The Bus Garage

The rapid development of the motor bus, or Omnibus, services in the West of Scotland, from the early to mid-1920s, coincided with improvements in design. Small buses could run where trams could not, and at cheaper rates than railway trains. Buses and services, prior to the 1930 Road Traffic Act, appeared in large numbers anywhere numbers of people gathered to be moved. The situation became chaotic and even dangerous. Local authorities in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Dumbartonshire led the way in framing and enforcing their own regulations in an attempt to control the frenzy.

Small operators, perhaps owning or leasing one or two buses, aggressively competed and ran when it best suited their interests. As lucrative traffic intensified, on roads such the A82 from Glasgow to Loch Lomond, the ‘small men’ either failed in business or sold out to better funded and organised rivals. Gradually the numbers of competitors dwindled in West Dumbartonshire until, by 1932, Three principals survived on the Glasgow – Balloch road: Ballie Brothers, Clydebank Motors, and Glasgow General (GOC). On the Glasgow – Helensburgh road, John Carmichael VC (West Highland) and Baillie Brothers, dominated.

By various strategically skilful moves the Scottish Motor Traction Company, Limited, of Edinburgh (SMT), took control of the vast majority of privately-owned bus services across the country. Two subsidiary companies were formed in 1932: Western SMT, in the south-west; and Central SMT, in Lanarkshire, and West Dunbartonshire.

Central’s headquarters were at Traction House, Motherwell. Buses had a livery of darker red and pale cream. Why, then, had they been given the north bank of the Clyde? Their predecessor, GOC, had earlier pioneered some routes and taken-over others to consolidate a group radiating from Glasgow’s newly -reconstructed Waterloo Street bus station. When Central was formed, Dumbarton operations were maintained. Small depots at Alexandria (North Street), Balloch (Dunbritton), and Helensburgh (East King Street), provided inadequate vehicle accommodation.

The last two firms resilient enough to withstand SMT pressure; Clydebank Motors, and Baillie Brothers of Dumbarton, finally succumbed on 6 June 1936. The former’s premises, at 114-6 Dumbarton Road, and the latter’s, at Hartfield, Crosslet Street, Dumbarton, were taken over in August 1936. This coincided with the grand opening of a most modern facility designed to absorb and replace all the outstations. Covered capacity for over 120 buses had been constructed on available land, at Old Kilpatrick, convenient for both city and country terminals.

Even in the 1930s large numbers of buses had to be positioned, in the early morning, to take up services commencing, in many cases, before 6.00am, and running heavily-laden throughout the day. On the busiest sections of road, Central had permission to run extra ‘Duplicates,’ to carry the human load as far as need be. Peak times; with outpourings of shipyard and engineering workers, Singer’s, and school children, not to mention exodus at the Fair Holidays, created complex challenges to be overcome by company inspectors and traffic officials.

During the Clydebank Blitz, of March 1941, buses from ‘Gavinburn,’ were among the first relief vehicles to assist with subsequent mass evacuation. The depot location made traffic movements possible, to the west and north, away from dangers in the urban areas. Drivers and conductors braved the air raids; some platform staff are known to have displayed great selflessness and physical courage, as well as acts of compassion towards wounded and displaced.

Bus travel, post-War, enjoyed continuous expansion, as new bus production flooded in from around 1947/48 onwards. The service network was at its peak between 1955 and 1965. There were the Glasgow routes, numbered 130-139, and locals, in both Clydebank and Dumbarton (numbered 80-89 and 140-9). Central had taken over some Glasgow Corporation services, in 1955, further expanding the SMT network. Balloch was particularly well-served, with buses every 3 minutes to Waterloo Street at the busiest times. Upper Clydebank also enjoyed a high frequency of service, with Parkhall, Duntocher and Faifley connected to Glasgow. Kilbowie Road saw a stream of red buses up and down the hill, from shipyards, Singer’s, and other places, to the various villages and schemes on the Old Kilpatrick hillsides. The weekly vehicle mileage was around 131,000 miles, carrying around 678,000 passengers. In 1956, 250 drivers and 280 conductors took care of business.

