A chauffeur's memoirs

Sixteen years ago I received two school exercise-books - the old sort if you remember, with arithmetical and multiplication tables on the back covers - which contained a long account of the motoring life of one of Motor Sport’s readers, who in his time had been a motor mechanic and a chauffeur, going back to pre-1914 times. The story seemed too long to use, at the time, especially as much of it was concerned with the constructional and mechanical features of the early motor vehicles, more suited to an historical text-book about car- design than for these columns, as well as with the driving of them.

So the books were laid aside. In turning out my study the other day I came upon them again and, re-reading them after this passage of time, I decided that I must at least precis these reminiscences of long-ago motoring, which had been so diligently compiled by Alexander Hood, alas since deceased. Perhaps it was the title he gave his story - “Jock’s Crocks” - that stopped me from doing this in the first place ... Here, then, is the outline of his life story: -

Brought up in a small croft in Northern Scotland, in those days a journey of four or five miles to the local market-town (in his Grandfather’s gig) was a great adventure. The only mechanical transport likely to be encountered would be a traction-engine towing a threshing-mill or perhaps a steam-roller repairing the road. That was around 1902/3, when the only car the boy had seen was that of a local magnate who visited his school. But one of the masters there mentioned that his son, a doctor, had an Ariel motor-bicycle. Most of the boys went bare-footed in those far-off times but a few had push-bicycles, almost all without free-wheels. Yet the schooling seems to have been very sound, even for a boy whose Grandfather’s 15-acre small-holding, converted from moorland, was merely copyhold, that is, owned by a landlord.
Mechanics, however, played no part in the school curriculum. This did not prevent the lad starting after leaving school, in a cycle-cum- motor-repair shop, to which he had to cycle 14 miles there and back, morning and night, on his Path-Racer bicycle. This must have been after the Coronation, as Hood was then still at school — he remembered intending to write about the crowning of the King in his Coronation essay but he omitted the “n” from crowning, which earned him a rebuke from the Dominie, who remarked that HM the King was, in fact, a humble man! It was 1906 when the boy got this first job, working to start with on bicycles. The lads there seemed to have a good deal of fun. For instance, apart from the usual pranks on newcomers, like giving them electric shocks from trembler coils or telling them to stand against a door “to be measured-up as a proper mechanic”, whereupon someone would hit the other side of the door with a hammer, raising a neat egg-like swelling on the victim’s head, they used to bet a workmate that he couldn’t crank a big Daimler over and, while he was trying his hardest, the horn, atop the bonnet in the then-customary Daimler style, would be loudly blown, causing the chap on the handle to fall backwards — into a conveniently placed pan of water, normally used for immersing inner-tubes after vulcanising....

Among the cars at this Scottish garage were a single-cylinder Wolseley, aged even then, which had broken some vital part because its owner, oiling its long driving chain with a piece of wood, had let this get caught up in the links, a twin- cylinder Wolseley that had such a difficult gear- change that only its chauffeur could master it, and a two-stroke Jewell with two-speed epicyclic gears that so foxed the garage foreman that in it he made wild leaps about the shop and eventually pinned young Hood harmlessly against a wall. There was also an old Locomobile steamer that was destined to run on a light railway in India and which had to be specially fettled accordingly. One day it caught fire and there were some hectic moments pushing other cars out of the garage.

Occasionally the boy was sent down to the railway station, with a can of petrol, to make ready one of the new 8-h.p. Rovers which used to arrive thus, the Boss then driving them back to the garage, where they were cleaned up ready for delivery. Swift cars were also supplied and were remembered as quite reliable little cars. The chauffeur for one of these Swifts was trained to drive it at the garage but was apt to leave it in gear. One morning he swung it, the engine started at once, and the Swift knocked him down and went on to flatten a petrol-can against the wall. He was unharmed, but he had learnt his lesson... Another of these two-cylinder Swifts stripped its back-axle and after a new crown wheel and bevel had been fitted by Hood it was repeatedly returned as being too noisy. Eventually the Boss took this up with Swift’s, who admitted the gears had not been matched and sent a proper pair - proof of the engineering standards expected even with inexpensive cars in the Edwardian age. Another car popular in this part of Scotland at that time, and one of which the garage used as a hire-car, was the two- cylinder chain-drive 10/12 Peugeot, with low- tension ignition, and an oddly-shaped radiator referred to as the “bars of soap”. There was also an ancient Arrol-Johnston, apt to break its crankshaft if its horizontally-opposed two- cylinder engine misfired, which once happened when the chauffeur had been warned by his master to stop, but had tried to carry on.

