Exmoor Explorer – a shadow of its former self

This past weekend was spent conducting on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’, running two trips from Minehead seafront each day.

As regular readers will know, this service lost its County Council subsidy earlier this year and the operator, Quantock Motor Services, decided to continue with a shortened season on a commercial basis. The service has been running at weekends, Tuesdays and Thursdays during the school holidays. The adult return fare went up from £7.00 to £10.00, which is a huge increase on last year but I presume this was done in order to at least break even.

The loadings so far have been disappointingly low, by all accounts. This weekend was no exception. The weather of course is a significant factor but even so, we only carried 5 people on the first trip on Saturday and one of those got off at Exford!

VDV752 high on Exmoor with an empty lower deck

The sun came out at lunchtime and drew in a few more passing punters but even so, we only carried 26 on the afternoon trip. In previous years we would be almost full on a day like that. The round trip is still great fun, even though my driver gave us quite a rough ride. He tended to lift the clutch very sharply and banged the gears in noisily when he couldn’t be bothered to wait for the engine revs to fall away. Such a shame, when I know how much more smoothly it can be done.

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Bus conductor dates

Typical. You wait several months for a bus blog article and then two come along together!

After a long gap, I’ve been rostered to do a few conducting duties on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’. I shall be doing the Exmoor trip next weekend (both Saturday and Sunday), 27th and 28th August. A few weeks later I’ll be doing another turn on Sunday September 18th.

In a separate development I will be doing a private hire conducting turn for another Westcountry operator with heritage buses on Saturday September 17th. If all goes to plan I will write about it afterwards.

On the driver training front, I’m not sure if I will be able to complete my training until the new year as I have used up nearly all my day-job holiday allowance. I have until May 2012 to take my practical test before the rules state that I have to do the theory test again. After all I’ve been through, I’m not going to let that happen!

The coach trip that never was

Bedford OB coach LBP500

Many years ago, while working in Exeter, I got into conversation with the owner of this beautiful 1949 Duple-bodied Bedford OB coach. My office window overlooked Exeter Bus Station and just along the road were a few stands where various operators would pick up private hire passengers. I saw this delightful vehicle several times and was determined to find out more about it.

Eventually I had the opportunity one lunchtime and spoke to the driver, who turned out to be the owner. Richard Holladay had recently restored this coach to a very high standard and had added it to his Red Bus Services fleet. Not to be confused with an operator with the same name which ran services in North Devon in the 80s and 90s. I remember an ex-Devon General Albion Nimbus being in his fleet. It is now preserved and appeared at the Bristol Harbourside Rally this year. Anyway, I digress.

Richard was trying to drum up business for his newly-restored OB and, noting my interest and hearing that I worked in advertising, asked if I could think of any suitable destinations for a tour. I suggested the Great Dorset Steam Fair and Richard agreed that it would make a good day out. I offered to design a small advertisement to appear in the Express & Echo newspaper (for whom I was working at the time) and Richard duly entered LBP500 into the Fair.

Sadly the trip never happened. I can’t remember why, possibly insufficient numbers or maybe mechanical issues prevented the OB from travelling to Dorset. I didn’t see LBP500 very often after that and eventually Richard sold it to Robert Risk of Plymouth.

Incidentally it was Richard Holladay’s family that ran the well known Exeter foundry Garton & King Ltd, whose name still appears on many a manhole cover in Devon!

I’m sure that LBP500 is still around – anyone know where it is now?

Photograph © R. Holladay. Used with permission.