Exmoor Explorer – first trip of the season

Today I found myself both conducting and driving. Not at the same time, of course.

The Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ season started today and I was rostered to conduct on the first trip. I made sure I arrived early at the depot because much had changed since we last ran this service. We’re operating from a new depot and certain key staff have changed. I needn’t have worried, as it turned out. Although I arrived before anyone else,  I found our rostered vehicle at the front of the garage, clean, fully fueled and stocked with new leaflets. All I needed to do was fill out my waybill!

My driver today happened to be The Boss and he delivered the first surprise of the day. “Would you like to drive us up to Porlock?” I didn’t need to be asked twice and promptly headed towards the cab. Now, it’s 25 years since I last drove a Bristol Lodekka out on the road although I’ve driven occasionally around the industrial estate where our old garage was located. With a good deal of apprehension and my concentration in overdrive, I pointed our lumbering 1957-built 70 seater towards the north coast of Somerset. A crash gearbox, especially when mated to a heavy Gardner 6LW engine, is not like driving your average modern car but I’m pleased to say that I didn’t crunch any gears or clip any kerbs.

We duly arrived at Doverhay car park in Porlock and headed off for a decent breakfast at the Lorna Doone Hotel in the main street. Highly recommended.

The weather was forecast to be scorching hot, and so it turned out. We set out from Porlock with 4 people on board but arrived at Minehead seafront to find about 30 more people waiting at the bus stop. While going round collecting fares, I had to be on top of my game because the fares had gone up from last year but I don’t think I shortchanged either the passengers or the Council. It’s still a bargain at £7 for an adult for a 2 hour round trip with stunning scenery viewed from the top of a vintage bus. For those with a bus pass, it’s even better – free!

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Déjà View

Here’s a photograph I took while on holiday on the Isle of White in about 1988. I’d taken my family on a day trip around the island and we had planned a visit to Alum Bay. I had no idea that Southern Vectis were still running a handful of Bristol Lodekkas, converted to open top, on some tourist routes so it was a nice surprise to see this old timer waiting at the bus stop in Yarmouth, albeit in a rather garish Viewfinder livery.

It was filling up fast and we could find standing room only, in the lower saloon. That suited me fine, as I was standing at the noisy end! As the bus pulled away in 2nd gear I could tell that the gearbox was showing signs of a hard life. There appeared to be teeth missing – I could almost count the revolutions of the gear shaft!

I don’t remember much of the journey but I did take a photo after we had alighted at Alum Bay. I thought it might be the last time I would see such an old timer in service. Little did I know…

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Someone left the bus out…

Following on from an earlier post about cleaning buses in preparation for the recent Depot Open Weekend, here are some alternative lyrics to a well known song that popped into my head. Just to recap, I was sweeping out the top decks of some vintage open top buses in the yard at Norton Fitzwarren. All the seats appeared to be coated in a layer of fine, volcanic dust. The buses must have been parked outside during some recent heavy rain. That’s when some very odd lyrics began to form in my head, to the tune of  ‘MacArthur Park’. This was a song by Jimmy Webb, first recorded in 1968 by Richard Harris (the actor who played the original Albus Dumbledore in the early Harry Potter films). The song is probably most famous now for having possibly the most bizarre lyrics ever, the meaning of which is lost in time. Here it is, if you want to listen to the original:

And here are the chorus lyrics, with my version in green:

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark
Open toppers are waiting in the yard
All the sweet, green icing flowing down…
All the seats, really need dusting down…
Someone left the cake out in the rain
Someone left the bus out in the rain
and I don’t think that I can take it
and I don’t think that I can face it
’cause it took so long to bake it
’cause it takes so long to clean it
and I’ll never have that recipe again
and I’m running out of energy again
Oh, no!
Oh yes!

Videos of Quantock Open Weekend

A series of videos taken at the recent Quantock Motor Services Depot Open Weekend has been posted on YouTube. Part 1 is shown here:

The four videos give a good impression of all the action and even includes a ride in a 1937 Leyland Tiger. The eagle-eyed viewer may even spot yours truly on the platform of a Crossley. The videos are largely unedited but are available to view in High Definition, if your connection can cope with a high data streaming rate. If you view the clip above you should find the other parts listed nearby but I’ve included links here too:
QUANTOCK CLASSIC BUSES 1 MAY 2010 Part 2
QUANTOCK CLASSIC BUSES 1 MAY 2010 Part 3
QUANTOCK CLASSIC BUSES 1 MAY 2010 Part 4

Conducting on a Crossley

A bright and early start found me meeting in the office for a crew briefing. I was paired up with a very experienced volunteer driver on EVD 406, a Crossley/Roe DD42/7 once operated by Joseph Wood of Mirfield. We were the first bus out of the depot, running an all day shuttle service to Taunton.

A couple of visiting Royal Blue coaches had arrived just before me and were parked in the yard. Inside the depot were people setting up their stalls, selling bus models, books, magazines etc. Right at the back was a stall selling refreshments, including a range of home-made cakes. Yummy!

Our first departure from Taunton Railway Station was quite well loaded and on the next run we were almost full by the time we had picked up at the Bus Station as well. We also called at our old depot at Norton Fitzwarren (which will be demolished at the end of June) where some of our fleet was on display, along with some ‘restoration projects’. We set down and picked up there so that passengers could wander among the buses and spare parts on display.

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The bucket and mop brigade

Last weekend turned out to be a bit of a bus fest. I had a day off from work on Friday and decided to go up to Somerset to help with preparations for the Depot Open Weekend at Quantock Motor Services. This was a two-day affair (as most weekends are…) which aimed to showcase our new depot at Bishops Lydeard. Tours were also to run to our old depot at Norton Fitzwarren and our restoration base at Langley Marsh.

After a quick meeting in the office I offered to stick around and help where needed. I should have known better, as I was introduced to a bucket and mop before I could say “nothing too strenuous…”. Outside in the yard were three or four single deck half cabs being washed. I was instructed to bring one of them (a North Western Bristol L5G) inside the garage and park it, Le Mans style, alongside some others.

Photo © 2010 Bob Brimley

Some were up for sale and others were there just for show. The rest of the morning was spent sweeping and mopping out the floors of the single deckers and making them presentable.

All around me barriers were being put up, the workshop area was being tidied up and other buses were being positioned. Lunchtime came and went. Finally I completed the final interior, a 1939 Blue Bus Services Daimler single decker which was due to be out on service the next day.

My arms were aching a bit by this time but there was to be no respite yet. Together with some other volunteers, I was whisked off to the old depot at Norton Fitzwarren to carry on cleaning! Yet more buses were being power washed and left out in the yard to be swept out. The interior of the garage had been transformed. It still contained a motley collection of roadworthy vintage buses and coaches, ‘restoration projects’, engines and gearboxes but they were arranged more tidily!

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