Part Two of the famous Gents bus and Beacon Down becomes Broken Down!
- Credit: Submitted
After weeks of hard work, at last, our bus was ready for its maiden voyage.
The 1934 veteran, from the Maidstone & District bus company, already had 550,000 miles on its clock, so, surely, another 50 was not too much to ask!
Knowing that the bus was very slow, we planned to meet at 08.00, on Sunday December 14, for a 10.30 kick-off, at Beacon Down, in Plymouth.
We had agreed to play in a match to support the widow of John Dennis, the secretary of Plymouth Civil Service Sports Association, who had passed away recently. He was a popular man, and a team of ex-Plymouth Argyle players had been assembled to oppose us.
As always, with the Torbay Gentlemen, we had no problem raising a team for the match, and made sure we included a few of our “celebrity” members to help swell the crowd.
Gordon Astall would play on one of the wings, Mike Sangster would feature at wing-half, and Norman Dodgin had asked to play at centre-half.
Norman, who played nearly 100 games, in the First Division for Newcastle United, was a former manager of Exeter City, but was now well into his fifties. Today would be his first game of football for 17 years!!
When 8.00 came, the men filed into the downstairs seats, and the ladies climbed the stairs to their carpeted “boudoir” on the top deck.
For me, it was the moment of truth.
It had been nearly 15 years since I had driven a commercial vehicle with a “crash” gearbox, which requires the driver to manually synchronise the input and output speed, when changing gear, so I said a little prayer as I set the destination board to read “BEACON DOWN”, and pulled myself up into the cab.
The last time that the bus had pulled a load like this was in 1947, but, after a while, it seemed to get used to it, and, eventually, even my loud, grating, gear changes were becoming less frequent.
We joined the A38, at Drumbridges, and the road was quiet.
I began to whistle a little tune, and put my foot down. What a way to travel.
We reached 35 mph at Lee Mill, but were soon negotiating traffic as we turned towards Plymouth.
Then, as we began to climb Forder Valley Hill, I felt the engine splutter, and we began to lose power. Halfway up the hill, we shuddered to a standstill and my heart dropped down to my boots.
Oh! No! Within moments 11 blokes in top hats and tails were gathered around an old bus, half way up a hill, wondering whatever to do.
In the end, we phoned our hosts, and they sent cars out to fetch us.
The match started on time, and we had a good crowd, but nothing could compensate for the disappointment of knowing that our maiden voyage had ended like this.
Someone took my place in the team as I phoned everywhere to try to find some mechanical help on a Sunday before Xmas.
We had left two of the ladies to protect the bar whilst the bus stood empty, and we changed the destination board from “BEACON DOWN” to “BROKEN DOWN” while we waited for help to arrive.
We lost the match by 3-1 to a team inspired by Argyle legend, Johnny Williams, but, suddenly, after the final whistle, our fortunes changed.
We had a great lunch, and a perfect excuse for an afternoon in the bar.
We had raised £550 for the cause, and then, just as we were going to book a hotel, we heard that the bus was ready for us.
I drove it back to the ground, amid cheers from the clubhouse, and we got back to Torquay before midnight.
We kept the bus for nearly five years, and it never let us down again.
Maybe, if everything had gone smoothly, our maiden voyage would not have been half as memorable as it turned out to be.