Letter: Buses that run like clockwork?

OnTheWight reader, Ron Chonner, comes up with a novel idea for public transport


We always welcome a Letter to the Editor to share with readers. If you have something you’d like to share, get in touch. This letter from Ron Chonner from Lake. Ed

News that a fleet of brand new buses have been assigned to the Island prompt me to enquire whether any of them will be fitted with the newest method of propulsion being developed for public transport.

The aim of this new method is apparently to overcome the seemingly intractable problems associated with electrical drives. Namely, the immense cost and weight of the necessary batteries, together with the hours of charging these batteries require before they can be used, plus their unfeasibly short range.

To describe the method as ‘new’; is perhaps a little deceptive. In fact it is a method which might by some be considered a throw-back. Yet it is one that seems to offer an ideal solution to the problem.

It is, I am given to understand, none other than clockwork.

A background on clockwork
For those among us who are unsure – clockwork mechanisms were widely used in the days before the small battery was invented. And indeed for long after. They were principally used to drive toys – cars and locomotives for example – and perhaps more importantly were responsible for the accurate time keeping so vital to our modern day lives by being used to power our clocks and watches.

And if it wasn’t for the introduction of petrol and diesel engines, they would probably have gone on in time to drive full-size cars and buses and trains. After all, they still power some of our large tower clocks, as well as those ingenious radios and similar equipment used where electrical power is not readily available.

Ideal for buses
Clockwork motors are, by virtue of their design flat and shallow in outline and are therefore ideal for installation beneath the floor of buses – or lorries of course – thus leaving the maximum of interior space for people or goods.

They have no need of fuel tanks or batteries as they store their power in large springs which are wound tight by some exterior means. Such power being released in an easily controlled, steady manner as and when required.

Fast ‘charging’
Winding these springs, in sharp contrast to electrical machinery, is a matter of a minute or two.

Buses will be fully ‘charged’ at the depot by small, mains driven electric motors connected through a flexible drive perhaps by the bus driver him or herself. And any ‘top-up’ required during a ‘run’ can be similarly arranged by strategically placed electric motors. Which might even be arranged to connect up automatically.

Rewind whilst loading
In any case, the time to rewind the clockwork spring will be less than the time taken for a short queue to board and take their seats.

And there are further possibilities in the pipeline. Sun powered cells on the vehicle roof could be arranged to power a small re-winding motor carried by the vehicle. And even the action of passengers on boarding the bus or mounting the stairs to the upper deck might be employed through some ratchet device to help rewind the spring.

When you consider the clockwork spring mechanism is built entirely of relatively cheap steel and brass, has no revolving or reciprocating parts to vibrate and wear out bearings – all in sharp contrast to the miles of copper wire required for large electric motors, or the specialise alloys needed for present day engines, the advantages seems obvious.

Image: Filter Forge under CC BY 2.0

Friday, 24th May, 2013 10:28am


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12 Comments on "Letter: Buses that run like clockwork?"

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There are self-winding wrist watches, apparently activated by movement of the wrist. Perhaps clockwork buses on the island’s wonderful roads could similarly self wind!
Would these new buses be painted an orange colour?


Thought the buses and the timetables were already a wind-up!
Anyone know why the travelling public are consigned to old buses, while the swish new ‘blue’ ones are given to school kids who know how to look after things, in my experience?

Simon Haytack

The buses for school contract work were bought as part of the new school bus contract with the Isle of Wight Council. New quality standards were introduced, so buses had to have seatbelts, low floor access etc.

As for the public buses, the vast majority are only about four years old, so they can hardly be considered ‘old’.

Thanks Simon. Any idea how much the contract is worth and how long it runs? It just seems odd to me that these new buses could have played a part in the hopefully revitalised tourism push as well as encouraging new fare-paying passengers while as you say, the four year old buses would have been more than adequate for the school runs. Methinks any expenditure on educational… Read more »
Don Smith

I feel that we have a good bus service on the IoW.

Had there been a bus stop in Winchester Close I would
willingly get rid of my car An chance? I fear not.

A bus stop at the junction of on Linden Road/Castle Road would do, again, not much chance. Ah well! Life goes on.


I love the idea of clockwork vehicles – the simplicity, the longevity, the independence from fossil fuel slavery. I had to check it’s not April 1st. Are such vehicles already in use?

independance from fossil fuels? the clockwork motors will be wound by electric motors, which use electricity probably produced by fossil fuels. I do wonder how it can be that people are taking this ridiculous idea seriously. Clockwork has been around for hundreds of years – it would already be in widespread use for vehicles if it were feasible. As it is, clockwork is usable for small uses… Read more »

I suspect reactions like yours, where hair-triggers like yourself jump straight in without checking your humour bone, is one of the reasons that Mr Chonner writes these chuckle-inducing pieces.


At least my first reaction was that it was an April Fool!

Happy Daze

Ron Chonner. Is that an anagram?

Where exactly are such clockwork power drives being developed?

The largest practical clockwork device I have come across (knowingly) was in a gramophone.

When removed from the gramophone such motors could be used as a superior Meccano drive.

The main technical problem encountered was an effective power release and speed governing mechanism causing amazing acceleration but no control!

Fred Karno
Not an April Fool – Just a good wind up! On a serious note, I’m surprised that Trolley Buses haven’t re-appeared. No pollution, no noise. I can well remember Trolley Buses in Portsmouth when my Mum took me shopping over there as a nipper. Apparently in the war, when the black outs were in force, they called Trolley Buses “Silent Death” because they claimed the lives of… Read more »
I remember yellow trolley-buses in Bournemouth, though not when they were replaced. Good pun on ‘wind-up’! I myself wasn’t wound up though, just interested. I still wonder whether there might not be something in the idea of clockwork? Good heavens, who would once have once thought we would use sunshine for power, and hydrogen from water; so it’s perhaps a brave person who would pronounce that clockwork… Read more »