LEARNING TO DRIVE A BUS
For those of you who may be interested, it is now more than 44 years since I passed my PSV (Public Service Vehicle) Driving Test.
(We will not bother with the new PCV title. This web site is stuck firmly in the past.)
I passed on Thursday 23rd January 1972 in Nottingham with the well know PSV Driving School, Wallace School of Transport. they are still in existance today, although now based at Wembley. Please click here to view their website.
The vehicle used was an ex Western Welsh AEC Bridgemaster, with Park Royal H41/27RD body. It was new in December 1958, registered PBO 685, and given Fleet Number 685.
What led me to take my PSV Driving Test, and gain the coveted PSV Licence and Badge - well
I had begun my working career in 1968 with Oldham Corporation Passenger Transport Department, in the Works Office, but I had always wanted to be in the Traffic section.
(see my Oldham Corporation Transport Page),
After a mamber of staff left, I was offered a job in the Traffic Office, and got involved in all aspects of Bus Operation. I felt that to know the job properly, I should obtain a PSV Driving Licence, so that I could know what life was like at the sharp end.
Of course this was an ambition which I had secretly had, since I was in short trousers, so was not a hard decision to make.
The first step on the ladder was to seek out the Chief Training Inspector - an ex Army Sargeant Major called Alec McAllistar, (Inspector Mac to everybody), he was not as frightening as his ex position may suggest.
I told him what my plans were, and why I was wanting to take the test.
He said that as far as he was concerned there was no problem, there was space in the Training School, and I could undertake training in the evenings and at weekends, so that it did not interfere with the day job.
Those were the days when Conductors who wished to become Drivers had to do the training in their own time, and unpaid, so the school operated at unsocial hours, which also allowed the Training vehicles to be used for peak hour service requirements.
The next step was to get permission off the Manager, so an official application form was completed and submitted the next morning, and I sat back and waited, for permission to start in the school.
The reply came 2 days later, but it was not the answer I was expecting.
As you have probably guessed it was NO. There were no vacancies in the school because it was so busy, and the Instructors could not be spared to teach me.
The memo showing the refusal can be seen here.
An appeal was made but to no avail, the answer was still NO.
So alternative plans had to be put in to motion.
I phoned around a number of HGV Driving Schools in the Oldham area, but they could not help, BSM even said there was no call for PSV tuition............ Strange as I was asking, and so must other prospective Bus and Coach Drivers.
It was about this time that I saw an article in Commercial Motor on PSV Driver Training Schools, one, Basford School of Transport Driving, was based in Nottingham, which was the nearest I had come to one in the whole of the North of England, never mind in Lancashire.
So a phone call was made and my intentions made known.
Once again I was out of luck, they were full to capacity, well in to the new Year (1972), their only bus, an AEC Regent lll being fully committed.
But they did give me the name and phone number of 'The Wallace School of Transport' also based in Nottingham.
So once again a phone call was made (this was beginning to get expensive on phone calls alone).
This time lady luck was on my side, - Yes, they had vacancies, and if I was available I could go to Nottingham on the following Sunday and undertake a 3 hour assessment drive (which cost £6 - more expense) to see how long it would take them to teach me, although it sounded like a 1 week course, of 40 hours' was the norm, to progress from car driver to Bus Driver.
Sunday dawned, and there was a covering of snow, this was to be present throughout just about all my training, but this was something I wanted to do more than anything else in the world (sad or what), so off I set.
Fortunately I had given myself plenty of time, to allow for getting lost trying to find the former railway goods yard in Nottingham (no Sat Nav then), and arrived shortly before my allotted time.
There standing in the middle of the yard was my bus, PBO 685, an AEC Bridgemaster, new in December 1958 to Western Welsh, (see picture at the top of this page).
Standing beside it was Bill Shepperson my Instructor for the assessment, and, already seated in the bus another victim - sorry - trainee.
If I thought I was going to jump into the driving seat straightaway I was much mistaken.
The assessment period comprised of three parts, firstly there was a brief talk about the responsibilty(s) of driving a PSV, secondly the test drive itself, and lastly a questionnaire on the Highway Code.
The brief talk completed I could now jump into the cab and away we would go, WRONG.
Bill climbed up into the cab and started to drive the bus out of the yard.
I suppose this was only sensible, the yard contained a number of HGVs, and the other PSV based at Nottingham, a Leyland Tiger single decker semi coach, the last thing that the Wallace School wanted was their business and lively hood wiped out in one fell swoop, by a novice trainee.
