesting aspect of my position was that the Works Manager had previously been the company's Assistant Engineer and thus appeared to outrank me and being somewhat naive and quiet of character I still managed to find ways around! When Douig Awde retried he was replaced by another ex Assistant Engineer - John Linham from East Kent!
All double deckers going through overhaul at Postley Works were being converted for one man operation. This supply rate didn't meet traffic requirements, so Vin sorted out a swift conversion incorporating a bit of plastic pipe as part of the periscope arrangement and fitment of fareboxes for service 1 to be converted at short notice. He had to argue with the certifying officer that this arrangement was not temporary and met the legal regulations even if not to bodybuilders' high finish.
I was named by one shop steward as the company's highest paid critic, because after my visit to Silverhill, someone was usually hauled in and given a rollicking by the Depot Engineer (an electrician by trade from Trolleybus days) about a mechanical problem reported by central works!
Silverhill had a large percentage of the Strachans bodied Panthers and unknown to head office had started stripping out the ceiling and roof panels because they were moving so much that black aluminium dust was to be found everywhere. The Willowbrook bodied Panthers seemed to stay together. So Vin called in Willowbrook to suggest a structural repair as clearly they would loosen again. A programme of strengthening the roof hoops with externally fitted curved angles began. I later discovered when at Ribble that their first Panther chassis was proclaimed to be frighteningly flexible, especially after good operating experience of Bristol REs and it remained the only sample in the fleet!

Random memories:

  • The cleaner who cleaned staff cars with a stiff floor broom.
  • Trying yellow vertical dip headlight bulbs on a tour coach on the M2 one night and being frightened when unable to see not a lot - idea dropped!
  • Calling in to say I can't start my Hunter!
  • Wondering what else can go wrong at Tunbridge Wells.
  • Wondering how so many vehicles are kept going so well at Tonbridge with sparse facilities.
  • Setting up a monthly fleet allocation list incorporating vehicle types and movements. This was the first formal document indicating who was responsible for maintaining each vehicle!
  • Wondering why Gillingham engineer Harry Pettican happily took engine packs out of Atlanteans as a routine at annual service when nobody else did or could!
  • Introducing a central tyre maintenance workshop service with Dunlop. The biggest unexpected problem was to find that many vehicles already had wheels of the wrong offset fitted randomly! I learned a lot about wheels in a very short time and ordered up stocks of new wheels of different types to give adequate serviced spares at each depot.
  • Organising that every depot had at least one long chassis single deck with rear towing eyes so they could tow in failed vehicles.
  • George MacKay (what's this F****** stuff?) retired NBC Director lived at Tunbridge Wells and we 'looked after' his company car - not a demanding task I'm pleased to say!
  • Sorting out by phone, with Leyland France, a failed Leopard starter in eastern France. On return the works overhauled the starter and refitted it and it failed again on the next trip. Somehow I got Leyland to do the job again!

