Central SMT

Special Features Focus on : Highland Exiles

Contributed by Douglas G MacDonald, January 2004

The history books refer to the Highland Clearances, when thousands were driven from their homes and forced south. Even with threat and compulsion removed, the trend to make an exodus from the more remote regions of the Highlands continued for decades, as younger folk in particular looked for better job/career prospects in the big cities and conurbations of the Lowlands and beyond. In  more modern transport terms, the same logic did not apply – in fact, the routing was totally reversed!

The Highland Transport Company had been in existence since the 1930s, but Highland Omnibuses became the youngest member of the nationalised Bus Group in 1952, set up to combine the Highland T.C. with the Macrae & Dick bus operations, taken over by the British Transport Commission the previous year. The operating territory was wide and varied, much of it rural in population and thus unremunerative in terms of revenue and profit. The terrain and distances covered were always going to take their toll on a fairly small fleet, many members of which were over ten years old when Highland Omnibuses was formed.

Records show that Highland Transport actually made the first acquisitions from Central as far back as 1940 : SN5643, an Albion PV70 of 1932 vintage, W3 in CSMT but originally new to Baillie Bros. of Dumbarton, along with Central’s fleet No. G4, VD4445 a 1935 Leyland TS7. Remarkably, the latter survived into Highland Omnibus days (as No. H98) and didn’t leave service till 1955, when it became a caravan in the Beauly Firth area.

However, the first serious raid  on Central by the Highlanders came in 1954. There was a considerable expansion of services in Caithness, especially with the construction of the nuclear reactor at Dounreay. Additional vehicles were desperately required to operate workmen’s services to the site. As would be the case for some years to follow, these came from the other SBG companies, including six Leyland TS8s from Central, new in 1937/38. Central T113-116 (VD7370-73) became HOL H5-8, while T117/8 (VD8768/9) became H3/4, giving between 3 and 5 years use to their new owners.

The following decade, the Swinging Sixties, saw most of the trading/transferring of Traction House vehicles, up the A9 to pastures new in the Far North. Central’s K36-40 (GVD36-40), 1952 Guy Arabs with Coronation coach bodies, were taken to Inverness as Highland’s K14 (GVD40) and K15-18(GVD 36-39).

Central SMT management’s disappointment and disillusionment at the performance of the 1962/3 intake of Albion ‘deckers led to most of these Lowlanders becoming Highlanders in 1965. Central A5, A10-16/18/19, A21/22 all joined a new clan. Some entered HOL service in Central livery with Highland decals, as at that time there was barely a shade of difference between the reds used in the respective liveries. They all gave more than a decade’s service to Highland, and in fact A11 (FGM11), as its new owner’s AL11, wasn’t withdrawn until 1979.

The scenario was repeated less than two years later, when once again Central’s patriarchs appeared to be unpatriotic, and less than loyal to the Albion marque. Five Albion Vikings with Alexander C40F Y-Type bodies, all new to CSMT in 1966, were acquired by Highland. FGM101-105D (Central AC1-5) thus became HOL AV3-7. Initially, these vehicles retained their two-tone blue Central coach colours, before being repainted into Highland red and cream. The fresh air of their new surroundings stood them in good stead – they stayed in service until 1980/81.

1969 saw the migration of 6 Bristol LDs and 2 Leyland PD2s. As B20-25 in the Central system, these were the Lodekkas with coach seating and H29/27RD bodywork (GM7020-7025), and were renumbered L13-18 in  their new owner's fleet. Withdrawn in 1972, the last trace of any from this batch was GM7022, sold to Coutts Racing, Blackburn, Lancs., as a mobile caravan. The same year gave two Chieftains the opportunity to join a Highland clan! CSMT L208 (MVA100) AND L209 (OVA950) had been acquired with Central’s takeover of John Laurie’s business in 1961. As Highland JD8/9, their lives were extended by one (JD9) and two (JD8) years respectively.

A handful of coaches-without-horses made the long journey up the road in 1973, when Central off-loaded C32-36 (HGM32-36E). New in 1967, these Duple-bodied Bedford VAM5s were re-numbered as HOL CD45-49. After 8 years in Highland colours some saw prolonged lives. HGM35E went to MacDonald’s of Back, HGM34E became a coach of the cloth when purchased by the Rev. D. Long of Warrington, while  HGM36E ended its days with J.G. MacGregor (Contractor) in Inverness.

Not all vehicles made a straight, one-step move to Highland – some came via third parties. In 1974, Lowlanders EGM2/4 joined their Albion sisters as HOL AL44/46.  They had been acquired from Alexander (Fife), but of course had started life as CSMT A2/4. They remained in Highland’s revised livery of poppy red/peacock blue till 1977. A pair of 27-seat Bedford VAS5s, new to Central in 1975 as CS6/7 (KGG718/9N), arrived at Inverness in 1981, as did T408/9, Leyland Leopards CAG453/470C, which themselves had been second hand to Central SMT from Western SMT!

Six of Central’s ill-fated Daimler Fleetlines were ultimately destined for the Highlands in 1983. TGM201/213/215/217/218/219J  left Eastern Scottish, where they had been since 1975/76. Originally Central D1/13/15/17-19, their Highland nos. were D38-43.

In addition to permanent acquisitions, five Y-type Leopards were loaned to Highland Omnibuses in July and August of 1975: T167 (XGM467L) and T203/211/213/214 (OGM603/611/613/614M).

The following photographs show some of the former Central fleet in Highland service.

This Lowlander became a Highlander via a stay in the Kingdom! Along with EGM2, Central’s A4 had been transferred to Alexander Fife in 1965, but nine years on they were reunited with their former CSMT stablemates in the Highland fleet. EGM4 is captured in Inverness’s Farraline Park bus station in 1976, a year before withdrawal.

Probably still in Central colours with new owner's decals, FGM12 lays-over between School duties, shortly after its move north in 1965.

Formerly CSMT A22, FGM22 is parked up in Inverness depot yard in July 1978. Even at the age of thirteen, Highland’s AL22 was still in fairly regular use.

One of the two Chieftains who found their Highland clan late in life! This Leyland PD2 had been new to J Laurie in 1955, and on takeover by Central became L206. It is caught up in one of many versions of Inverness Town Centre’s one-way systems!

One of Central’s small batch of LDs with H29/27RD coach seating, B22 became Highland’s L15 in 1969.

One of the unwanted Albion Vikings arrives in Fort William on the trunk service from Inverness. All five ex-CSMT vehicles gave long service to HOL.

Along with sister Bedford coaches C34/35/36, Central’s C32/33 moved north in the winter of 1973 to become Highland’s CD45/46, and all five remained active till 1981.

(see previous caption)

A long road taken for a shortcut! These two Fleetlines had been sold to Eastern Scottish as early as 1975/76, but it was a further 8 years on before they headed north. Both are seen in the final Highland Scottish bus livery of red with grey relief.

(see previous caption)