TO help the environment, Arriva announced in 2013 that it would begin running gas-powered buses in south Durham – they are the ones with the flat bulge, like a saddle on a worm, on the roof.

But there is nothing new under the sun, and in Memories 513 we published a Second World War picture of United buses in the depot at Northallerton pulling strange trailers behind them. Was it a strange fuelling experiment, we asked?

The Northern Echo: A First World War United bus with a gas bag on its roof. On the front is a board advertising Dainty Rimless Eyeglasses made by Boothroyd, optician, of Bishop Auckland. On the side is an advert for Doggarts Fine Fit Costumes - Doggarts was a south Durham

“Not an experiment but a wartime expedient based on well established technology which had been around for over a century in 1940,” replied Richard Stone. “The trailers are gasifiers on wheels. The gas is produced, from a raw source of wood or coal, in the gasifier and piped directly to the engine.”

Fuel rationing was introduced in 1939 causing bus services to be cut by 30 per cent. However, as fuel shortages drove private cars off the road, bus usage grew – return fares were capped at 10d by the Government to encourage people to use public transport.

Indeed, the popularity of the buses may have created the British desire to queue. A law was introduced which said that if six or more people were waiting for a bus, they had to form an orderly queue and it was illegal to board a bus out of turn.

So to keep the buses running, a new fuel source had to be found, and they turned to an idea that was around in the First World War: gas.

The Northern Echo: A United gas bus in Northallerton

During the First war, though, the gas was carried in a great balloon on the roof of the bus; in the Second, it was made in the gasifier.

This turned bus depots into coal yards, and gave drivers an extra job: they regularly had to remove the coke or the ash left at the bottom of the gasifier.

In all, United converted 58 buses to gas. Between them, they covered 2,646,311 miles and saved 383,000 gallons of petrol.

They were noisy, smelly and dirty, and not especially good.

“When visiting Darlington on shopping trips with my parents during the war, I was always fascinated to see the Northallerton buses with their gas trailers,” says John Lambard. “They used them on the route into Darlington as it was fairly flat going – they didn't have much oomph!

“These buses were also used on the town service in Bishop Auckland from Market Place to Cockton Hill for a brief period.”

John Watson, of Darlington, recalls being told of coal gas buses running the Harrogate to Ripon route and struggling with the hill at Wormald Green.

The Northern Echo: This is the United bus station at Northallerton, showing the supersize U at the beginning of United, which was similar to the United Shoe Services logo. In the picture, the buses all have unusual trailers - was this a wartime fuel experiment. Can anyone e

After a while, United created a hybrid bus so a petrol supply could kick in to get the bus to the top of an incline.

“In Brussels during the war there was a different approach to the fuel shortage with carbon free ammonia being used to fuel buses,” says John.

Eric Londesbrough, who grew up in flat Hull and saw gas buses with trailers every day on his walk to school, adds: “In Germany, some vehicles had a gas storage container like a balloon on the roof.

“They also converted some cars so they had a generator mounted on the back rather than on a trailer.

“Some years ago while in Germany, I bought a very tiny model of a car with a gas unit from a junk shop. It is an Opel very like our old Austin Seven or Morris 8.

“It has the gas unit on the back and a container on the roof which could be for gas or coal, or perhaps luggage.

“The model is not much bigger than a 20 pence coin. It was obviously made after the war as it has ‘W. Germany’ printed underneath.”

L Thanks to Anne Murray of Hurworth for her help.

The Northern Echo: An Arriva gas bus from 2018 in Darlington

IT has been a mad week at the Memories desk. Hopefully, things will be a little calmer for next week. Many thanks for all of your correspondence which will make up future articles.

One regular reader, who comes from a long standing family of Darlington bread-makers, like the Brittons, Claytons, Murrays or Smythes, tells us that his wife was shocked to read this week that Boris Johnson’s great-great-great-grandfather was a baker who had been born in Darlington in 1813.

“Straight away, she reckoned there was a very strong resemblance between my hair and Boris’,” he says.

Is it possible that, given the Prime Minister’s reputation, his great-great-great-grandfather also left a bun in someone else’s oven?

The Northern Echo: Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak look for their favourite Memories section in The Northern Echo