You wait ages for a bus and then 12 come along all at once!
That could well sum up the cherry on the top of the Crosville cake, but more of that later.
After taking part in the preparations for the Crosville Running Day a few days earlier I was amazed at the transformation that had taken place at the depot when I arrived on the day itself. I was directed to park in the large compound at the end of the site. It was enormous and easily contained ample parking for the day’s visitors as well as static displays of heritage and modern vehicles.
Returning to the depot I found a smart display of ex-Crosville vehicles either side of the depot’s main entrance. Among them was my steed for the day, a Bristol FSF6G open top bus. This has recently returned from an extensive restoration in the North of England and looked superb.
I wasn’t due to leave the depot with the bus until 10:30 so I browsed among the many society and trade stalls that had been lined up around the largely empty garage. Apparently the staff had spent many hours cleaning the floor until it was fit to accept visitors.
Displayed high up on axle stands and jacks was the H&D Bristol FLF, having had its chassis silvered a few days previously. It was also floodlit underneath so that visitors could see the unusual construction.
I met up with Ian, my conductor who was frantically searching for a fresh ticket roll for his Setright machine. His usual machine had been left in another bus which was out on service and the fresh stock of rolls in the office couldn’t be found! Eventually he reappeared with the remains of a roll which he loaded into his machine while I completed my checks.
I hadn’t driven this particlar Lodekka before so we took the long way round while I became accustomed to the bus. It turned out to be a delight. The throttle had been well set up and all the linkages were tight but well oiled so I had really sensitive control of the revs. The gearchanges were solid and predictable, the steering reasonably light. There was a lot of traffic on the seafront road and we took ages to get the the Grand Pier, the departure point for the Service 152 to Uphill. There was already a large crowd waiting and the bus rocked as they all filed upstairs. We left with a virtually full top deck load and a handful in the lower saloon.
It was unusual for me to leave the passengers in the capable hands of my conductor Ian as all my previous experience of stage carriage journeys have been as a conductor. Passengers with Running Day programmes were allowed free travel so that cut down on the number of tickets Ian needed to issue from his meagre roll!
Driving the route was fairly easy. I had printed out a map and had gone over it with several people just to make sure I had it right. The only difficulty was the volume of traffic. Being a (rare) sunny, warm day the seafront area was absolutely heaving with people and cars. All the attractions and food outlets were doing a roaring trade, including the fascinating Carter’s Steam Fair which had been set up on the green. The beach was busy too, with donkey rides and sand sculptures adding to the normal seaside experiences on offer.
Sadly I don’t have any pictures of the bus en-route as (obviously) I had my hands full driving the bus. Even at the terminus in Uphill, where another cream-liveried open top bus (1940 Bristol K5G, ex-Brighton, Hove & District) was waiting, I had no time to get my camera out as the heavy traffic had seen to it that we were already running late. However, plenty of other cameras were pointing our way so I’m sure that a few photos of our progress will surface soon enough!
We had an hour’s lunch break in the middle of the day so we took a number of passengers with us back to the depot as they wanted to see what all the fuss was about. After enduring a hot cab for a couple of hours I headed for the cool shade of the garage for my lunch. Ian meanwhile broadened his search for ticket rolls. There seemed to be plenty of people about. Free buses, connecting with various parts of the town and on ‘Mystery Tour’ services, were coming and going all the time and were well loaded.
Ian returned, joyfully waving a nearly-full Bristol Omnibus ticket roll he had managed to cadge off another conductor. We set off back to Uphill for another two round trips. By the time we were on our last journey the traffic had eased off and our progress along the seafront was much more pleasant.
We arrived back at the depot as everyone was packing up and visiting vehicles were departing. Then came the final act – a cavalcade of buses along the seafront! Buses were arranged, crews were allocated to them and drivers were briefed.
12 buses, mostly in Tilling Green and Cream livery and all but one of Bristol manufacture, lined up in order on the depot approach road. There were four Bristol Ls, one Bedford OB, four Bristol KSWs, three Bristol Lodekkas and one Bristol VR. I had to chuckle to myself, once more in the cab of the open top FSF, as our convoy swept out of the gates in a seemingly unending stream while the Crosville Support Van held up the traffic! And so we proceeded to the seafront where we parked in a long line near the Grand Pier. It wasn’t me but a guest travelling with us who quipped “You wait ages for a bus and then 12 come along all at once!”
People stopped and stared, many pointing their cameras at the spectacular sight. Several of them asked what it was all about but I will leave the last word to Dr Mike Walker, whose Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection owns some of the older buses in our cavalcade. When asked the same question by a passer by, he replied “We’re doing it because we can!”