When you’re used to driving a desk all week it tends to drain all your energy when you drive a vintage bus for two days in a row. But I’m not complaining. I love what I do and see it as a great privilege to sit in a hot cab and work my arms to a jelly in someone else’s historic bus!
I drove Bristol FLF DEL893C, ex-Hants & Dorset, built 1965, on a wedding duty in Bristol on Saturday and, after a suitable break, drove the bus straight down to Torquay. I had arranged with the kind people at Stagecoach to park the FLF in their Torquay depot overnight and I’m very grateful to Area Manager Gary and Depot Manager Steve for their help – it caused quite a stir!
The following morning, under the envious gaze of several fitters and older drivers, I did my checks and topped up with water before driving the short distance to the rally site at Shedden Hill, Torquay. I joined a line of other buses which were operating free services around the bay and then, as I wasn’t due out until 12:00, browsed among the stalls and visiting buses. Many of these (buses AND stalls!) I’d seen before, some of them only last weekend!
The rally organisers had given me 2 short routes, the 136 to Paignton Town Centre and the 28A to Hesketh Crescent (for Meadfoot). They had also given me a conductor for the morning’s trips, an older chap who had once conducted for real on Devon General buses. There was a long queue at our stop near the entrance to the rally site and as we pulled up to board passengers, more arrived as they saw the FLF arrive with 136 on the blinds.
The first two trips, one to Paignton and one to Hesketh Crescent, were with full loads. The Paignton route was a doddle as it followed the relatively flat coastal road but the other involved a steep climb up Meadfoot Road and down the other side towards Meadfoot beach. Without the benefit of a run-up because of a set of traffic lights at the bottom, we were down to first gear for most of it! After a short layover for photos, we were off again over the summit and down the other side towards the harbour. I watched the temperature gauge creep up towards the red sector but it never reached it, thankfully! If I had been fitted with a temperature gauge I’m sure it would have registered nearly boiling point after heaving the heavy bus around the streets of Torquay! I really admire the strength and stamina of the old drivers who had to do this day in, day out.
Lunchtime arrived and I took the opportunity to top up the water. The FLF drank almost a watering can full after it’s exertions of the morning. Thanks to Steve, James and Graeme for your help!
During my lunchbreak I was joined by Mrs Busman John and a scruffy individual who was to be my conductor for the afternoon.
My youngest son, wearing his own uniform and my Setright ticket machine and cash bag, did a great job assisting passengers on and off and fielding their many questions, as well as ringing me away from each stop. Anticipating this, I had provided him with a history sheet for this bus and the other one which we had originally planned to bring along as well, ex-Crosville Bristol FSF open top 891VFM. It was busy elsewhere on a private hire but, as it still appeared in the programme, I guessed people would still ask about it. And they did!
Many kind remarks were made about our bus, well presented but with a pleasing ‘in-service’ look, and also the crew’s attire. My son and I were the only ones at the event wearing caps and I spotted only two other drivers wearing proper jackets. Several passengers, who obviously knew about the art of driving a bus with a crash gearbox, came round to the cab window and kindly commented on my driving.
Our last trip on the 28a to Hesketh Cresent was quite lightly loaded so we managed Meadfoot Road in 2nd gear, although the revs dropped perilously low at one point. You can usually tell when the awesome torque of the low-revving Gardner engine is about to expire and everyone (driver included) breathes a sigh of relief when the revs gradually begin to creep up!
I had thoroughly enjoyed driving this bus through the streets of my home town carrying a full load of passengers. It was however rather daunting to realise that most of them were bus enthusiasts or drivers themselves. No pressure, then!
With the last trip done, I took a break at the rally site as other buses departed and stalls were dismantled. I thought it wise to top up with water again but none was required this time. We left, stopping en-route to pick up Mrs Busman John in Paignton. She was my co-driver for the car journey home!
The drive back up to Weston was uneventful, the only complaints I had were the incessant noise from the Gardner 6LW (gets a bit boring on the motorway with the throttle wide) and numbness in my right foot from having to keep the go-pedal on the floor for 2 hours! The FLF, as usual, didn’t miss a beat. We put it to bed at its home depot, stopped for a take-away and drove all the way back to Torbay again. I’m grateful to the management at Crosville Motor Services for allowing me to take part in this rather special day.