Heritage bus repairs and restorations at Crosville

OB-MHU49

Back in December I took a couple of quick pictures inside the depot at Crosville while awaiting departure time on a wedding duty. There were, at that time, five heritage vehicles under (or awaiting) repair. With a varied fleet of modern buses and coaches to keep roadworthy and compliant as well, there is always some repair work going on but I was particularly interested in the older ones!

The first to greet me as I came in the door was this 1949 Bedford OB, originally fleet no 207 with Bristol Tramways. It was the first Bedford OB to be delivered to the Tramways, later to become Bristol Omnibus Company, after the war. This bus, which is one of two very similar OBs owned by the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection, has only just been restored but was in the Crosville garage for some attention to the 6-cylinder petrol engine and possibly the brakes too, as the front nearside wheel is missing. The BOVC has close links with Crosville and one day I’d love to drive this OB. The sound of these old Bedfords is very distinctive and takes me right back to my childhood when Tom Phillips, our local coal merchant, had a fleet of very run down OBs and SBs (I think) which operated from a ramshackle yard just round the corner from where I lived in Exmouth. They all wore a very dusty maroon livery.

KFM893_under_repair

One of the three Crosville Bristol L single deck buses was undergoing some substantial bodywork restoration. Shown here parked next to a fully restored sister vehicle, L5G KFM893 had spent many years with Quantock Motor Services before joining the Crosville fleet last year and a winter repaint has turned into a much larger project. Quite a lot of the wooden framework has been replaced and will also be fitted with new aluminium panels before the promised repaint. It will then be fit for use on private hire duties again.

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2012 – a busy year up at the noisy end

2012 was a momentous year. I managed to pass my PCV bus driving test by the skin of my teeth and followed that with 25 vintage bus driving duties!

KFM767-Clifton-CollegeBut one of my first jobs of 2012 was to promote the Crosville heritage bus fleet at a couple of Wedding Fairs. These were worth doing and many of the bookings I drove for later in the year started out as enquiries at these fairs. For one of these fairs I was invited to drive a Bristol Lodekka. This was before I’d taken my test but, as the bus was empty and not in service, my car licence sufficed. However, slightly soft front tyres and my general unfitness saw to it that I really struggled with the heavy steering, even with no load! I’ve since discovered that, even with properly inflated tyres, that bus is heavier to steer at low speed than some others.

With the fairs out of the way my focus turned to passing my practical test. For various reasons, much time had passed since I’d passed the Theory, Hazard Perception and Case Studies components of my PCV driving test. I had used up my allotted holiday allowance in my day job so I had to wait until new year 2012 to book a week off in February for training and the test. The test date happened to be Valentines Day but, as you will remember if you were following my progress back then, the lunch I had with my wife that day turned into a very sombre affair because I failed the test.

I very nearly gave up altogether, so crushing was the feeling of defeat. However, due to encouragement from several blog readers and family members, I booked more training sessions and a new test with just a few days of entitlement left. I had two years after passing my Theory Test in which to pass my Practical Test and most of that time had been spent waiting in vain for training with Quantock. I eventually passed my Practical Test within a few days of the end of February, which is when my time would run out.

Practical-test-pass

My feelings of elation and relief knew no bounds when I eventually found myself holding that coveted blue certificate! I went on to pass the PCV Practical Demonstration test and soon received my Driver CPC card in the post which entitled me to drive professionally at last.

I wondered how soon it would be before I would find an opportunity to drive a heritage bus in service. I passed the news of my test pass to the folks at Crosville Motor Services and awaited developments. I already had a conducting date in my diary for the week after my test so I was both pleased and daunted to see that, when my Job Ticket arrived, it showed that I was the driver! The management were kind enough to provide me with a conductor for this, my first driving turn with them. It wasn’t strictly necessary as the bus had driver-operated doors and the customer hadn’t paid for a conductor. I was very glad of the support and, even though the conductor was younger than my youngest son, he knew his job very well and everything went like clockwork.

Many more driving turns followed. 25 of them, to be exact! I often had to pinch myself to check that I wasn’t dreaming. I had pursued this ambition to drive a vintage bus since I was a young boy but never in a million years thought that I would have the opportunity to learn to drive a bus, let alone drive Bristol Lodekkas (and other Bristol marques) in service. I spent many hours as a youngster standing (and then kneeling, as I grew taller) on the bench seat watching the drivers of Wilts & Dorset Lodekkas at work in the cab. I was fascinated by the skills and techniques involved in handling a crash gearbox. I’m convinced that those childhood experiences helped me enormously when I eventually came to occupy that cab seat myself and take charge of a Bristol Lodekka. The fact that so many of them survive is remarkable in itself but the fact that I’m able to drive them in the 21st century is truly amazing.

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A very wet wedding hire to end the year

Before I post my personal review of a very active and interesting year, here is a brief account of my last driving turn for 2012. It was easily the wettest wedding day I’ve ever driven for and I had great sympathy for the newly-weds and their guests. Everyone who sets a date for a wedding knows that most things can be planned for but the weather is one factor that cannot be relied upon to co-operate!

wet_weather_lodekka_rear

If you lean in close you can smell the dampness and hear the swoosh of cars passing by on the wet road. This photo was taken while I was parked up in a layby on the road into Bath as I had time in hand and took the opportunity to eat my lunch and down a couple of cups of hot coffee.

The rain had started during the night and persisted through the morning, making my journey up from Paignton a rather slow one due to the spray being kicked up by the motorway traffic. Fortunately I had allowed myself plenty of time and was prepared for traffic problems and diversions due to the excessively wet weather of late.

At the Crosville depot, three other heritage buses were being prepared for the long journey to Winchester. A Bristol LH single decker, a Bath Services Bristol LD and my old friend, a Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF. They were to take part in the annual running day organised by the Friends of King Alfred Buses (FoKAB) on New Year’s Day.

I picked up ex-Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G YDL318 from the depot and drove, at a stately maximum of 30mph, up the A38 towards Bristol. Cutting across the southern outskirts of the suburbs, I passed through Brislington and nodded towards the Lodekka’s birthplace in a tribute to the sturdily designed vehicle in which I sat, which had lasted 50 years so far.

After waiting at a convenient spot just down the road, I pulled up outside the cast iron gates of the Roman Catholic Church in Julian Road, Bath. As the wedding ended, guests boarded the bus. One of the ushers looked bemused and asked “Where’s the red bus?” I had no idea so I replied “Sorry, I don’t know. Did you have a different bus bring you here?” Apparently another operator’s bus had collected the guests from the reception venue and transported them to the church but now, with extra people having joined the party, they were expecting to see two buses. For a while it looked as though I would be making two trips but all became clear when someone else explained that the other bus would be returning soon after I had left with the first load. I was very relieved, knowing that my bus could only do 30mph and that I may have risked running out of driving hours if the weather, as well as the slow speed, had delayed my return journey to Weston.

In the end, all was well and I delivered my load safely to the Guyers House Hotel on the outskirts of Corsham, Wiltshire. There were only two hairy moments and they both involved tight turns. The first of these came soon after I had left the church and I had seen it on the map earlier. It was a light-controlled junction so I deliberately held back at the lights to give myself room to swing wide and avoid the traffic island at the end of the turn. I had to really heave on the wheel to reach full lock as quickly as possible and I was glad to do it in one ‘take’. The other tight turn was at the end of the journey, just before the hotel. The entrance is down a narrow lane and, having been there once before in a Bristol FLF, I knew I had to pull over into the middle of the main road and turn sharply before sticking the nose down the lane. Once again, we just squeezed in with a few inches to spare.

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