Page 4.   SD Enthusiasts' Club Newsletter - Summer 2018.

My S&D Memories. Worthing’s Little Red Buses.

Bill Thornycroft.

As a young child I lived in Worthing. When we went down to the sea front we would see curious little red buses with ‘SD’ on the front and the word ‘Tramocar’.

It must have been about 1932 when I was just learning to read that I first wondered: “S & D – what could it mean? Did it stand for Southdown?  ... but they were red, not cream and green.” It wasn’t until some thirty years later that I learnt that S & D stood for Shelvoke & Drewry.

Where we lived was far beyond the Tramocars’ territory and we were served by several proper buses – double deckers normally, but sometimes the ‘relief’ would be a single deck Tilling Stevens Express. I was very fond of them too – but that would take an article of its own. We hardly ever rode on the Tramocars, but they did pass my sister’s school in Shelley Road and were a very common sight, especially after the second route was established. I remember it was soon diverted to serve the new super cinema, the Plaza, in Rowlands Road.

 The replica Tramocar on Worthing sea front in 2004
Most Worthingers were fond of the Tramocars. My sister called them ‘Guinea Pigs’. She had a Guinea pig which she called ‘Cleopatra’ which did, indeed, bumble along in rather the same fashion as the Tramocars.

Worthing was the only place to have a substantial fleet of S & D’s as buses. There were fourteen in all, though the last two were very different with rear engines and painted green and cream, as they were delivered after Southdown had bought out the Tramocar Company.

They were the brain child of a Mr. Gates. It is said that his wife was arthritic and had trouble with the high steps of buses. He probably realised that there was a potential for successful bus services to the West of the town. Southdown had been refused licences by the Council for this area, it has been said on the grounds that the heavy vehicles would cause distress to the gentle folk of Worthing West and Heene.

Mr. Gates persuaded the Council on the promise that the vehicles would be much lighter and ‘silent running’. [Anyone who has been to the Amberley Museum and heard one, admittedly past its first flush of youth, can hardly believe that they could ever have been silent.]

Many years ago I had the good fortune to meet the man who drove the first Tramocar from the body builders, Hickman Body Building Co. of 8 Grove Road Balham. He collected it on Derby Day and as his route took him that way he gave some people who were walking to Epsom lifts! When he got to Worthing he was instructed to put the bus in a building in the Council yard where it was to be locked up over night with clean paper on the floor underneath, to see it did not drip oil. The Council also feared that oil on the streets could also upset the locals. Our informant said he bribed a Council worker to change the paper before the inspection took place next morning. It no doubt passed this test with flying colours.


The first Tramocar at Hickman’s Balham.

I think I realised that S & D could not mean Southdown as soon as I noticed that the Corporation dustcarts had the same sign on the front. So too, did the Worthing Rural District Council ones though they were painted a rather attractive deep red or maroon. They were to be spotted far, far afield trundling along the highways or byeways of West Sussex going to collect remote dustbins in Ambereley, Steyning etc, etc.
My own first experience at the tiller of a Freighter was in the 1960’s. The Borough Engineer of Epsom and Ewell had a dream of setting up a museum and had saved two of their S & D dustcarts for the this purpose. But the Council was abolished under the local government re-organisation in 1965 and it became amalgamated with other surrounding areas so that the Borough Engineer’s dream of setting up a museum was shattered. One of the vehicles BPL 73 was given to the Worthing Historic Commercial Vehicle Club and I took the other DPF 432.


A Trio of SD’s at the Edenbridge Rally in 2010.

On the day I went to collect the Freighter I found that the nearside front   tyre had a nasty split in it but the Council workers assured me it would get me home and they put a bit more air in it, which made it bulge even more menacingly. However we towed it very slowly with a Wolseley 6/80 and got to just before the cross roads opposite Tooting Broadway station when the tyre burst and we leaped into the air and came to rest with a very flat tyre but on the pavement! Luckily no-one was there and apart from my nerves no-one was hurt. We managed to get the tyre repaired at a garage in Garrat Lane and eventually crawled to Broxholm Road in West Norwood. As in those days the street lamps went out at 11.00 pm. we parked in the road and tied a hurricane lamp on it.  Any vehicle on the road was supposed to have two white lights at the front and one red at the back, which also illuminated the rear number plate. The next day I managed to start it and drive it into my back garden.

