Many of you will have followed my driving adventures since I was a lowly conductor and will know that the subject of railways has cropped up more than once. In fact it’s curious how often the buses I’ve conducted on – or have driven – have crossed paths with trains of one sort or another. Naturally, those hauled by steam locomotives grab my attention more than any others!
This was the scene a couple of weeks ago when the Sightseeing Tours bus was parked at Preston Sands halfway through the afternoon tour. The coastal road passes over the railway line by Hollicombe Beach and I’d spotted a plume of steam rising from the stationary loco as it waited for a path into Paignton station. Fortunately I had plenty of time to position myself for a photo before the train passed by. The loco was GWR 4-6-0 No 5029 ‘Nunney Castle’ which was hauling the Cathedrals Express into Paignton from Westbury.
Several years ago I was a conductor for Quantock Motor Services (sadly no longer trading) which had its depot right next to Bishop’s Lydeard station on the West Somerset Railway. I was able to see, hear and smell many steam-hauled trains while preparing buses.
Quantock used to provide a fleet of buses for a Christmas Park and Ride service into Taunton town centre and it was while conducting on one of these services that the bus I was on passed over the new Silk Mills bridge just as Gresley Pacific ‘Sir Nigel Gresley‘ passed directly underneath!
While browsing through some old holiday photos today I came across this shot of Bedford WTB JT8077. I enjoyed a short ride to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in this historic coach in 1995, a couple of years after it joined the small fleet operated by John Woodhams, Ryde. I remember it sounding every bit as tuneful as the Bedford OB which succeeded it!
Here is a brief history of this 1937-built vehicle, taken from the website of Vintage Tours where the Bedford still operates to this day:
JT 8077 is a 1937 Bedford WTB with 25 seat coachwork by Duple. JT was new to South Dorset Coaches at Corfe Castle in Dorset, and stayed with the company for thirty years before passing to Adge Cutler, of Wurzels fame. Adge and his brother Roy took her to a number of rallies, including the London to Brighton Historic Commercial vehicle Run. Following Adge’s untimely death in a road accident, she passed to new owners in Gloucestershire in the mid 1970s. She became semi derelict before passing to Pearce, Darch & Willcox, at Cattistock, in Dorset who restored her, and re-certified her as a psv in 1987. After two or three years the company and its modern coaches sold out to Southern National, but JT remained in the old garage until 1992 when acquired by the present owner. Very few WTBs survive today, and JT is the only example in passenger service.
Terry Browne’s Flickr photostream has a good photo of the WTB, in company with Bedford OB CCF648, on a wedding duty a couple of years ago.
A Bristol L5G, in tip top condition and wearing ‘Bath Services’ livery, has been photographed recently in Melbourne, Australia. But, before you all reach for your phones to call the owner of the ‘Bristol L Survivors‘ website, I had better just say that the bus in questions is 1:43 scale and has just been delivered to its owner’s model railway layout!
A regular reader of this blog kindly sent me photos of this remarkably detailed vehicle and I have sought his permission to share them here. Ray Bounsall, originally from Bristol, has lived in Australia since the early ’80s but retains a keen interest in the local road and rail transport scene with which he grew up. His railway layout, 15 years in the making and still growing, is based on ‘Woodleigh sub Mendip’, a fictitious town in the Wells, Somerset levels area. It is populated by ex-GWR locos and stock, set in the post-nationalisation era.
Making a change from the usual Bristol Lodekkas featured on this blog is this handsome AEC Regent V, one of Devon General’s 1957 batch of 59-seat double decks.
I took this photo just before boarding the bus in Exeter during a special event in May 1994 involving 2 steam locomotives. BR Standard Class 4 tank locos, 80079 and 80080 were visiting the west country for a tour of branchlines radiating from Exeter. This Devon General Regent, then owned and operated by Red Bus Services (and having been restored by them the previous year), was being used to run a sightseeing tour around Exeter. We picked up the tour outside Exeter St David’s Station and were treated to some aural delights as the raucous straight through exhaust bellowed mightily as we climbed up to the city centre from the station.
January 5th 2014 dawned with a sharp frost and bright sunshine, which later turned to cloud and persistent drizzle. Perhaps this summed up the mood of those who attended a special event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station.
