Thursday, 8 April 2010

A Trip to the Cemetery

Ask anyone with an avowed affection for old buses if the name 'Barnsley' has any particular meaning to them, and don't be surprised if they involuntarily shudder. If such is their reaction, then be gentle with them, apologise quietly, for you have inadvertently uttered a name all too redolent of nightmare and destruction, of anguish and missed opportunity, of death and dismal hopelessness.

This is nothing to do with Barnsley per se, you understand. The town itself is, as far as I know, a place of wide sparkling streets, contented locals and joy from morn till night. No, this is something more to do with its reputation as one of the nation's foremost transport slaughterhouses.

I can't put too fine a point on this. That's just what Barnsley is.

The phrase 'off to Barnsley' has become something of a byword in bus circles for a vehicle's very last journey – the journey to the knacker's yard, the terminus to end all terminuses... or termini. Or... no, it's term... erm...

Apparently, Barnsley folk have been cutting up and crushing old buses for donkey's years, so long in fact that they have become true experts in the art of dismembering double-deckers and turning them into something new and useful. On the outskirts of the town there are at least four scrapyards, all of them, bizarrely, next door to each other and all of them specialising in ridding the world of old, unwanted buses. From space, and indeed from Google Earth which I think is every bit as good and frankly a lot cheaper, it looks like a massive concentration camp, a veritable elephant's graveyard of buses.

But this is not butchery for butchery's sake, for heaven's sake. In the spirit of these more enlightened, greener and more environmentally-friendly days, when sustainability is all and recycling is king, these butcherers of buses play an important role in keeping other buses on the move. Roofs may be crushed, oil may be spilled, windows may be sundered into shards, but engines are carefully removed and re-used, gearboxes too, and much, much else besides. In fact anything which is patently not time-expired can easily find a new life on someone else's bus, and help smaller companies keep their older, more modest fleets on the road, greatly extending the life of perfectly good vehicles which would otherwise be too expensive to repair. And which would themselves end up in the scrapyard.

Such places are also the happy (and the not-so-happy) hunting ground for people who own and preserve old buses and struggle to get them, and keep them, on the road, and most of whom are also on fairly tight budgets - though at least one scrapyard has actually banned bus enthusiasts from their yard because of their all-too-often anguished reaction to the Bosch-like vision of hell that is presented to them, as well as their tiresome tendency to throw themselves in the path of the cranes and the gas axes and berate the yard staff with exclamations of 'butcher', 'murderer' and 'oh no, not the Leyland'. Some have even been known to nick the odd souvenir, which frankly in a scrapyard is something akin to shoplifting.

So clearly Barnsley is a place I will have to visit so I can experience for myself the end – or at least one end - of a bus's working life. To that end, I phoned a couple today and extremely nice and helpful they sounded, too. Not at all like murderers. Anyway, I have arranged to call in and have a rummage around in their yards for a while and I have to admit I'm rather looking forward to it.

I suppose I will also have to see if I can witness the birth of a bus, too. So that's next on my 'To Do' list....

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