NINE DECADES OF PASSENGER-VEHICLE OPERATION.
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Details of the Many-sided Activities of a Company whose Experience Dates Back to _1832.
lUrOST of those companies who now figure prominently in -LV_Lthe commercial-vehicle industry, either on the manufac
turing or the operating side, but particularly on the latter, have been established since the opening of the twentieth century, but at least one of them will, in the course of a few years, be celebrating their centenary, It was in 1832, to be chronologically accurate, that the business now known under the title of Birch Bros., Ltd., with headquarters at Cathcart Street, London, N.W.5, was founded. It was in that year that Mr. William Birch commenced operations in London as a cab proprietor, and he gradually increased the fleet of vehicles which he ran until he met an untimely death, by accident, 14 years later. His widow, who was possessed of strong business capabilities, not Two years after the death of Mrs. Birch in 1874 her sons decided to abandon the route between Hanwell and London Bridge, consequent on considerable competition from the new tramway system along Uxbridge Road, and devote their activities to the development of the service between Pimlico and the Bank of England.
B44 In 1878 Mr. John Manley Birch and Mr. William Samuel Birch dissolved partnership. They both continued to operate omnibuses and cabs in the Metropolis, whilst early in the 'eighties the latter increased Ms business ramifications by • securing contracts from the General Post Office for the conveyance of mails. It is opportune to mention at this point that close on 50 years later the transport of mail& for the authorities remains an integral part of the company's activities.
In the 'eighties the General Post Office authorities decided to run a long-distance fourhorsed mall coach between London and Brighton, and this service was, in its initial year, performed by Mr. John Manley Birch. He afterwards ran the London to Oxford mail coach for 18 years, at the end of which time the service was motorized. Having for some time previously constructed and repaired all his own vehicles, Mr. J. M. Birch, in the early 'nineties, laid the foundation of the large coachbuilding business now carried on by Birch Bros., Ltd.
It was not until 1899 that the two brothers rejoined forces, and Birch Bros., Ltd. were then inaugurated. In 1904 the company began to replace their horsed omnibuses by motorbuses, and the latter operated a route between North Finchley and Oxford Circus, The 'vehicles used at that time were of the Milnes-Daimler type, and bad been in operation for four years when the present tramlines were laid over the Finchley to Child's Hill portion of that route. Partly as a result of the serious competition foreshadowed by the institution of the new system and partly owing to vibration troubles set up by the notorious state of the roads this enterprise wan for the time being abandoned. It must be remembered that at that period the motorbus was far from being mechanically sound and reliable, and there were numerous difficulties associated with the operation of such vehicles.
However, the company decided that, at a later date, when fewer troubles were likely to be experienced and the motorbas might not be viewed with the same disfavour, they would re-enter the business. This, as many of our readers are aware, has been done, and at the present moment they have in service on the London streets ex double-deck buses, these consisting of Leyland chassis carrying well-constructed bodies built in the shops of Birch Bros., Ltd.
The vehicles are run under the nathe of " Archway," and five of them are in everyday service, the spare bus only coming into use on Sundays. Two of the vehicles are in service on route No. 536 from Highgate to Southend Pond, and three of them on route No. 526D, which connects North Finchley with Wandsworth Bridge. Some idea of the servIce which independent bus proprietors endeavour to give to the everyday traveller can be gathered from the fares charged on these routes. Although both of them exceed 16 miles in length a through fare of is. only is in force in each case.
By keeping one bus as a spare the company are able to give, every unit of the fleet a dock day once a week, except when a bus is under annual overhaul—an
operation which usually occupies approximately 12 days.
The buses run by Birch Bros., Ltd., carry two and a half million passengers per annum, and the vehicles average an annual mileage of 50,000. A sure indication that the vehicles are maintained in tip-top condition is certainly suggested by the oil and petrol returns which are secured. For instance, six and two-third miles are run to every gallon of petrol used; 660 to the gallon of engine -oil used, and 1,040 for every gallon of gear oil consumed.