Another garage, at which Hood was employed later, around 1907/8, had a White & Poppe- engined 12/14 Singer, which did the hire-work. One day it ran away downhill after the simple prop.-shaft universal joint had shed its single bolt, allowing the axle to move forward and render the brakes inoperative. A bull was struck and winded in the runaway car’s passage but it stopped eventually against an uphill bank. An even bigger Singer, the one with a circular radiator and thus advertised as “The Car with the Ring Distinction”, was acquired in 1908 for the hire jobs (I remember we refused to buy such a car in 1940, priced at £7, because it had only one tyre! - Ed.), and they also ran an Orleans. The latter car had large plugs in the base of its barrel crankcase and one day, when the Boss took it out, one of these came loose, all the oil was lost, and the bronze big-ends seized and twisted the crankshaft. Later still came a Colonial-type Thornycroft, which gave very good service. Hood was dressed up as a chauffeur to accompany his Boss in it on a long hire job, the only trouble being a puncture, cured by changing the tube for one from the bag of spare tubes they carried. This car was eventually sold to someone whose house was at the top of a very severe hill, for which the first-speed was just too high; so the car invariably came home in reverse....

The Thornycroft is thought to have had a Leyden-Jar Lodge Igniter. A brush car, in for repairs, used to start “on the switch”. By now all the famous makes were arriving in Scotland, including a chauffeur-driven Westinghouse. Most of the big cars were chauffeur-driven. Of all the miscellanous makes which came in for repairs, the Renault was remarkable for its absence, which said much for its reliability. Hood thought, there were a few Britannias about — Hood wondered if they were made by the lathe people - and in 1909 a chauffeur-friend of his was driving one, until his Guv’nor bought a “Sweet Seventeen” Maudslay, then regarded as “a very fine car”. One of the old hands left the garage to drive, as a chauffeur, a larger overhead-camshaft Maudslay, “another very fine car, with an amazingly quiet engine”. The 16/20 Wolseley was very popular, especially as a town- carriage, and among remembered repairs done at the garage was that of fitting a new big-end to one of the rare i.o.e. 30-h.p. Rolls-Royces.

So these reminiscences from long ago continue — about a big 65-h.p. Daimler driven by a Dutch chauffeur which “really could go” (“but watch it when cranking-up” said Hood, “as with the throttle fully open the ignition was also fully advanced”), of the foreman’s difficulty in finding the gears on a Wilson-Pilcher, of the garage getting hold of two ex-Scottish Trials’ cars, a Rover and a Wolseley, for the Boss to drive, and of polishing-up the brass on a new two-cylinder Darracq which was to be put in a shop-window and sold in a raffle — as invariably happens, it was won by a wealthy person who already had several cars. Wanting to learn to drive, the boy who was now a young man — but it is still before the First World War — went to another garage and took lessons on a very old two-cylinder Argyll, “with atrocious steering.” He later asked if he might tune-up its engine, as the tappets were wide open, etc. After having attended to this, the owner was asked to try the difference but, revving the old engine too fast, it blew up with a bang, shedding timing wheels and other parts all over the floor ... There are stories of further practical jokes, and of odd breakdowns. One of the latter concerned a Fiat which would never run on more than three cylinders and had to be sent back to the Fiat works. Its chauffeur later confessed that the gate-stop of the drive had fouled its exposed flywheel, fracturing the end crankshaft bearing.

When the local doctor bought a 12/14 Fiat his coachman came to the garage for driving lessons. Hood was sent by train one day to fetch a Minerva motorcycle whose owner couldn’t it - the first motorcycle he had ridden. However, the garage clerk had a belt-drive TT Triumph which he later lent to Hood for a brief run, which he describes as “delightful”. There was also a very aged MMC-engined Excelsior motorcycle in the garage, which the boys used to work on in their spare time, in the hope of making it run. That they had standards is indicated by the care Hood had to take even in scraping and fitting a bush to the tiller steering-gear of an early Lanchester.

The garage to which the subject of these memoirs had transferred was in a larger town, where there were trams, so his traffic-driving had to be proficient. The garage owner here had built himself a quaint little car, using a single-cylinder Peugeot engine and solid tyres, like a bath-chair. He exchanged this for one of the early one-lunger Cadillacs, “which chugged along very nicely”, and also a Hurst, which was “impossibly high geared” and once shed its carden-shaft on the road.