Wiltshire’s capital city has had a central bus station for 75 years but now, due to the ageing buildings and the changing nature of the company which has inherited them, the city has decided that it can do without the familiar starting point for most of its bus services.
Thanks to a remarkably timed contact with the owners of a surviving Wilts & Dorset Bristol Lodekka, I had the privilege of driving this bus during the running day. The photo below, taken by Dave Mant, shows me leaving the bus station with the first departure of the day to Nunton and Bodenham.
Note the similarity between this and my shot of the same location which I took in 1973. Fleet no 628, an LD6G which was new in December 1956, has been owned since it was taken out of service as a driver trainer, by two delightful brothers. They also own a Hants & Dorset FS6G. I met up with them at the bus station and before I knew it, was climbing into the cab just before departure time. Allan and Kevin were happy for me to take the bus out on the first trip because I knew my way round the route, thanks to my customary homework (and a dry run in the car the night before!)
The bus station was rapidly filling with heritage buses, most of which had a local connection. Also adding to the general busyness was a good number of enthusiasts, local residents and bus industry management. As soon as I drove the Lodekka onto the departure stand, people flocked to board our bus. I had a few moments to compose myself. It was both emotional and nerve-wracking, sitting behind the wheel of a bus I had seen and ridden on as a boy while also focussing on the task of driving as faultlessly as possible.
In what seems to be like a dream come true, I’ve been invited to drive a Wilts & Dorset Bristol Lodekka in Salisbury in a few weeks’ time.
Those who follow this blog regularly will know that my interest in old buses stems from many happy childhood holidays spent with my Grandparents in Salisbury. Back then (in the 1960s and 70s) the Wilts & Dorset fleet was mostly Bristol vehicles – of LD, FS, FLF, MW, LS and RE varieties. My favourites were the LDs. To me, the perfect British bus. My passion for driving began when, as a small boy, I used to kneel on the bench seat behind the cab and watch the driver at work. Here is a photo I took of an FS6B in Salisbury Bus Station in the summer of 1973:
I have been invited to drive Wilts & Dorset LD6G 628 (OHR919) on Sunday January 5th 2014 as part of an event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station. My Ian Allan bus spotter’s book confirms that I saw it in Salisbury at least once and probably rode on it too. So you can imagine how privileged I feel to be asked to drive it during such an historic occasion.
Salisbury Reds, the current operator of most of Salisbury’s bus routes, have arranged for up to 15 heritage buses to run free trips on four routes. The duty sheet that I’ve seen shows that I’m due to drive two of them during the course of the day, including the very last passenger carrying service from Salisbury Bus Station at 15.45. Several duplicates have also been lined up to satisfy demand for this departure!
The photo below (from Flickr) shows the bus I’m due to drive a few years ago. By coincidence, one of the journeys I’m driving is the 37 from Alderbury & Whaddon to Salisbury!
My time with the Dartmouth Steam Railway & River Boat Company as a seasonal bus driver came to an end last week and, as I have an interest in the historical aspect of the business, I decided to pay tribute to the former days of the Totnes-Paignton bus route that I have been driving.
Long before the days of Stagecoach, First and the Dartmouth Steam Railway, Western National used to operate over the Totnes to Paignton route so, on my last day, I decided to wear an authentic Western National uniform. Although to some I may have looked a little out of place driving the No 100 bus (a Volvo Olympian dating from 1996) looking like the ghost of 1970, many of my passengers appreciated my parting shot. Comments such as “That takes me back to my childhood” and “Your drivers should all wear uniforms like that!” were made as I took their fares and clipped their Round Robin tickets.
Some time ago I came across an excellent set of photos on Flickr taken by a chap called Norman Craig, who spent a couple of summer seasons as a conductor for Western National, based at Paignton. With Norman’s permission I created a couple of posters to stick up inside my bus so that those passengers who were to shy to ask could read about why their driver was in fancy dress.
The uniform came from a Western National driver based in Plymouth and included a mint condition winter greatcoat. If the weather is cold on Sunday I will need to wear it at the Exeter Twilight Running Day!
Although my time with Dartmouth Steam Railway has ended for the time being, I may return next season as they have asked me back but that won’t be until May so it depends what employment I can find in the meantime!