Here on Trevor's Page, Trevor Berresford recalls a series of humourous events involving some of the Berresford employees, all of which happened during his time with Berresfords Motors Ltd. Please scroll down to read all his stories.
Expanding the Tours and Excursions
After the rigid constraints due to the Second World War, a strong desire to travel and obtain pleasure from the sheer joy of being able to say, “Lets go to Rhyl, Blackpool or Belle View”, resulted in an expansion of Excursions and Tours for passenger transport operators.
BML grasped this opportunity to satisfy the demand and embark on a programme of updating the fleet. I say this “a bit tongue in cheek” because our past was acquisitions were two Gardiner Arabs in 1947 with SEAS of Benamaris bodies and the shortest backrests on buses I have ever seen. Not conclusive to passenger comfort on longer journeys than stage carriage routes. Also a Leyland PS! With semi utility body from Willowbrook. This was a much superior vehicle and a particular favourite amongst the staff, me included. The desire to travel was not diminished by these buses in as much as even our second hand double deckers were pressed onto carrying week to week holiday passengers.
A particular large step forward was taken in 1950 when we launched three fresh vehicles, all in one day, No9, No14 and No20.
This narrative really centres on No 14.
Due to an increase in permitted length of vehicles, Jimmy, my brother, hit on the idea of splicing together the front end of an AEC chassis and the rear end of an AEC double decker chassis. The reason for this was to maximise rear luggage locker space. The chassis was despatched to Yeates of Loughborough and a very nicely proportioned body was fitted. This proved to be a successful and popular addition to the fleet and did yeoman service, with almost all running units reconditioned in house. The crankshaft was reground at Longton Garage. The 7.7 engine I rebored to 40 thou oversize.
So the years rolled by, and then in 1953 we were tempted to dip our toes in the water and cross the Channel! No, we did not fit outboard motors! Yes, we were invited to tender for a continental tour!
Mr Gregory, the headmaster of Longton High School, was arranging a party to travel through France, Germany, Austria and Italy and returning though France to England.
Our tender was accepted.
Jimmy recognised the challenge of climbing the Alps and belting along the Autobahns began to assemble a chassis to fulfil some of the requirements.
Now here I do admit to a less than adequate recollection of the chassis, because I can only really remember No14 being lengthened, but my friend Bill Jackson, and maybe others, feel sure that this proposed chassis was also 30 feet. The only thing is, I have a photograph of it and the rear end is that of a single decker.
However, it was decided to experiment with an idea to reduce engine revolutions and increase cruising speed. A transfer/reduction box from a Morris Quad was fitted where the centre main was positioned, but turned round so the effect was to increase not reduce the rear prop shaft speed. This device had a brake rod attached to the lever on the box, and rose at an angle convenient to the driver sitting on a cab seat beside his left elbow. Remember, this is a chassis only; I personally drove this unit up and down to Cellarhead many times and assure you it was very quick. The limiting factor to me was the wind, (as in gale force), and an unstable driving seat. The doubts about reliability due to the reversal of torque persuaded us to abandon the idea, but it was, I think innovative, a concept that ran strongly through our approach to fleet repair and maintenance, often some said, ending in ultimate failure.
Jimmy then proceeded to build a body using his own methods, based upon the windover bodies much admired and operated by S.U.T.
However, the substantial claims upon his time by the varied components of a transport business lead him to abandon the project, and we towed the partial vehicle to Wetley Rocks Garage, minus its high ratio differential and 8.8 AEC engine. They were destined for, yes, you guessed it, No 14.
Story uploaded 20/11/2008
Berresfords of Cheddleton Our first Continental Tour.
In order to expand the business beyond the UK, when we were approached to consider a European tour we entered into the project with enthusiasm. A large number of destinations were added to our licences in order to satisfy the growing interest in week to week holidays, as the restraints were gradually eased following the end of the war, so an opportunity to travel abroad also was attractive.
Mr. Gregory, the Headmaster of Longton High School, informed us he had designed a tour to cover several countries. These were Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. He had planned the route and arranged the accommodation. We were to provide the transportation and obtain the attendant travel documents.
The price was agreed, and I seem, to remember, we quoted 2/6d per mile. There was an unwritten understanding that fees at border crossings, for instance, or other tolls, would be met by individual collections. As you can gather, we were breaking new ground.
The passengers were drawn from around the district and included Mr Jack Moffat, one of the teachers, the two Miss Morton’s from the well known jewellers in Leek, and Miss Bell. Jimmy who was driving, was accompanied by his wife May and myself.
