Obituary: William McKinley, transport inspector

Popular bus driver and transport inspector. Picture: Contributed
Popular bus driver and transport inspector. Picture: Contributed
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BORN: 3 January, 1928, in Dumbarton. Died: 30 September, 2014, aged 86.

Every town has its characters and bus driver and transport inspector Willie McKinley, whose funeral took place yesterday, was certainly one in Dumbarton.

Practically everyone across West Dunbartonshire knew Willie, from the old folk who were his passengers for years on the Central SMT buses to the toddlers who sang happily as they travelled to Brucehill nursery school in the minibus he drove in his retirement.

Willie lived through an era after the Second World War when there were very few private cars on the roads and everyone took the bus.

Taxis and limousines were usually seen only at weddings and funerals – and “bus runs” and mystery tours were a favourite day out for families.

Shipyard and factory workers used the buses to get to work and children went to school on them, some of them still doing their homework along the way.

Buses were where people met and news and gossip was exchanged with neighbours.

“Use both sides, please,” was the cry of the conductresses, who urged people queuing to get on board to use both upstairs and downstairs.

One bell signalled all the passengers had boarded and it was safe to drive off.

Two bells meant the driver should stop at the next halt to let people off.

And three bells told the driver he should continue without stopping since the bus was full up.

The Thatcher government implemented the Transport Act 1985 on 26 October, 1986 and the deregulation of bus services in Scotland came in.

The act abolished road service licensing and allowed for the introduction of competition on local bus services for the first time since the 1930s.

Almost immediately existing operators such as Central SMT faced competition on their most profitable routes, both from new and existing operators, and other municipal operators seeking to increase revenue.

This led to “bus wars” with new operators cutting fares and operating services which were unsustainable in the long term.

An odd assortment of buses took over from the red double deckers which had taken people to football matches, to church and the cinema, dancing and bingo halls and before long many of Scotland’s bus services were decimated.

The public turned to the railways instead and private cars and taxis became increasingly popular, some would say 
necessary, when housing schemes and out of the way places, deemed unprofitable by the new operators, saw bus services withdrawn.

Often there were no services at all in the evenings to places which had been served until midnight and later by the old subsidised bus companies for years.

Willie McKinley was based at the now closed Central SMT garage at Gavinburn, Old Kilpatrick, which was the depot for West Dunbartonshire and Clydebank.

He was one of a number of well-known drivers and conductresses.

The drivers were always men like Willie himself, road safety campaigner Alex Donald, Adam Conn, Ian Blair, Tony McGarvey and Freddie Ramage.

The drivers’ system of letting their fellow drivers know inspectors were around was to give a thumbs up if the route was clear.

A thumbs down was the signal if an inspector was waiting along the route and drivers put their hand across their chest if they had an inspector on board.

A small number of drivers became inspectors themselves and saw to it that the buses ran on time, the passengers paid their proper fares – or paid at all – and that everyone conducted themselves properly during the journey.

Needless to say, there were often fights on board the buses when the public houses and dance halls emptied late at night at weekends and Willie McKinley was a man with a reputation for sorting them out.

No one with any sense fought on Willie McKinley’s bus for they knew he could handle himself and, if the trouble persisted, he would drive them straight to the police office.

Willie died peacefully, aged 86, at his home on Cardross Road, Dumbarton, on Saturday, 30 September.

He was a member of a large well-known family. He was born on Risk Street in the old Vennel area of Dumbarton town centre, on 3 January, 1928, and went to McLean Place and St Patrick’s High School.

His parents were Charles and Sarah McKinley and he was one of five children: Colm, a coal merchant at Dalreoch; Charles, William himself, Daniel and their sister, Rose.

Rose was in charge of a horse-drawn travelling shop for the old Dumbarton Equitable Co-operative Society.

The shop which took groceries round the Dumbarton housing schemes stood next to the bus terminus in Napier Crescent, Brucehill, and the horse was put out to graze nearby.

Willie, who was a popular young man in the community, married and set up home with his wife, Helensburgh woman Susan Mundie, on the High Street, Dumbarton.

He was something of as prankster in his youth until one of his jokes went disastrously wrong. High Street café owner Michele Cocozza was washing the windows at the Central Café and was called inside to serve a customer.

Willie placed a stone in the bucket of water and when Michele came out to continue the work he threw the contents of the bucket at the window, smashing it to smithereens.

Willie’s punishment was to push the Cocozza’s ice cream barrow round the streets of the West End for a month to make enough money to pay for the damage.

Willie and Susan McKinley had seven children, Charlie, Eddie, Danny, Marie, Sally, Colm and Pat. They moved house to Westcliff in 1953 and have stayed there since.

Willie was a great dog lover who could often be seen walking his dog, Nakamura, round the Clydeshore at Havoc.

His well-attended Requiem Mass, celebrated by Father John Lyons, took place in St Michael’s Church in Cardross Road, Dumbarton, on yesterday and the funeral thereafter at Dumbarton Cemetery.

He is survived by his wife and seven children, 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.