Central SMT

Muirkirk - An outpost, but not forgotten

Contributed by Stuart Thomson, January 2003. Stuart keeps alive the memory of Central SMT's southernmost outpost at Muirkirk, with this illustrated account of the company's operations in Ayrshire.

While not all are strictly my memories, these should perhaps be classified as family memories of Central SMT. To that end, I would like to thank my brother Kenny for his invaluable assistance with dates and various other bits and pieces of information.

Our Dad was a driver with Central. He had two periods of service, initially working at Carluke Depot and living in "digs" in Carluke. I don't know for sure in which year he took up his employment with Central but in 1949, he left to drive with a local coach hire company in his hometown of Muirkirk. In 1959 he returned to Central, this time stationed at the company’s Muirkirk depot, where he worked until 1971. Central provided a service from Muirkirk to Str'aven and via Glenbuck, Douglas, Lanark, Forth and Addiewell to West Calder. The turnaround point on that service was actually beyond West Calder in Polbeth. In addition, Miners' Bus services operated to and from Kennox Colliery, near Glespin.

The 50s

Although Muirkirk was a minor depot, it had its share of mishaps. This particular tale is of an event that took place before I had been born. My brother, just a boy at the time, was a passenger on the bus concerned.

It was around 1951. Muirkirk depot's fleet consisted of Leyland Tiger PS1 single-deckers and had done for a number of years. They made the trip ower the watter to the Ironworks cottages, on Muirkirk's south side, as part of their route. Every scheduled service made this trip, both inbound and out. This involved passing under the railway bridge by Muirkirk Station. With the arrival later that year of the first double-deckers, Leyland Titan PD1s, the route was shortened a little, which meant the bus turned around just before entering the railway bridge.

All staff quickly acclimatised to this obvious requirement. However there was an incident - not that same year, but the following year. The Titans had been in service for quite some time when one driver allowed his concentration to slip into neutral one day. He attempted to take his Titan under the railway bridge, just as he had done for years with the old Tigers, but with considerably less success. I hasten to add that, thankfully, there were no passengers on the upper deck, so no one was injured in the incident - with the possible exception of the driver, who had one deeply scarred pride! My information is that he had made quite a job of it, virtually reaching the halfway point!

The air was released from the tyres, thereby lowering the vehicle sufficiently clear of the bridge to allow it to be driven out. It was transported to Carluke to undergo major surgery. The driver, having an unblemished record prior to this, remained with Central until his retirement many years later.

Moving on a little, the first Bristol double-deckers were allocated to Muirkirk between 1958 and 1959. These were 3 LD6G Lodekkas, with fleet numbers B21, B22 and B23. Additionally, B20 (and I am sure others) provided occasional cover, due to maintenance requirements of the fleet. This work was all carried out at Carluke Depot.

My earliest personal memories of Central in Muirkirk (well I mean, in 1958 I was just 1 year old!) would not be until probably 1963. It was that the seating materials always seemed more luxurious on Central's Bristols in comparison with the Albion Lowlanders so greatly favoured by Western SMT at the time. Not only that, but if you sat in the front seat downstairs, you travelled everywhere backwards!

A question I asked my Dad of the Lodekkas was "What speed can these do, Dad?" I always remember his answer: "Well, if you get a good one, it will do 38!" He wasn't kidding either; if it could do 38mph, it was considered a flying machine! Certain unruly types allegedly (I think that is the expression used to protect against recrimination!) wedged an old penny (1d) in at the rack bar on the Gardner fuel pump to gain a couple of mph. Mind you, you didn't hear that from me! I most certainly have never worked on Gardner engines in any shape or form over a period of many years. Ooooooppps!

I can remember the standard contents of Dad’s 'piece bag' when he left to start a shift. They were as follows:

1   A metal piece box containing 4 slices of plain loaf, 2 with cheese, 2 with either jam, a Lees snowball, or Fry's Cream (pared with a knife - yes, honestly!) and 1 chocolate biscuit.

2   A 2-and-a-half cup vacuum flask

3   A Holts de-mist cloth

4   A large yellow duster

... and the piece de resistance contained in his piece bag's arsenal, to help get through the day, was item no ...

5   A home-fabricated wooden wedge with four locating lugs, which fitted snugly over the Lodekka's throttle pedal, reducing the uncomfortable angle he found his right foot had to be in to achieve the full 38mph potential of these "brutes of machines!"

This proved so successful, I seem to remember him taking orders for this marvellous feat (or maybe that should read foot) of engineering!

As an aside, my brother was a driver with Western SMT in the late 1960s. He recently reminded me of a conversation he had with our Dad, concerning a change in regulations, which would mean an increase in the speed limit for buses to 50mph. Dad replied with a wry smile, "That won't really affect us at Central - we're still struggling to hit 40!"

The Late 60s

During the course of the late 1960s, these first Lodekkas (B20 - B23) were progressively replaced. I recall B111 being at Muirkirk and it was one of the last LD6Gs there. I have tried to remember the actual fleet numbers - those mentioned are, I hope, correct. If not, then I can only apologise.

I also remember two FSF6Gs being in service at Muirkirk - I think B116, and definitely B117. If my memory serves me correctly, B117 was the first Lodekka I had seen with a forward entrance. This was electrically powered and tended to be rather ferocious in its operation. By all accounts, a considerable number of elderly passengers would have appreciated the early invention of Huggies! Later models were air-powered, smoother in operation and with the resultant saving on laundry bills, became an instant hit!

