WHOTT Running Day at Dorchester 2016

The second annual WHOTT Vintage Bus Running Day at Dorchester has been hailed a resounding success, with plenty of visitors coming to enjoy nearly 30 buses, coaches and commercials which were on display.

DFG81-at-Frampton-Church

For my part, I brought along an open top Bristol Lodekka which was actually a last minute replacement for the bus I had intended to bring. Following on from the WHOTT Coldharbour Mill running day earlier this year, I had intended to bring the same vehicle to Dorchester, Southern National 2700. However, a couple of days before Dorchester, the 1967 Bristol RELL developed an engine fault which couldn’t be fixed in time. The kind folks at Crosville offered open top FSF6G 891VFM (Crosville DFG81) instead, which turned out to be a very popular choice!

TUO497-Dorchester

The RE had been based at Weymouth (just 8 miles away) for the early part of its service life, which would have made it a very appropriate entrant for the Dorchester event. In my view its non-appearance was a blessing in disguise because another – older – Southern National bus was able to take pride of place instead. 1956 Bristol LS5G TUO497 is most of the way through a restoration project and its appearance at Dorchester was the first time it had been seen in public since it was laid up in a barn in 1980.

I had an empty journey of 74 miles ahead of me when I arrived at the Crosville depot early last Sunday morning. As I opened up the garage and switched the lights on I wondered how many other buses I’d have to shunt out of the way before I could bring the Lodekka out. I was very pleased to see that, following a recent re-organisation of the depot, all the Crosville heritage fleet had been parked in an annexe to the main building, making it far easier than before to retrieve a heritage bus.

By the time I’d arrived at the Top ‘O Town car park in Dorchester the sun was shining and other buses were being marshalled into position. I reported to the WHOTT Control Bus and found that I’d been rostered for three trips out to Frampton Church (see top picture), the first of which departed at 12:40. This meant I had loads of time to browse among the buses and meet up with friends and colleagues.

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Sightseeing Bus Summer Snippets

With the school summer holidays having kicked off, now is a good time to review the Sightseeing Bus season so far.

This my main occupation during the summer months and, with two buses in operation now, I’m doing tours Monday to Friday. The operating season started in May, with the majority of passengers at the senior end of the age spectrum.

Weather is always a major factor in passenger numbers and indeed whether we run at all. There was one day in May when foul weather – wall to wall heavy rain – was forecast so we elected to leave the open top Leyland PD2 covered up until the next day. June was much better, with improving loads as the month progressed. The last week in July brought the best day of the year so far, with 52 people on one tour. The bus has seating for 56 so we were virtually full. I’ll come back to that particular run later.

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One very pleasing development this year has been the decision of the operator to invest in some more busman’s dust jackets. Normally uniform is optional, with some crews opting to wear the more informal printed sweatshirts. Ever since I started, I’ve worn a traditional bus crew uniform and last year bought myself a burgundy and tan dust jacket that matches the bus livery. I’m glad to say that my regular tour guide has decided to wear a jacket and cap so we both look as if we belong! People do appreciate it and I’m sure it helps to draw in some of our older clientele, with whom the tradtitional style of uniform resonates.

FFY403-with-crew-2016In the main photo above, the open topper has just stopped on Babbacombe Downs with a full load of primary school pupils. The bus had been hired as a Year 6 ‘Prom’ treat and we paused here to allow the children on the lower deck to swap places with those on top.

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You may have noticed that the bus now wears two front corner adverts. These promote two of our local attractions and have been produced in the same style as those which adorned our local Devon General buses years ago.

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Crosville Bus & Steam Rally 2016 update #1

Plans are coming together for the Crosville Bus & Steam Rally 2016, at which I plan to be very active! The date is Sunday September 11th.

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Back in 2014 there was a rally and running day based at the seafront at Weston-super-Mare but this year’s event is centred on the Helicopter Museum in Locking Moor Road. Since the 2014 rally Crosville has expanded further, adding fresh vehicles to its heritage fleet and many others to its modern fleet of local service buses and coaches.

