THE COMING OF THE MOTORBUS.
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Some Memories Awakened in the 21st Year of Motorbus History. By Percy Frost Smith.
IT IS WITH much pleasure that I accede to the request of the Editor of TEE COMMERCIAL MOTOR that I should record some experiences and recollections concerning the progress which has taken place in the commercial motor movement during the last 21 years.
I have read the article "Going Back Twenty-one Years '.,' with much interest, and it brought hack to my memory many interesting land amusing incidents. I do not actually remember the vehicle which Lawson brought to England from Germany in 1898, as I was in Spain at that time on tramway work? I became responsible for the first vehicle supplied by Mr. Straker in 1899, i.e., the modified 1898 bus. At that time I was engaged on the survey staff of the British Electrical Traction Co. .
Early in 1899, Mr. Andrews, late of the South London Tramways Co., asked me if I were familiar with internal-combustion engines, and if I would prepare a report thereon. At that time I could not comply with his request. Apparently for the reason that I knew_ nothing whatever about internal-combustion motors or automobiles, I was invited to become engineer of the Motor Traction Co., and, taking my courage in both hands, I did so. .
When I joined that company in 1899, I first met Mr. Thomson Smith and Mr. George Pollard. The former was associated with the Daimler Co., of Cannstatt, and had a vehicle over in this country into which Mr. Pollard, on behalf dl Mr. Hall, was fitting 6 one • of the latter's hydraulic gears. Smith and _Pollard experienced many difficulties, and I fear that the " Cannstatt-Dalinier-Htill" combination is lost to posterity. I cannot claim, much success for the following two years, because, as a company, we were a great nuisance to everyone living within three miles of Kennington Gate or Oxford Circus, and subsequently Victoria Station. I am able to reproduce a photograph of a double-deck bus which was in public service for part of 1899, the whole of 1900, and part of 1901. In the year 1899 the company obtained from the P.C.O., Scotland Yard, the necessary licence to operate the 1898 modified type bus, and it was then I first met Mr. Bassom, superintendent of that department. It has been my great pleasure to have continued my acquaintance, and I may say 'friendship, with that .gentleman, during the 20 years which have elapsed, and I can only pax this sincere tribute that he has, during that long period, always given the companies I have represented, and myself, much assistan?e, and the benefit of his wide knowledge of the ga_ne. The buses were firat operated between Kennington Gate and Oxford Circus. They were shod with iron tyres, and after a few miles running the noise produced by these buses was appalling It was only through the extraordinary efforts of Messrs. Smith, Parfery and Co., of Pimlico, that the buses were ever provided with serviceable wheels.
I remember clearly that the engines were exceed ingly good, governed by trip gear on the exhaust valves, and having tube ignition, which worked tolerably well when no wind was blowing. It was a great advantage that the engine wits covered with a cast-iron bonnet, as, otherwise, the vehicle would have burned up at least twice a week, because the wind would blow out the burners, they would rapidly become cold, and cease to vaporize the petrol, which I May remark was exceedingly good petrol in those days, .68 gravity or less. The only way of starting again was to allow the engine and tray to become well covered with raw petrol, then to throw in a lighted match and await results !
To recount all the incidents and troubles and trials attendant upon the use of these old vehicles would fill a volume and might weary my readers. However, these buses operated for the greater part of two years and each of the two vehicles aggregated about 40,000 miles during that period. The Motor Traction Co. in 1900 had ordered two further vehicles *of a new type from the Cannstatt
Daimler' Co., and I was sent to Germany by my.
directors in 1901 to inspect and accept the vehiclei if they passed the tests laid down. This design was quite an innovation and much before its time, and, briefly, the engine was an early development of the model which became known as the "Mercedes," con nected by clutch to a, four-speed gearbox with gate control, differential combined with gearbox, the final drive being through the medium of sprockets and chains to the road wheels. It was really an enormous enlargement of the touring car they were then producing, and which a few years afterwards became so famous. These vehicles were duly delivered to England, but, to my knowledge were never used, for the I company wound up, and therefore lost sight of them. • Another interesting vehicle that was never licensed in El e Metropolis was a steam vehicle designed and
built by Mr. Strake:, and offered to the Motor Traction Co. in 1900. It is shown in the second illustration. This, after a prolonged trial, was rejected by the company for seyeral reasons, one of which was that the soot from the funnel of the vehicle made it impossible for outside passengers to use it. A curious mixture this production, with its De Dion boiler, a steam engine transmitting its energy through a gearbox via carclan shaft 'to the back axle. This final drive was the well-known but wrongly-named " Milnes-Dttirnler " rack and pinion drive, for it was originally designed by the Daimler Co., of .Cannstatt. I believe the vehicle was subsequently purchased by the Brush company, and I discovered it during my visit to Manchester, on behalf Of Messrs. MumsDaimler. This vehicle was hidden away in the backyard of one of the company's depots, derelict. I was interested to find this antique, and photographed it.