This adventure, as it was to me, was significant in many ways, as will be seen as the story unfolds.
A lot of thought went into the preparation of the vehicle chosen, although on reflection maybe not enough! We elected to use No 14. TRF990, written about in a previous item entitled “Expanding the Tours”.
The journey began in the August of 1953. Having loaded passengers and luggage very early in the morning we headed for Dover, and onwards to foreign soil, where a Berresford’s coach had never before left its tread mark.
Early on in the journey it became apparent that I was to be the communicator between the Organiser Mr. ‘G’, and Jimmy. This duty was conducted through a small sliding window adjacent to Jimmy’s left ear.
At first everything went smoothly and the miles rolled by, down the old A5, passing through many town and villages now bypassed by the M1. However, it was
brought to my attention that a certain anxiety was troubling the Headmaster, as to the difficulty we would find ourselves in if we didn’t reach the embarkation dock in time and therefore miss the boat. Mr ‘G’ suggested I should point this out to Jimmy, who was driving in a manner suited to extend the operational life of No 14 in general, and the continued performance of that duty on this tour, in particular! Jimmy was not pleased. The result was, we went a lot quicker, offering a measure of discomfort over bumpy roads and around corners. An air of tension hovered in the coach, like armed neutrality as we hurtled towards Dover, although hurtled might be a bit of an exaggeration, arriving within the time period allotted, one and a half hours before sailing.
Everyone began to relax and look forward to the rest of the tour once the first tight schedule had been successfully accomplished.
There are a few gaps now in my memory of the early part of the journey, perhaps because it began to unravel without any notable incident until events took a dramatic turn.
As previously mentioned, the outward journey was through Belgium and into Bavaria, with our first experience of travelling on an Autobahn. Very impressive for those days although only two lanes wide. Our destination on this particular day was Salzburg where our party were to spend four nights and then over the Grossglockner Mountain pass in the Alps, down to Cortina D’Ampezzo in Italy.
Bowling along the Autobahn beyond Munich we were travelling well. The AEC 8.8c was humming, we were on time, and the high ratio differential was pushing us along at about 50-55 mph, when I noticed the humming rose and the speed dropped! We drew to a halt in what appeared to be neutral gear. The trap door over the rear axle was raised and as I could rotate the prop shaft without the wheels going round, we astutely agreed ‘the diff had gone’. Coupled with the heat from the casing, the diagnosis was justified.
A lift to the nearest telephone resulted in the Hotel dispatching a bus to take our passengers on the Salzburg, and a breakdown truck to tow No. 14 to a modest garage in the nearest town of Holzkirchen, a little way off the Autobahn.
Here I must offer a few details of conditions regulating travel abroad.
Tourists were limited to the amount of sterling they were permitted to take. The amount was £50 per person, but BML had an extra allowance for fuel and unknown contingencies. What that amount was I can’t remember, but it certainly wasn’t enough for garage costs and a new Diff. What I do know is, that we needed to learn if AEC had any agents in Bavaria. This resulted in the garage owner teaching me to ask “Is there an AEC Agency in Munich?” ‘Gazelshaft’ was the keyword. The answer was ‘no’.
The ratio of the destroyed crown wheel we knew, so after dropping the ‘diff’ and examining the rest, we were able to select the replacement parts needed. These were the crown wheel, its two Timkin carrier bearings, the pinion oil seal and although not essential, the pinion bearings. The pinion and differential assembly were considered serviceable. A call was put through to our Cheddleton Depot with details of the parts needed and this was relayed to AEC Southall with an urgent request to package and dispatch them to Munich Airport. We later learned that the paperwork was quite complicated as we were receiving exported goods. Fortunately we saved all the bits and reimported them and reclaimed the duty.
Upon cleaning the assembly we concluded that the cause of the fault lay with the damage inflicted on the pinion oil seal. That day we had crossed a railway track at some speed. With luggage and a load of passengers, the axle hopped about a bit, and of course it was hot so the oil seal may have hardened. Whatever the reason, the oil ran out.
In the meantime we busied ourselves tidying up the coach and exploring the town, and now perhaps I could digress a little from the troubles of No. 14.
The garage proprietor, who had been conscripted into the German Army, was taken prisoner and held in a camp near Coventry. By his conduct he had been recognised as a trusty prisoner who repaired boots for people at the camp. As the war drew to a close, he was allowed out of the camp and able to purchase a bicycle and visited places outside the camp confines, collecting and repairing footwear for householders and farmers nearby. He told Jimmy and I that his stay in England was the best time of his life during his service.
