Central SMT

Father Alex's Diaries

You've followed Sister Wendy's Grand Tour on TV in search of great art; now follow Father Alex Strachan's teenage travels around deepest Lanarkshire in pursuit of another work of art - the Bristol Lodekka. These diary entries, reproduced here with the writer's full permission, give an evocative account of a young man's quest to track down surviving examples of the elusive Lodekka just prior to the type's final withdrawal, and again - years later - when it was to make a welcome reappearance.

Contributed by Fr Alex Strachan, August 2002

Sunday, March 2, 1980 :

Went to annual Model Rail exhibition at McLellan Galleries, Glasgow. Bought many things, including sixteen Central SMT photos and fleet number plate of Bristol FS6G Lodekka, B182, ex-East Kilbride Depot. Talked of buses, finding out about the only Leyland Titan left at Western, a Kilmarnock trainer, and Lodekkas at Central not lasting the year. Went to Church.

Saturday, June 14, 1980 :

Saw Central FLF6G Lodekka, BE229, on Route 77 (Glasgow Buchanan to Hairmyres Hospital via Burnside, Westwood Rd., Murray Rd. and Calderwood Rd.) (1 day after my sixteenth birthday)

Thursday, July 17, 1980 :

Went out after breakfast. Got late 'Mavis Valley' (Route 172) into Glasgow. Saw old Central SMT Lodekka, BL347, and couldn't resist it. Bought a return to Strathaven (Route 54 : Glasgow Buchanan to Strathaven via Uddingston and Hamilton). Met conductress, who'd been on the buses since 1947 and she told me all about Waterloo Street (bus station : closed 1971) and Carlton Place (kerbside stance : services moved to Waterloo Street in 1967), etc. Stayed upstairs going (front, treble seat) and came downstairs at Strathaven. Driver said I could look at destination blind, so I turned it full length. Saw things like Mystery Tour and Glasgow Cross. (People were no doubt amused to see this young lad sprawled over a Bristol bonnet - but I wasn't caring, for once in my self-conscious teens, because this was the experience I had quietly waited for all my preceding, conscious years!) Helped with a delivery of Central SMT-carried newspapers. Got full music-to-my-ears engine noise (Gardner) downstairs on way back. Crew changed at Hamilton Depot, so I had no-one to talk to. (I sat, for the return trip, in what became my favourite seat on a Lodekka - immediately behind the engine on what was often the conductor's seat.) In Glasgow, we stopped, and I experienced a weird, dark sensation, as if waiting to exit from Waterloo St. This was to be my final journey on a Central Lodekka AS a Central Lodekka

Tuesday, July 22, 1980 :

Hung about in the bus station (Buchanan) waiting for a Lodekka to Hamilton via Uddingston, so it would pass Hamilton Depot. None came. Got off from Leyland Leopard / Alexander Y-type T55 to Coalburn. Looked around and saw a nice group of FLF Lodekkas at the far end (of Clydesdale Depot, open-air parking area). Went and asked Depot Superintendent and he okayed it. So I wrote down the destination blinds of BL282, 283, 284, 335, 336, 338 and 347. I would have gone for BL281, but it was over an inspection pit and seemed risky. All Lodekkas are the BL FLFs, probably because of their length only (i.e. kept until last due to extra seating capacity).

One bus was almost in the dark inside the depot and another was on a slope, so I had to stand down to write and get onto the footstep to turn the handle (for each individual destination name) in pouring rain. Got blisters, believe it or not, from holding the "left-hand handle" (i.e. the grab-handle attached to the nearside of the driver's cab exterior) for use of the driver (or conductor) when turning the destination indicator. Couldn't fathom out how to work numbers (i.e. the route number indicator, of standard Scottish three-track design. I did associate - as it turns out, correctly - the L-shaped gear positioned beside the destination gear on the outside of the bus, which did not rotate but instead engaged into four positions, with the precise purpose of working the route numbers. However, my efforts to effect this process failed.) But with all that I'd got, I was satisfied. Only thing I didn't do was sit in the cab of one. Wish I had now, for memory's sake.