Our by-now-experienced mechanic tried to get a job replacing a run big-end on the Durham- Churchill lorry used by a local brewer, but the brewer preferred to ply his men with beer and get it done that way. However, he fixed Hood up with a hire-job, driving a venerable Panhard- Levassor with side-chains and a Kerbs carburetter, the gears so musical that the old car “could be heard humming along quite a long way off”. Not liking this job, a game-keeper’s post was taken, which also involved keeping in good fettle the Ruston-Hornsby oil-engine that generated current for the house lighting-plant.

After a spell in hospital, our ex-garage boy found himself, in 1915, working for another garage where a Studebaker was used for taxi- work, the Proprietor here being the former doctor’s chauffeur. Although the Studebaker was a new car it soon lost second-gear in its back-axle gearbox and also broke its engine-bearings. On being stripped down it appeared that one of the gears hadn’t been hardened during manufacture. The war was now developing, so Hood, seeing an advertisement in a motor journal for volunteer mechanics and drivers, went to Glasgow and joined up with the 52nd Lowland Division. He soon found himself at Grove Park, before going on to Bulford Camp. At the former depot he encountered a rare car, a Herald, which one of his mates thought had a Ballot engine. The mascot on it was in the form of one of the Apostles. From Salisbury Plain the troops went to a village near Newbury, awaiting their motor transport, after the Division had gone on to the Dardanelles, some of the men being involved in the serious railway accident at Gretna Green.

When the lorries arrived they were seen to be 3-ton sleeve-valve Daimlers, with some lighter Daimlers, and 20-h.p. Daimler staff-cars with the gearbox back-axle, for the Officers, supplemented by Douglas and Model-H Triumph motorcycles and a Clyno sidecar outfit. These were for the Supply Column; the Ammunition Company was issued with American Locomobile trucks. They went to the Somme well before the July 1916 offensive. This war period is glossed over, except for humorous memories, as when some soldiers told an Officer that their magneto “had gone west”, to receive the curt reply: “I don’t care where it has gone, you can fetch it later; now get your vehicle moving.” ... As more and more shipping was lost, spares for the Locomobiles became scarce and some were seen running with Daimler radiators. It is recalled that over the bad going these Peerless lorries were the best, but that they gave a rough ride. “They got through where many other makes floundered.” The Dennis lorries were “quite fast”, and the Albions were “an excellent job, but governed down, so that they were too slow to get out of trouble”, Thus some of them “copped it near the Asylum at Ypres.” Hood heard a story that the Karriers, Straker-Squires and some other makes were condemned and taken out of general service. The Talbots were remembered as excellent but apt to break road-springs.

The war ended for Hood at Kempton Park, pulling ex-army and RAF lorries out of the mud, persuading them to start, and driving them onto the road. The useful FWD truck is recalled, also the crib called the British Quad. Apparently the latter had a clutch that was difficult to disengage, causing the vehicle to creep — someone had been killed when crushed between two of them, so the order was always slip into neutral before stopping. Having stayed with a friend from his Unit, who had brought Hood’s bagpipes back from the Front for him, it was away to drive a 35/50 Fiat for a lady who lived in London but owned a local estate. Hood first spent a fortnight with Fiat’s at Wembley, learning about the car. It was probably one of the last Continental cars to be delivered before the war stopped imports, he said, it having been bought in late 1914 or early 1915. It had the “usual nice Fiat finish" but a multi-plate clutch running in oil, “that juddered if the lubricant was too thin, dragged if it were too thick”. The foot-brake and clutch were inter-connected, “which made for skidding in London”, the water-cooling tank for this transmission brake had been removed at some time. Another snag was that Fiat used to pack the ends of the back-axle casing with heavy grease, to keep oil off the brake drums. On a long descent the grease would melt, reducing braking power to nil....

This Fiat was driven over the Grampians “where grass was growing in the centre of the road and no other vehicle was encountered,” to Glasgow, for shipment to Waterford. Returning from Ireland just before “the troubles” the railway truck intended for the car was not in evidence at Fishguard, so the Fiat was driven to London over snowy roads, with an overnight stop at Brecon. London was reached the following evening, but our chauffeur then drove into the wrong garage by mistake and had to knock down a door-jamb to get the Fiat out. Hood enjoyed this job, and to his employer’s mother, an elderly titled lady, he owed much of his knowledge of London. On one occasion he took her to Sandown, in the company of one of the racecourse officials. The old lady remained in the car, but asked Hood to go over to a bunch of chauffeurs to obtain a tip for the next race; it must have been a good one, as back at her hotel she handed him a 10/- note! This position ended when the Fiat’s owner had to go to France for health reasons and didn’t require her car there. It was shipped back to Aberdeen, a normal procedure in those days.

