Bus Troubles on Haven Bridge

Recollections of Sydney Rackham

Transcribed from a recorded interview (March 2001)

The surface of Haven Bridge was wooden blocks, for many, many years it was wooden blocks. I think this was mainly to help with the weight of the bridge when it was having to be raised, it weighed quite a lot that bridge. Anyway, to get back to the personal thing with the bridge, these wooden blocks, they contained quite a bit of creosote so that when it rained, that used to rise up through the wooden blocks and the surface was very, very slippery and there'd been no end of minor mishaps, all of them on the railway side because it was reasonably sharp slope down on to the railway line. When the road system was as it was then, there was no roundabout or anything there, it was just a case of the railway line and the train coming over and what have you. Anyway, I came over the Haven Bridge with an old type double-decker and the surface of the bridge was very wet and slippery and in front of me was a single-decker bus that had double doors at the back and a boot which was not the usual thing with a normal stage carriage bus but these buses were brand new and they'd been ordered by the Corporation with a view to being quickly converted for one man operation which was just over the horizon. In front of this single-decker bus was a private car. Anyway, the private car and the Corporation bus managed to pull up fairly sharply whereas I was still on the wooden blocks and I got into... luckily I wasn't going that fast obviously, but... I got into an uncontrollable skid and I slid down the wooden blocks, hit the rear of the Corporation bus and stove in the luggage doors at the back. The Corporation bus shunted into the car and the car shunted into the rear truck of the train.

I'll always remember the little chap driving the car, he jumped out and he was nearly in tears and he said 'Good God, what am I going to tell my boss, I'm not supposed to be driving this car, I'm supposed to be... well it's my days off'. 'Oh', I said 'Well, I'm dreadfully sorry for you, but...' I said 'It's just one of those things, I can't say any more', he was in a pitiful state. Actually the car wasn't that badly damaged so how he explained that to his boss I don't know.

I was in the garage later on in the day and another Eastern Counties driver came in, very supercilious man, and he said to me 'Had a good shunt on the bridge, didn't you?'. he said 'I was walking over there at the time'. So I said 'Were you?'. So he said 'Yes, those blocks, they're treacherous, but of course...' he said 'When you've had years of experience you realise that'. Well that stung me a little bit because I had been driving for several years when this incident happened. Anyway, I didn't bother to have a dialogue with him, but what goes around comes around. Less than a fortnight later I was walking over the bridge and overcame an Eastern Counties double-decker slid down the bridge and ran straight in the back of a lorry and it was this particular driver who was driving the bus. So when I saw him in the garage later I just.. as I passed him I said 'It's experience that counts' and I don't think he spoke to me for about six months.