New Year's Day Lecture 2024

by Curtis Devereau

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It hardly needs saying, but the trials of the past few years have been quite limiting for those of us who engage in primary research into the more esoteric branches of railway history. Funding - even from generous benefactors - has been increasingly difficult to access*, while travel has been similarly restricted: my proposed tour of Java -following up several reports of MNR axlebox covers being used on the cane railways throughout the island - was necessarily cancelled, as was my antipodean adventure to see what is reported as being an exact replica of IMR No2 Derby working on a private line somewhere just outside Port Douglas. Happily this trip has been rescheduled for 2024.

An unseen benefit though has been the growth in my ‘backyard’ research; I had to gaze, if not at my navel, then at least at the minutiae of local railway history. Having completed several decades’ worth of longitudinal study on the tank patches of IMR locomotives, I was ready for a new challenge and a chance comment in a Zoom meeting set the direction for me. Whilst many of you will be aware of that bus windows from IOM Road Services were installed in Saloon F.30 in 1972, what is less well known is that this experiment was in fact an exchange of ideas. Following extensive research and lengthy interviews with former employees (which were fortunately sponsored by The Onchan Ale Co.) I am able to reveal that Leyland Atlantean MAN 149 was fitted with timber droplight windows; due to the height of the vehicle, this work was carried out by IMR craftsmen in the Ramsey warehouse of Corlett Sons and Cowley. Sadly, clear photographic records of the vehicle have proved evasive, with the sole evidence being a photograph of Sheena Corkhill of Baldrine (latterly Mrs Deemster Kissack) riding on the top deck in 1973. Despite numerous distractions being present in the photograph, several interviewees commented on the poor fit of these windows, and also the challenges of windows being left open during inclement Manx winters. It has been suggested that the seats were sopping wet between August ’73 and July ’74, with many travellers resorting to a ‘polythene gasket’, i.e. sitting on a carrier bag. Mrs Crellin of Sulby recalls travelling many miles as a child perched on a pound of Teare’s Finest White Lard.

One of the questions posed by my research was quite how wooden Victorian droplight windows might be fitted to a relatively modern aluminium structure. An extensive survey of the extant remains of MAN 150 - a roof section from which is currently serving as a cold frame at Ronaldsway Horticultural College - indicates extensive use of linseed putty to pack out cardboard from Kringle’s Kornflake packets; an early interviewee mentioned that during the spring and summer of 1973, bus drivers were encouraged to consume large quantities of breakfast cereals before going on shift. While this may seem fanciful, one should not forget that the end of the decade saw ‘Daddies’ sauce being used to buff up the brasswork on IMR locomotives: clearly breakfast was a major influence on Isle Of Man Transport policies at the time. More orthodox materials are also in evidence, including some substantial wooden framing, no doubt required to take the extra weight of the wooden droplights. Overall, the effect is not dissimilar to a very large, double-decker Morris Traveller. I have been unable to clarify whether the driver’s side window was, as rumoured, a small sash window removed from the thie veg of a local boarding house; the widespread use of so-called ‘hammered’ or obscured, glass makes this seem unlikely. Looking through the bus-spotting notebooks of Terry ‘Terry’ Corteen, it appears that MAN 150 was withdrawn from service at the end of the summer season in 1974, although as was often the case, parts of it may have continued on the roads in other guises for a number of years.

So there is clear, if somewhat vague, evidence of 1870’s railway influence being applied to 1960’s bus technology during the early 1970’s. At the time it was seen as outdated make-do-and-mend, but the shifting sands of time have lent the project an aesthetic we might call shabby-chic, steampunk or retromod. As has been so often the case, the railways managed to embrace the past whilst reaching for the future.

I have over recent years amassed a collection of vaguely connected information, originating in the much maligned “Jackson Era” when times were hard, money was tight and expertise found to be wanting. There are those of us here who at the time struggled to adapt to blue engines, stick on railway crests, yellow plastic letters and numbers; even those who balked at the short-lived ‘Argentinian’ livery on the Donegal railcars. And yet at the same time there are those, including some in this very room today, who were of tender and impressionable years, and who took aboard such matters as being perfectly natural and now look back with affection at these things.

Take for example, one of my most recent discoveries: that, during a couple of carriage rebuilds experimentation was carried out using a ‘Formica’ type laminate (as genuine Formica laminate was beyond the reach of railways finance, a cheaper substitute was sourced, as many other cheaper substitutes were, from Chippertons Warehouse in the old Royalty Cinema at the end of Walpole Avenue). This comparatively modern material was put to use in creating partition walls in the Foxdale coach and one small F carriage, the number of which resisted my attempts at research. The first efforts used wood grain effect sheets, and looked quite presentable, but when the time came to carry out the second refurbishment, Chippertons had seen a run on the wood effect and only had light blue sheets available from stock, so these were duly used. In practice, the material proved highly advantageous, being lightweight, waterproof and flexible: it was said that the Foxdale Coach was some 20% lighter, although separating fact from fanciful hypotheses is difficult.

As is well-recorded, the subsequent change in executive a few years later was to see a more sympathetic approach to the maintenance of heritage rolling stock, with the ‘Formica’ being removed and replaced (along with the stick-on plastic crests and yellow numbers...) by more appropriate materials. According to bar room talk amongst the drivers, the changes added an extra couple of minutes to the Douglas-Port Erin run, while a couple of firemen grumbled about greater coal use at the same time. Who knows, with environmental considerations increasing, it may be time to look again at lightweight materials?

To return to my theme: it had long been assumed the Formica sheets were skipped, but on a visit to the house of former railways guard ‘Porky’ Quayle in search of background information into another matter, I was invited me to see the home gymnasium he had built in his garage. It was something of a revelation as a set of pw trolley wheels acted as dumbells, points handle weights had been adapted into a lifting jig, and various other items of workshop machinery could be seen...and the garage walls were clad in blue Formica that Porky had reclaimed, you could even see the screw holes where the hat racks had been attached. I have asked that a small amount be donated to the Railway Museum, in the interests of completeness.

But back to the main story and I am pleased to announce today that Bus Vannin is launching its Vannin Skeeal brand, with a recreation of MAN 150 based on a modern Volvo bus; and I am pleased to say that the bus awaits in the pub carpark, with all holders of tickets for the New Years’ Day Lecture entitled to…   (at this point it was impossible to record Mr Deveraux’s words due to an upsurge in the assembled body. The meeting was adjourned, retrospectively, later that day).


*At this point, Mr Devereaux appeared to nod in the direction of Deemster Kissack (who was removed from the Keys in 2021 following [unfounded] allegations of corruption).