Bristol L tackles a stiff climb out of Bath

It’s not often I get a wedding duty in the depths of winter but yesterday was one such day. The job included a very steep climb which really tested the pulling power of the bus.

kfm893-bath-guildhall

The destination was in Bath, which meant a 30-mile empty journey from Weston-super-Mare. I knew it was going to be a cold day so I set out wearing lots of layers! Even so, I was beginning to feel chilly by the time I had finished my walkaround checks. I was pleased to see that my rostered bus, ex-Crosville KG131 (1950 Bristol L5G KFM893), had been well prepared the day before. She stood in the garage gleaming, wearing white wedding ribbons inside and out. A quick peep into the fuel tank with a torch revealed that she had been topped up to the brim with go-juice as well.

Winter is the time when most of the heritage fleet is serviced, repaired or refurbished so the Bristol L was the only member of the fleet which was active. However, the job involved transporting more than 60 people to the reception venue so a modern coach was to join me. Needless to say, we didn’t travel together as my single decker needed a head start due to its slower performance.

As I drove out of the garage there was sleet in the air so I pulled on a pair of gloves and braced myself for a wintery blast through the cab. I couldn’t help thinking of the poor bus drivers of days gone by who had to endure icy conditions day after day and still get the job done. Busmen of the past were obviously made of sterner stuff – I’m really a fair-weather driver!

Several months have passed since my last duty with a heritage bus and even longer since my last stint in a Bristol L. So maybe I could be forgiven for a few graunchy gearchanges. Fortunately, by the time I picked up my passengers, I was back in crashbox mode.

With the South Bristol Link Road now complete, I was able to cut off a significant corner as I headed towards Bath. Just like a lightning strike, I’m always looking for the path of least resistance!

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Early GWR Motorbuses

Since getting acquainted with Maud I’ve developed an interest in very early motorbuses. Maud of course is Exeter Corporation No 5, a 1929 motorbus which I had the honour of driving back to Exeter a couple of years ago.

gwr-motorbus-paignton

Today I came across some photographs of an early Great Western Railway motorbus with very local connections, having been photographed in my home town of Paignton. They are in fact postcards and the images were posted in a Facebook group called ‘Paignton in Pictures’. I have permission from the group’s administrator to reproduce the images here.

The postcard shown above, dated 1906, was originally a black and white photograph which has been hand coloured by an artist, a common practice in the early days of photography which was intended to produce a more life-like product. It also made the image more saleable of course! The image shows passengers alighting from a GWR motorbus which has parked outside the Gerston Hotel, Paignton. The photographer would have been standing right outside the GWR’s Paignton railway station and the passengers were likely to be boarding a train there.

gwr-motorbus-front-view

It’s a bit unfortunate that a local horse-drawn hansom cab is obscuring part of the bus but happily there is another postcard that features a photograph that seems to have been taken on the same occasion but from a different angle. This one clearly shows that the bus was No T-390 and I contacted my friend Robert Crawley to see if he could tell me more about it. Robert is Chairman of the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT), which has an extensive archive of information and images relating to all aspects of transport in this area.

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Crosville hybrid decker goes north

Another delivery duty for Crosville Motor Services recently took me on a return journey to Yorkshire, this time with a hybrid double deck bus.

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It’s a journey I’ve done several times before so I hardly used the printed route notes I always carry in the cab. On previous journeys I’ve delivered a 1950 Bedford OB and a 1949 Bristol K6A to the restoration premises of Cobus in Yorkshire.

For various operational reasons I was unable to leave the depot until after 10:00 but, not having driven one of these hybrid buses before, I was glad to be able to accompany another driver on a similar bus as we took it into Weston-super-Mare town centre to swap it with the bus I was to take north. Watching his every move, I soon learned that it was really no different to driving any other modern bus with an auto gearbox.

If you haven’t already guessed, a hybrid bus uses a combination of battery power and energy from a small diesel engine for propulsion. Before I left the depot an engineer flipped a couple of switches behind a panel to put the bus into ‘DE’ (Direct Energy) Mode, which meant that the batteries would not be depleted on the long journey. The bus is built for Euro 6 economy on urban services but would require diesel power throughout the 260 mile trip to Hunmanby.

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Crosville Bus Rally 2017 update #1

A change of plan – the 2017 Crosville Bus & Steam Rally is returning to the Helicopter Museum venue.

767-and-Lizzie

The last time I mentioned the rally it was going to be held on the Beach Lawns, Weston-super-Mare but, since then, there have been changes behind the scenes. After a lot of negotiation the good news is that admission will be 100% free for visitors to the rally, which will again be sited within a self-contained ‘paddock’. The Control Tower, which is in the centre of the field and was undergoing renovation last year, is now complete and may be open for visitors. For those who wish to go round the Helicopter Museum itself there will be a separate charge.

Many people will have been disappointed that ‘Elizabeth’ the Sentinel DG6P Steam Bus didn’t show up as planned at last year’s rally. I was one of them – I’ve never seen her in steam, although I’ve walked past her in the garage many times on my way to pick up a bus. During the refurbishment a lot of worn parts and rot were discovered and so much more work was required than anticipated. As I write, the bus is being re-assembled and a boiler test should have been completed successfully. There is still some confusion as to which colour she will wear when she returns. An early suggestion was that she would be outshopped in Tilling Green and Cream to match the other members of the Crosville heritage fleet. But then I heard that she would retain her maroon colour to complement Crosville’s Clayton & Shuttleworth road locomotive ‘Sonsie Quine’. Which will it be? You’ll have to wait and see. Ooh, I do love a good livery debate!

