Fishing lakes and leafy lanes

The day following my trip to Wiltshire I was out again, this time nearer to the Crosville base. Once again it was a busy day for private hire jobs – four green Bristol Lodekkas left the depot on wedding duties almost at the same time!

A driver colleague usually helps me to top up the coolant on the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF when I take it out but today he was preparing a Bristol FS of his own so it fell to me to find a way to do it single handed. As you may have read in a previous post, the method of topping up the coolant on a Cave-Brown-Cave cooling system at this garage is usually a 2-man job. One sits in the cab and runs the engine at about half revs while the other slowly fills the header tank until no more will go in. I used a bit of ingenuity (or possibly ‘engine-uity’) and found an empty bottle of a suitable size in the garage and jammed it between the handbrake lever and the accelerator pedal. This kept the engine revs up while I went round the front with a can of water.

I followed a Southern Vectis FS6G and a Bath Services LD6G out of the depot and through the outskirts of Weston-super-Mare. We parted company at a roundabout when they headed towards Wells and I took the A370 to Bristol. As I went up through the gears I listened to the satisfying clatter of the Gardner 6LW diesel engine beside me. It would be working extremely hard later but for now I just enjoyed the familiar 6-cylinder rhythm which assaulted my left ear. It may be a form of conditioning that began in my boyhood but I much prefer the sound of a 6LW to that of a 5LW. When I drove a 1950 Bristol L5G a few weeks ago, although a privilege to be entrusted with such a venerable vehicle, its strangely ‘lumpy’ 5-cylinder rhythm was not as satisfying to listen to as the more even beat of the 6LW. Does that sound daft?

Entering Bristol near the Cumberland Basin I cut across towards Temple Meads station and turned south again towards Brislington. Was I being drawn as if by some ghostly force to the birthplace of the chassis beneath me? I don’t think so. It just happened to be the designated pickup point for the wedding party I was due to collect!

With a virtually full load aboard we continued southwards on the A37. There were far more hills to deal with on this route than on the previous day’s trip to Corsham and so my left leg and arm got a good workout! In fact there was one long gradient which got steeper towards the top. Speed was dropping all the way up and I was already down to 2nd gear when I reached the steepest bit. My poor passengers must have thought they might have to get out and push but I had one more gear left – the rarely used 1st gear! So there we were, crawling along at little more than walking pace with the engine roaring away beside me. As we made our painful progress up the hill I could feel the heat from the exhaust manifold beginning to gently roast my left leg. It was after all only about 6 inches away from me, only the metal of the cab side protecting me from its scorching heat. The unmistakeable smell of very hot engine began to waft into the cab through the open side window as we reached the summit and I dared not look at the temperature gauge. I was afraid it might already be in the red sector! I carried on, changing up to 2nd gear, then 3rd as soon as I could so that the increasing airflow could begin to cool the engine via the twin radiators above me.

Arriving in the strangely named village of Temple Cloud, I looked out for the triangular Cameley turning. It was set at an awkward angle to the main road and, with 30ft of ECW body behind me, only one side of the triangle was useable and that had parked cars down one side, making it narrow as well! Leaving the village behind us we drove on down a leafy country lane, not really intended for double deck buses! We filled the whole width of the single track road and the roof was brushing the branches above so I drove very gingerly down the lane, craning my neck to keep an eye on the trees as we passed beneath – and sometimes through – their branches. Fortunately none were large enough to do any damage otherwise I would have to stop and give my passengers the unwelcome news that they would need to complete their journey on foot!

Yes, it really was that narrow! The picture above was taken from the entrance to the wedding venue, looking back towards the lane described above. Both wedding and reception were being held at Cameley Lodge and I was relieved to pull into a car park of generous proportions. Soon afterwards, the bride and bridesmaids arrived in a new-ish Bentley and a stretch limo.

There was a 6-hour wait before I was needed for the return journey so I did battle with the leafy lane once more and took the bus back to my in-laws’ house in Bristol to take my rest period. The exit from the lane onto the main road was even more impossible for the FLF so I drove in the opposite direction on the A37 to a small business park that I had identified earlier on Google Maps so that I could turn the bus round.

Later in the day I returned to Cameley Lodge to collect the wedding party, by now quite boisterous. After photos beside the bus they clambered aboard and I announced my plan for exiting the lane, lest they suspect that I had lost my way. Some, I’m sure, were past caring but I didn’t want any confused guests hammering on the cab window!

Having practiced it once, the turning manoever in the business park went smoothly and we were soon on our way back to Brislington. Progress was, as before quite slow at times due to the heavy load and the hilly A37. I also had to be aware of the downhill stretches, particularly the long hill from earlier. Paying heed to the ‘11% descent’ warning signs, I changed down to 3rd gear to avoid overheating the brake drums.

By the time we reached the Bristol suburbs it started raining heavily, which made driving rather unpleasant. Final destination was a sports complex behind The Beeches Hotel where the guests were no doubt going to dance the night away. I turned the bus in the car park and retraced my earlier route through Bristol, following signs to the A370 and Weston. An empty bus and a flatter route meant that I could wind the FLF up to its top speed of about 50mph, where road conditions allowed.

The FLF had behaved itself well during the day. Having been allocated the same bus several times now, I was becoming more and more familiar with it. Going up and down the gearbox smoothly according to the road and traffic conditions was less of an ordeal today, whereas on the first few occasions I felt both physically and mentally drained with the concentration required to get everything right. The only annoying glitch was a sticking accelerator pedal. It has a habit of sticking on full throttle which, if it happens while climbing a hill (which it did today) can be a bit of a surprise. Several times I lifted my foot to change down but the pedal stayed on the floor and the engine immediately picked up to full revs! Fortunately they matched the revs required for the next gear quite closely so the end result was a pleasingly quick down-change!

In my next post I will bring you news of the Crosville Motor Services Running Day in August, when all available buses will be out on the road, plus a good number of visitors.

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4 comments on “Fishing lakes and leafy lanes

  1. Bill Stickers says:

    I learned my bus driving skills with United on a five speed FLF. But it was fitted with the bigger 10.45 litre Gardner 6LX, which develops up to 150bhp compared to 112bhp of the 6LW. You notice the difference with acceleration and hill climbing. Apparently they had to fit stiffer clutch springs on the FLF when fitted with the 6LX to prevent clutch slip.
    Is your FLF fitted with a working clutch stop, as this, once the technique is mastered, will give you faster upward changes on hills.

    • busmanjohn says:

      Thanks for your comment ‘Bill’. Our FLF was originally fitted with a Bristol engine but acquired a bog standard 6LW at some point in its service life. There are times when I wish it had the 6LX upgrade!
      Other drivers have described the clutch stop technique to me but I have yet to drive a bus with a fully working one!

      • Bill Stickers says:

        Spares for the Bristol BVW engine, became hard to obtain during the industrial squables of the mid seventies. So it became policy with certain former Tilling group companies to replace the engines of FLF6B’s with second hand Gardner 6LW’s often from withdrawn older stock, KSW6G’s often became the “fall guys”.
        The 6LW was a better engine than the BVW anyway especially with CBC fitted FLF’s as the cooler running Gardner engine was less subject to overheating, frequently associated with the BVW when cooled by the often marginal CBC radiators.

      • busmanjohn says:

        That’s interesting. I have a photo of a withdrawn H&D Bristol K which was taken in the seventies. The engine is missing – I wonder if it was re-used in an FLF as you suggest? I will dig it out and put it in another post soon.

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