Watching the one-for-one swop of our 3 year-old Fleetline single deckers for Northern General double decks late in 1972 - several, maybe many, of the red buses went into service next morning in Medway towns. There were dark red buses with the full gold M&D scroll and some with the first NBC reflected N style logo and white company name. This was in complete contrast to Ribble where vehicles were either in full former Ribble colours and logos or full NBC poppy-red scheme - no mixing!
This swop coincided with the NBC new livery. Vin had previously wanted to get rid of the old fashioned M&D scroll and had one or two modern versions done by Postley Works, but they were not approved!
I learned that the old M&D scroll includes the word THE, one inch high, so that it can act as the formal legal company name, with only the address in the bottom left hand corner side panel!
Livery change kicked off when the Leyland National order forms asked which standard colour we wanted - Vin ticked light green, which was wrong for the GM! But soon after we were designated to be a NBC green company and the scroll went! I didn't see Leyland Nationals arrive at Maidstone. When I got to Ribble they were rolling in in dark red, but as no agreement had been reached about operating one man vehicles with over 45 seats they were parked up and repainted poppy red before entering service.
There were times when Vin got more depressed and I had to say to him, if he hadn't stirred a new topic up he could have rested! - but he kept going. My dealings with the General Manager were difficult. On one occasion, I think I had three representatives of a supplier in my tiny office and the ancient (heritage?) internal phone buzzed indicating it was the GM and I answered it "Good Morning". To the room's embarrassment I received the explosive response "Good morning what?". Determined in the circumstances not to call him "Sir", I added "Mr White". At first, whenever Vin left Head Office, the GM would phone me and ask me to go to his office where he would put to me Vin's latest ('unacceptable') ideas and ask my opinion. I supported Vin's line on such occasions! Arthur White accepted early retirement for health reasons on June 30 1972 and retired to his previous Devon General haunts where he lived for many years! He was succeeded by Len Higgins who was also responsible for East Kent. Vin felt less happy as the amalgamation of the companies proceeded and was no doubt delighted to return north in January 1975 to United at Darlington.
I had decided to buy a house before prices rocketted too high and moved in to a newly completed house on August 4,1972. On October 6, 1972 I put it on the market, gaining £1,000 on the original £10,000 price! In the meantime I had seen the internal advert for Assistant Chief Engineer at Ribble and had applied for it without much energy or forethought. A week or so after, Vin looked somewhat down at mouth and said 'I think you'll get the Ribble job'. He had started with Ribble, and learned a lot at the hands of Harry Tennant their Chief Engineer, who 25 years later was still in post! I started on November 1, 1972 - another great change for me!

Geoff Pullin
01/2016

 


 

11/01/16 - 16:45

That's a great article - thanks Geoff for writing it. So many things ring true for me as Technical Assistant at PMT around the same time. The main difference was that you could rarely call the average PMT bus 'smart'! I remember an occasion when the Chief Engineer was on holiday and one Saturday morning the Assistant Engineer and I were summoned to the General Manager's office to 'discuss' maintenance problems. That Gentleman - PH Wyke-Smith ranted and raved with plenty of expletives at the pair of us for fully 50 minutes - then followed 10 minutes of useful discussion on the problems we faced and possible solutions.
I moved onwards just before Leyland Nationals and NBC Corporate liveries appeared in fact the last new buses in my time were three dual purpose Bristol REs in full PMT dual purpose livery and they looked superb.
The two main problems in my time at PMT were the large fleet of Daimler Roadliners and the even larger fleet of early PDR1 Atlanteans with major corrosion and wiring issues. The significant collection of AEC Reliance 470s with constant head gasket and liner seal problems didn't help what was already a monumental task to maintain service. Thanks again Geoff, it's so important that these personal reminiscences are put down as a record.

Ian Wild


12/01/16 - 05:52

Thanks Ian. What I recall, like NGT, PMT was not a popular place to be promoted to! I know that Harry Tennant, Chief Engineer at Ribble was offered the GMs job and turned it down!
When at Maidstone, I can recall a Roadliner lying in the corner at Maidstone depot and the engine being changed, by a PMT crew, who clearly were well versed in the job.
I met PH Wyke-Smith a few times. When he was GM at Crosville, after PMT, and I was at Ribble as Asst CE, he came to see Harry Tennant, to update himself on engineering matters as he had been offered the NBC Engineering Director's role and was "out of touch"! I think it was PHWS who introduced Regional Chief Engineers, thus releasing the chief engineerships of Ribble, United and Western National all at the same time, not that it did me any good!

Geoff Pullin


14/01/16 - 06:09

Geoff, you most certainly would have had a PMT Roadliner coach in the corner of a depot with its engine being changed by a PMT crew! PMT held extended tours licences for several resorts in the South East, I distinctly remember coaches off to Cliftonville as one example.
There were six Roadliner coaches and we had the dubious distinction of changing the engines or bell housings on all six at different times in the South East! A fitter and his mate were despatched with the necessary replacement unit in the Ford van and became pretty slick carrying out the changes. I never thought of PMT as being a Company not to be promoted to - but having experienced it at first hand, I can well understand why. Great people though and an excellent place to learn about bus engineering. I have fond memories of those four years.

Ian Wild

 


 

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