Heritage bus roundup: Spring 2018

Early Spring 2018 brought a flurry of heritage bus activity for me. Although we’re now well into a very hot summer, here’s a sample of what I was up to earlier.

This is a very attractive Bedford OB coach which was once operated by the original Crosville Motor Services in north Wales and now resides in Weston-super-Mare. It is now up for sale but I was asked to drive it up to Bristol to have its analogue tachograph calibrated as part of preparations for sale.

I’ve have driven this delightful vehicle several times before and I savoured the sounds from the very tuneful and distinctive gearbox. However I didn’t much like the steering, which is very heavy! I don’t know if this is typical of OBs because this is the only one I’ve driven (so far).

I saw this OB in Dorset recently, during on a birthday treat visit to Ringwood Brewery. I would have volunteered myself as a driver but Ringwood is quite a trek from Weston-super-Mare! If it had a canvas tilt on the back it would have looked exactly like the Bedford OB van that my grandfather used to operate (there’s a tiny me standing next to him). That was green as well!

One of the stalwarts of the Crosville fleet in recent years has been ex-Crosville Bristol FSF6G 891VFM and this is seen here having a thorough steam clean prior to its first outing of 2018. This was a trip down to Minehead to spend the day giving free rides to people who attended the Paw Patrol special event for children put on by the West Somerset Railway. I’ve driven at several of these events before and I was happy to be rostered as the driver. I really enjoy driving this Lodekka because I find it easy to drive it smoothly. It also has a good turn of speed (45mph+ on the level) thanks to having a rear axle from a¬†coach fitted.

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Wilts & Dorset Buses book published

After many months of preparation, my new book ‘Wilts & Dorset Buses’ has been published.

Regular readers will know that my bus driving roots go back to my childhood days watching and riding on Wilts & Dorset buses in Salisbury, Wiltshire. My interest was mostly inherited from my father, the late Derek J Dawkins, who also passed on a large collection of photographs to me. The new book is based on this collection but also includes some of my own photos.

The albums I inherited had been carefully annotated by my father but I have had great fun expanding on these with my own knowledge and research to create more readable captions. There’s a ‘Postscript’ section at the end which gives a more personal view of a couple of commemorative events in Salisbury in which I took part. You may have already seen that I covered these in my blog in 2014 and 2015.

I have to admit that I’m not the world’s best authority on Wilts & Dorset buses (although I know a man who could take that title) and I didn’t set out to write a reference work. I hope you’ll see that it’s a personal impression of the bus fleet as it was when my Dad was growing up in Salisbury and later, as he started his working career.

The softback book has 128 pages and the images on the inner pages are black and white. It can be obtained through Amberley Publishing and I commend it to you!

 

WNO480 goes to Torquay

1953 Eastern National Bristol KSW5G WNO480 is now enjoying a new career down on the sunny English Riviera. Or is it?

After its sale by the owner of Crosville Motor Services I recently drove this bus down to Torquay which, until last year, was my home patch. In many ways WNO is more suited to English Riviera Sightseeing Tours than it was to its former Weston-super-Mare owner, where it never really found any proper work to do.

The bus arrived needing work done to its dynamo and this was duly carried out last year. Accident damage to the front nearside mudguard was also fettled but, after a brief appearance at the Crosville bus rally in September, it remained idle in the garage. Crosville already has two other active open top buses (both visible in the photo above) and there just wasn’t enough work to sustain yet another, albeit more historic, open top bus. Hence the decision to sell.

In the photo above WNO480 is seen being prepared for the journey south with trade plates displayed and carrying a generous supply of water under the stairs! To the left of the KSW is ex-Bristol Omnibus VRT LEU263P. It was also being prepared for a long journey, this time northwards for MOT work. Unusually, the KSW has a 12 volt electrical system with just one enormous 12 volt battery under the floor instead of the usual two. The battery had been on charge the previous day as months of idleness had taken their toll.

Mrs Busman John had decided to follow me on this occasion, not only to transport me home to Weston later but also to visit some friends before we left. True to form, she had to hold back as we drove out of the estate. WNO, in common with most Gardner-powered vehicles, was emitting clouds of blue/white smoke from the exhaust but this cleared as the 5-cylinder engine warmed up. This particular 5LW engine sounds rather nasal and raucous due to having large mesh gauze covering the ports where an air filter would normally be fitted. I don’t know why this was done – a previous owner is responsible for this modification!

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Late night bus journey from Weston-super-Arctic

If you live in the UK you’ll know all about the cold snap we’ve endured recently (March 2018). Spare a thought for the busman who drew the short straw.

Now and then I take on private hire jobs for Crosville with relatively modern vehicles, especially in the winter months when there are very few duties for the heritage fleet. This past weekend saw me driving a busload of party-goers through a snowstorm in the wee small hours. Deep joy!

The duty involved driving mostly after dark so opportunities for photography were few so, for you dear reader, I will paint a word picture.

We knew it was coming, thanks to the weather reports. An amber warning for Devon, Cornwall and Somerset for snow and ice, together with advice from the Police not to travel on the roads unless absolutely necessary. Some weeks ago I had taken a booking for Crosville to take a group of people from Cheddar to the Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare and return. With heavy snow forecast for Sunday March 18th I was hoping that I would be able to complete my duty before the snow made the roads treacherous. I suppose I just about made it!

