A double dose of deckers

I’m struggling to hold my arms above the keyboard as I write this, having had two strenous days at the wheel. On Saturday I took Bristol FLF DEL893C to Priston Mill, near Keynsham, on a private hire trip.

Priston Mill is at the end of a long, single track lane and I had visions of having to manoever around oncoming traffic in the confined space. As it happened, I only met a handful of cars coming the other way and only had to reverse once. Several people at the venue showed great interest in the bus and I gave out details to potential hirers.

After a break in Bristol I had another private hire job in the evening, collecting a wedding party from the Merchants Hall, Clifton, Bristol and taking them to their evening venue, a restaurant in the centre of Bristol. It was dark by that time so I didn’t take photographs, although the wedding photographer did. With a virtually full load, we took the road down to the Avon Gorge and turned up into Park Street. In the old days Bristol’s buses would often be down to 1st gear by the time they got to the top of this hill and, as my heavily-laden bus struggled up on Saturday I was soon down to 2nd gear. The revs continued to fall away and I was just reaching for the gear stick when Goldbrick House, the party venue, hove into view. I decided to plod on in 2nd and, by the time we drew level with the restaurant, the engine was down to idling speed and I quickly de-clutched and hauled on the handbrake. Just made it!

Now empty, the FLF almost flew up the remainder of the hill. Well, not really. Having to start off in 1st gear I had to wait until I got to the top before changing up and gaining speed. I’m not confident enough with my snatch changes to attempt one at anything above walking pace. The journey back to the depot in Weston-super-Mare was easy. The only hard bit was parking in the dimly-lit yard next to a Bristol Tramways L5G. With nobody about I had to get out and check in case I reversed into the garage wall!

So yesterday morning I was there again, this time to take out an open top Lodekka on the Sundays-only Service 152 from Weston to Uphill. This is the same duty that I did during the recent Crosville Motor Services Running Day. After checking fluid levels, lights and so on I drove down to the bus stop outside Weston’s Grand Pier to wait for my conductor.

While I waited another Crosville vehicle pulled up behind my FSF, ex-Cardiff City Transport Bristol VR WTG360T. This was on Service 100 to Sand Bay, one of two buses operating that service. The other was F357WSC, an ex-Lothian Leyland Olympian.

It was encouraging to see that these buses were carrying healthy loads, unlike the competing First’s Service 1 which remained largely empty all day. Do passengers prefer to support the local operator or were they perhaps swayed by my conductor Simon who, every time we were at the stop, would wander up and down telling people that, if they wanted Sand Bay, they needed the Service 100. As one of the Crosville buses arrived, he would herd them onboard as the First bus approached. Is that allowed? I don’t know but it was fun to watch!

After driving the H&D FLF the day before, the steering on the FSF seemed heavy, even though it is a shorter, lighter bus. The 152 route involves quite a lot of slow turns, being almost entirely town driving. This, together with the heavy steering, (no power assistance, of course!) really made my arms ache as the day wore on. In that respect, private hire jobs are easier because they include quite a lot of trunk road mileage.

Passenger loadings were rather light, compared to the other time I drove this route. There were a lot of enthusiasts around that day, as well as it being a warm sunny day with hordes of people about. Even so, we still managed to pick up a few passengers from intermediate stops. The photo above shows the bus at Uphill boatyard, as we waited to return to Weston. My conductor was on top of his job, changing the destination blind as soon as we arrived.

Just out of shot to the right is a narrow bit of road, where parked cars made it tricky to pass through without scraping past a high hedge. Once I had to pull over and re-adjust my rearview mirror as the hedge had pushed it inwards.

I found it quite easy to drive the FSF, the clutch and gearbox being in good shape. I think I only crunched the gears once, on the approach to a roundabout. It was at the end of the day, my arms were tired and I may not have been concentrating on my gearchanging properly. Well, that’s my excuse anyway.

I’m taking a break from buses for a couple of weeks, after a hectic month or so. My next outing may be a wedding show at the end of the month. Got to keep the bookings coming in! It will give me a chance to post some more old photos on here and write a static page on what it’s like to drive a vintage bus.

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