At about the same time I visited Colin Shears’ collection of old vehicles at Winkleigh. I purchased a very derelict S & D dustcart chassis from him which he subsequently delivered to my back garden all for 25. That is the chassis under the replica Tramocar body at Amberley Museum.

DPF 432 in Bill’s Garden in West Norwood.

When in 1943 I moved to London I found that many of the local authorities there had Shelvokes. They were very popular with such councils as Hammersmith, Poplar etc. If you refer to the publication ‘Freighters on the Front’ by Davis Kaye you will see that of all the little, small wheeled makes on offer for refuse collection, S & D were by far the most popular leaving Vulcan, Guy etc. well behind.

It was only after I got to know the working of a Freighter that I realised why they were such a success. The promotional literature claimed that they could be learnt by any man who was accustomed to driving a horse in twenty minutes. Being semi-automatic, the driver does not have to worry about changing gear, double de-clutching etc. He just moves the lever from brake, through neutral into first, then second and then third speed, keeping the throttle pedal pressed firmly to the floor. To stop he just takes his foot off the throttle and swings the speed control lever back to brake. It is not only simple but even the worst driver can do little damage. There are no gear teeth to break or clutches he can damage – they are all automatic and work regardless of the driver’s skills. With their very low chassis height, they often ended their lives as trailers or had compressors and other road mending items mounted on them.


The London Borough of Hammersmith converted this Freighter chassis into the trailer seen here in 1967.

I was always hoping to build a replica Tramocar. And I started to remove the remains of the dustcart body together with the ram – it was a tipper from the ex-City of Truro Freighter chassis that I had acquired from Colin Shears. I had the chassis extended at the back but could not rise to lengthening the wheelbase, so it is still a bit too short overall. The knee room is very inadequate.

Work stalled and the chassis was moved to the Amberley Museum where it was incorporated in our first, very small bus exhibit housed in an old Longley’s site hut. There were plans for Worthing Technical College to rebuild it but the body part never got going. The chassis, however, moved to the Shoreham Airport site of the College, then amalgamated with the Chelsea College of Aeronautical and Automobile Engineering, where work on the chassis re-commenced. Re-assembly was almost complete when it was returned to the Amberley Museum. The restoration then got going in earnest and eventually the new bus body was built there by the Bus Group volunteers. We even learnt how to make the rear body panel corners using a wheeling machine. Our very skilled ex-cobbler upholstered the seats, the cushions of which were constructed from modified tram seats.     

The replica body under construction.

The replica Tramocar appears in public in 1994.

The Tramocar passed its first M.O.T. in 1994 and we had a ceremonial launch from the original Tramocar premises and the ribbon was cut by the Lady Mayor.

In 2004 we ran a service on the sea front from its original terminus at Splash Point as part of the 100th anniversary celebrations of Worthing’s first motor buses.

It has now run at the museum every year covering many kilometres and carrying hundreds of passengers. It is perfect for days that are not busy as it can be operated by one person. It has survived many, many drivers some of whom have been less than good. Considering that when we restored it, no new parts were used in any of the transmission, it is a tribute to the original manufacture that it still goes!

We have recently acquired another S & D Freighter chassis complete which we intend to overhaul and install the running units in our original so, hopefully, that will eventually be restored to run another day.

Freighters are truly indestructible !


The interior of the replica Tramocar.

Footnote: Both the ex-Epsom & Ewell SD Freighters still exist. The Worthing one BPL 73 is maintained by the Southern Counties Historic Vehicles Trust and the other DPF 432, after many years rotting at Carlton Colville Museum, is now in private hands and maybe, one day will be restored.

Reprinted from the Shelvoke & Drewry Enthusiasts’ Club Newsletters Volume 2 Nos 5, 6 & 7 (Spring Summer & Autumn 2012.)

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