Next, there was a temporary job as chauffeur to a visiting shooting-tenant, who ran a Crossley and a Hupmobile. After that job had ended a telegram arrived, asking if Hood would be interested in a permanent position in Sussex. This was accepted and the Crossley, which had been left in Scotland, was shipped to London. At his new post the chauffeur found also a 1914 Clegg-Darracq landaulette, “a pretty little car in a nice shade of khaki with surrounds of dark brown, lined in gold. But the driving seat was a trifle cramped. The Hupmobile was “an extremely tough little job. Everyone agreed you simply could not knock these cars out”, and Hood thought the only thing that surpassed it was the Dodge, of which one was used by a friend for hire-work and “ran 60,000 miles without a decoke”. The Crossley, an ex-RAF vehicle, was a different proposition. It seemed to have had a hard time and was a terror for pinking, so much so that it had to be run on pure Benzole. Later 1/4"-plates were inserted under the cylinders, to help matters. “It never actually let the side down,” but another Crossley that replaced it was a far better car.

This second Crossley was supposed to have been used by the RAF in Germany but to have covered a very small mileage. It set off in the hands of its new owner, to the North with luggage aboard, and on the way the cover enclosing the front universal-joint on the propeller-shaft ripped to pieces and had to be replaced by a blacksmith, who skilfully made up tiny brackets to bolt it back in place. On arrival at its destination the under-chauffeur found that an engine-bearer had fractured. It was repaired by getting the estate blacksmith to forge a plate which was riveted inside the broken bracket. The Crossley then returned to Sussex and the Guv’nor went out for the day with Tom, his under-chauffeur, driving him. Hood noticed that they had not returned by their usual time. Much later he saw the Guv’nor arrive home in a Model- T Ford, looking displeased. He told Hood that they had “a rare old time” with the ex-RAF Crossley. First, a front wheel had flown off and bounded over a hedge. Thinking it would be safer to put it back using the locking-rings from a back wheel, this was done and the journey was resumed, until the back wheel came off. That was the end of it, so far as the owner was concerned. He said never again would he go out in the car. The very next morning Tom was instructed to take the “thing” back from whence it had come. Incidentally, this was a garage that housed “an enormous four-cylinder Fiat, fitted with a large landaulette body and reputed to be one of a batch of chassis intended for armoured cars in Russia.”

After this sad experience with the Crossley the estate acquired a 1923 40/50-h.p. Rolls-Royce and with a Barker cabriolet body. Hood was sent for two weeks to the Rolls-Royce Instructional School in Derby to learn how to drive and maintain it. (See Motor Sport, June issue, page 801). In addition to this car the son had an 8-h.p. Talbot, remembered as “a real little flier”, and a pleasant little car to drive”. The gardeners, though, used to grumble at the manner in which it shifted the gravel on the curved drive, due to the absence of a differential ... It was succeeded by an Aston-Martin.

Another car was needed to replace the unreliable Crossley and although the Guv’nor had tried a Rolls-Royce Twenty, he had found the body much too small, although he was “delighted with the performance.” So his chauffeur went to the next Olympia Show to look for a substitute. Hood thought that the only suitable cars for his employer were the Lanchester Twenty-One and the American Hudson. When his master returned from abroad he reported this.

For some time he heard no more. Then, calling at the London flat one day to collect his master, Hood was told to leave the car and accompany him to the Lanchester showrooms in New Bond Street. There they had a good look at the new 21- h.p. car and a few days later Dr. Lanchester himself called to demonstrate it. An order was placed on the spot, but the car was taken away to have some special accessories fitted. It was delivered soon afterwards and “proved to be one of the nicest cars it had been my privilege to drive”, recalled Hood. “The springing was excellent and the four-wheel-brakes made it an exceptionally safe car” (unlike the rear-wheel and transmission brakes of the 40/50 Rolls- Royce, which had given its chauffeur some very anxious moments).

The only problem with this Lanchester was that on those oddly-hummocked roads in the Pennines, over the moorlands, the back tyres would come into contact with the mudguards unless the speed was drastically reduced. Otherwise, and it did some very long runs, this Lanchester was “all quite trouble free”, any bothers that cropped up being “the fault of the accessories.” In 1925 the family moved permanently to the North and although Hood thought he would enjoy this, he found that his old friends and acquaintances had gone, so he gave notice and returned to Sussex, where he was out of work for five months.

