Answer: when oncoming traffic brings everything to a standstill.
Today was the final training session for my young apprentice conductor and we were confronted with some useful real-life dramas. She was in charge of the bus (under my supervision of course) and handled the platform and the passengers well. With an almost full load we had just started attacking Edgcott Hill in first gear when we were confronted by a string of cars coming down the hill. The driver of the lead car tried her best to make room to pass in the narrow lane but came to rest with the front of her car buried in the hedge and the rear sticking out at an angle, effectively blocking our way. Looking over the rail on the top deck, we (and about 30 top deck passengers) watched as the driver tried to shunt herself clear. I could see it was never going to work so I ran down the stairs and, after checking that the driver had the handbrake on, dinged the bell once and jumped off the platform. I directed the flustered lady at the wheel to turn hard right and bring the front of her car down from the hedge. The back of her car then swung in just enough for us to pass so I hopped back on board, gave the driver two bells and we were away. Still in first gear but making progress nonetheless.
Later in the day we experienced a more monumental holdup. I wish someone had videod this one! We had just begun the descent of Porlock Hill when we met a large coach carrying a load of daytrippers from a hotel. Again, there was insufficient room for both vehicles to pass. The coach driver made an attempt to inch closer to the hedge on his side but it wasn’t enough to let us pass. Our nearside wheels were already flat against the steep verge on our side so there we were, stuck on the A39. Stalemate. The coach driver shrugged his shoulders as if to say “that’s it, we’re stuck!”
Our driver mimicked the shrug and then looked over his shoulder and beckoned to me. By this time there was a lengthy queue of cars behind both the coach and our bus. I jumped down and ran up to the cab. “I can’t go back, look at the queue behind us!” my driver exclaimed. “Go and see if he can reverse into that wider bit behind him”. Unencumbered by my Setright machine and cash bag (my trainee was wearing them), I ran over to Mr ‘I’m not budging’ Coach Driver and told him I’d direct him back where the road was a little wider. Fortunately the first car in the queue behind him had allowed space for the coach to reverse and the road was indeed a little wider there. I directed the coach back and, with a great deal of revving and hissing of airbrakes, the coach shunted forward, then back. Standing in the gap, I could see that it still wasn’t going to be enough.
My driver started waving his arms at me so I started walking back up to the bus, conscious of about 100 pairs of eyes following me. My driver waved the queue of cars behind our bus to pass through the gap we’d just created. As they passed (and there were a lot of them by this time) my driver said that he’d reverse back up the hill to a spot where there was a farm gateway for the coach to pull into. I ran to the back of the bus after the traffic had passed and directed my driver as he reversed about 20 yards up the hill until he was past the gateway. Fortunately no other traffic came down the hill at that point but I was ready to give a ‘halt’ sign and, if necessary, leap up onto the verge!
The coach driver saw what we’d done and pulled into the gateway. I leapt back onto the platform and gave the driver 2 bells to let him know that I was safely back on board. I’m not sure, but I fancy I could hear cheering as we passed the coach and stream of following cars. Probably my imagination. The whole episode cost us about 7 minutes so we were late into Porlock.
This picture shows my trainee conductor acting as lookout for the driver, just before the ‘impasse’ described above. The angle of the junction between the moorland road the and A39 coast road is quite acute. Not only that, but the main road goes up out of sight for the driver, whose view is obstructed by the halfcab overhang. To help in this situation, conductors look up the hill and, if it’s clear, give 2 buzzes from the front. Just to explain, Bristol Lodekkas have a bell and a buzzer in the driver’s cab. The bell can only be rung from the platform but all the other ‘press once’ buttons sound the buzzer.
So ended an eventful day. We were joined for the empty journey back to the garage by two colleagues who had parked their bus at our outstation near Minehead after doing vintage bus trips around the town for the West Somerset Railway’s ‘Thomas’ event.
My next trip won’t be for a while but when my next duty calls I shall have another young trainee with me. This could prove to be an interesting partnership. More details later!