Sheffield bus driver retires after 44 years behind the wheel

After 44 years on the buses, Linford Stephenson’s journey as a driver is finally over. Not many can match that and it makes him one of the longest serving drivers in the country.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 4:45 pm
Linford Stephenson on his final day as a driver at First Bus after 44 years. Picture Scott Merrylees
Linford Stephenson on his final day as a driver at First Bus after 44 years. Picture Scott Merrylees

Two pence fares, bendy buses and rowdy passengers are all in his Sheffield memory bank.

It has been some ride for the 69-year-old First driver, who turns 70 this month.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Linford - known as Lenny - came to Sheffield in 1967 after his mum Mavis emigrated, determined to earn more money for her family.

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Linford Stephenson on his final day as a driver at First Bus after 44 years. Picture Scott Merrylees

It was the year of the Apollo spacecraft fire and The Graduate was the top selling film of the year.

Mavis sent for Lenny, his brother and sister separately, each joining mum as and when she could afford the flights.

Lenny boarded a plane aged 14-and-a-half and moved in with his mum at her flat in Campo Lane in the city centre.

She had a number of jobs in the city, working as a cleaner, grafting in shops and later on serving as a nursing ancillary in a care home. Mavis was a hard worker.

Linford Stephenson on his final day as a driver at First Bus after 44 years. Picture Scott Merrylees

Lenny, a father-of-four, says: “My mum emigrated and sent for me later. I came by myself on a plane aged 14 and was taken to Campo Lane, where she lived.

“I still see the flat on my bus and it always makes me smile.”

He went to Myers Grove school in Stannington for a term and left aged 15. “I wasn’t very clever so I left and went into an apprenticeship repairing cars.

One day a week, Linford went to Psalter Lane college and for the rest of the time worked at Hoffmans of Sheffield, based on Ecclesall Road.

Linford Stephenson on his final day as a driver at First Bus after 44 years. Picture Scott Merrylees

They were dealers for prestige brands including Mercedes and occasionally a Rolls Royce was dropped off at the garage.

“The first time I drove a Rolls Royce was at Hoffmans. I just moved it around the garage because I was 16, but it was nice.”

The family moved to Bramall Lane and Linford started to mix with steelworkers whose tales of money making made him jealous.

“They were bragging about how much they were getting in the steelworks, saying it was £100 a week,” he says. “I was getting £2.50. My first wage was less than a pound - 19 shillings.”

Linford Stephenson on his final day as a driver at First Bus after 44 years. Picture Scott Merrylees

Linford got a job with steelmaker Edgar Allen in Tinsley and spent around eight years making moulds.

But what he really wanted was to drive a bus. “I started aged 25 and would have done it long before but didn’t have the right licence.”

He needed a Public Service Vehicle licence and kept pestering South Yorkshire Transport for an opening.

“I kept asking and was told no until finally I got a chance to start as a conductor. I spent three or four months doing that and was then told it was time to start driving.

“I haven’t looked back since.”

Linford’s love affair with driving started young but did have an awkward beginning. “I learnt to drive at 17 and passed my test in three months. The driving lesson was 80p. After passing, I still had the L-plate on my car and was stopped by the police.

Linford Stephenson on his final day as a driver at First Bus after 44 years. Picture Scott Merrylees

“An officer told me I shouldn’t be driving with an L-plate so I showed him my licence. It was still the provisional one so I showed him the pink paper saying I’d passed and he said ‘That’s better! I’ll never forget that.”

Of course he remembers the two pence fares, the bendy buses and conductors greeting passengers as they boarded at the back of the bus.

“The bendy buses were great until you locked the steering,” says Linford, who lives in Shiregreen. “I remember a friend did that on High Street at the roundabout with Leopold Street. The bus got stuck.

“They had to wake the manager and get him down there to sort it out.”

So was it better in those days of public ownership? “The service would be better now if it went back to the council,” he says.

“De-regulation mucked up public transport. If it was still run by public ownership it would be in great nick, but the service is not right for poorer people.”

He’s talking about poor service or no service in some cases, but is still positive about his beloved buses.

“Some change is for the better and I can’t complain. I’ve had a great life on the buses.

“I’ve brought my children up while working on the buses. I’ve bought three houses and sent three children to university on the back of the buses.

“I love it. I’ve had a great life, met some great friends, managers and inspectors.”

Occasionally, the odd passenger has tried to upset him, but Linford will have none of it.

“You can get the odd awkward one, but I’ve never had a fight. I’m laid back. I’ve been threatened and there are nasty people, but I just smile and laugh.

“I had one guy shouting ‘You come over here, take our work, our women’. I sat in my cab laughing because he was 80 with a walking stick. He couldn’t stand up.

“I’ve had drunks who won’t pay. I don’t argue, they sit down and when they get off they say thank you and are emptying their pockets.

“I had five guys who were all drunk and one was calling me all the names. I wouldn’t open the door and when I did I told his mates what he’d said. They gave him a right pasting, I just left them fighting.”

His favourite service is the 240 to Bakewell. “I also like the 271, Castleton and Bradwell. I love those routes, the fresh air and the school children are great.”

He also enjoyed driving around the city centre on the Clipper service and he loves Sheffield. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” he says.

“I’ve been all over the world on holiday, I’ve family in London and Manchester, but Sheffield is the best. I would never leave. The people are friendly, laid back, it is a lovely city.”

So after a lifetime of work, what will Linford, now married to Josie and a grandfather of six, do next?

“The housework is going to triple,” he says, smiling. “Ferrying the grandchildren around, shopping, fetching the wife from work at the Hallamshire Hospital.

“I go to the gym three or four times a week, so that will be more now. I do spinning classes but I’m still overweight so time for some more of that.”

He will be missed at work. Rob Hughes, operations director at First South Yorkshire, said: “One of our long established drivers, Lenny retires after 44 years’ service.

“Over that time there has obviously been many changes to the business, developments in technology, different bus designs and lots of policy and procedural influences, all of which Lenny has taken in his stride.

“Forty-four years is a milestone to be proud of and I am sure he will be missed by all his colleagues at Olive Grove when he retires but a well-deserved rest is what I’m sure he is looking forward to.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank him for his dedication, commitment and loyalty over that time and wish him all the very best in his retirement”.

Linford Stephenson on his final day as a driver at First Bus after 44 years with Assistant Operations Manager David White. Picture Scott Merrylees