And so another seasons ends. The final weekend of services on the ‘Exmoor Explorer’ route was operated under clear skies and brilliant sunshine. A bonus for bus enthusiasts on Sunday was the addition of a Leyland PD3 parked behind our Bristol Lodekka during the lunchtime break between services.
XTF98D is a Leyland PD3, built in 1966 for the Haslingden (Lancashire) corporation as their Fleet No 1 but renumbered 45 when that company’s fleet merged with that of Rawtenstall to form ‘Rossendale’, whose livery it wears today. It had just dropped off a private party outside the railway station at Minehead.
Those of you who follow this blog regularly will know that its prime purpose is to chart my progress towards becoming a fully trained and licensed PCV driver. I started that process earlier this year after my boss offered to have me trained on one of the company vehicles. I duly studied for and passed the theory modules and the CPC Case Studies module. Since passing those initial modules I have been patiently awaiting the call to start my practical training but so far it hasn’t come. It seems that, although the will is there, the resources aren’t. By that I mean the instructor is concentrating on more immediate, revenue-earning tasks.
Naturally, it’s disappointing and frustrating to have started the journey only to stall before reaching the destination. Despite dropping hints and hearing encouraging comments, I’m no nearer my goal of becoming a driver. I’m still sat in the garage and my batteries are going flat!
Posted today by Tom Edwards on the BBC web site is a first look at London’s new ‘son of Routemaster’. The bus is currently at pre-production mock-up stage and looks more like a film set prop than a bus fit for 21st century London.
I haven’t been following the project particularly, I’m more interested in the real Routemasters and other buses of that era. But the new ‘Boris Bus’ is fascinating because, like the reborn Mini, VW Beetle and Fiat 500, it attempts to capture some of the features that made the Routemaster such an icon. The most obvious one is the open rear platform but, as a conductor myself, I fail to see how Transport for London (TfL) is going to make any money out of this when the driver and his till are at the front. I must admit that I haven’t looked into how they plan to operate it but I presume they’ve looked into this obvious loophole.
I certainly hope so. After all, Boris Johnson (a.k.a. the government) has committed to spend £7.8 million on it!
Just a short post today, to ask the question: where have all the passengers gone? Last weekend on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ we enjoyed reasonable weather but very poor loadings on Saturday.
OK, so it drizzled a bit in the morning while the crew sat eating breakfast in the Lorna Doone Hotel, Porlock but by the time we reached Minehead it was dry, if a little cloudy. As we approached the seafront bus stop I could see a little knot of people waiting for us and, as we waited for departure time, a few more joined them. We left with about 20 on board, all of them on the top deck. Who could blame them? That’s where the best views are to be had! We picked up a couple more at Butlins and again at Bancks Street but that was it for the rest of the journey.
The journey itself was mostly uneventful. No horseboxes on Edgcott Hill, no sheep in the road, no coaches to pass on Porlock Hill, no punctures and no bolshie passengers to beat about the head with my ticket machine (only joking!). Arriving back at Minehead at lunchtime, the town seemed to be much busier, with plenty of people milling about on the seafront. During my lunchbreak I think I discovered the reason why we were so out of favour that day. Tornado was in town.
The day I’d been hoping and planning for dawned at last, dull and wet. I debated with myself the wisdom of getting up at stupid o’clock to drive up to Bishops Lydeard to pick up an open top bus and drive it in the rain all the way back to Torquay for the Torbay Vintage Bus Running Day. Only the weather forecast, which promised brighter spells later, persuaded me to carry on. I’m so glad I did.
Together with my youngest son, who was to be my conductor, we arrived at the garage to find that two of my colleagues were already at work shunting buses in order to release ex-Western National Bristol Lodekka LDL6G VDV752 from deep in the garage. After welcoming a guest traveller aboard (more from him later) we fitted a temporary destination blind that I’d prepared earlier, especially for the event.
I climbed into the cab with a certain amount of trepidation, not only because I hadn’t driven a bus since May, but because I hadn’t driven this particular bus before on the open road. It is fitted with a 5-speed constant mesh (‘crash’) gearbox which can rear up and bite the unwary. Some people refer to the fifth gear as ‘overdrive’ or ‘super top’ because strictly speaking it only gives you four and a half gears. In other words, the ratio between 4th and 5th is much closer than that between all the other gears. That has an impact on the gear change technique.
The rain had eased off as we set off past the West Somerset Railway station, where staff were busy getting ready for the ‘Late Summer Weekend‘ event. Once out on the main road I soon had the chance to try out 5th gear. It might have been beginner’s luck or perhaps my observations of other drivers (some good, some who struggled) helped, but I didn’t have any trouble with the quicker change between 4th and 5th. I still had to double-declutch but it seemed to go in smoothly.