The BL variants didn't appear in the fleet at Muirkirk. However, a couple of FLF6Gs did become part of it - BE172 and BE173. These were the last Lodekkas I remember working from Muirkirk.

As I mentioned at the start of these by now inane (or should that read insane?) ramblings, the West Calder service passed through the former village of Glenbuck, birthplace of Bill Shankly of Liverpool FC fame. Inbound and outbound services were timed to meet at the widest point of the road around Glenbuck, which was at the bus stop at the driveway entrance to Glenbuck House. It invariably resulted in a minor delay since, if either bus was running late, the other was unable to move from the wide section until both had met.

While I certainly would never be able to claim bonus air miles, so to speak, I did travel on Central SMT from Muirkirk to Str'aven, Douglas and Lanark during the mid- to late 60s on occasion. During school holidays I also enjoyed the added bonus of the odd weekday return journey to West Calder with my Dad. I recall him telling me a story concerning a mate of his from his years at Carluke depot. The man – let’s call him Driver X – was known to enjoy a prank. This took place in Lanark Stance. Normal practice was for the drivers to have a blether in the Inspector's Office, killing time until they were due to leave. Driver X checked his pocket watch and said: "Well, it's time for me to go. Just watch this to see what sort of reaction it gets!" And with that, he left the office brandishing a white stick and proceeded to tap and feel his way down the offside of his Lodekka, groped around for the cab door handle, missed his footing a couple of times, then basically fell into the cab. By all accounts, the expressions on the faces of those on board who witnessed this spectacle were priceless! Of course in those days, people still had a sense of humour, long before the dawn of Political Correctness. Try something like that now and someone would no doubt have you up on a charge.

There was an incident of a more serious nature in August of 1966. Much of Ayrshire and Lanarkshire had been badly affected by flooding, to the extent that whole bridges had been washed away overnight. One bridge to succumb to the torrential rain was west of Douglas, where the A70 crosses the Douglas Water just beyond Hazelside. Central continued their service unabated, although it meant the bus from Muirkirk had to stop where the road somewhat abruptly ended. The armed forces erected a temporary footbridge, enabling passengers to cross the Douglas Water and continue their journey on the waiting connection, provided of course by Central. A few weeks passed before a new road bridge was constructed and the road fully reopened.

As a boy of 11, probably the single most memorable occasion to me was during 1968, when Dad told me he was bringing back a brand new bus from Carluke! I can still smell the new paint and upholstery even now! It was the first new bus at Muirkirk Depot in a long time, a Leyland Leopard PSU3/1R, fleet no. T75, registration no. KGM 675F. Although the Leopard was a common sight in Muirkirk in Western SMT livery, the bus (rather than coach) body / seating configuration was not. I seem to remember that when it came to Muirkirk originally, T75 could attain the heady speed of 43mph. This of course was immediately attended to when it had its first servicing trip to Carluke! A story springs to mind, concerning a trip to West Calder on T75.

Dad was driving. On leaving Forth, the route was down Breich Brae, at the bottom of which is a set of traffic lights, preceded immediately at that time by a bus stop. I remember he picked up a fare at that stop one fine summer evening. One Man Operation of the service was in its infancy. The man didn't have the correct fare and Dad was struggling to give him change, which resulted in a longer than normal delay at the bus stop. Anyway, while all this was happening, we became aware of a horn blaring. At that moment, we had no idea where it was actually coming from. The source became apparent soon, when an Albion lorry appeared, careering down Breich Brae with headlights flashing and the engine screaming. He had absolutely no chance of stopping. It appears that the fact of the presence of T75 at that stop, coupled with the closeness of proximity to the traffic lights, resulted in the lights being held on green, which allowed the runaway lorry to clear the junction. I wonder if the driver of that Albion is reading this? If he is, he will remember the incident - I can guarantee that!

Before I close, I have one last memory of the Lodekka era at Muirkirk depot. The company was allegedly (there’s that word again!) unwilling to put antifreeze in the cooling systems of the fleet – certainly not at Muirkirk anyway. This meant that throughout the winter months, the 3 buses in the garage had their engines running all night long. I don't know if you have experienced the pleasures of 3 Gardner engines running in a confined space, and with all the garage doors closed, for up to 5 hours. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is not to be recommended. Indeed the phrase please don't try this at home comes to mind. A senior driver at the depot stayed there, in the garage all the time they were running. When a door was eventually opened, a thick diesel fog billowed from the garage. From the midst of this fog there somehow emerged the driver. He performed this task relentlessly winter after winter until he retired. Yet he lived into his 90s. To think they say that smoking is bad for you!

The depot at Muirkirk was demolished during the 1980s. Sadly nothing remains to suggest it had ever existed. Where the garage once stood, a house has replaced it. At times like this, I realise that I am not getting any younger. The reality is, there is a whole generation growing up in Muirkirk, with absolutely no knowledge that there was once a Central Scottish Motor Traction depot opposite the petrol station in The Smallburn. On the occasion of a visit to the SVBM at Lathalmond in October of 2002, I had a few nostalgic Central moments, which prompted me to set about putting pen to paper - or more accurately, digits to keyboard - and this is the result. I hope you have found it, at the very least, entertaining. Where better to display it than right here on the CentralSMT.co.uk website?