Tread carefully

Just to pass the time (and to prove that I’m still here), I’ve delved back into my memory to bring you another snapshot in time from the half-cab era. This one involves the shady corner of a bus garage where a mechanic was ‘treading carefully’.

There was a time when bus operators were permitted to re-tread the tyres on their vehicles when they became worn down to the minimum legal tread depth. Maybe they still can – does anyone know?

Sometime in the 1960s (I was a small boy then) my Grandfather fixed it for me to have a look around the inside of the Wilts & Dorset bus garage in Salisbury. My eyes were out on stalks as we wandered round, watching MWs, KSWs and Lodekkas in various states of disassembly. I was even allowed to go into a pit, over which a bus was parked. I had no idea what I was looking at but I felt strangely privileged to be looking at the underside of a bus.

We were shown into a dark corner by the back doors where a couple of mechanics stood surrounded by wheels. Strewn around under their feet were zig-zag strips of rubber, the waste product of a handy tool one of them was wielding. As I watched, he held the tool in his gloved hand and guided it slowly along the shallow remants of the tyre’s tread. The tool, plugged into a substantial power supply, had a V-shaped cutting blade which evidently was heated by the electricity. Beneath the mechanic’s hand there appeared a brand new groove as a new zig-zag strip of rubber fell to the floor.

Suddenly the man looked up, saw me standing there staring at this marvellous weapon of rejuvenation. He immediately switched the power off and laid the tool down. The man who was showing us around spoke up, “It’s OK Bert, these chaps are with me.” It didn’t seem to cut any ice with Mr Groovy, unlike the tool he had hastily discarded. “Look,” he said rather quietly, “you haven’t seen me doing this, OK?” Upon which he walked away in search of another task. Or a tea break.

I was confused and disappointed. As an 8 or 9 year old boy, I couldn’t understand why the man would want me to forget I’d seen him at work. After all, putting new grooves into old tyres was the most amazing thing I’d seen in the garage that day!

It’s only now, since becoming involved with buses, that I’ve put two and two together and realised what he was up to. He had probably been told by his manager to re-tread some tyres that had already received the same treatment some time previously. There’s only so much rubber that can be worn/cut away from a re-grooveable tyre!

Has anyone else used one of these tools? It’s OK, no names, no pack drill…

5 comments on “Tread carefully

  1. David says:

    The best way to make you remember something is to tell you to forget it. I remember going into Princess Road depot nearly 60 years ago to get a football I had kicked over the wall. Two conductors were fighting and I was told to forget I ever saw it happen. Don’t remember any of the buses but I remember the fight.

  2. Tinman says:

    Yes it still goes on and is fully legal as long as the tyre is suitable for re grooving ie marked regroovable, They can even be done on front tyres but I personally would not for safety reasons.

  3. busmanjohn says:

    Thank you Andy, I must admit I’ve often wondered if it was done at QMS but have never seen any ‘zig-zag’ evidence on the floor! See you soon – John.

  4. Stuart Andrews says:

    Years ago, I can remember that at a Western National depot, the Royal Blue coaches always had new tyres fitted. When these were about half worn, the tyres were then transfered to stage carriage vehicles & when well worn, were then recut. Steering got rather heavy on re-cut tyres, making town services, with their many turns, very hard work but all was perfectly legal.

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