We met his family and had several meals with them. He treated us with respect and generous hospitality. He drove us to Munich Airport twice to collect the spares. The first was a wasted journey due to the flight being missed in London. The parts arrived the day before our party was due to leave Salzburg. Incidentally, for our sleeping accommodation, where do you think? In No. 14, of course. I have already mentioned our limited cash resources so we needed to be economical. In the town square there was and I guess, still is, a typical Bavarian Hotel. Substantial, inviting, with attractive wood decoration, and years of history behind it. The ‘Frau’ who owned the establishment, served up the most delicious Weiner Snitzel, with a fried egg on top, and potatoes sautéed in butter. I declare the food was the most appetising I had ever tasted. However, after the bill was paid we knew we could not afford to eat like that, so we ordered one meal for the two of us. Our Hostess declared, “You British have shrunken stomachs”. We couldn’t argue with that.
She told us that during her time in domestic service, she had been a cook at Berchtesgarden, which is where many of the Nazi leaders were invited to visit and party with the Fuhrer.
I will mention here that I have a photograph of No. 12, JP 8145 parked in exactly the same spot outside the Holzkirchen Garage, where No. 14 was parked five years previously (see picture in Family Album).
So, to continue, the spares were collected at the Airport in a Borgward, Jimmy and I assembled the unit and adjusted the carrier bearings, using mechanics blue to marry the pinion to the crown wheel. The lot was raised into position with ropes through the trap door, bolted up and oiled. It was partially ‘run in’ with the wheels jacked up and a bit of handbrake applied. Temperature remained cool, so we said ‘goodbye’ and made for Salzburg in the early hours of the day. The party was due to leave the hotel at 8.30 am to continue the tour.
Now, as a consequence of the situation, there proved to be a beneficial side effect, it was this. When I was a couple of weeks past my 21st birthday I obtained my PSV Licence, having been tested on ED 7445. To obtain an International Driving Permit for passenger vehicles the applicant needed to have had previous experience. This experience could not be gained with passengers on board, as the Insurance cover would not be provided. Jimmy, who had driven while serving abroad in the Army, successfully obtained his I.D.P. However, we concluded that if I drove the empty coach with a qualified driver on board, it would enable me to apply successfully - and so it came to pass, if you will forgive the pun! It also served another very important element of the ‘adventure’; Jimmy was able to get a bit of rest to prepare him for the leap over the Grossglockner into Italy.
We arrived safely at the hotel about six in the morning. Cleaned up, had breakfast, loaded and prepared to launch No. 14 over the Alps.
The Grossglockner is part of this range, and at 12,457 feet is the highest mountain in Austria. The road was built in the early thirties and rises to 7852 feet, which is well above the tree line. If I recall correctly there are twenty-two hairpin bends going up and about the same going down the other side.
Now for those of you who have shown the staying power to read this article, I said at the beginning “a lot of thought went into the preparation of No. 14”. Now she, (why ‘she’ is always used I don’t know but it is more affectionate and familiar sounding than ‘it’). So, now, she had already indicated a certain reluctance to fulfil her obligation to climb this monumental road to its fullest height, and then descend with vacuum assisted brakes, and surely was the reason for her earlier misdemeanour, warning us of the sheer folly of continuing. As it was, we did not listen to the warning.
The first few miles were spent listening to our friends recounting their activities in Salzburg and ours in Holzkirchen. We were looking forward to another part of our adventure, ready to face the challenges together, united after overcoming adversity. The party had enjoyed their stay, visiting the underground lakes and salt mines.
Forgive me if I offer some comments about vacuum assisted brakes for anyone who is not conversant with this system.
Part of the engine drives a unit called an Exhauster; this is connected via a metal pipe to a vacuum tank. The air is sucked out of the tank and the vacuum maintained at a high level. When the footbrake pedal is depressed, a valve permits a suction affect via a servo to assist the brake shoes exercise pressure on the brake drums in proportion to the pressure applied to the footbrake. This enhances the friction between shoes and drums and hinders the free rotation of the drum. The vehicle slows down – or stops!
The amount of vacuum available at a given time is measured by the number of inches raised in a column of mercury, to a maximum of 32 inches. For most operating requirements 25 inches plus is adequate, the exhauster continuing to suck from the tank, that which is lost during braking.