For this reason Crosville has struck up a partnership with the Helicopter Museum which – like Crosville – is based on what used to be RAF Weston-super-Mare, albeit on opposite sides of the airfield site. It seems quite appropriate to team up with a museum which celebrates another form of transport history. There is ample room for static displays, indoor areas for society and trade stalls as well as the added attraction of the museum itself. I’ve never been there myself and am looking forward to seeing what’s there.

New for this year is the addition of a steam section. It was originally planned to have Crosville’s own Sentinel DG6P Steam Bus ‘Elizabeth’ in action, fresh from restoration. However, as is often the way with these projects, work is behind schedule and the steam bus won’t be ready in time for the Rally. There will still be plenty of steam power present though as several entries have already been received from traction engine and steam roller owners.

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Thomas the Tank Engine revisits the WSR

I’ve just enjoyed (is that the right word?) a couple of busy days at the West Somerset Railway, supporting its ‘Days Out with Thomas’ event 2016.

972EHW-Thomas-Day-2016

This year for the first time the event was held over three days instead of two weekends and two buses per day were provided by Crosville Motor Services to operate free vintage bus rides from Minehead station.

I was rostered for the Friday and Saturday so I was looking forward to a couple of days of fun. I always enjoy these turns as the format and route have become very familiar but they are quite tiring! One thing I didn’t have to do was to collect my bus from Weston-super-Mare first. Once again, another driver had kindly offered to bring it down the day before and park it on a farm outside Minehead.

Bristol LD6B 972EHW was delivered to Bristol Omnibus in 1959 as its LC8518 and was restored by the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection in 2010. It has been in the custody of Crosville at Weston for much of the time since then and it has been well cared for. Several passengers commented on its superb condition during the 2 days. Outwardly it is indeed a fine specimen but I have to admit it is sometimes tricky to drive. The gearbox has seen a lot of use over the years, as you would expect. But, of all the Lodekkas of similar vintage I have driven, this one has the most awkward ‘box. There are offsets and ‘notches’ which sometimes prevent the driver from engaging a gear smoothly, notably 1st and 2nd gears. This adds a level of difficulty to a duty which is already full of challenges. Low branches, tight corners, narrow streets… you get the picture I’m sure.

Compared with a normal private hire job, where there is quite a bit of open road running, these Minehead trips are full of cornering and gearbox work. That means that the workload for the driver is quite high – must be a bit like the old days! Of course, the bus feels a lot heavier when fully loaded and this was very evident on Saturday when, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, there were long queues for the bus.

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WHOTT running day at Coldharbour Mill

At 36 feet long, the Bristol RELL is not exactly tailor made for narrow, country lanes. In a perverse sort of way, I quite enjoyed having my bus driving skills put to the test in the lanes around Uffculme recently.

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The last weekend in May 2016 was blessed with warm, summery weather. A modest collection of heritage buses sparkled in the sun as they loaded passengers in the car park of Coldharbour Mill Museum (hereinafter referred to as ‘The Mill’) in deepest Devon.

The Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) had chosen May 29th to put on a heritage bus running day as it coincided with one of the regular Steam Days held at the Mill. I had been invited to take part, but only if I brought a bus with me. I do actually own a few buses but they are 1:76 scale and sit on a shelf in my lounge! So, thanks to the generous boss of Crosville Motor Services, I brought a full sized bus.

Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) has featured quite often on this blog recently and it was my pleasure to be its custodian for the day on Crosville’s behalf. However, I was keenly aware that 2700 had only recently returned from Reliance Bus Works after having repairs done to some nearside panels. I needed to be sure that I didn’t put another dink in them! Full marks to the folks at Crosville – in the few days between me bringing 2700 back from Stoke-on-Trent and the WHOTT event, they had found the time to re-apply the nearside fleetname which meant that the RE was fully dressed for the occasion!

The first surprise of the day, as I arrived from Weston-super-Mare, was to be met by my own sister-in-law at the gates of the Langlands Industrial Estate (this is where buses were stabled until they were required for service). She is one of the Trustees at the Mill and was keen to check that things were being run efficiently and safely. Being the first bus-related event at the Mill, much feedback was gathered during the day which will be used to decide if another event should be held in the future.

