A Really Great Guy

A Really Great Guy

It was during the dark days of World War 2 and in November 1943 The Ministry of Supply allocated to Samuel Ledgard two Guy Arabs with rare Pickering utility bodywork. One was an FD1, with a short flush fitting bonnet (JUA 762). This vehicle had little connection with Otley and Ilkley but the other one, the subject of these happy recollections, spent its entire career at Otley depot. JUA 763 was an FD2 version with an extended bonnet although this was at first unnecessary as the Gardner 5LW engine was originally fitted. As I was only seven years old when this fine and fascinating machine arrived I never imagined that I would one day be lucky enough to work on it at both ends, and sad enough to drive it on its last day in service in November 1961.

Many years went by while enthusiasts resigned themselves to the fact that no photos existed of the Pickering utility bodies, but fairly recently one very nostalgic picture of each vehicle has come to light, and very welcome they are too! One of my favourite memories of JUA 763 in its original form concerns a long serving and well liked elderly conductress, Mary Hughes. As a teenage enthusiast I was riding from Leeds to Ilkley with her when a very pompous passenger boarded at Kirkstall Lane. He promptly and loudly expressed his disgust that people should be expected to ride on wooden seats so long after Herr Hitler had been sorted out. Rising valiantly to the firm’s defence Mary retorted with the wildest of all public relations mis-representations - ’AY WELL IT’S AN OLD ‘UN THA SEES, AND THEY ONLY GET IT OUT WHEN `THEY’RE REET FORCED.’

Samuel Ledgard Guy Arab JUA 763Anyway early in 1951 the matter of comfort was addressed to some tune, and the two Arabs were relieved of their dubious Pickering ‘coachwork’ and were sent to Mr. Charles H. Roe’s renowned Crossgates Carriage Works for new bodies. As everyone knows nothing but the finest ever came from that wonderful factory and 763 soon returned to Otley looking immaculate in the standard colour scheme of the time. This consisted of blue panels with green roof white window surrounds and dark blue bands with gold lining out beneath. I couldn’t help remembering that day in 1951 when I had discovered the Guy at the back of the garage having freshly arrived from Crossgates and yet to carry the first clients in comfort amidst that wonderful aroma of polished wood and leather.

Really interesting features for this fleet were the three section safety staircase and that famous Roe window on the lower landing. It is just a shame that despite such expensive re-bodying the vehicle was never fitted with a decent front destination blind, or with one of any kind at all over the platform - a classic case of ‘spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar’. The extra weight of the new body made the five cylinder Gardner struggle a bit and therefore in December 1956 763 and twin were despatched to Pelican Engineering of Rothwell (still Gardner agents today) and retumed a great deal more lively with 6LW engines.

Almost every night when I worked at Otley the Guy seemed to be parked ready for action on the small triangular enclosure near the Post Office. It had a 12 volt electrical system and on winter mornings you had to reach into a hole in the bonnet and switch on the ‘cold start’ device. Then you got in, pressed the button, and waited while the starter motor built up to a frenzied whine where upon the Gardner would roar into life with that wonderful whistling, and the fascinating ‘tinkling’ from the clutch which seemed peculiar to Guy Arabs.

About the incredible jet of blue/black smoke which could shoot over Crossgates and reach the Bus Station we’d better say no more in these environmentally sensitive times! New drivers were frequently foxed by the gearbox which was ‘back to front’ in that first and second were near the driver while third and fourth were towards the engine. Regrettably it did have one very naughty habit for the unwary. Upon pulling up to tum round you had to make sure that you had stopped moving forward and that the engine was down to a tick over. Failure to do so could cause a complete jam and render the bus unmoveable in any direction until a fitter had attended. Luckily this never happened to me as a driver but it did occur once while I was a conductor, at the worst possible location on the blind bend in Arthington where we had to reverse into Rawden Hill. I had to cadge a lift from a kindly elderly lady in a WVS van so as to use the phone in the village while the driver stayed on guard (and no doubt tenterhooks as well) in the hope that no heavily laden speeding lorry would demolish the Guy.

I loved 763 and would gladly drive it anywhere, any time, to the dismay of many of the conductors who disliked it because of its narrow gangways and ‘only one bell upstairs. Kindly Charlie Goodwin, who allocated the buses, used to look up with relief when I appeared and, crossing that famous number off his little daily list with a happy grin, would say ‘763 Kid?’ Although the Guy was flat out at around 34-35 mph it would, in true Gardner style, maintain almost the same speed with a full load ‘up a house side’. In a very long career of driving many fine vehicles of numerous makes and models I can’t think of a more individual and likeable machine with all its own eccentricities. There, now I’ve fallen into the trap of leaning towards a favourite which is a thing we shouldn’t do as virtually every model has its appealing features and it’s far better for the enthusiast to appreciate them all in their own right.

Anyway the sad final day came one Sunday in late November 1961 and I did a full late turn with my old friend. This duty consisted of five return journeys from Otley to Leeds via Bramhope. It seemed unreal to have to reverse 763 into the garage for the last time, never to carry another passenger on wooden Q or upholstered seats.

In the days that followed we had to witness the sad sight of the bodywork being dismantled in Otley depot. It was a strange decision really, and one which we never fathomed, as it was a bus which could certainly have been re-certified for further service. I think I would rather have seen the vehicle go away in one piece without being spoiled, as was normal practice, but at least some of its components stayed on in two other buses. The seats - moquette in the lower saloon and leather upstairs - were transferred into Leyland PD1 BCK 621 (ex Preston) along with the chrome saloon bulb surrounds.

In a more spectacular operation the complete window assemblies were miraculously installed in the ailing BBW bodywork of another Leyland PD1 KHW 243 (ex Bristol) giving that vehicle a much improved and unique appearance.

Well, that’s about the end of this little biography but I must admit that even today, when I am in Otley, I look at the Post Office parking triangle, now a municipal garden and just imagine for a moment that grand old motor always ready for action. Then I return to Leeds in great comfort and at phenomenal speed up The Chevin in a modern Volvo/Wrights - but the old atmosphere and appeal can never return.

Chris Youhill

Photograph supplied by Chris but the photographer is unknown if you took this photo please go to the copyright page.

I'm green with envy, Chris, as I've never driven a Guy decker, except in an odd dream where I suddenly realised that I was behind the bulkhead and thus out of reach of the steering wheel. I'd love to know more about "FD1" and "FD2", and whether the changeover from right-to-left gearbox coincided exactly with the offering of the 6LW alternative, and whether there were any other changes.

And can anyone tell me how much of the rarish pre-war Arab survived into the wartime versions? Or why the Arab IV gearbox was so much more melodious than that of the III? Has anyone any info on the 5-speed Arab IIIs that Red & White is reputed to have run?

Finally, a plug: there will be a feast of Aldershot & District vehicles at the Farnham, Surrey, Running Day this coming Sunday, 30 May. Website here

Ian Thompson

A shame indeed Ian that you never had a drive in an Arab as they really were fascinating vehicles. As far as I know, the only difference between the FD1 and the FD2 when delivered was that the former had a flush fiiting radiator and bonnet which could only accomodate the Gardner 5LW, while the other had the extended bonnet regardless of engine - so either an empty space with the 5LW or a full bonnet with the 6LW. I think that all were supplied new with the "back to front" gearbox - a maroon knob on the lever instead of black being the only clue - and there was no connection with the type of engine fitted.

I would love to be at the Farnham gathering - my dear late friend Andrew Oxley used to drive the preserved vehicles on the running days at one time - perhaps you knew him ??

Chris Youhill



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