Bristol L5G spotted in Australia

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!

Australian-L5G-1

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.

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Open top AEC Regent V

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.

VDV818-Exeter-sightseeing

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.

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Last bus from Salisbury Bus 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.

OHR919-leaving-Salisbury-Bus-Station

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.

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Coming up: a chance to drive a Wilts & Dorset Lodekka in Salisbury

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:

477BMR-Salisbury-Bus-Station

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.

Bus-spotter's-book

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!

OHR 919

Finishing with a flourish

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.

Busman_John_last_day

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!

‘Warship’ open top Bristol VRT returns home

Although the ‘Seadog‘ Leyland Atlanteans operated by Devon General can be described as ‘iconic’, the ‘Warship‘ open top Bristol VRs that followed them can probably be described as ‘classic’. One of them has returned to Devon and is set to re-enter revenue earning service wearing a new livery. I photographed it at Churston not long after it had arrived under suspended tow from Yorkshire.

VDV138S-under-wraps

VDV138S was one of the 11-strong batch of convertible Bristol VRTs operated by the NBC (Western National) on South Devon routes. It is shown here on the 124 route to Brixham, leaving Paignton Bus Station. Incidentally, it was the 124 route that I chose to put on the blind of open top Bristol LDL VDV752 when I recreated its layover in Torquay a few years ago.

Carrying Devon General fleetnames, 938 ran in service until 1992 and carried the names ‘Warspite’ and ‘Illustrious’ during this period. Rather unflatteringly, it also carried the name ‘Wendy’ during a later period when owned by East Yorkshire Motor Services but the less said about that the better.

Coming up to date, Dartmouth Steam Railway has bought 938 from East Yorkshire and, after some remedial work, will run it in service on the 100 route between Torquay-Paignton-Totnes. The Gardner 6LXB engine is currently seized and has been removed from the vehicle. It will be completely rebuilt by one of the Railway’s engineers over the winter period. Other work will be carried out to bring it up to spec, including a repaint into (probably) the same blue and white livery carried by the other two Bristol VRTs in the fleet.

It will be very fitting for 938 to return to its old haunts next year, including Paignton Bus Station, on a regular basis. Whether I will be around to drive it is another matter, although the Transport Manager keeps dangling 938 in front of me like a carrot! Although I would love to drive for this operator again next season it is by no means certain as I have to find some other employment in the meantime.

Farewell, Dad.

You may have noticed a lack of blog posts lately. Life has been rather hectic and not just because of my bus driving job with my local steam railway. My Dad has been poorly with cancer for many months and last week he finally passed away.

4-generations-seaton

This photo was taken earlier this year when we had a ‘boys’ day out’. Four generations of transport lovers! Our final trip of the day was on the Seaton Tramway which is a wonderful journey down memory lane, although Dad was the only one who would have remembered trams in everyday service!

He was the one who hoisted me into the driver’s seat of a Wilts & Dorset Bristol Lodekka when I was only 3 or 4 years old. That’s when my interest in buses began. Sadly I was not able to take him for a ride I’d planned for him in a Bath Services Bristol KSW, a bus he would have seen passing his front door in Salisbury. However, I am glad that I was able to take him (and all my family) out for a day on a Hants & Dorset FLF last year.

I have several new posts lined up for your delight. The trouble is, they’re all in my head at the moment – I just haven’t had time to put finger to keyboard. I hope you can wait a little longer…