Wallasey NEWS
22nd August, 1931

Broken Bolts Cause Wallasey Bus Tragedy

Mrs. C. Whitman

A tragic story of how the breaking of two bolts caused a woman to fall from the inside of a Wallasey Corporation motor bus on to the revolving shaft by which she was killed, was told at an inquest conducted by Mr. J.C. Bate, with a jury, at the Police Court, Manor Road yesterday (Friday).

The accident occurred in King Street on Tuesday shortly after five o’clock, the victim being Mrs. Elizabeth Cecilia Whitman (39), of 15, Seabank Road, Wallasey, who was returning from a shopping expedition in Liverpool with her husband, Edgar Francis Whitman, chief operator at the Lyceum Cinema.

Mrs. Whitman’s clothes were torn from by the revolving shaft, and she received terrible injuries. The man passengers in the bus were greatly shocked, one woman fainted, and Mr. Whitman was almost overcome.

At the inquest, Mr. H.B.M. Pidgeon and Mr. Wilson Kenyon, the Deputy Town Clerk, appeared on behalf of the Corporation; Mr. J.D. Eaton Smith, of Huddersfield, represented Karriers Motors Ltd., and the relatives were represented by Mr. J.A.L. Humphreys.

The Coroner explained to the jury that Mr. and Mrs. Whitman had been to Liverpool and were returning on the motor bus from Seacombe Ferry when the accident happened. When the woman was picked up it was found that her injuries were so bad that she was dead. The cause of the accident was that something went wrong with the under portion of the bus. Two of the bolts connecting the universal joint broke and an eccentric action was set up. It was for the jury to say how the accident happened. There were one or more explanations. Three possible causes were mechanical defect in construction, want of proper inspection and overhaul, or unskillful or improver driving.

Husband’s Story

Evidence of identification was given by Edgar Francis Whitman, the deceased’s husband, who said he was a cinematograph operator. On Tuesday he and his wife returned to Seacombe on the ten minutes to five boat from Liverpool, and boarded a Corporation motor bus at Seacombe Ferry, intending to get off at the bottom of Trafalgar Road. They took the two seats on the right hand side of the bus immediately behind the driver.

“Nothing unusual happened until nearly at the stopping place,” he said. “As the bus was pulling up I got off my seat and walked towards the exit, expecting my wife to follow me. I got just on to the platform when I heard a noise. I turned round and saw a hole in the floor and I saw through it a wheel turning round. Then I looked to see if my wife was there, but she was not, and I looked down the road and saw her shoe. Then I saw her lying on the roadway.”

Jury Inspect The Bus

The jury then went to the Tramway sheds to inspect the bus, the shaft with the clothing wound round it being exhibited in the Coroner’s Court.

Arnold Jasper Sumner, Mount Pleasant Road, Wallasey, a passenger on the bus, said it was a little after five o’clock when the accident happened. The bus was approaching the stop at the Lyceum Cinema when he saw some persons get up to alight. They were passing along the gangway towards the back of the bus, when his attention was attracted by a bump and a scream. He was standing on the platform at the time. He looked inside the bus and saw a woman disappearing through the floor. From what he could see the driver applied his brakes immediately he heard there was something wrong. The bus had stopped, he looked to the back of the bus and saw a woman lying on the roadway between the tramlines with her feet towards the bus and her head towards Seacombe Ferry. Apparently she was dead.

Norah Bellas, of Zig Zag Road, Wallasey, another passenger sitting on the left side of the lower deck, said she heard a dreadful noise and then saw a lady drop down a hole in the floor.

In reply to the Coroner, she said she had heard a very similar noise on a previous occasion, but the conductor had told her not to be alarmed as it was only an “overrun.”

Technical Evidence

Technical evidence was given by Mr. Albert Baxendale, the Rolling Stock Works Superintendent of the Wallasey Tramways Department, who said the bus in which the accident happened was a Karrier, and had been in service since the beginning of 1928. It had been periodically inspected, the last inspection being on August 10th. The bus was overhauled in April, 1929. The portion of the machinery under the bus was taken down, and as he was not satisfied with the studs (round the brake drum) which were slightly worn and the threads slightly damaged in taking them out of the brake drum, he had them replaced. These studs were fixed into the brake drum and riveted over after being screwed up. There was no “play” whatever in the stud fitting into the drum. He had seen the bolts that gave way. They were two of the bolts fixed in the drum and had broken away immediately behind the shoulder. One portion of the breakage on both sides was smooth and the actual breakage was in the centre.

Coroner: Could I suggest to you that the portion that was smooth had been previously cracked? – No, sir.

The crack does not bear the appearance of a sudden and complete crack of the bolt? – No.

In witness’s opinion the bolts were strong to stand the strain, judging from the tests they had had.

Coroner: Can you suggest how it was they gave way? – I am very sorry, I cannot give any theory as to why.

In answer to the Coroner, witness added that it was an instruction to drivers to de-clutch before applying the brakes. It would be putting an extra strain on this portion of the car if those instructions were not carried out.

The bus was overhauled in April, was inspected on August 10th, and was then turned out sound as regards this portion.

In answer to Mr. Humphreys, witness said that the previous bolts were replaced at the April overhaul. They connected very heavy working parts, but he considered that the bolts were strong enough to take the drive. The previous bolts had been in a little more than eight months, and had gone for ten thousand miles.

In reply to Mr. Pidgeon, witness said he had nothing to do with the design of the shaft; it was the design of the shaft; it was the design of the makers, and new parts were secured from them. An examination took place every month, and between every forty to fifty thousand miles the buses were completely dismantled.