Jobs were very difficult to obtain at this time - one London post for which Hood applied had had 400 applicants, which the advertiser, an ex-Naval man, had whittled down to four, of which our chauffeur was one. But he did not get it; “I expect it went to an ex-Navy driver”. However, in 1926 he obtained a place with a local landowner, with whom he stayed for eleven years. His task was to drive the new Morris- Oxford they had just acquired. This new car was supplemented for station-work by a 1905 singlecylinder 8-h.p. De Dion Bouton. Originally this had been bought to replace a horse-and-trap and when the previous chauffeur had gone to tow it home he had taken the gamekeeper with him, to steer the car. There had been a mishap of some sort and the De Dion had run into a tree. However, the chauffeur put on a modern radiator, and bonnet to match, and converted the body into a pick-up truck with detachable seats. This little car was known as “Mutt and Jeff” to the staff.

As Hood’s old foreman had told him all about De Dions he had no difficulty in keeping this old specimen going and on one occasion it took a party of boy-scouts to Portsmouth and back, under the care of its former driver, without mishap. Admittedly, on one run back from the station the engine stopped suddenly with an awful knock, because the automatic inlet valve had snapped off at the cotter end and fallen into the cylinder. The piston was unharmed, and a new valve was turned up on the Britannia lathe in the estate workshop, a lathe exactly the same as that at the first garage where Hood had worked, except that it had an extra long bed so that half-shafts for the bigger De Dion Bouton car, that the Morris-Oxford had replaced, could be machined thereon. At this place the years passed to an established routine, and Hood was privileged to drive “some very distinguished people.”

By 1933 the subject of these reminiscences had a place of his own and wanted to leave but he was persuaded to stay on and drive the Austin Sixteen that had replaced the Morris-Oxford. Even after he had left he was called on frequently to help out, until a suitable man was engaged out of several subsequent chauffeurs they had. Some time after this Hood was asked to drive a gentleman who had contracted neuritis in one of his arms. The car, a fluid-flywheel Daimler, which was apt to break its road springs. This job, intended to last a fortnight, went on for two months and in the end became permanent, Hood filling in time by helping the millwright at the gentleman’s factory, when not needed on the car. They were making machinery associated with the breweries and a very happy time ended only because of war-time petrol-rationing. So ended a long driving career, with Hood finally delivering wireless-batteries and then becoming an attendant at a water works, until his eventual retirement in 1958.

Finally, what of Hood’s own cars? Around 1927 he bought an old BSA motorcycle combination, which “was quite a good runner and pulled particularly well up hills”. This was replaced by a reliable 4-h.p. Douglas and sidecar, followed by an aged Model-H Triumph “which served me very well indeed and did some very long runs”. It was in due time converted from belt to chain drive. A bout of influenza implied changing to a car, so a 1921 Albert was discovered and purchased. Hood said of it: “This little car was a nice job, beautifully finished, a great hill-climber, and quite fast as well.” But the back-wheel brakes were very poor and after a very close shave in Edinburgh, the Albert having been driven up to Scotland during a period of leave, it was changed for a flat-radiator 1927 Morris with the 11.9-h.p. Cowley engine, although there were “years of service left” in the old Albert, which was very comfortable, with its rear cantilever springs - but spares for it were getting difficult. The Morris had an inferior finish and wasn’t as comfortable but it gave good service, once doing 485 miles in a day on a journey from Lincolnshire to the North of Scotland. Perhaps it was the way the headlamps were adjusted, but this Morris had a special attraction for rabbits. Hood knew every inch of these cars and used sensibly to replace the half- shafts periodically, if the splines showed signs of wear. This Morris ended up in a breaker’s yard.

Hood’s next car was a 1928 Austin Heavy- Twelve saloon, which he used for hire-work. This Austin, Reg. No. UC 2393, went eventually to his grandson and was then sold but is, I understand, still on the road. Bargains which the old chauffeur passed by included, he recalled, “ a lovely Voisin left for breaking-up”, also a very old two-seater Zedel, an early Morris two-seater with Continental engine that was for sale in Brighton for £15, and a huge 45-h.p. Renault tourer offered “for next to nothing”. Then around 1947 there was a 1914 40/50-h.p. Rolls- Royce going for £25 and a friend’s Morris- Cowley saloon with new Fort Dunlop tyres and a new battery and magneto, for sale for £16. “But”, said Hood, “Money was scarcer then and I already had my Austin ...” - W.B.