Apologies for featuring yet another Bristol Lodekka. Other bus manufacturers did exist, I promise.
Yesterday I visited Crosville Motor Services for an informal chat and a freebie conducting duty just for fun. This is a relative newcomer to the world of heritage bus hire but the staff have many years of operational experience between them. I was invited to conduct on a wedding hire job on what was possibly the hottest day of the year. This was bizarre, given that yesterday was the first day of October!
My first surprise of the day came when I walked into the spacious garage where no less than 8 heritage vehicles were lined up. And I’d already passed another on its way to a private hire job as I approached the garage! After I’d retrieved my jaw, which had just fallen to the floor, I took the picture below. It was rather shadowy and I only had my phone camera so please forgive the blurriness. Some of these vehicles are being garaged on behalf of a local collector.
Formalities dealt with and kit stowed aboard, we set off for our first pickup. I wandered up and down the bus, a 1959 Bristol LD6B originally delivered to Bristol Omnibus. My eyes were telling me that I had in fact just stepped aboard the bus in 1959. It was immaculate in every way, just like new. A very comprehensive restoration was completed just over a year ago and, despite attending several rallies and having been used regularly on wedding hires, the bus was still in commendably good condition. The exterior glinted in the bright sunshine as we awaited our first passengers, the best man and some smartly dressed ushers. They too commented on the excellent presentation of the vehicle which, it turns out, had not only been washed the day before but polished too.
I’m glad I wore my Tilling summer dust jacket because it meant that I matched my driver. OK, so our buttons had different insignia but I’m sure nobody noticed! The ushers were delivered, rather unusually, to a pub in the town, rather than at the church. Next to board, in a different part of town, were the bridesmaids. Wearing long, tightly fitting dresses, they sensibly decided to sit in the lower saloon! Soon after they carefully alighted at the church, the bride and her father pulled up behind us in an immaculate Sunbeam vintage car.
Once they were all safely inside the church we discarded our jackets and had a break. This was the hottest part of the day so I stood in the shade of a nearby tree. Taking a closer look at the front of the bus I noted that it was fitted the combined heating/cooling system designed by Wing-Commander T.R. Cave-Brown-Cave, Professor of Engineering at Southampton University. This system features two small radiators fitted either side of the destination blind and had the additional benefit of heating the upper saloon in cold weather. On a hot day the heat is directed out through vents on the side. This of course means that there isn’t a radiator and fan in the normal position behind the radiator grille. I found it rather strange to look through the grille straight at the front of the engine block! The picture below was taken at the garage and shows the radiator arrangement.
The church bells announced that the wedding was over so I reluctantly donned all my gear again. This time we had a fairly full load, which unfortunately included some wasps and flies which had found their way in through the open upper deck windows while we’d been waiting. They will make a further appearance later in this story. We headed out of Weston-super-mare towards Bristol on the A370. The reception venue was the splendid Leigh Court. The throaty roar from the Bristol AVW 6-cylinder engine was a little deceptive because the bus could only manage just over 30 mph (37 downhill) but that wasn’t because the engine was ailing. This LD originally operated on Bristol’s city routes and was only provided with a 4-speed manual gearbox so pulling power, not speed, was the main requirement. This was demonstrated very graphically on the way to Leigh Court. I was standing on the platform, enjoying the breeze, when I noticed several of the wedding guests taking pictures on their phones of something behind me. I turned to see a racing cyclist, clad in lycra and wearing dark goggles, pedalling hard in our slipstream. He seemed to be enjoying the attention he was getting from within the bus – I’m sure he was ‘showboating’. I was also sure that, if we braked suddenly, he would find himself under the platform in short order. I was about to gesture to him to back off when he pulled out and OVERTOOK us, sprinting ahead and out of sight within less than a minute. Idiot.
The passengers were a well behaved lot, although I did glance up at the mirror above the stairs when a commotion broke out upstairs. There were shouts, screams and a lot of banging. A chap at the top of the stairs leant over and shouted “Sorry mate, we’re trying to get rid of the wasps!” There was another bang as a highly polished shoe hit the side of the bus and a dead wasp fell at my feet. The banging had alarmed the driver and he stopped the bus, fearing that the noise above his head meant that fighting had broken out among the wedding guests. I hurried to the cab window and explained about the wasps. Returning to the platform, I was told that a young girl on the top deck was allergic to wasp stings so I left them to their swatting but asked that they reserve the stamping of feet to the rear of the bus!
We eventually arrived at Leigh Court and decanted our passengers into the elegant surroundings of the reception venue. Once again, the driver and I retreated to the shadows and took some photos of our gleaming green machine as it stood beside the impressive columns of the former home of Philip Miles, Bristol’s first millionaire.
Our duty done and refreshed after a break, we turned the bus around and headed back to Weston. We’d hardly started when I was given the chance to swap with the driver – how could I refuse?! We returned via the M5. It seemed to take ages of course, with our maximum of 37mph (downhill). Thankfully I remembered the route to the garage from the car journey that morning and I was equally thankful that, despite not having driven a heritage bus since this time last year, all my gearchanges went smoothly.
It had been a very pleasant day, made even more enjoyable by working on a very presentable bus. It’s hard to know how things will turn out but my initial impression is that CMS is a company that values its customers highly and I may well appear on one of its smartly turned out heritage buses sometime in the future. Watch this space!