As we climbed this tortuous pass, I frequently lifted the axle trap door and rested my hand on the undulating Diff housing, while seeing the gravely road spit by like a minor avalanche below me, – ‘elf and safety!’ Who!!
Frequent journeys were made to the cab to reassure Jimmy and passengers that the axle was OK, not overheating or spinning oil from the drive coupling. So far, so good. During one of these informative exchanges, Jimmy told me he didn’t like heights and was therefore driving with particular circumspection, not too close to the unfenced outside edge of this awesome mountain road! He then added, “it’s alright going up, but I am now only pulling 12 inches of mercury due to the rarefied atmosphere. I am a little concerned about when we start to go down”. I have used a bit of licence here but that was the gist of what he said!
It took us six hours to go up in first and second gear with frequent stops and manoeuvring when meeting other coaches on the hairpin bends, and six hours to come down in first and second gear with much tugging on the handbrake. Eventually and with enormous relief, particularly for Jimmy, we arrived at our destination in Italy – Cortina D’ampezzo.
The tension we felt for the safety of our passengers was considerable, but seeing it through to the end reflects great credit on Jimmy, and I admire him very much for the sheer guts and determination he showed on the horrendous trip over the alps in a vehicle quite unsuited for the undertaking.
Air pressure brakes, and exhaust brakes were standard items on the Continental coaches. We were on a steep learning curve.
The rest of the Tour was incident free. Safely home via Switzerland, France and Belgium after an experience I would not wish to have missed and a very ambitious undertaking for a first trip abroad. However, it is said that experience is something you get when you are looking for something else.
For those of you who have travelled abroad by coach, I hope that it was less stressful than the one No. 14 undertook. Bless her!
No. 14 TRF 990, and No. 12 JP 8145.
One evening when we were all having dinner to celebrate our safe return, Miss Bell (affectionately known as The Great Bell) approached our table and said with mock severity. “Mr Berresford, do you realise you are responsible for scattering my hair pins all over Europe?”
The crumbled remains of the crown wheel and tinted blue bearings, sat in a box in our upstairs stores for years. We were refunded the duty.
AEC were really good in the way they responded. It was the paperwork, which had caused the delay. Later they invited me to visit their factory as a guest.
The axle assembly remained firmly bolted to No. 14 and needed no further attention and travelled abroad again!
It was not unusual during the summer season that on most weekends, 100pc fleet was running. This was largely due to the fact that Colin Alcock, our Traffic Manager, seemed able to convert any enquiry into a definite booking. He would then spend hours dovetailing within a tight schedule, these options.
On one such mid Saturday morning, Father and I were standing talking and admiring an empty yard, when Tommy Smallwood, driving on Longton service, came along and on seeing us, stopped. He walked over and said can somebody look at the horn; it doesn't work, or is there another bus I could have? J.M.B. cast his eyes round the empty yard, silently indicating that a relief vehicle was not an option and that it was not convenient at the moment to delay the service.
"What shall I do then?" said Tommy.
Father, showing considerable restraint, then proceeded to outline a suitable strategy, so simple and functional; I wish I had thought of it myself.
"You put your head out of the....er....cab door window and shout 'honk, honk'!" Tommy accepted this advice and drove off.
What I did think about later, and mentioned this to J.M.B. To change directions, the driver opened a sliding window, popped out his hand up to the wrist and held it straight or rotated it to offer any interested observer that something other than going straight ahead was being considered. Now, if the necessity arose to combine the proposed warning and hand signals, a circus contortionist would have been severely challenged, and a frisson of excitement would surely have passed over the passengers seated immediately behind the driver and stimulated a compelling interest in what was going on in the cab.
We had a good laugh afterwards.
A defensive loyal streak lay just below the surface of many B.M.L. employees, and I always had a feeling of pride when I recognised it, filtering it from a suspicion that 'mickey' was being taken.
One morning a P.M.T. Recovery Vehicle stopped at our Garage on its way to Stoke-on-Trent. It was towing a single decker that was suffering from a transmission defect. This in itself was cause for a spontaneous and well attended celebration. It transpired that the tow truck had overheated climbing out of Cheddleton, and needed rest and water.
During this cooling off period, we had a look at this shiny red breakdown with spares and cupboards, jacks, spotlights, etc. all neatly accommodated in the enclosed rear. After a critical examination from Bill Wraggs, our lubrication fitter, he said, "It'a owight. We're going to have one. We're going to have a bathroom in ours".