If you had been at the departure end of Exeter Bus Station yesterday evening you would have thought you’d slipped through a time warp. Lined up in the departure bays was a selection of buses from the 1950s and 60s. Nearly all had run on city services and had been gathered to mark 40 years since the disppearance of the green and cream ‘City of Exeter’ buses from the streets.
The event was run by a team headed up by Daniel Shears, whose illustrious father Colin has built up a large collection of buses with a westcountry connection on the old airfield at Winkleigh. I was conducting on one of Dan’s own buses, a 1956 Guy Arab IV with Massey bodywork.
Unfortunately the weather was not kind for much of the late afternoon and evening and those who gathered at the bus station waiting for the first departures at 16:30 had to shelter under cover. My first turn wasn’t until 17:50 so I stood and watched proceedings from the sidelines. Fortunately I was well dressed for the weather, having thermals underneath my full winter uniform and heavy overcoat!
Buses in attendance were:
EFJ666 Leyland Tiger TS8 (1936) Exeter Corporation
VFJ995 Leyland PD2/40 (1958) Exeter Corporation
LTA958 Bristol LL6B (1950) Southern National
JFJ875 Daimler CVD6 (1950) Exeter Corporation
UFJ296 Guy Arab IV (1957) Exeter Corporation
TFJ808 Guy Arab IV (1956) Exeter Corporation
86GFJ Leyland PD2A/30 (1963) Exeter Corporation
969EHW Bristol LD6G (1959) Bath Services
I met up with my driver Jon who is from London and only learned the routes the day before! Despite that, he did a great job and only made a slight detour once. There were a few crunches as he got the measure of the peculiar Guy crash gearbox but, once he had masted it, the music it produced was magic! We headed empty to St Davids Station and then ran in service to Crossmead and Broadclyst for the rest of the evening, with a couple of further visits to the station as well. My right arm ached by the end of the night after having to change the rear destination blind for each journey! The front blind was usually changed by the driver or the bus station inspector.
The organisation of the event, from my point of view anyway, was faultless. Every bus had its own crew and the station was staffed by inspectors, despatchers, programme sellers and marshals. Conductors were selling programmes and collecting donations for the NSPCC. I wonder how much was collected? My tin seemed quite heavy when I handed it in!
We had a moment of drama, but even that was hastily dealt with by Dan and his team. As we were due away from the bus station one time, the engine failed to start. The lights dimmed and there was a tell-tale ‘clunk’ as the starter engaged but failed to turn the engine over. Even with all the lights off, there wasn’t enough juice to get the Gardner going again. The driver went to find Dan and together they brought a very heavy booster pack from the boot of the Daimler CVD6 which happened to be parked in the bay next to us. Soon the engine was running again and we left for St Davids Station, 10 minutes late. While all this was happening I reassured the passengers that we would be on our way soon. The station inspector leapt on board and announced that anyone who had a train to catch could swap to the Bristol LD on the other side of us which was just about to depart for the railway station. Wisely, the driver kept the engine running for the rest of the evening!
I had full loads for the first couple of journeys and I almost didn’t manage to get round the bus on the short journey from the railway station! As the evening wore on and the temperature dropped, the loads got lighter. Our Guy didn’t have any heaters fitted so the only warm seat was just behind the engine bulkhead!
It was a great event and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It made a change to work with buses that I remembered in service and I particularly enjoyed a conversation with one of the other conductors. He stepped onto my platform while we were laying over at St Davids Station and we had a chat about the old days. He was a genuine ex-Exeter Corporation conductor and was the only other person besides me wearing a complete uniform. Mine would have suited an ex-Tilling operator but his was his own Exeter uniform which he’d managed to keep.
As is usual at heritage bus events, I met a number of folk who seem to turn up to them all! Not only that but I also met several friends and colleagues from WHOTT and Quantock. Greetings to Stuart, Jen, Nick, Cathy, Peter, Jenny, Robert, Steve, Paul, Bob – and my Dad!
As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, my phone is hopeless at taking pictures in the dark but my driver Jon had a proper camera with him and has promised to share some of his shots with me. I will post these later.