Information Towing down the years

Attaching a chain to the rearmost chassis cross member of an old bus once produced a basic but effective towing vehicle. Here we look into how public transport companies recovered their vehicles down the years

Museum tokens
Why preserve
P193 — a 1951 Tiger now in the Transport Museum’s collection seen here in it’s final livery being used by Dublin Bus until 1991
The collection
About the museum
The selection of photographs accompanying this page offering on recovery vehicles was very varied, but two manifestations of the species were deliberately omitted: the second life machines widely employed over the years by public transport companies.

About seventy-five years ago, when the first generation of reliable motorbuses fell due for replacement, operators realised the benefits of using superannuated rolling stock for breakdown duties. In those far-off days of low speeds, sparse traffic and primitive safety awareness (but much attention to keeping costs down) the cheapest and simplest conversions were undertaken: a chain attached to the rearmost chassis cross member of an old bus produced a basic but effective towing vehicle. As time went by, better thought-out recovery units appeared and by the mid-1930s a fairly standard species became well established throughout the bus industry.

Converted buses usually retained the first two or three bays of their original bodywork, the remaining ones as far as the rear bulkhead being cut down to waist level, the vehicle ending, so to speak, immediately behind the rear axle. Varying with the skills and financial resources available, the best equipped of these towing vehicles had a workbench and essential equipment in what remained of the saloon, which often had a new rear bulkhead and door to protect the crew from the elements. Some vehicles had a gantry erected over the rear open portion, facilitating an early form of suspended towing. This arrangement also facilitated the lifting and carriage of heavy items such as axles, engines or gearboxes, thus producing an acceptable stores wagon; such conversions were usually known as garage tenders.

Most bus-based garage tenders were extremely long-lived, two that operated in the Dublin area springing readily to mind. Around 1939, the Dublin United Tramways Company rebuilt a petrol-engined 1931 AEC Regal bus, ZI 7223, to garage tender format. Numbered H1, this vehicle had originated with Andy Clerkin's Blue Line bus company and passed to CIE in January 1945. It worked until 1959, retaining its petrol engine following a major rebuild around 1956 when it received a more modern body from a much newer bus. For many years the only garage tender operated by CIE in the Dublin area, its fate was eventually sealed with the arrival of an even more bizarre — I hesitate to use the word exotic — machine.

As soon as enough new buses became available after World War Two the Great Northern Railway, which had a number of towing vehicles in its far-flung operating area, replaced the archaic Leyland Lion tender based in its Dublin garage at Abercorn Road with a slightly newer Tiger. Registered AZ 4059, this 1930 Leyland had begun its career with the famous HMS Catherwood Company in Belfast, being acquired by the GNR in 1933. Rebodied and fitted with a Gardner four-cylinder diesel engine in 1937, it was again rebuilt in 1948, this time as Garage Tender No. 1. On taking over the GNR road fleet in 1958, CIE closed Abercorn Road Garage, Great Northern lorries and provincial buses moving to Broadstone, which now boasted two geriatric tenders. In terms of economy and low speed torque, H1 could not compete with the Tiger and was scrapped, only to be followed into oblivion a year later by the GNR vehicle — and with these two ancient warriors there disappeared sizeable chunks of transport history.

During a quarter of a century that began in the fifties, CIE built two generations of bus-based diesel-engined tenders, every garage eventually having its own uniquely distinctive vehicle. The first ones were on pre-war chassis, but in time these gave way to newer models from the forties and fifties; both single-deck Tigers and double-deck Titans were converted.

A 1951 Tiger converted when front-engined single-deckers became obsolete in the sixties and used by Dublin Bus until 1991 was certainly one of the longest serving commercial vehicles in the annals of Irish road transport. This vehicle, ZJ 5933 (P193) is now in the Transport Museum collection, as is a 1956 Titan BIK 257 (R657). The latter conversion was undertaken in 1975 specifically for the Transport Museum, for which it worked for over twenty years. Known as Sisyphus because of the innumerable occasions on which it retraced its journeys, it too is now in honourable retirement.

The underfloor-engined buses that dominated the single-deck sector for nearly thirty years from the early 1950s rarely displaced their front-engined predecessors in the towing business. CIE converted one Leopard very successfully in the early eighties, but former double-deckers, with their shorter wheelbase, were usually the preferred choice. With the advent of rear-engined double-deckers (and later, single-deckers), it was obvious that the days of bus-based tenders were numbered. In Britain, public transport authorities chose a variety of alternatives, including the excellent equipment regularly sold off by the Ministry of Defence. Here CIE, better placed than most bus operators to find suitable replacements for the traditional tenders, benefited from having a ready source in its Road Freight fleet.

During the eighties, former articulated tractors — mostly Leyland Beavers — replaced most of the Tigers and Titans. The earliest conversions were quite simple, appearing like ballast tractors with no panel work, but successive rebuilds became increasingly stylish with very neat bodywork and some also sported gantries. An added bonus was the extra manoeuvrability that came with the relatively short wheel base of the former tractors.

As with their predecessors, some tractor-based tenders have had chequered existences and one in particular has been associated with several preservation projects. This is 6183 Z (LBT99), an Ergomatic-cabbed Leyland Beaver dating from 1971 and which was based in Broadstone for many years before coming to the Transport Museum in 1999. The most celebrated of these tenders, however, must be JZE 156, the 1963 LAD-cabbed Beaver beautifully restored by Brian O'Leary and very well known on the rally circuit, where it has won several prizes and represented this country most worthily in the UK. Garage tenders (and recovery vehicles generally) have a surprisingly large following among connoisseurs of old vehicles - and constitute vital links across several chapters of social and technological history.

Above: A 1980 Detroit-powered Bedford

Below: Dublin United Tramways Company rebuilt this petrol-engined 1931 AEC Regal

Above: 1930 Leyland Lyon began its career with the famous HMS Catherwood Company in Belfast.

Below: Operating in Donnybrook Garage, this Seddon Atkinson is a converted tractor unit rather than a bus

Above: 1956 Titan BIK 257 (R657). Converted in 1975 specifically for the Transport Museum, for which it worked for over twenty years

Right: P193 - a 1951 Tiger was one of the longest serving vehicles being used by Dublin Bus until 1991

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