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The Flat Cap on ... Motor Buses

As regular visitors to the site probably already know The Flat Cap is a keen user of public transport. Whether it’s the tram, the train, or the bus he loves nothing more than idling away parts of his day waiting patiently for one or other mode of transport to turn up. And despite the publication of timetables journeys don’t always go to plan, and transport doesn’t always arrive on time.

Everyone has their own view on what type of public transport is the most reliable, or enjoyable. For The Flat Cap sitting on the top deck of a bus stuck in traffic gives him time to ponder over the important issues of the day; such as what to have for tea, when does the local library close, how much is a pint of milk in Aldi, has he got enough bread to last until weekend and so on. It was during one of these quiet periods that The Flat Cap began to think about buses themselves, who first came up with the idea, and particularly the motor buses that city dwellers all take for granted. He resolved to find out more.

Obviously in order to invent a motor bus someone had to first invent the internal combustion engine. That didn’t happen until 1884 when a British chap called Edward Butler constructed the first one. As well as inventing a few other engine parts Butler was also the first man to use the word “petrol”. Had he been American he would instead have said “gasoline” and “automobile” instead of car. Go across the Atlantic ocean and you’ll find lots of different words for things, but that’s probably for another blog. Anyway having got the internal combustion out there it was only a matter of time before somebody powered a bus with one. And in 1895 the first motor buses took to the streets of Germany.

The idea wasn’t an immediate success and due to its initial unprofitability commuters had to hang around bus stops for a further three years until Daimler came up with a better bus: one that could travel at 10 mph and accommodate up to twenty passengers. Bus design quickly improved and by 1910 double-decker buses were a familiar sight on the roads of London. The X type bus was replaced by the B type bus but The Flat Cap couldn’t find out why the manufacturers seemingly chose bus design letters at random. Maybe X type buses didn’t have the X factor.

B type buses were made in their thousands and ten years after their introduction 3,000 had rolled off the production line. 900 of them were used to transport troops behind the lines during World War One and one still exists today. The bus, B 43, was inspected by King George V in 1920 and later named “Ole Bill” after the humourist and cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather. When not dodging artillery shells Bruce would spend his time during the Great War sketching cartoon characters. The Flat Cap wishes he was good at drawing, but he isn’t. That’s one of the reasons his blogs are illustrated with a photograph rather than a drawing. If it were the latter people would either think the blog was penned by a four year old (which is always a possibility) or they would struggle to work out what it was. The Flat Cap’s art skills are on a par with the handwriting of your average GP.

The Flat Cap’s favourite type of motor bus is a double-decker because you can see more from the top deck of a bus. Even former Prime Minister William Gladstone acknowledged that, “the best way to see London was from the top of a bus”. If today’s senior politicians had to travel around on buses instead of chauffeur driven limousines they would probably improve bus frequency and introduce more features and comfier seats. Single deck buses are alright but they don’t provide the same vantage point. That’s why open top double-decker buses are best for sightseeing, and the preferred choice of 97% of tourists. It is also why football teams charter them whenever they have won a major trophy, plus it lets supporters see the silverware from a long way off.

The Flat Cap has a neighbour called Alan who lives on his own. Alan loves nothing more than to make himself some sandwiches (cheese and pickle is his favourite) and a flask of tomato soup and go for a day out bus spotting. Alan likes to be referred to as a “bus enthusiast” rather than a “bus spotter” and loves nothing more than taking photographs of different buses. Alan is a friend of Nigel; the bus enthusiast who kindly supplied copy for the blog on bus stops. The Flat Cap paid Alan a visit, on one of those days where his neighbour wasn’t out bus spotting (enthusiasting?), and over a mug of tea learned the following interesting bus facts:

• The word “bus” derives from omnibus which is Latin for “for all”. In nineteenth century France “omnibus” was the word for a long horse drawn people that transported commuters and Japanese tourists around the streets and sights of Paris

• The most iconic bus of all time remains the AEC Routemaster designed by London Transport in the 1950s

• Before the introduction of CCTV 98 % of vehicles had been defaced with graffiti

• Before becoming a film director James Cameron had a job driving the school bus

• Yellow school buses didn’t exist prior to the 1930s. You see yellow faster than any other colour

• Unsurprisingly Alan’s favourite chocolate bar is a Double Decker and he claimed to eat at least twenty a week. To prove the point he showed The Flat cap the inside of his kitchen bin. It was full of old Double Decker wrappers. Alan is diabetic

• The world’s biggest bus is the Neoplan Jumbocruiser and has twice the capacity of a normal bus

• Articulated buses are known as “bendy buses”. When he was London Mayor Boris Johnson took them off the capital’s roads after branding them “cumbersome machines” which encouraged fare dodging. Alan thinks Boris Johnson is “cumbersome”

• In New Hampshire, USA it is an offence to try to get euphoric by inhaling bus fumes

• The first female bus conductors began work in 1915. They were regarded as “less reliable “ than their male counterparts and were consequently paid less

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