Friday, July 25, 1980 :

This morning it was pretty good weather and I planned on visiting Motherwell Depot. After a long delay I got a lift into Glasgow with Dad. Bought timetable at horribly grotty Anderston X bus station, which I used to think was modern. Only saw a couple of double-deckers in it, and got (Route 66?) West Crindledyke bus to Traction House. It was really warm and after going through the workshops, Chief Inspector's office, General Enquiries, Time Office, Garage, Administration, Spares and Paintshops, finally found a pleasant sort of chap - well, he said I should have got a letter first! Saw one Lodekka, and another owned privately, in Motherwell. Got 66 bus to Anderston.

Saturday, August 30, 1980:

Saw ex-Central, but still in old livery, Bristol FLF6G / ECW (i.e. Eastern Coach Works bodywork)  BE245, under new ownership, in Glasgow. Went to John Smith's and bought Buses Annual 1981.

Thursday, November 27, 1980 :

A trip to McColl's (Dentist, Byres Road) with Mum. Journeyed back in car and reached Buchanan Bus Station, when lo-and-behold, what do I see but BL304, a 1966 Bristol FLF6GLX Lodekka with Gardner engine, 76 seat bodywork by ECW and from East Kilbride depot of all places, on Route 77 (Glasgow - Hairmyres Hospital). Absolutely overjoyed and astounded, I listened to the sweet engine note of the Waterloo Street veteran.

Monday, December 1, 1980 :

In Glasgow had seen three Bristol FLF Lodekkas - BL298, BL314 and an unidentified one. (If I recall correctly, these would have been working on evening peak hour journeys to East Kilbride.)

Saturday, August 15, 1981 :

At Celtic Park for a match against Hibernian. I also saw two ex-Central Scottish Lodekkas (FLF6Gs) as supporters' buses : BL274 and BL301.

Saturday, August 29, 1981 :

The Dunbar Rally was on today, but I chose football at Parkhead instead. I saw as supporters' buses BE236 (CGM736C - a 1965 68-seater) and BL301 again (FGM301D - a 1966 76-seater).

Saturday, September 26, 1981 :

At football, versus Partick Thistle. The usual (!) helping of Bristol FLF6G(LX) Lodekkas : BE236 again, and BL316, dating from 1966.

Friday, June 25, 1982 :

Lodekka Fever has really set in on me. At Anderston X Bus Station, I could hardly believe my eyes when I heard S53, and H44/34F ECW-bodied Central Scottish Bristol FLF6G(LX) Lodekka, grind melodiously through the forecourt. It was on Trainer duties and its destination box had been removed to make way for a glass plate proclaiming DRIVER UNDER INSTRUCTION. The sixth-last Lodekka to be bought new by Central SMT, it remained in red and cream livery, but no longer carried fleet number BL350.

Saturday, July 10, 1982 :

Saw two Bristol FLF Lodekkas in Glasgow's "Park's City Coach Terminal" (across Killermont Street from Buchanan Bus Station, on the site of the bus station closed in 1976, where today stands the Concert Hall.) One was registered WNO984F, a 1968 ex-Eastern National example, possibly fitted with semi-automatic gears. The other was former Central SMT BL306, registered FGM306D, with ECW H44/32F bodywork, from 1966. They are now in the Stagecoach, Perth fleet, working the tea-time motorway express services to Dundee via Perth. The fare to Perth is about £1.20 and to Dundee, about £2.50 (!!)

Friday, July 16, 1980 :

A couple of days ago, I saw a Bristol FLF Lodekka (possibly one of the few semi-automatics north of the border) belonging to Irvine of Law, coming up Dobbie's Loan, resplendent in Irvine's fine red livery. Today, on the way back from Glasgow, I set eyes on another Stagecoach Lodekka : former BL334, a 78-seater from 1967, new to Central SMT. It was a 31ft model, with the 10.45 litre Gardner engine, and forward-ascending staircase.

Wednesday, March 22, 1989 :

I boarded my first (ex-) Central SMT Bristol FLF6G(LX) Lodekka, in nine years. An improbable consolation, to keep me sane after a hectic day on Ward 6! It was BL334 again : the LAST active Lodekka I'd seen on service for Central, on 24/01/81, and noticed on 16/07/82, in Stagecoach white.