|The bus that
became a lorry
Over the years, many vehicles that began life with one type of bodywork ended up carrying something completely different. One example is this 31-seater Leyland Lion bus that eventually went on to become Irelands oldest diesel-engined truck.
The Leyland Lion served as a towing vehicle for the museum for some years before being restored by the IRHA in 1997.
|Buses improved at such a fast rate during the thirties that large fleet operators had problems with vehicles which were perfectly serviceable but obsolete, either in mechanical specification or body design. There were also numerous instances of chassis long outlasting the original bodywork sometimes twice.
One solution was to adapt the chassis for some other purpose, and it wasnt uncommon for bloodstock to travel in luxurious horseboxes built on former petrol engined bus chassis. Finding other uses for redundant bus chassis was never difficult for the railway companies who had large road freight fleets anyway.
y. Introduced in 1930, the LT2 version had a 29 hp petrol engine, four-speed crash gearbox, semi-floating rear axle and vacuum brakes. It sold well in the then Irish Free State, the Irish Omnibus Company buying twelve and the Great Northern Railway, ten all of which were bodied in Ireland.
Among six placed in service by the GNR in 1930 was No. 110, registered AZ 5078 on 2nd June and fitted with 31-seater bodywork by Service Motor Works (Belfast). In 1935, the GNR handed over fifty out of their fleet of about 180 buses to the newly-formed Northern Ireland Road Transport Board, but in advance of the transfer, ensured that all their highly prized Leylands were south of the Border. And so No. 110 remained in Dublin, despite its Belfast registration.
During the mid-thirties the GNR carried out a major rebodying programme at Dundalk Railway Works, No.110 being rebuilt in 1937. From 1939 onwards, worsening wartime shortages of fuel caused progressively severe cutbacks in bus services south of the Border, resulting initially in a surplus of buses. As a result, during 1941-42 fifty buses from the GNR and Great Southern Railways (successors to the IOC) were hired to the Northern Ireland Road Transport Board. No.110 was among them, serving in Co. Down as NIRTB No. 15 and returning south in December 1942 before dropping out of sight for three years.
In 1945, the old Lion was renumbered 271: the GNR road vehicles shared a common fleet numbering system and the company sometimes renumbered rolling stock to leave blocks of numbers vacant for new vehicles. Shortly after this, No. 271 was rebuilt as a lorry, a regular practice in transport companies at that time; the present cab and flat body date from that period. The original petrol engine had been replaced by a Gardner 5.6 litre four-cylinder 4LW diesel, completing the transformation of the vehicle into its final state. It also received its third fleet identity, No. 150.
The GNR, GSR and Dublin United Tramways Company all had lorries built on bus chassis. Some retained the half cab so familiar on forward control buses of the day. Two conversions in this genre was a pair of Dennis Lancets (ZI 9703/4) acquired from the DUTC by the Dublin Granaries Company in 1940. Rebuilt with half cabs and high-sided wagon bodies, they were a familiar sight for about ten years, plying between the Dublin docks and various mills around the city. Around that period, many operators had lorries with coachbuilt cabs constructed in their own workshops and the railway companies were no exception, producing very interesting vehicles in the process.
GNR lorry No. 150 was originally intended to transport brewery tanks, but faster, more modern vehicles were soon employed on this operation and the Lion was then put to work as a recovery vehicle. It was next fitted with a demountable container to carry the equipment necessary for placing ditched buses back on the narrow roads in boggy areas abounding in the GNR's operating area. Its number was again changed - to GT6 (Garage Tender No. 6).
Around 1956 the venerable Lion, by then languishing in a shed at Dundalk Garage, was marked down for scrapping and disappeared from the records: it certainly was not on the list of vehicles taken over by CIE on absorbing the former GNR Road Motor Services in 1958.
During the sixties, staff at Dundalk Garage alerted enthusiasts to the continued existence of this vehicle and by the time the shed in which it resided was being demolished in 1971 it had managed to survive into the era of preservation. Unearthed and given to the Museum by CIE, it was found to be in excellent mechanical order and was used as the Museum's towing tender from 1973 to 1976, when it was replaced by a specially adapted vehicle. Then, at last, the lorry with many aliases and a remarkable career came into its own as a truly historic museum piece.
In 1997, the Irish Road Haulage Association sponsored a mechanical overhaul of the Lion, when it had a Luton-head van body built around its platform, the van being painted in a distinctive livery.
The old Leyland became well-known throughout the country, travelling to IRHA functions at various venues. It also crossed the Irish Sea on a new ferry service and even helped the Revenue Commissioners to launch a scheme designed to eliminate malpractices and smuggling by rogue drivers.
It will eventually revert to its original state as a GNR platform lorry. This Leyland can, for the present at least, claim to be the oldest diesel-engined lorry in Ireland.