Conducting at this year’s Quantock Motor Services Open Weekend had its ups and downs. Mostly ups, I’m glad to say.
As you can imagine it started early, with an hour’s drive from Paignton first. That turned out to be insignificant, compared to the distance one visiting crew had travelled. Two young chaps from a museum near Glasgow had made the journey down from Scotland, just for this event. Now I like old buses, but I’m not that keen! I take my (conductor’s) hat off to them, they did a great job between them today.
The depot had been cleared of all but one of the modern fleet of coaches and buses. The one remaining coach was up on the lift so that people could see underneath. When I arrived the arrival/departure lane was full of red buses awaiting their turn with the first four departures to Taunton.
Drivers and conductors (all volunteers) gathered in one of the offices to be briefed by the Controller. Jonathan is from somewhere south-east of London and he was the brains behind the whole event. He, together with Peter (a local Quantock volunteer driver), put together the routes, timetables and crew rosters. I was given a late duty, which meant I was at a loose end until 12 noon. Unfortunately the Boss got to hear of it and I was assigned to gate duty for the morning! Armed with a fistful of programmes, I accosted every camera-toting punter who even glanced in the direction of the gate and demanded that they part with £5 in exchange for a copy of my work of art (a programme). Yes, dear reader, that was the result of many hours slaving over a hot computer.
Buses came and buses went. I consumed some lunch. Eventually it was my turn to depart. Guess which bus I had? One of the Lodekka twins! Of all the varied and arguably more interesting vehicles I could have conducted, this was probably the one I have conducted on most in all the time I’ve been with QMS! I didn’t mind really, VDV752 is still good fun. My driver was another visiting volunteer who happens to also be the MD of Stagecoach in Cheltenham. He’s used to running a tight ship – if I may be permitted to use a nautical term – and it showed. He certainly didn’t hang about and, despite roadwork delays, we weren’t more than five minutes late at any point.
On our second trip into Taunton we were due to connect with another town service, which was being operated by VDV753, the other Western National Bristol LDL. Seeing double? We were!
Our final trip, the 17:00 to Taunton, was with Bournemouth Corporation Leyland PS2 “The Yellow Peril”. This is a recent acquisition for QMS, only joining the fleet last year. It is immaculate inside and out, a tribute to its former owner, Miles Fereday Glenn. This vehicle was part of a batch of three coaches that entered service in 1949 and all three have happily been preserved.
A good day? For the most part, yes. I met up with several friends, enjoyed conducting and felt satisfied with having contributed a little to other people’s enjoyment of their hobby.
On the down side, the weather was rather disappointing, as was the numbers of people attending the event. The two may have been related but other factors must have been present because none of the buses was anywhere near full. The best load of the day was probably carried by one of the single deckers going to Langley Marsh, where some of the under-restoration buses were on display. Other factors probably included the recession (cost of fuel, the amount of money enthusiasts are prepared to spend) and the choice of date. The Bristol Harbourside Rally took place the previous weekend and there may have been others too.
Although QMS is a commercial organisation, it is never the aim to make a profit with these events. If the company can cover its costs, all is well. I suspect that this year it won’t. There was a general dismay among crews and organisers regarding the level of support from the public and enthusiasts. For my part, I wondered if it was worth all the effort. In addition to designing the programme covers (one for each day) I spent time updating the QMS website with news, updates and tasters. I set up a Twitter feed and sent several Tweets in the weeks leading up to the event and even a few Tweets today. I won’t be there tomorrow but it will be interesting to find out if the numbers pick up a bit. Even so, I think it unlikely that there will be a Running Day event next year.
I don’t know when my next conducting duty will be. With the Service 400 route now only using volunteer conductors, I won’t be joining the regular roster for the summer season. It’s just too far to drive when there’s no cash coming the other way! My ‘driving ambition’ is still nagging at me. As soon as a driving course is planned in Exeter (by the driving school I’ve already had instruction with) I will be off to complete the course and take my PCV test.