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.
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!
There were three open top buses in the yard. One was parked rather close to some trees so that, as fast as I swept the top deck, it became littered with leaves and debris from the nearby branches! Needless to say, I quickly moved the bus away so that my work would not be undone. After all, my strength was definitely ebbing away by now. All three open toppers seemed to have been left out in the rain recently because all the seats were coated in fine Icelandic dust. A few days later, this prompted a song to pop into my head, but more of that later.
By the time I had finished wiping the seats down my volunteer friends had also finished washing and sweeping the other buses. The boss seemed happy with our efforts. There was just one more task. One bus was left in the yard after we had parked the others back in the garage. It needed to be returned to the new depot as it was one of the first buses out on service the next day. As my car was also back at Bishops Lydeard I said I needed to go back as well. “You can take that bus back with you, then!”
So I found myself in the cab of a 1949 AEC Regent III of Morcambe & Heysham Corporation heading up the A358 towards Bishops Lydeard. It was perfectly legal as, although I still haven’t taken my PCV test, I’m allowed to drive a bus on the road as long as it is over 30 years old, not in service and not carrying more than 8 people. It had a preselect gearbox, which I had never driven before but I was left to my own devices, with no instruction and no supervision. A little risky perhaps, but fortunately I’m an observant chap and had conducted on similar buses and had watched the drivers at work. That, together with having researched the technique on the net previously, prepared me for my debut with a preselect bus. Fortunately all went well. My only error was to mis-read the markings on the cast iron body of the selector mechanism which meant that I tried to pull away in 3rd gear instead of 1st. I wondered why it was so sluggish…
After returning home for a well-earned rest I came back the next day to conduct on one of the buses running a shuttle service from Taunton.