The next day dawned bright and sunny in marked contrast to the gloomy weather of the previous day. I was due to conduct on a private hire job with VDV 752, one of our ex-Western National open top Bristol LDL6Gs. With steam from a nearby BR Standard 9F locomotive billowing over the yard, I helped my driver shunt buses around to release our 53 year old relic of the road.
We were to pick up a party of people in Minehead and take them to a restaurant just outside Bishops Lydeard, just a couple of miles from where I stood! I decided to set some appropriate numbers on my Setright ticket machine. The family group were celebrating a 60th birthday so I set the fare at 60p and the fare stage to 60. I wondered if they would notice my little tribute?
We set off up the road to Minehead, about an hour’s drive away. It was to be a surprise party for the lady in question so we parked a little way down the road where she lived, beside a park. While we waited, I set the rear destination numbers to 60.
Before long, members of the family party began to arrive, laden with presents, champagne and pink balloons. As the lucky lady emerged from her house she was greeted by a cacophony of shouts and a chorus of kazoos. She appeared to be almost speechless as I welcomed her aboard! Moments later we were all set to leave so I gave my customary warning about overhanging branches and low bridges.
But the journey was almost over before it had even begun. The starter motor churned but the engine didn’t fire. Several attempts later and there were embarrassed giggles upstairs and a comment from a girl on the lower deck “Is that supposed to happen?” I tried to make light of the situation. “Oh yes, it’s all in the script…”
The driver jumped down from the cab and together we peered under the bonnet. We soon discovered that the engine cutoff mechanism had come adrift. When the driver had pulled the cable to stop the engine earlier the spring had slipped off, leaving the fuel cutoff. well… cut off! We found a stick and pushed the valve open manually. Moments later the trusty Gardner 6LW leapt into what is laughingly referred to as life.
I dinged the bell, we moved off and the party began. Moving around the bus, I dispensed souvenir tickets and cheery banter. All through the town kazoos were blown and shouts were hurled at bemused pedestrians and passing cars. Although boisterous, it was all taken in good humour and many waved back or honked their horns as appropriate. Inhibitions were thrown to the wind (along with balloons and several hairstyles) as we rumbled back to Bishops Lydeard.
There are three railway bridges where the West Somerset Railway passes over the road and the driver and I had agreed on a plan to ensure that none of the passengers were at risk as we passed beneath. He slowed down as we approached while I stood at the top of the stairs making sure everyone stayed in their seats. I gave the driver 2 bells to let him know it was safe to proceed.
The destination was Podshavers Barn, a charming restaurant at the end of a very narrow, very muddy lane. Fortunately the driver had done a recce the previous day in his car just to make sure we could get our double decker down there. Even so, we met the inevitable 4×4 with horsebox almost as soon as we’d turned into the lane. The driver was in no hurry to reverse her trailer so we reversed our bus back towards the main road to let the 4×4 driver take refuge in someone’s drive to let us past. Having deposited our party at the tiny eatery, we reversed the bus into a farmyard/overflow car park to turn it round before heading back to our garage.
By then it was lunchtime so I bought a hot filled roll and a cup of tea from the catering van in the station car park. I thought it would taste better if it was seasoned with coal smoke so I sat on a platform bench and watched the comings and goings of the WSR Steam Gala. BR Standard 9F No 92203 “Black Prince” clanked past on its way to the water tower so I wandered down the platform to watch. On the way I bumped into a chap I recognised. He had ridden on the service 400 “Exmoor Explorer” last summer and he obviously remembered me. “Hello young man,” he began. Well, he is a lot older than me! We chewed the fat and he told me about his days with BR building locomotives, including the 9F in the station. He told me about the time that it had to deputise for a failed GWR Castle class loco on The Red Dragon express. They pushed it hard and – allegedly – it was clocked at 109mph!
92203 is now owned by the famous wildlife artist David Shepherd and he had accompanied his engine on its visit to the WSR Gala. Just as we were talking, the man himself stepped down from the footplate dressed in grubby overalls and, oily rag in hand, walked down the platform mingling incognito with the passengers and bystanders.
Lunch was soon over and we took the bus back over to Podshavers Barn. The meal was running late but that didn’t matter. We turned the bus, parked it in the lane and sat upstairs in the warm spring sunshine until the guests reappeared. After the obligatory photographs with bus and crew, we set off back to Minehead. Squeals of delight and much laughter continued to spill over the rail of our open topper. As we approached the railway bridges I went upstairs and those in the back seats cottoned on quickly, yelling “bridge!” to their friends further forward.
All too soon we were back in Minehead and the guests alighted, windblown but happy. They made it clear that they’d enjoyed their day out and paid many compliments to my colleague’s skill at the wheel. It was a pleasure to play a part in their big day.
In other news, I’m due to take my Driver CPC Case Study Test tomorrow so check back later to find out if I passed.