Looking back, I’m not entirely sure when I became interested, but interested I certainly became, in buses; not any old buses though, but those of the Western Welsh Omnibus Company. Certainly, by the age of ten I was considered by my peers to be an authority on the subject knowing every little detail of the various designs of each of the models. Many were very similar at first glance but I could easily identify all of the models which frequented the largest depot of the company which was at Bridgend, my home town.
When I was in the last year of junior school my grandmother thought it would be a lovely idea to take me on a coach tour. I was enthusiastic about this, naturally, and must have talked non-stop about spending the day on a coach. Gran had other ideas though and decided to start small and booked an afternoon mystery tour. I was a little disappointed in this as I knew the afternoon tours used the older coaches of the fleet and I really wanted a ride in one of the more modern ones. However, it was booked, and we arrived at the bus station early hoping to grab the front seats on the coach. Sitting in the coach bay was, sure enough, one of the older coaches but looking very smart. It was one of the Willowbrook-bodied 39-seat centre-door models built in 1953, in the GUH registration series (like the one shown in the photograph). Unfortunately we couldn’t get the front seat, that was bagged by a talkative eccentric lady with long flowing hair that we both knew, so we chose the seats just behind the driver instead. I have no recollection of where the coach took us, but I recall I really enjoyed our trip.
A year or so later, when I was in the early years of secondary school, I suggested to my grandmother that we should go on another tour, their “Welsh Wonderland” sounded ideal and I had seen the coaches they used on these tours and I wanted a ride. They usually used a 1958 AEC Reliance with Harrington Wayfarer IV coachwork in the OUH registration number series. These were very smart looking coaches and in my eyes very modern even though by the time I went on this tour they were four years old. The trip was arranged and my grandmother had been early enough in booking to reserve the two front seats which was an added bonus. The Wayfarer featured a lot in the 1958 timetable book published by Western Welsh and shown here is one of the advertisements.
On arrival at the bus station, there was one of the Wayfarers parked in the coach bay, we boarded and sat in the front row. I chose to sit, not by the window, but in the aisle seat where I could get a better view of the driver as well. That was quite a good move as we also had a co-driver who stood in the step-well for much of the time describing the journey we were taking and blocking some of my grandmother’s view of the road ahead. I have no idea which route we took, but we ended up at Builth Wells where we all had to vacate the coach for an hour or so while the drivers had lunch. Gran and I sat on a bench by the river eating our sandwiches until the time came to re-board.
The journey home commenced well enough but before long the coach started to cough; this continued for a while and then it seemed to settle down. Somewhere near the village of Erwood when ascending a steep hill the coach engine suddenly died, no amount of coaxing from the drivers could get it restarted so one of them walked back to the village to a telephone box to call an engineer. It took ages for the mechanic to arrive on the scene and he pronounced it dead! Another coach was summoned from the Brecon depot and I wondered exactly what they would have available which was suitable for tour work. When the replacement eventually arrived I was really disappointed to see it was an ordinary service bus. It was one of the MKG registered 41 seat Willowbrook dual purpose Tiger Cubs that had been new in 1956. When new they had been very smart but as the years went by they looked shabby very quickly; we had a few in Bridgend and I didn’t like them, they were ugly and their semi high-back dual-purpose seats were not comfortable. Gran and I boarded the bus and set off for home arriving well after the hour we were supposed to return. We never did go on another coach tour!