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Some readers may remember that I’m also a proud owner of a Morris Minor convertible. To top it all, the Avon Branch of the Morris Minor Owners Club is having a day out at the Helicopter Museum at the same time as the Crosville Rally, but not on the same field. It’s going to be a busy day!

Among the other entries likely to attend is this rather lovely all-Leyland Exeter Corporation PD2/1 bus. I’m helping to coordinate the event and I’ll let you know about some of the other highlights as they are confirmed. You can also check out the Rally page on the Crosville website for latest info.

Town tours for Bridgwater College Rag Day

My final bus driving duty of 2016 involved a road cone, a Bristol Lodekka and a witch. Yes, you’ve guessed correctly, it was Bridgwater College Rag Day.

My conductor and I brought ex-Bath Services 1959 Bristol LG6G 969EHW down to Bridgwater College on the last day of term when traditionally the sixth form college students and staff dress up and do all sorts of wacky stuff in the name of charity. ‘Rag’ stands for Raise and Give, I learned today.

We had been given a route to follow, which was very similar to the one taken by the famous Bridgwater Carnival procession. As soon as I had parked the bus in one of the departure bays at the college we knew we were in the right place as almost every person that passed by was wearing a fancy dress costume of some sort. Pirates, road cones, bananas, clowns… and of course the aforementioned witch.

bridgwater-college-rag-witchThe lady in question (pictured above) actually organised the bus tours we were about to provide and her costume was, as you can see, a work of art. Well done Sue!

She had planned for us to take groups of students and staff on a 20-minute circuit of Bridgwater town centre. As part of the trip each team had to take part in a quiz based on notable buildings that we passed on our way around. There were also a couple of questions relating to the bus and the teams had to listen carefully to my little welcome speech to pick up clues.

The bus was never full and the route was free of gradients so driving the Lodekka was certainly not arduous. My conductor Richard and I were happy to be involved in the frivolities and I must admit that I felt right at home, dressed in my 1960s busman’s uniform, when I ventured inside the college building during a break in proceedings. In fact my outfit looked quite tame compared to some of the others!

Sadly the weather turned dull and wet as the day went on and by the time we ran the last trip we had all the lights on. If it wasn’t for the rain I would have taken more photos so, for now, you’ll have to make do with a set of photos and a YouTube video made by the college. This is made up from outtakes so presumably a fully edited version will appear in the new year.

All that remains is for me to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas. I hope your 2017 will bring good health and happiness. I look forward to sharing more bus adventures with you next year. Ding-Ding merrily on high…!

A Vintage Christmas Jolly for Simpleweb

A few days ago I had the pleasure of transporting staff from a Bristol web development company on a scenic tour through the Chew Valley, Somerset.

969ehw-at-the-pig-hotel-pensford

Managers at Simpleweb had planned a Christmas celebration for staff at two venues but had kept the means of transport secret. So when I turned up with ex-Bath Services Lodekka L8515 (969EHW) outside their Albion Dock offices I got some blank looks when I announced that their vintage bus was ready and waiting!

I was originally rostered with ex-Crosville Bristol L5G KG131 (KFM893) but this is now in winter storage but I was more than happy with the replacement, especially as the final destination was in the centre of Bath!

For the first time in many months I drove up to Bristol on the A370 and saw firsthand some of the major works on a new South Bristol Link road which will eventually skirt around the south side of Bristol. This will prove very useful to me on those occasions when I need to head across in the Bath direction.

The client had requested a scenic route to their first destination, via the Chew Valley so I had previously spent some time planning my route. What I hadn’t planned for was a road closure near Chew Magna, a village through which I’d planned to pass.

The bus wasn’t full by any means and all the passengers were easily accommodated upstairs. Due to a road closure near the Cumberland Basin, we headed out of the city through Bedminster but met more roadworks on the A38 where the aforementioned South Bristol Link road is under construction. We soon turned off the A38 and passed through much more pleasant countryside as we pottered along the B-roads through Winford and the Chew Valley.

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A visit to Eastern Coach Works, Lowestoft

I’ve done a couple of delivery jobs for Crosville Motor Services recently and one of them took me to the Far East (of England). To Lowestoft, in fact.

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of any vehicle built by Bristol Commercial Vehicles. Due mostly to Government ownership, the majority of these were bodied by Eastern Coach Works and it was to the coastal town of Lowestoft, where the ECW factory was located, that each newly-built chassis had to be taken years ago.

site-of-eastern-coach-works

Crosville has sold a Volvo B10M coach to a new owner who lives near Lowestoft and I was asked to drive the coach there from Weston-super-Mare. I knew that the 280-mile journey would take most of the day so I arranged to stay the night in Lowestoft and return the next day by train.

VanHool-bodied K7CJT has carried the number CRZ9825 while in service with Crosville but, by the time I arrived to take it to its new home, it had regained its original mark. The workshop staff had given it a once over the previous day and, not having driven this vehicle before, I spent some time checking it over before venturing out onto the road. Locating the side and headlight switch seemed to take me the longest time and I tried a good number of the rocking switches on the dash before finding the correct (rotary) switch near the steering column. That’s what happens when all the switch labels have worn off after years of use! A colleague at the depot, who is keen on the heritage side of the business, came over to see where I was going and asked me if I was going anywhere near the site of the ECW factory. I said I didn’t know where it was, not having time to research it the day before when planning my route. Lowestoft is quite a big town and I thought it would be unlikely that I’d be passing the site, even if I knew where it had been.

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