Why This Bus?

As a child growing up in 1980s Grimsby and having a fascination with buses since an early age, the Fleetline double-decker is synonymous to me. Bodied by Roe, the Daimler and subsequently Leyland chassis type was a popular choice throughout the country during the 1960s and ‘70s and Grimsby was no exception.

 

Since 1957 its municipal undertaking was a joint venture with neighbouring Cleethorpes. Known as Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport Company Limited by this point, the company ran a traditional mix of typically municipal bus types – both single- and double-deckers – on largely urban routes. Without doubt the driving force (if you’ll pardon the pun) in the GCT fleet during my childhood was the Fleetline, with both Daimler and Leyland examples operating services day in, day out.

 

My first recollections are of GCT buses in a blue and cream livery, though these memories are particularly sketchy. There are photos from when I was quite literally a babe in arms with Daimler Fleetlines bearing this colour scheme passing by in the background. GCT purchased its last new Fleetlines – V-reg examples – at the start of 1980 and the balance was delivered that summer. V-registration Fleetlines were the most populous in the fleet. The company was very fond of their reliability and knew how to maintain them well and with 1980 heralding the cessation of this bus type, GCT got in with a bumper order.

 

During the first part of the 1980s, the blue and cream livery was replaced with caramel and cream. This colour scheme was certainly more recognisable to me and so were the three commemorative liveries celebrating 100 years of public transport in the towns, which were applied to a trio of ex-London Transport Daimler Fleetlines from 1981. More so, however, was the orange and white livery, which was adopted in the mid-1980s, offering a fresh look to the jointly-run council operation in the brave new world of privatisation and deregulation.

 

From the tender age of just 10 years I have some 6x4 glossy prints of buses taken on random Saturday mornings in Grimsby’s then-new Freshney Place bus station using my dad’s camera; the fleet looked resplendent in orange and white with gold fleet numbers. It is these photos and the memories of that time that really strikes a cord with me.

 

From November 1993 GCT passed into Stagecoach ownership, and the corporate identity of this new operator (white base livery with three stripes) was being rolled out across the fleet. One of the first decisions made by the new operator was to convert a Fleetline into open-top configuration. This would be a Leyland, 113 (MBE 613R), known hereafter as GCT 113.

 

At the time of the Stagecoach purchase, the entire GCT fleet comprised varying types of mini, single- and double-decker buses all in a smart orange and white livery, complete with crests baring the arms of Grimsby and Cleethorpes. Naturally all this was to change, and for GCT 113 this would be almost immediate. Since it was decided to de-roof the bus within months of the purchase, she would be the first Fleetline to lose her orange and white livery in favour of Stagecoach stripes, comprising a white base with orange, red and blue stripes. She entered service in this new livery and as an open-topper for the first time in July 1994.

 

GCT 113 and open-top sister 103 (BJV 103L, a Daimler) continued to ply their trade along the route of Service 17, linking Cleethorpes town centre with the many seafront attractions, including Pleasure Island theme park, the Thorpe Park holiday park and the Fitties chalet park. This set-up lasted from the summer of 1994 up to 2002, when following an assault on one of their drivers, both buses were withdrawn from service during the height of the season, owing to neither being fitted with an assault screen (now a mandatory requirement).

 

It was during this stable, continuous ‘Fleetline Fantastic’ period of 8 years that I became acquainted with GCT 113 and her sister, having passed my bus test and spent many happy summer days driving both along Cleethorpes seafront. GCT 113 was always the less strenuous of the two to drive, thanks to her once revolutionary air hand brake (103 had what I term a ‘dead man’s arm’ manual hand brake that required considerably more effort to take off than to apply).

 

Having been unlucky not to have driven any closed-top Fleetlines in passenger service, I was always assured by drivers that GCT 113 and its sister bounced a lot more than they used to when they had roofs. The rationale was that since their roofs had been removed, and approximately one ton of down-force had been taken away, this offered less resistance to the sprung suspension. Adding to the bounce, neither Fleetline had power steering fitted – a luxury that was available to the later examples GCT purchased new but never specified – and more often than not you’d look forward to a full, heavy load so that the bus would be more manageable, even if you did have to almost stand up to turn the wheel when turning right at the roundabout from Alexandra Road into Sea Road!

 

Driving a GCT open-topper Fleetline was not for the faint-hearted by today’s standards. While the old hands at Stagecoach would wax lyrical about how they took driving these buses in their strides two decades ago, they failed to take into consideration the lack of traffic and the more generous running times back then.

 

During early 2003, most salvageable working parts were removed from 103 and a small cache of parts for one Fleetline was thus acquired; fortunately this Fleetline would be GCT 113. Yet despite this, 103 still found a new home - in Glasgow, operating a city sightseeing tour there for a short time. I've yet to find any photos online showing me driving GCT 113; I have, however, discovered two showing me driving 103 (or 114 as she was by this time).

