Last weekend I had a double dose of conducting, being on Service 400 duty on Saturday and Sunday. I had a trainee conductor with me on Saturday. She shadowed me on the first trip round and I let her do the conducting (under my supervision of course) in the afternoon. She did pretty well for a youngster. Her dad is a bus driver and she has conducted on private hire jobs with him several times so she knew the basics already. She will need several more training trips before we let her go solo!
I couldn’t resist taking this picture before we set off in the morning! It’s not often that all three of our Bristol Lodekka open toppers are parked together.
I had two special passengers on board on Saturday too. One was a good friend from Torquay whom I’ve known for about 25 years. The other was a regular reader of this blog – it was good to meet you!
Our driver was relatively new to the Exmoor route and to driving heritage vehicles. His driving was a little rough round the edges but, like some of the roads on our route, the learning curve is steep!
It was the hills that provided the biggest challenges for our newbie driver. Poor chap, on both journeys we met a whole string of cars on the steepest, narrowest part of the climb up onto Exmoor (Edgcott Hill). On the first trip around we were already in 1st gear, crawling up the heavily wooded gradient when a 4×4 came down the other way. The driver tried to reverse back up but had no idea about steering backwards and made a poor zig-zag attempt at it. Progress was so slow that at least four other cars joined the queue behind her and our driver decided that the only option was for us to reverse back down the hill where there was a passing place. I jumped off the platform and directed him back and then directed the embarrassed 4×4 driver through the small but adequate gap.
The long climb up Cutcombe Hill to Wheddon Cross takes its toll on the poor old Gardner 6LW engine, slogging away for several miles in 3rd gear up the Avill Valley. By the time we reached the top on Saturday the engine was very hot (as it usually is) and we prefer to carry on without stopping. This keeps the engine revs up and helps to cool the engine down again. Trouble is, several people asked to use the toilets in the car park near the bus stop so I was obliged to give one bell. As we coasted to a stop a trail of water appeared behind us as the radiator began to boil. Experienced drivers cope with this by keeping the engine revs up a bit while we wait so that the cooling system can catch up. Our driver was rather alarmed at the steaming waterfall beside him and decided to stop the engine altogether, thinking that was the best way to help it to cool down. The waterfall turned into a geyser and a huge pool of steaming water formed under the front of the bus. I rushed round to the driver’s cab and told him to start up again. He went to fetch water from our reserve can which we keep under the stairs while I leaned into the cab and kept the revs up. Sure enough, the water stopped pouring out and we were soon able to carefully pop the radiator cap open and top up. Not ideal, adding cold water to a hot radiator, but we had lost a lot of water and there was still a good deal of climbing left!
At the end of the day my driver was happy to hand over to me as we went back Private to the garage. I was however aware of the jokes and banter going on behind me as the driver enjoyed winding up my new trainee. I tried to ignore it but they were sitting right behind me and the cab window (removable, because this is sometimes used as a training bus) had been taken out.
I had an experienced driver on Sunday and, although we met traffic again on Edgcott Hill, we completed our two trips with few problems. The only problem I had could have caused difficulties, had it happened earlier in the trip. As we were descending the 1-in-6 hill into the village of Exford I went downstairs to stand on the platform after chatting to passengers on the top deck. Just as I reached the bottom step there was a metallic clatter as the ticket roll cover fell off my Setright machine and landed on the platform. It was closely followed by the almost-full ticket roll which bounced once on the floor and headed straight out of the door. I grabbed vainly at the disappearing stream of paper but only succeeded in tearing it off. I was left with a short strip hanging out of the machine and, muttering under my breath, I picked up the cover and replaced it. Fortunately I rarely have to issue any tickets after Exford and I knew that if I used up the last remaining strip in the machine I had an old, poorly printed roll of tickets in my box as a last resort. It was my own fault really because this has happened to me before. I expect it has happened countless times to other conductors over the years too. The roll cover is only secured by a small, hook-shaped latch which can easily be dislodged, allowing the cover to fall off. It’s not going to happen again because I’m going to tape the latch down with duck tape.
I promise that the next post WON’T include a picture of a Bristol Lodekka!