Mrs Busman John and I had decided to make it a family day out so we were joined by several other members of our family, including our son Peter who has featured on these pages before as a conductor. He arrived in his 1967 Morris Minor (formerly mine) and was promptly invited to park alongside 2 Austin 7 vans in the vintage vehicle display area. He was rather chuffed!

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Vintage bus trips with Paddington Bear

A weekend of bus adventures started with another trip to Minehead, this time in support of Paddington Bear at the West Somerset Railway.

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The larger than life character was visiting the station at Minehead to meet and greet young fans and, as per the usual format, a number of other attractions were on offer during the day. Vintage bus trips ran from about 10:15 in the morning, provided by yours truly in a 1959 Bristol LD6B. This time, thanks to a generous collague, I didn’t have to travel all the way up to Weston-super-Mare to collect the vehicle from the Crosville Motor Services depot as usual because it had already been brought down to a nearby stabling point the day before.

My conductor Liz was there waiting for me so, after checking the bus, we drove into Minehead to await custom. It wasn’t long before about a dozen people had boarded and we set off on the first of about 15 trips around the town and along the seafront. That’s a guess – I didn’t have time to count, we were that busy!

The weather was fine and an impressive number of people flowed through the station during the day, many of whom travelled on the bus as well. Every so often Paddington Bear and his minder would appear on the station platform to wave, shake hands or high-five his little fans. Like most other ‘celebrities’ such as Fireman Sam and Peppa Pig, the character has to follow a strict protocol and there is no conversation, just the gestures mentioned.

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Early 2016 season roundup

Now that May has come (and almost gone) my level of bus activity has returned to normal with the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours kicking off at the beginning of the month.

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One of the first photos to go on the Tours’ new Facebook page was this one, showing my Tour Guide / Conductor smartly turned out in his new busman’s jacket. I’m not sure who the other fellow is…

Loadings have been patchy, which is par for the course in May. However, unusually warm weather in our first week of operation saw up to 30 passengers on board for some tours. The route is unchanged from last year but, just through May, we’re leaving at 11:00 instead of 10:45 just to give ourselves a better chance of attracting more custom.

YDL318-polishedOther outings have included a return to Minehead to support the West Somerset Railway’s ‘Peppa Pig’ special event. My rostered bus was Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) which appeared to have been polished to within an inch of its life!

YDL318-Blenheim-Road-Minehead

While operating free trips from Minehead station I met up with a lovely couple who used to be regular passengers on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’. It was Don who sent me this photo of the bus passing beside Blenheim Park on one of its ‘Peppa’ trips that day. Also in town on the same day was Peter and Jenny Snowden and family. They rode with me and Peter, who is one of the organisers of the Taunton Vintage Bus Running Day, couldn’t resist slipping into conductor mode!

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Last Saturday saw me taking Crosville DFG81 (891VFM), an open top Bristol FSF6G, to Bath on an increasingly rainy day. The wedding party started its journey on top but I soon received the pre-arranged signal (3 bells) to pull over so that everyone could retire below! This bus was actually a last-minute replacement for the rostered bus, a Lodekka which turned out to be unserviceable with dead batteries. It was fortunate that, after some delays, I was able to make up time with the 50mph-capable FSF.

HDV626E-fuel-Stoke

Once again I acted as delivery driver for Crosville this week, travelling up to Stoke-on-Trent to collect Southern National 2700 after it had received attention at Reliance Bus Works. The photo shows the vociferous RE (its exhaust note is pleasingly throaty!) taking on fuel before the return journey.

Coming up this weekend I have another trip to Minehead, WSR. This time the visiting ‘celebrity’ is Paddington Bear! Then I’m due to drive at the WHOTT Running Day at Coldharbour Mill Museum, Uffculme. WHOTT and the Mill have teamed up and a number of buses are supporting a Steam-up Day at the Mill, when the 1910 Pollit & Wigzell engine will be operating along with much of the woollen mill’s surviving machinery.

Photo credits:

YDL318 in Minehead – Don Brain
891VFM in Bath – Richard Kemble