Bill drove to a quiet stretch of a dual carriageway, and pulled in to a layby, stopped the engine, climbed down and came round the back. He asked which one of use wanted to go first, so I said the other guy could go first. There was method in this, because I thought that I could possibly pick up a few tips, from his mistakes, and also as I said earlier it had been snowing, and the lower saloon had a nice big Calor Gas heater burning away.
This heater was fed from a gas bottle secured on the platform, a rubber hose running along the roof grab rail, down to the heater which was mounted on the front bulk head, (this heater would be in constant use during my period of training).
So, after an explaination of the controls from Bill, off we went.
I must say that the other guy hardly failed to put a foot wrong, so my thoughts of learning anything from him were quickly dashed, but I did stay warm. It turned out the other trainee was employed by Nottingham City Transport as a Conductor, had twice failed his test with them, and was now having to pay for his own lessons if he wanted to progress to be a Driver. After about half an hour Bill told him to pull over.
SO NOW IT WAS MY TURN.
I walked round to the front and climbed up into the cab, I was just about to slide the door shut when Bill climbed up.
This, he explained, was because I was a novice, and if need be, he could take action by either grabbing the steering wheel, or pulling on the hand brake, this instilled an aweful lot of confidence in me.
During the normal course of instruction there was an emergancy air hand brake installed, for emergency situations, in the lower saloon just behind the drivers cab window, which of course, was missing, so that instructions and communications could be made between instructor and pupil.
So I started up the engine, selected first gear, gently squeezed the accelerator, let up the clutch until I could feel it bite, let off the hand brake, and moved slowly forward.
Sounds easy doesn't it, well it wasn't. The clutch was solid, and required a huge amount of effort to push down, and, more importantly let up again smoothly, the gear lever moved with all the ease of a spoon mixing concrete, and the hand brake needed all my strength to release. The steering was fairly heavy - even by 1972 standards - and the air brakes were super sensitive. Was I ever going to master it.
The modern day Bus Driver does not know he is born, what with - automatic gears, power steering, and spring parking brakes, (Oh, and don't forget cab heaters - I think you must realise by now that I don't like being cold), all he has to do is point the bus in the right direction, and use the soft and loud pedals (brake and accelerator) for stop and go.
After about 5 minutes of driving Bill slid through the window back into the lower saloon, muttering something about not crashing it whilst he was doing it, and told me to carry on.
After the 30 minutes driving time was up (what happened to the 3 hours?), Bill directed me back to the yard, and must have thought I would not write off the 'fleet', let me drive back into the yard.
Hand brake on, out of gear, turn the engine off, but how did I do that.
This bit of the exercise was Bills' party trick.
Now, I had seen in to the cabs of Leylands, and seen Drivers pull the engine stop situated to their left coming out of the engine compartment bulkhead, so I reached down, but no knob. So I searched and searched, but to no avail, of course I had to give in and ask, and Bill with a twinkle in his eye let me into the secret. On AECs the engine stop was situated on the accelerator, and by pulling it back the engine would stop. This valuable lesson learnt, the training finished.
Now came the moment of truth, how many hours/days/weeks, or even months would I need to become a Bus Driver.
Well Bill told me that I would need a week's joint tuition, which would consist of 5 full days training, with another trainee, followed by the PSV Driving Test, which would take place possibly on the last day depending on test availablity.
Before that I would have to fill in all the PSV Licence Application forms, and send them off to the Traffic Area office (along with the relevant fees) and have a medical.
I can not remember what the test fee was , but I do remember that the Licence fee was 3/- (15p in new money) for a 3 year licence, AND 2/6 (12½p in new money) PSV Badge Deposit. This was returnable when your licence expired and you sent your badge back to the Traffic Area office.
For those of you who are interested, I will cover the intricacies of the PSV licensing, and the Traffic Area system at a later time.
So the day was over and I drove home, knowing that (hopefully) it would not be long before I was back in Nottingham, and the Wallace School of Transport would be teaching me to Drive a Bus.
On getting into work on the Monday morning I checked up to see how many days holiday I had left, and found that I only had 4 days left. This was a problem because I wanted to start my training as soon as possible, and to have 5 days holiday I would have to wait until April and the start of the new leave year.
It was now getting into December and it would be a whole 3 months before April arrived. So I phoned the Wallace School and asked if it would be possible to have a course of individual training, rather than the joint course as suggested.
For once I was lucky, they said they had a slot starting on 20th January, which would be 3 days tuition, followed by the test on the morning of Thursday 23rd January 1972 - a day to remembered. So I booked it.
In the mean time I had to complete all the paperwork for the Traffic Area office, and have a medical.
TO BE CONTINUED