I had a very enjoyable day today, driving a number of buses on the Driver Training Centre network of roads at Westpoint, Exeter. Organised by the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) for its supporters, it was an opportunity to try out a wide range of vehicles in the relative safety of a private estate.
Those taking part went out in groups of 3 or 4 for a 45 minute session in one of their chosen buses, working through the day so that we could drive up to five of the buses in WHOTT’s care. We usually managed 10-15 minutes in the driving seat.
I started off in LTA 722, an ex-Southern National 1950 Bristol LWL5G. The first gentleman to have a go really struggled with the crash gearbox, making horrible noises. In all of his time in the cab, he didn’t manage to change up to 3rd gear once. The driving supervisor, shouting advice through a small porthole above the driver’s head, tried all kinds of advice but to no avail. It was my turn next and I climbed up into the cab with the supervisor’s words ringing in my ears, “You’ve driven Lodekkas before, you’ll be alright!” I hope I didn’t disappoint him as I went smoothly up the box. We chugged around the training track, negotiating traffic light junctions, mini-roundabouts and 6 other buses doing the same. I messed up one gearchange, going from 3rd to 2nd. I think I must be used to the slower change on the Lodekka’s 6-cylinder engine. All too soon I had to hand over to the next ‘victim’.
My next bus was ex-Western National Bristol LH6L AFJ 727T. This has a manual synchromesh gearbox. It was used as a training vehicle in Taunton later in its career and this may have contributed to the large amount of wear in the gearchange linkages. This made it difficult to find the gears and was more akin to stirring porridge! I found myself in 5th instead of 3rd more than once.
Next up was ex-Royal Blue 1969 Bristol RELH6G OTA 632G (pictured above). With a semi-automatic gearbox but no power steering, it was heavy on the arms but easy on the feet! The throaty roar from the engine behind was thrilling too! This time I had to do a reversing exercise into a side road, up a gradient.
Another Royal Blue coach was next, 1953 Bristol LS6G OTT 98 (pictured earlier in the Agatha Christie post). This was lovely to drive but again was heavy to handle. Designed for long distance routes, it was not really at home on the short, urban-style road network we were using. It sounded very much like a Lodekka, but had a syncho box.
My final bus, in place of Exeter Corporation Leyland PD2 86 GFJ which was poorly, was a Dennis Dart. This was the first Dart owned by Western National. As you’d imagine with such a recent bus, it was a breeze to drive. Power steering, automatic gearbox and decent sized mirrors!
All in all, a great day’s fun. Everyone, except for the poor guy who couldn’t master double-declutching and the chap who bent a panel getting too close to a roadside post, had an enjoyable time. 15 minutes in each cab wasn’t nearly enough time though!