We’d been asked to transport 70 people so we allocated one of our double deck buses from the service fleet. I took the bus straight out of service on the 106 to Worlebury Woods, leaving the driver to return to the depot in the works van. After popping my tacho chart into the bus I high-tailed it across to Cheddar via Congresbury and Langford – the quickest way I knew. I only had about 35 minutes before I was due to pick up my passengers in the middle of Cheddar.

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All change at Crosville

If you live near Weston-super-Mare you will already have heard that Crosville Motor Services is to close in April. Although it is a dark cloud, it does have a silver lining.

It wouldn’t be right for me to go into detail here but, in a nutshell, Crosville has been struggling to survive financially for some time as costs have risen and subsidies have been cut. Even scaling back considerably last year didn’t produce enough savings to make the company viable.

Town services 100 (Sand Bay) and 106 (Worlebury) will be withdrawn, school contracts will end and private hire coaches will no longer run. I have been involved in all but the 106 recently and I am grateful to Crosville for giving me work in these areas as well as looking after the heritage side of the business.

The silver lining? The heritage buses will continue to run, as will the two Land Trains on Weston seafront, with yours truly involved as before. At this early stage nothing is 100% certain but Crosville has stated that these two elements of the business will continue after being transferred to another company in the JJP Holdings group. I’ll say no more at this stage but I am hopeful that, after Mrs Busman John and I uprooted ourselves from Torbay to move to Weston last year, it has not all been in vain.

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Vintage Variety autumn 2017

Quite a lot of vintage duties have gone unreported by ‘Busman’s Holiday’ due to my house move and subsequent full time work for Crosville Motor Services. So here, dear reader, is a pictorial roundup of some of the action.

This delightful scene presented itself to me while awaiting the arrival of the steam-hauled train from Minehead, West Somerset Railway. I had arrived early at Bishops Lydeard station to convey passengers to Hestercombe House and the previous departure, a 1960s 3-car diesel multiple unit, was still in the platform. Parked nearby was a pale blue MG from the same era so I couldn’t resist taking a photo!

Occasionally we are asked to decorate our heritage buses for their wedding duties. This is something I always enjoy doing because I think the ribbons add a very appropriate flourish to the occasion. The day these two were photographed turned grey and drizzly so, by the time they arrived back at the depot, the ribbons were looking rather bedraggled!

Sometimes the customers arrange with me to come to the depot to decorate the bus themselves. Some really go to town and bring banners and balloons as well.

There are of course occasions when we get the buses wet intentionally. Before every outing we check that they are clean and here James, a young cleaner and occasional conductor, gets busy with our 1950 Bristol L. As we were preparing the interior of this bus we had to get rid of a poor dead mouse. The driver on its previous duty had apparently been sitting in the saloon munching on his lunchtime sandwiches when he gazed up at the ceiling and discovered a dead mouse behind one of the roof vent grilles. When James and I unscrewed the grille and retrieved said animal we found that it was completely flat, almost a fossil. It must have been there for years!

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Rural Ramblings with school contracts

One of my many roles at Crosville is to drive school buses during term time in rural Somerset. These journeys have added some new challenges to my driving experience.

By their very nature, school journeys tend to involve country lanes as we pick up students from outlying villages and bring them to school and back again. My first taste of school runs was route 724, which was very testing from the outset. My regular bus was Volvo B10BLE R244KRG, new to Stagecoach North East about 20 years ago. Leaving the garage at 07:15 I had a 35 minute empty journey ahead of me before picking up my first student.

I drove a circular route through the lanes passing through villages and tiny hamlets such as Middle Stoughton, Chapel Allerton and Lower Weare before rejoining the main A38 and arriving in Cheddar just in time for school. In places the lanes are very narrow, with the bus often touching the hedges on both sides. The one pictured above is quite broad compared to some!

Fortunately my regular bus has automatic transmission and good all-round visibility, which made the task of manoevering around tight corners and oncoming traffic much easier than the occasions when I was allocated a full size modern coach. We no longer operate the 724 route which is a bit disappointing, as I had mastered its challenges rather well, even if I say it myself!

The VanHool bodied DAF coach pictured left is now almost 25 years old and is now one of the stalwarts of the Crosville school contract and private hire fleet. It’s showing its age in places but still copes very well in service.

As well as school duties, I also take on private hire duties with some of these vehicles. Sometimes a local school hires a coach for a short journey to the leisure centre or a group of residents take a trip to Bristol to the theatre. Occasionally I’ve been rostered to drive a bus service from Burnham-on-Sea to Wedmore. Until recently this included taking fares using the Ticketer system but now this service has been taken on by another operator.

Just yesterday I was up at 04:30 (yawn) to do an early morning trip from Filton to Bridgwater College. This is a fairly simple duty which, apart from fighting my way through the rush hour traffic near Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, is mostly motorway running.

I hope this gives you a flavour of some of my driving duties with the modern fleet. Not all are as old as those pictured – also yesterday I was driving a 2015 Yutong coach. Very nice!

In between these driving duties I look after the private hire enquiries and bookings, both heritage and modern. People are booking vintage buses for weddings up to one year in advance! Part of my role involves marketing the heritage fleet and recently we’ve teamed up with First Choice Wedding Cars, where three of our buses are featured. We’re also due to take a bus to Leigh Court, near Bristol, for a Wedding Fair early next year.

Although heritage bus outings are less frequent now, we’re still operating. Last Saturday I was out in Bristol doing a wedding and there are a couple of vintage buses out next Saturday as well. In my next post I’ll highlight a few of the more notable turns this autumn/winter.