Bedford OSS Mobile Canteen
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Notes About This Vehicle

London Transport [LT] operated a fleet of service vehicles providing a wide range of functions. Mobile staff canteens had been constructed from converted buses that had reached the end of their passenger carrying days. Former NS and ST types are known to have been painted red.

The first vehicles built specifically for the purpose were ten mobile articulated staff canteens. In reality there were ten prime movers and thirteen trailers, delivered between 1947 and 1949. The prime movers, often referred to as ‘tractors’, were built by Bedford with Scammell couplings and designated ‘OSS’ for model ‘O’ Short Scammell.

Road service vehicles had traditionally been painted in ‘Chiswick Green’ – a rather drab colour similar to khaki. There were exceptions, but these tended to be for specialist applications such as breakdown vehicles, which were red, sometimes with cream relief.

When the bespoke Staff Canteens arrived, surviving records show that 705B had a short spell at Hitchin garage from 17th March to 1st September 1954, and that 706B was there from 1st December 1953 to 1st January 1954; there is no mention of which, if any, trailers were attached. Other than then, they were all allocated to Central Area garages.

Oddly, these new artics were painted in the Country Area’s traditional ‘Lincoln Green’ with light green relief. LT routinely named its wide range of paint colours but I am uncertain of the name given to the lighter green.

By this time LT had categorized its service vehicle fleet with a series of suffix-lettered numbers, with the letters mostly referring to the maker of the mechanical units. Those that carried ‘B’ were from Bedford and the mobile canteen tractors were numbered from 700B to 709B. The trailers carried ‘MC’ numbers, for Mobile Canteen, numbered MC1 to MC13, with 11, 12 and 13 not assigned to a regular tractor. The trailer bodies were built by Spurling of Hendon, London, on Scammell chassis with the combination of 700B and MC1 forming the prototype.

The tractors weighed in at two tons and the trailers at four-and-a-half tons. Curiously, a couple of press photographs of the time show on one trailer 4 tons 7 cwt (seven hundred weight), and on another 7 tons 0 cwt; another has the figures not yet applied (or perhaps blanked out).

The ‘step-frame’ trailers were connected to the tractors with the Scammell Automatic Coupling, which enabled the release and re-connection by a simple single-lever movement operated from within the cab. Two metal landing wheels were fitted to the trailer portion of the coupling and dropped simultaneously and automatically during uncoupling. Manually operated stabilizers were fitted to the front of the trailer to stop rocking caused by movements from within when de-coupled.

Entrance to the canteen was by a drop-down step and through a sliding door. The kitchen was to the right at the rear and the dining area to the left at the front. Staff outside could also be served directly from the kitchen through a pair of drop-down trays at the back. The emergency exit was a hinged curved door at the front.

London Transport Magazine for March 1948 proudly explained some of the functionality of the new canteens:

The standard of the interior lighting is very high. There are plenty of lights, and to overcome the continuous changing of heavy wet batteries necessary for a lighting system of this kind a complete petrol-driven battery charging set has been built in at the rear of the vehicle. It is extremely quiet in operation.

The problem of the water system for the canteen has been skilfully overcome. A fresh-water tank of 100 gallons and a waste tank of the same capacity are fitted into the floor of the canteen; a 30-gallon tank is in the kitchen roof to provide water for the heater units. The water is pumped up to it by hand from the main tank in the floor.

External window bars, as now on restored 702B, were added from September 1949, with their purpose being the subject of some speculation.

In their later years tractor and trailer combinations became mixed and some eventually had their Bedford tractors supplanted by Thames Trader artics, though it is uncertain how many – possibly only one.

A point of intrigue surrounds the rear registration plates. As tractor and trailer combinations were interchangeable there had to be some means of changing the rear plate without fuss. It is possible the two small studs near the top and retaining clip at the lower edge of the plate provide a clue. A registration plate was fitted to the rear offside of the tractor for when there was no trailer attached.

The photographic record, such that exists, reveals a few noticeably different styles of London Transport bar & circle logo and the variant depicted in this drawing is based on London Transport Museum’s photograph 1998/47313 of vehicle number 705B and dated May 1949. I have shown the rear lights as they would have been at that time, though later legislation altered requirements. A nearside driver’s mirror was also added at a later date.

Disposals of these characterful vehicles commenced in February 1959 with the last departing in September 1967. The combination of 705B and MC6 depicted here arrived in November 1948 and was sold in December 1961.

Tractor 702B and trailer MC11 was one of four enjoying further service with Liverpool Corporation Transport and survives in its restored condition in the care of the London Bus Museum. The expansive water supply and waste tanks beneath the trailer are absent, having long-since been removed and presumably sold for scrap owing to the high value of the metal when withdrawn.

Notes About This Drawing

The drawing is based on extensive measurements and over one hundred general and close-up photographs of 702B in its restored condition at the London Bus Museum at Brooklands. Many black & white London Transport press photographs from 1948 and 1949 were referred to to establish genuine contemporary features.

It should be understood that all four elevations are seen here as one would see each part of the vehicle at a truly perpendicular angle. In real life this is of course impossible.

drawing copyright Douglas Rose April 2022
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