My visit to Manchester on behalf of Mr. Burford i was n 1902 for the purpose of re-establishing a motor 'mail service between Manchester and Liverpool v,ia Warrington. The three vehicles originally supplied were neat specimens of a type then rapidly becoming
known as " Miln.es-Daimler, ' but, unfortunately, they were shod with iron tyres, which, as was the case with the London buses, led to their downfall. The motor service was stopped and the horse service resumed.
Mr. Harry Burford in desperation sought.the aid of the rubber tyre companies, and had built three seta of wheels with rubber tyres. I was sent to fix these on, and to make an attempt to re-start the motor service. I did this and duly reported to the Post Office that I was ready, but they ignored this report at first, and I suffered the indignity for more than a month of " crawling " behind the horse service before the authorities would place sufficient confidence in 1113 to "go on our own." During this period I became a. capable, team driver 1 This experience, with the exception of starting up an omnibus service for Mr. Burford at Hastings and. Eastbourne in 1902 and 1903, ended my first period of omnibus experience. I then gladly retired from this branch of work and became works manager of an engineering company in the west of England. I might have ended .my days peacefully there, but Mr. Harry Burford, with cruel sternnessl autocratically demanded my return to London in January, 1915, to start "busing" again. With this request I complied.
Perhaps I may be allowed to correct one or two dates which have been given previously. The first fully-licensed double-decked "busing" period ended in 1901 so far as the metropolis is concerned, although I believe the Gi eat Western Railway and a few country firms were becoming interested. Thos. Tilling, Ltd. (probably the first to start the second period of "busing") purchased their first vehicles in Augulit, 1904, and other London associated companies quickly followed. . Messrs. Tillings purchased "MimesDaimlers," and Mr. Burford quickly informed them that they must obtain the services of a really firstclass engineer, experienced and fully cognisant of the undertaking. That happened to be myself. I make this remark unblushingly, for, having regard to my early confession in this article, I may be allowed to do so.
I joined Messrs. Tillings on 1st February, 1905, and have been associated with them ever since. When I joined that company they had two motorbuses plying for hire. My first office at their famous Bull Yard works was part of a horse box, separated from a row of vicious, kicking, snorting, dangerous horses, by a 4i in. brick wall.
Tillings at this time were with much enterprise and courage developing their omnibus service, and another landmark was the formation of the Vanguard company. Our early sorrows were worse than those of Satan, being the immediate fault of pioneer designers and wretched operators and, may it be said, the lack of skilled labour with a knowledge of automobile construction. I well remember on several occasions in 1905 and 1900 the principals of Messrs. Thos. Tilling, Ltd., walking round the Bull Yard inspecting their fleet of buses, 50 per cent. or more of which were "off -service."
To tell of the troubles we experienced as a result of the first attempt to apply ball bearings without thrust bearings to the nest of bevel gears which comprised the " make-up" of the " .51ilnes-Daimler " differential drive, would be too heahrending and lengthy. When in the Slough of Despond, I visited frequentlY the asages of my friends, Mr. George Pollard, of the Road Car Co., and Mr. Robert Bell, of the Vanguard Co.; and 'always returned cheered. How the misfortunes, of others do help and ,comfort one I
Accordingly, the net result of the first few years of the seccad period of " busing " was that there were only two survivors, the L.G.O. Co. and Messrs. Thos. Tilling,.Ltd., • and the only boast we could make at that time was that we lost less money than other unfortunate individuals. I have often thought that Tillings must have had a. veritable gold mine of reserves to have tolerated the undertaking. During the period 1906-1909 various designs appeared on the streets of London viz., Mimes Daimler, Bride, De Dion, Straker, London, Clarkson, Leyland. Bussing, etc., etc., the majority of which have disappeared. The two principal companies' viz., the L.G.O. and Messrs. Thos. Tilling, Ltd., having produced, vehicles from their own. designs. From 1909 to date, despite the advent of the world war, the motorbus has proved itself to be a wonderful production, and is doubtless profitable to its owner.
Finally, I look back upon my experiences as an omnibus operator with great interest, and also with prida that it has been my privilege to be associated with many difficulties surmounted happily.