Drivers were instructed to report any peculiar or unusual noise immediately. If it was a loud noise they were to stop the bus and report immediately on the nearest telephone, and not to drive the bus away until it was inspected. There was also an instruction to report any defect, however slight. Any defect found by inspection was repaired, and in addition the whole of that part of the bus had to be inspected. Afterwards the fitter tested the bus himself, and if it was satisfactory to him it was handed over to the foreman, who took the vehicle on the road. If passed by him it was booked out for service.

No Objection By Drivers

In reply to the foreman of the jury, witness stated that there had been no complaint about that bus from the drivers.

Witness also replied to the Coroner that he did not think the bus had been improperly driven.

Ernest John Boundy, of Lycett Road, Wallasey, the conductor of the bus, said there was nothing prior to the accident that was unusual. He was just going up for the stop at the Lyceum, where he heard a bang and saw the deceased woman behind the bus.

P.C. George Herbert Benfield spoke of removing the deceased from the roadway, twenty yards behind the bus, to the Victoria Central Hospital. Nearly all her clothing had been torn from her body, and there were severe injuries to the head as well as other parts of the body.

Inspector W. Nicholson, of the Fire Brigade section of the Wallasey Police, described his examination of the bus. He found the trap door of the bus immediately above the coupling shaft wedged between the floor and the underside of the seat, apparently having been forced upwards. The coupling shaft was hanging by one stud, the other two having broken away. The effect on the shaft revolving with only one stud holding would be to increase the radius, and the footboard would be knocked up. The trap door knocked up was 24 ins. by 18 ins. There was very little room between the shaft and the side for a body to go through. Both bolts were broken at the shoulder. He could give no reason why they had snapped, as they were comparatively new bolts. Theoretically, they may be big enough, but it appeared to him that they were a little on the small side. They had not served the purpose for which they were made. For ordinary driving they would be all right, but they had apparently not been able to stand the heavy strain placed on them at times.

In his opinion it was a sheer break at the time of the accident, and not an old crack.

The driver of the bus, Seldon Phelp Smith, Moseley Avenue, Wallasey, said he had driven the bus many times before. They did not always drive the same bus. He did not remember sending in any report regarding this particular bus. He took it over at 3.40 pm on this day, and there was nothing unusual in the driving of the bus. At the time of the accident he was pulling up at the top of Trafalgar Road. The usual thing was to take his foot off the accelerator and let the bus run in gear until she had slowed down, then slip the clutch and apply the brake. On this occasion he had taken his foot off the accelerator, and the bus was slowing down when he heard the noise. The bus was in top gear when the woman fell. He did not know what the noise was, so he slipped his clutch and applied his brake.

Norman Edward Ward, engineer, of Oldhall Street, Liverpool, expressed the opinion that there was a fault in the metal of the bolts, and he believed that the breaking was due to crystallisation of part of the metal.

In reply to Mr. Pidgeon, he said the smooth part of the bolt showed perfectly sound metal but the rough part was crystalline and in his opinion a fault in the metal. No external examination could show that crystallisation. It was latest, but could not be seen.

The Coroner: The bolt would be apparently sound when put in? – Yes.
It had stood the strain of work for some three or four months? – Yes
Normally, the greatest strain put on this would be at starting up. When the omnibus is running there would be little strain on it? – That is so.
Coroner: And that is when it broke? – I understand it broke when the omnibus was only running the engine.
It broke when the driver’s foot had been taken off the accelerator and the omnibus was running with two brakes. In those circumstances there would be a slight reverse strain. How is it that you expect this bolt, otherwise sound, to give way when there is only a small strain on it? – Owing to the crystallised state the margin of safety in the bolt is reduced by a half. A bolt such as this might give at any time.
You would not expect it to break when the strain is taken off? – You cannot theorise, but, naturally, one would expect it to give way from the strain.
Is this crystallisation an increasing condition? – Not necessarily.
The bolt was just as sound the moment before it broke as it was when it was put in? – Yes, it is quite possible that this was the last straw. The last starting up probably sheared one of these bolts, and when the omnibus came up to the final stopping place this particular stud was just hanging on until it got that slight reverse strain which sheared the other bolt as well.
You attribute the breakage to the crystallisation of the bolts? – Yes.

The Coroner, reviewing the evidence, remarked that there was evidence that the bus was being driven in an ordinary and usual manner at the time of the accident, while there was no evidence of the lack of inspection. It was difficult to understand the bolts giving way at the time they did when there would be on starting. It had been suggested, however, that one of the bolts may have given way when the omnibus started from the previous stopping place, and the other subsequently gave way with the slight reverse strain on stopping.

It is not for the jury to say how the makers should construct their vehicles, he added, but if they felt the accident was due to lack of strength in the bolts they should say so.

After an absence of twenty minutes, the jury returned a verdict that the deceased woman was killed by falling through the trap door opening on the floor of a motor bus and being crushed by the revolving coupling shaft, this being in consequence of the bolts of the coupling shaft breaking off, and that it was due to an accidental cause.

Steel Supports Suggested

The jury added that there had been no neglect in the maintenance of the bus, but they would suggest that steel supports should be used under the trap door instead of wood in future.

Mr. Kenyon, in extending the sympathy of the Wallasey Corporation to Mr. Whitman and his daughter, said the Mayor of Wallasey and the chairman of the Tramway Committee desired to be personally associated with that expression.

“With regard to the jury’s rider,” said Mr. Kenyon, “the Wallasey Corporation have already taken steps to secure something in the nature of stronger resistance underneath the floors of the omnibuses, subject to the Ministry of Transport’s approval.

The Internment

The funeral of Mrs. Whitman will take place today (Saturday), leaving St. Columba’s, Egremont, at 11 am.

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