Central SMT

Loadsa Lodekkas!

Contributed by Douglas G MacDonald, September 2002. Dougie shares his memories of Lodekka journeys on the many Central routes in and around his native Bellshill.

It became clear (to me, anyway!) from a fairly early age that I would have an interest in, and fascination with, buses. They were my favourite toys (Matchbox, Corgi, Dinky), especially the friction-powered plastic ones. I kept them all in pristine condition, but when it was time for secondary school, the charitable nature of my mother persuaded me to give them away to "little boys who were less fortunate than I had been". The emotional blackmail worked. Oh, how I wish I'd held on to every last one, but where would we be without hindsight, eh?
With a father who couldn't drive, we relied mainly on public transport for gadding about, especially for visits to family and friends scattered across the county of Lanarkshire. That meant Central SMT was our main carrier, and with relations in Coatbridge and Airdrie, I had the added bonus of regular travel on Baxter's buses. (Again, I wished I'd taken up amateur photography in my formative years!) Bellshill and Mossend may not quite be picturesque places in rural or rustic settings, but they did have the benefit of many Central services passing through, and I travelled on them all, some more often than others.  I very quickly recognised, to my parents' complete bewilderment, the different types of vehicles, and by the time I was 8 or 9, I had more or less cracked Central's fleet numbering policy. It was always with anticipation that I'd stand at a bus stop, waiting to see just what transport of delight would turn up.
The Number 1, firstly from North Lodge and then from Hamilton, was mainly operated by LDs : from memory, a few from the pre-B50 batches, and then from about B66 onward. Gradually, FSFs were introduced - the B160 range usually - and for good measure, we did get FSs with platform doors occasionally too! For the early LDs, I knew they were getting on a bit, not just by the low fleet number, but also by the sound of the bell-push (flat, tinny, dull, less resonant meant overworked!) and the shape of the destination screens.
The 14 from Meikle Earnock : again mainly open platform LDs across a large fleet range and then on came the FSFs, usually from the 130s / 140s range.
The 203/4 from Hairmyres Hopsital : at first it was old Leylands, then gradually we saw FLFs - BE class 267/270 were regulars, distinctive by their dark green seat backs and trimmings. My eyes were totally agog when the long BLs appeared!
To visit relatives in Larkhall, Hamilton was the interchange point. We had the option of all the above service numbers. That  meant four buses an hour - sometimes more when you added in the part-time service 6, Coatbridge - Eddlewood. My personal favourite was the 14 or 204 (or the 6 as it followed the same route). It had the long tour of the sprawling Orbiston housing estate, before disappearing out of sight down a steep hill past Orbiston Nursery on a road which has long since been closed and become part of Strathclyde Country Park. The descent was about a mile along, and at the end saw a sharp curve to the right, which could be dodgy in winter, as indeed could be the ascent on the return journey! Then it was through the gone-but-never-forgotten village of Bothwellhaugh, better known locally as The Pailiss (Palace Colliery). Even by the mid-60s, it was becoming a ghost village with few people left, and I remember feeling a sense of sadness, even in a schoolboy's mind, when the bulldozers cleared most of it. The other remains lie buried beneath the waters of Strathclyde Park loch. Some views of Central buses can be caught on a cine film by Joe Griffith in the excellent Bothwellhaugh video, released by Scottish Screen Archive and available from them or in the shop inside the Motherwell Heritage centre. Leaving Bothwellhaugh, it was a short stretch to the original Bothwell Bridge junction, a left turn and then a 40 mph sprint (for the LDs that managed it) along the length of Bothwell Road, passing Hamilton Park race-course and, of course, Central's depot just before Almada St junction.
To GLASGOW (Waterloo Street)
My father and his brother used to love to visit the Barras on a Saturday, or more usually a Sunday. Even if they didn't buy anything much, they just loved to soak up the atmosphere and patter. The mothers wouldn't go , but my cousin and I were only too willing to accompany the Dads. Again, from Bellshill X, we were spoilt for choice for services into the toon : 240/1 and 40/41/44  from Lanark/Carluke/Wishaw or, if we timed it right, the 242/3/4 Limited Stop from Biggar or Peebles. Invariably, it was the former numbers which were the most frequent carriers. We made straight for the top deck of the normal LDs. Eventually we had to make do with FSFs and FLFs, but the LDs licked the lot : standing up, holding on to the horizontal grab-rail and peering through the front upper-deck windows as the longish (which for me meant value-for-money) journey took us via Viewpark, Tannochside, Birkenshaw, down the original Calderbraes, over the bridge and out at Calderpark (Glasgow) Zoo, on through Mount Vernon,  on to Tollcross Road, the first glimpse of GCT tramcars and buses, especially when Atlanteans came into service, on to Gallowgate and off right outside the Barrowland Ballroom. When the famous market was not the target, but we were simply going into town on a shopping trip, we carried on over Glasgow Cross, along Clyde Street and into that tattiest of termini, Waterloo Street. Regular trips educated a young enthusiast : I learned to recognise every gear-change, brake squeal, and tick-over of those Gardiner engines.