Pistons with scraper rings have been in use on the engine of one bus for close on a year, and such hap been the saving in oil which this type of piston has effected that the company are standardizing them for all their Leyland engines, sure in the knowledge that by so doing they will improve upon the already low figure for oil consumption. Another interesting point concerning the bus engines is that solid exhaust valves of stainless steel are used throughout, as experience shows that these do not break so rapidly as the standard type of valve with cast-iron heads, and thus a warning of their approaching disintegration is given. Ribbon-type brake rods, -which are practically unbreakable, heve been substituted for the tubular type formerly supplied by the chassis makers.
So far as tyre mileages are concerned, the log which has been kept *owe that for tyres of several' makes of 881 ram. by 120 ram, section an average mileage of 32,000 miles is obtained, but since the company place the interests of the public in the forefront and consider that comfortable travel is essential, they do not run the tyres to within an inch of the "iron." Moreover they show wise discernment in helding the opinion that the last 5,000 miles obtained when the tyres are run for their maximum period of life give no saving, but, on the contrary, Subject the whole vehicle to unnecessary vibration and thus inflate the coats of mainreeance of wearing parts. The maximum mileage that has been obtained from any one tyre on bus service is 50,000, this being credited to a tyre of Dunlop make. The company have also obtained good Service from Pirellis. Tyres of 130 mm. section are now being standardized for bus work.
Another side of the ecanpany's passenger-vehicle activities' is concerned with motor' coaches, of which they run six. These are all 2S-seafers, Eve of them being Tilling-Stevens arid the other a Leyland. Although these vehicles were at one time run an long-distance services and tours they are now used almost wholly for private hire by parties. We recently had an opportunity, when making a tour of the extensive premises of the company, to inspect one of these vehicles, and we were particularly struck by the form of seating employed. The Seats themselves are arranged in what is more or less the orthodox manner for luxury tyPe coaches, that is to say, in pairs on each side of a central gangway. In each case the seat abutting the gangway is staggered. The seats resemble very closely the tYpe of arfnchair often ieferred to as a "tub." but they have one great advantage over this type of seat in that 'a flexible-steel extension hack-rest is built into the seat. This is of suffident width to give adequate support to the back and it allows passengers to rest their aims Oa the sides without causing any inconvenience 'to other passengers. We need hardly say
that the bodies on all the coaches are the product of the company who run them.
It was in 1911 that Birch Bros., Ltd; startkl run ning taxicabs on the London streets.
They now have 23 [Jules in service, although at one period their cab fleet was of greater dimensions. None of the present cabs is more than two years old, and all the bodice have been constructed in the Cathcart Street shops ; the bodies are certainly high-class products of their type, and have been designed and constructed with an eye on the public's requirements.
The company's aCtivities on the operation side are completed, so far as motor vehicles are concerned, by the employment of several Leyland 3-4-ton lorries which are engaged on general haulage, and two Leyland tank wagons which, besides undertaking contract work, transport the company's own petrol supplies.
At several stages in the course of this article we Imee referred to the various types of passenger-vehicle bodywork which the company have built for their own requirements, but at this point we would say that they are in a position to construct any type of body either for goods carrying or passenger uses to suit the specific needs of users in different trades. At the time we visited the works, we were able to observe the care and attention being given to several
32-seater saloon bus bodies in various stages of completion for the Wrexham and District Transport Co., Ltd., who operate a number of buses and coaches, whilst nearby the foundation of a van body for a confectionery maker was being laid down.
Much of the company's success as builders of passengervehicle bodies is undoubtedly -due to their system of body
isolation. In their latest 48-seater models there is no con
neetion whatever, except for the chassis frame, between the bodywork proper and the scuttle dash. The driver's seat
is entirely separated, and a definite'apace is left behind it and the body proper; consequently it is possible for the front to be'effectively braced and covered throughout in a single stout aluminium sheet extending right to the sides of the corner pillars. Apart from the fact that this construction gives, it is claimed, materially increased strength, it also minimizes the degree of the moisee noticeable inside the vehicle. The company carry a large stock of seasoned timber and their sawmills are fitted out with modern plant ; they also have spacious painting and drying shops.
Mr. William Samuel Birch, who is ST Jeers of age, is still the chairman of the company, whilst his son, Mr. William Henry Birch, is managing director, and his grandson, Mr. Raymond William Bin-eh, who was elected to the directorate two years ago, fills the position of engineer.