This golden age could not last. With the rise of private car ownership, and other uncontrollable factors, passenger loadings suffered. Larger buses, reduced frequencies, one-person operation, and finally whole service cuts, charted the decline of buses from Old Kilpatrick Depot. Many young men and women joined the smartly-uniformed ranks at Central SMT and Gavinburn in particular. Old Kilpatrick depot did have some local employees, but, more than its other garages in Lanarkshire, drew from far and wide. Asian and Irish conductors and drivers, in the 1960s, and women drivers, by the 1970s, also featured.

At this time larger single deck buses began to replace the ubiquitous red double deckers which had become such an accepted and hardly-noticed feature of Dumbartonshire street life. By the end of the Seventies the last conductors and their female counterparts – the “Clippies” – were being phased out, last to be seen on the Balloch road. However, change was soon to come which would resurrect this vital breed who gave life to Dumbarton’s bus services.

In 1980 the Government began ushering in a reversal of legislation, dating back to 1930, which had, in its day, brought organisation and consolidation to a chaotic goldrush on Britain’s roads. Now British motor manufacturing industry was dying, public transport was looking again to rail, and to express coaches. Monopolies enjoyed by bus companies, state-run since the late 1940s, were about to be shattered. The run-up to ‘Deregulation,’ which came in 1986, had seen Old Kilpatrick Depot change hands. A new, locally-focussed company, using buses painted blue and yellow, called Kelvin Scottish Omnibuses, took over on 17 June 1985.

Another, short-lived, gold-rush followed. Anyone who saw Hope Street, in Glasgow’s city centre, cannot forget the entire four-lane street clogged to a stand-still at the evening peak: not with cars, but buses, wastefully competing for passengers. At least this era saw a return to conductors, crewing ex-London Transport AEC Routemaster double deckers. With open rear platforms, these were easy to hop on and off, even while the bus was moving, or halted but not at a recognised stop. Red buses returned, in summer 1989, with a new merged company, Kelvin Central Buses, taking over at Gavinburn. As the need to rationalise its network pressed upon management, a decision was taken to close the depot, virtually sixty years on from its opening, in May 1996.

In Central SMT days, Old Kilpatrick Depot had been entirely independent from its Lanarkshire sister garages. The twain rarely met. Some individual employees transferred across, and when the social club scene was strong, visits to and fro were reasonably common, but attempts to use Dumbarton crews in Lanarkshire, or vice versa, were not tolerated. Buses needing maintenance, at the heavy engineering works, in Motherwell, crossed the river, but not on service. Not, that is, until deregulation introduced a new oddity to keep upsides with the ever-expanding Strathclyde PTE – the Cross-Town Bus. East Kilbride New Town and Clydebank became linked, by both operators, running straight across formerly sacred boundaries.

Old Kilpatrick Depot was always known, to employees at least, as ‘Gavinburn.’ It served a great purpose. In the age of mass public road passenger transport, when all classes in society travelled, up to four times a day, Robert Brownlee Dick and the close-knit Central management developed a carefully-balanced network of high-frequency services with OK at their heart. When it was proposed he hand over West Dunbartonshire routes, to Alexander’s blue buses, he vehemently defended possession and would not be persuaded. The massive industrial workforce of that period needed buses. So did a population no longer content to live and die in one village environment. Shops, cinemas, sports, and even day touring created demand Gavinburn happily met, even taking private hire bookings from other companies at weekends. Perhaps, today, its purpose has been outlived. But without doubt its strategic position, in mid-20th century, made it a transport asset vital to both local economy and rapidly-evolving society.

Source: Alex Strachan


Lucinda McGinty

I remember at Halloween we went round the whole village. [We] all ended up in the bus garage because the conductors and the drivers used to give us all the pennies and halfpennies. But we had to sing or say a poem or do something. You didn’a go to the door and say “Trick or Treat” It was “please can we have our Halloween?” if they were going to let you, they’d say “Right what you going to do?” and usually you had it all rehearsed, you knew what you were doing. My friends and that we used to go – I mean, there was nay costumes, you got your mother’s clothes on or your father’s clothes on and bonnets and... that was it.

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