The simplest routes to Motherwell were on the 1/203/40/41/240/241, but I preferred the 4/5 from Uddingston and the 7/8 from Burnhead, all destined for North Motherwell. (By this time I was allowed to travel on my own or with friends for short hops to Motherwell / Hamilton / Coatbridge to buy records, etc.) The North Motherwell service offered a longer journey and more interesting vehicles. LDs from the B124/5/6/7/8/9 range were the backbone for this service for a few years. Distinctive by their Cave-Brown-Cave heating vents, almost all carried the Askit powders ad in red and white on the upper rear panel. The route was via Main Street from Bellshill to Mossend X, Clydesdale Road, passing the BSC Tube Works (now long gone) and into New  Stevenston. From there it was out through Jerviston and down a steep hill into the quaintly named Cleekhimin, turning right and continuing a more gradual descent into Motherwell, starting to rise again from Merry Street when it still permitted through traffic at the town centre end. The Jerviston / Cleekhimin section and its reverse was even more absorbing when vehicles were fully laden or in winter weather; there were times when you could have walked it quicker to New Stevenston from Cleekie Corner! The LDs were replaced by FSFs, from memory mainly from the B140 to 155 range. I soon managed to differentiate between the engine sound on an LD and on an FSF : 6Gs or not, there was a different sound, and the FSFs had the extra effect of the power-operated front doors. As I recall, the FSFs stayed on these routes till they were OMO-converted and then operated by the UGM---K series Leopards.
I was always aware of the existence of the local town circulars - the 31 ran past my grandfather's front door. (The 32 did not, because it approached the Motherwell Road cross-over via Glenmore Avenue, while the 31 went via Bankhead Avenue.) We didn't use the service much - there was a plethora of Glasgow and Coatbridge services running via Motherwell Road which were far more direct and frequent than the Local. It was only when we moved to secondary school that the Local was used day in, day out, and I  knew the buses inside out! At peak times, the 31/32 operated every 15 minutes (31 out, 32 back, 31 out, 32 back) and thus needed two vehicles. The usual suspects were B130 and 131, and when the service dropped to every 30 minutes, the one vehicle used was B130. It's just a pity that the Traction House Traffic Office didn't allocate B131 or B132 on these runs - they would have been perfect ! With relatives in Mossend, it was possible to take the 32 from North Road, or even from Bellshill X, and take a real value-for-money trip to Calder Road via Hattonrigg, Main Street, Crofthead Crescent and Orbiston Drive - and then take the 31 for the return journey. When the crew had their refresh time off, it became more interesting, especially the 9.30 (31) and 9.45 (32) return. When it ran, this was always provided by a relief vehicle, varying from LDs / FSFs / FSs / FLFs. The relief drivers often didn't know the route and sometimes ran in reverse for part of the route (Bellshill X - Hattonrigg - Main St - Bellshill X), which completely confused passengers or potential passengers. The best part of using the Local was when my mother's friend's son was the regular conductor. No, I don't mean he let you skip the fare - far from it. Even better than that, he let me sit on the long rear bench seat and "bell" the bus. Many school holiday hours were spent doing this - as long as no Inspectors were on board! The only cost, apart from the half-fare ticket of approximately 5p, was the occasional flask of my mother's home-made soup or her home-baking for young Brian. When sadly converted to OMO, the 31/32 was operated by UGM---K and AGM---L   series Leopards, and eventually a second-hand acquisition (T275 - PFS554M) was the habitual service provider.
These are but a few  personal Lodekka recollections. At times in our lives, we usually wish we were younger, but conversely I wish I'd been put on this Earth a few years earlier. If I had been, I would have been in a position of far better awareness - and more importantly substance - to buy a withdrawn LD, FS or FSF. When they'd made their final journeys, I was still an impecunious student whose first hobby was buses, and remains so to this day, decades later.