 

Now with the confidence to run GCT 113 knowing a fair amount of spare parts were available, she saw out Summer 2003 alone – the only Stagecoach-operated open-topper along Cleethorpes seafront. This would be her penultimate summer in Grimsby. Not that I was aware of this, during one of my meal breaks (which saw the bus driven out of service to the Grimsby depot), I diverted via Grimsby Docks and took some photos of GCT 113 surrounded by traditional dock buildings and other structures, along with cobbled roads and tram tracks! The epitome of a Grimsby bus surrounded by the epitome of Grimsby industry.

 

GCT 113 was collected from Grimsby during July 2005 and taken to Chesterfield depot, where she would act as a publicity vehicle for the next thirteen years. Her replacement along Cleethorpes seafront was Leyland Olympian/Northern Counties 14667 (H667 BNL, later PIW 4457).

   

Other than bumping into GCT 113 at bus rallies, this is where we both parted company.

 

*** ***

 

In 2016 a friend and well-placed contact within the Stagecoch Group had told me that GCT 113 was being considered for sale as she wasn’t up to the same standard as the rest of the Stagecoach Yorkshire fleet. Reorganisation by Stagecoach in 2007 had seen Chesterfield depot removed from what was the East Midland local operating group (comprising Grimsby, Hull, Mansfield and Worksop depots) and being subsumed into the Yorkshire Group (formed following the acquisition of the Traction Group in December 2005). Now GCT 113 wasn’t even in the same group as Grimsby; Chesterfield was no longer a sister depot.

 

I could understand the reasons why management at Stagecoach Yorkshire felt the bus wasn’t up to the same standard as the rest of their modern fleet. While she looked resplendent in Stagecoach’s swoops livery, first applied while at Grimsby in 2003, under the recent PSVAR (public service vehicle accessibility) regulations, since January 2017 it was no longer eligible to operate GCT 113 in passenger service for more than 28 days a year owing to her not being a low-floor bus.

 

Donington Park was the location for Showbus in 2016 and Stagecoach in Chesterfield entered the Fleetline. As I was also attending I took plenty of photos, reminiscing more than usual as this could be the last time I saw the bus, drawing to a close some of the most significant memories of my childhood, since all the others from the GCT fleet had been sold by 1995/6 and were now either scrapped or beyond saving. (I am aware 103 is now in Italy and sister 112 is in a withdrawn condition in Ireland - neither are likely to be operational locally anytime soon! There is some talk of Fleetline 98 being an agricultural vehicle in Scotland, too.)

 

Yet a message to a friend who worked at Stagecoach in Chesterfield and who was lucky enough to drive GCT 113 on occasions, suggested it was business as usual with the Fleetline; she had received a repaint just two weeks before Showbus and had been fitted with a tachograph. The future surely looked bright for the bus!

 

Yet from the lofty vantage of my well-placed source, I knew he couldn’t have been mistaken. What to think?

 

Roll forward nine months and I was meeting some friends with whom I assist in the production of the Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire Transport Review (LEYTR) magazine. Our Tresurer, Richard Belton, owns two preserved buses and has a wealth of experience in this area. My current day job is working for a train operating company and I thoroughly enjoy myself. But being out of the bus industry for some time was really making me hanker for a piece of the action, probably more than if I were safely ensconced within it.

 

‘Buses’ is where it all started for me – principally GCT orange and white double-decker Fleetlines from the mid-1980s onwards – and following my conversation after the meeting with Richard, I felt duly obliged to try and secure GCT 113, regardless of what I may or may not have been told.

 

The following series of events happened in just six days.

 

I approached a retired former director of Stagecoach UK Bus and floated the idea of possibly offering a sum of money for GCT 113, regardless of her not being shown for disposal on the Stagecoach Yorkshire fleet card. He suggested he would have a word first, to see what the situation was, and from the email response that he forwarded to me, the reply seemed very positive.

 

Three days later I was assisting a new member of staff at work to check tickets on a train from Sheffield and to my surprise we checked the ticket of a someone who bore the same name as the person with whom my former director friend had conversed concerning my request. Who wouldn’t broach the subject on the off chance that this was the same person?

 

It transpired that this was none other than the managing director of Stagecoach Yorkshire and that he was indeed that chap who had been approached on my behalf concerning the purchase of GCT 113. Explaining my credentials and how synonymous the vehicle type was to me and my long-term intention for the bus, I was asked to make contact the following morning and that we’d speak about the potential purchase in due course.

 

The following morning, Stagecoach Yorkshire’s engineering director contacted me to effectively request an offer for the bus. The directors were keen to see the bus pass to the right person and understood the significance of the bus yet were also keen to ensure the right offer was made.

 

After much deliberation, I submitted an offer and it was duly accepted by reply of email at 16.48hrs on Tuesday 1 August 2017 and following the disposals procedure and invoice, I collected the bus from Stagecoach’s Chesterfield depot on Thursday 24 August and drove GCT 113 a little nearer ‘home’ than she’d been used to for the past twelve years.