A session at the gym or a spell in a Lodekka cab?

Working as a conductor on the platform of a rear-loading heritage bus can leave you aching and tired at the end of the day. Bracing yourself against a pole or a seat as the bus makes its lurching, bouncing progress uses up a surprising amount of energy. Especially when you add in several trips up and down the stairs while taking fares and attending to passengers.

But did you know that driving one of these historic gems can be even more strenuous for the guy at the noisy end? It can, believe me. Especially if your bus has soft tyres. Take my advice, don’t take one out unless it has fully inflated tyres! I will explain a little later.

Yesterday I was helping Crosville Motor Services staff to promote their private hire vehicles at a wedding fair near Congresbury, Bristol. The day-long event, at the Cadbury House Hotel at Frost Hill, was similar to the one I attended last October at Clifton College, Bristol. Businesses which provide all manner of products and services for weddings present their wares at these shows, which are open to anyone involved in planning a wedding. There’s everything from wedding gowns to videographers. Including vintage bus hire, of course.

We took two vehicles from the Crosville fleet, a single deck Bristol L5G from the original Crosville company in north Wales and a double deck Bristol FS6G (Lodekka) originally from Southern Vectis on the Isle of Wight. I was invited to drive the latter vehicle to and from the wedding fair venue, a distance of about 9 miles each way. The Lodekka is one of several similar vehicles available for hire in 2012, most of which are more than 50 years old. This one is very smart and, together with the immaculate Bristol L, makes a fine mobile advertisement for the company.

I was advised before I climbed into the cab that the front tyres were a little soft but that wouldn’t be a problem unless I was going slowly. I soon discovered what a difference under-inflated tyres can make to the effort required to take a corner. The first turn I had to make was right after leaving the garage as I headed for the main road. I’m no stranger to Lodekkas, as regular readers will know, but all of a sudden I felt myself running out of road as I tried to make a left turn. The steering on these buses is normally quite heavy at slow speed (there’s no power steering) but this was unusually heavy. Do you remember the weedy little guy who used to advertise the Mr Muscle cleaning products on TV? I felt just like him!

However, once out on the open road, I didn’t notice the heavy steering so much. What was apparent was the speed of the Lodekka. Or lack of it. I was following the single deck Bristol L, which may be higher geared. It certainly has the benefit of ‘overdrive’. Some drivers call it ‘super top’ or simply ‘5th gear’. Anyway, with my foot to the floor I was unable to keep up the with bus in front so, as we had agreed to travel in convoy, the driver had to wait for me to catch up several times! Maybe the soft tyres had an effect or perhaps the 6-cylinder Gardner diesel wasn’t in the best of health, but I didn’t manage any more than 31mph compared with the 38mph that I would have expected. And yes, before you ask, I was in 4th gear!

We arrived at the venue about 20 minutes before it opened to the public and we were directed to park the buses near a line-up of vintage (and pseudo-vintage) cars. We were met by Ian Banwell, an enterprising young man who has been running a UK and International coach travel company since he was 14. Take a look at Banwells South West to get a flavour of his trips. Looking suitably smart with his ticket machine and cash bag, Ian was helping us to hand out leaflets and answer enquiries. Inside, three other smartly turned out people were on the Crosville stand where another ticket machine added to the ‘window dressing’. I had prepared a slideshow of images and graphics, presenting the various vehicles available for hire in 2012. This was running all day on a laptop and attracted a good number of people, especially as our table was facing them as they came into the room.

Meanwhile, I spent most of my time outside with the buses. People arriving or leaving the venue couldn’t miss the two green buses parked prominently outside so Ian and I were kept busy showing people around the buses and answering their questions. I had also prepared a Quotation Request form, so that people could fill in their details at home and send it in for an accurate price. Although we were often asked, we declined to give any ‘ball-park’ figures because the cost of each job varies depending on the distances involved and the crews’ time.

Unfortunately, we discovered that our allotted parking spot (seen in the top picture) was blocking the entrance to one of the residents’ car parks and I had to move the bus out of the way and then reverse it back up the hill three times, before we decided to re-position the buses in a better position (seen above).

Later in the afternoon it got chilly. That’s when I was glad that I’d brought my heavy Tilling overcoat with me. It almost swamped me (being ‘vertically challenged’) but it kept me warm!

At the end of the day, having given away all my forms and many leaflets, we packed up our gear and prepared to head back to the garage. Even in the middle of a recession, weddings seem to be big business and we took some firm bookings and many other enquiries. The fashionable way to arrive at a wedding seems to be in a vintage car (if you’re the bride) or a vintage bus (if you’re a guest) which is where we come in. There are other benefits of course, not least of which is that all the family and guests arrive together, without any of them getting lost.

As soon as we left the hotel, the Bristol L disappeared in a cloud of blue smoke. I could just imagine Jon in the cab saying to himself “stuff this for a game of soldiers, he can make his own way back!” and so it was that, although we left together, I took about 10 minutes longer to do the short journey!

All in all, it was a good day. The weather was fine, nothing got damaged and we made connections with lots of potential customers. I enjoyed driving the Lodekka, despite the soft tyres. I needed a post-Christmas workout but I hadn’t planned on doing it in the cab of a bus!

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