United Automobile Services
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United Automobile Services or United as it was commonly known, was a major provider of bus services across the North East and North Yorkshire for 80 years or more. Nationalised in 1948, until broken-up and privatised in the late 1980s, the company provided bus services across England's widest geographical area, stretching from Berwick-upon-Tweed on the Scottish border, south to Filey in East Yorkshire.
United was founded in Lowestoft, Suffolk in 1912, with two routes, one in Suffolk and one over 200 miles away between Bishop Auckland and Durham. During the 1920s the company expanded in Norfolk and south Lincolnshire, and in Northumberland, Co. Durham and North Yorkshire. In 1929 control passed to the Tilling Group, the London and North Eastern Railway and B.A.T., and in 1931 the new owners split off the East Anglian operations into a separate company, Eastern Counties Omnibus Company.
United also started East Midland Motor Services. This came about through the desire to expand. One of their managers, W.T. Underwood, was sent to Clowne (near Chesterfield) to set up a bus company in his own name. The Underwoods company later became East Midland.
The company ran vehicles from their head office in Darlington and garages across their area, including Durham, Hartlepool, Whitby and Peterlee amongst others. Most of those vehicles were Bristols with Gardner engines and ECW bodies, the LH and VR being common vehicles. Another vehicle commonly used was the Leyland National. United were one of only three operators (and the only English operator) to buy the Bristol REMH 12-metre (39 ft) coach chassis. These 35 vehicles, which had Plaxton Panorama Elite III 49-seat coach bodywork, were delivered between 1971 and 1975.
During the mid-1980s, after deregulation, a huge number of Mercedes-Benz and Dodge S56 minibuses were purchased by United for use on new 'town' services in many areas,some replacing existing United 'big bus' services and others on brand new services which were highly competitive with local authorities existing routes (notably the Darlington and the Hartlepool networks). Most were branded with names such as Roadranger (Darlington), Clipper (Whitby), Hoppa (Hartlepool) and Panther (Peterlee) amongst others. These new minibus routes ran around housing estates to a Hail and Ride system and after some initial controversy,these services proved successful for United, most notably in Darlington where the minibus network was hugely expanded.
To prepare for privatisation, the Northumberland and Scarborough areas were separated off into two new companies, Northumbria Motor Services and Scarborough & District, in 1986, the latter then being transferred to East Yorkshire Motor Services. In 1990, the Cleveland and Middlesbrough operations were renamed Tees & District, with the Stockton depot operating as TMS (Teesside Motor Services). United was purchased by the Caldaire Group, then North East Bus, then Cowie, which was renamed Arriva on 2 April 1998, with North East Bus becoming Arriva North East (with several vehicles, including a batch of nine new Dennis Darts, donning the new livery in late 1997).
In 2002, Optare Delta 4019, still painted in United colours, ran free journeys on a variety of services operated by the company as a celebration of United's 90th anniversary, and also as the 'last United bus', being repainted into Arriva livery immediately after. The 'last United bus' statement was not entirely accurate as there were still some Optare MetroRiders in service in United livery at the time, though bearing 'Darlington Roadranger' fleetnames rather than 'United', as well as several scrap Optare Vectas in United and TMS liveries and a withdrawn Leyland Olympian in Tees livery which was not removed until 2007.
Preserved United vehicles
There are a number of former United buses which survive in preservation, several of which are owned by the Aycliffe & District Bus Preservation Society, these being Bristol K5G GHN189, Bristol L5G LHN860, Bristol LH NDL769G, and Bristol LS 304GHN. Other preserved United vehicles include Bristol LS Saloons (BU2 and BU250) Bristol L5Gs FHN 833, LHN 823, and HHN 202-in the livery of subsidiary company Durham District Services, 2 AEC Matadors HSK 687 and NGY 380 towing lorries, and one towbus WHA 237H in Tees livery. Bristol VRs WHN 411G (first United VR), APT808W and PAJ 829X (the last United VR), Leyland Nationals XUA73X (in West Yorkshire livery) and EPT 879S, Bristol LHs GUP 907N and AHN 611M, Bristol REs SHN 80L . United's open-top RE PHN 178L also survives but is not preserved. There are many survivors of United vehicles abroad, including up to 6 Bristol Lodekkas, and a few Bristol VRs and Bristol KSWs.