Driving a Bath Services Lodekka – in Bath!

My second outing with a heritage bus this year took me through some familiar territory and some new. I was allocated former Bath Services LD6G L8515 (969EHW), a bus I had seen many times at the Crosville Motor Services depot but had never driven.

I had a relatively relaxed start, not having to pick up my passengers until 13:10 in Bath city centre. I took my time over my walk around checks, chatted to a few folks and did my paperwork. My first stop after leaving was the filling station, having borrowed a fuel card. On the way out I crunched a few gears, which annoyed me. It was mostly because the gear stick was… well, sticky. When it was time to change gear, it was reluctant to move into neutral which played havoc with my timing!

Fuelled up, I headed out of Weston-super-Mare on the Wells road, through the village of Banwell and on to the A38. Little by little I got used to the peculiarities of this Lodekka. It was built in 1959 for ‘Bath Services’, a division of Bristol Omnibus. I was rather pleased to be driving this bus at last as I remember seeing this one (and other Lodekkas in the XXXSHW batch) as a boy as it passed my Grandparents’ house in Wilton Road, Salisbury on the last leg of its Bath-Salisbury run.

I had to time my arrival in Bath very carefully because there is a maximum waiting time of 10 minutes at the pickup point in Terrace Walk. However, I had enough time in hand to be able to take a break in a layby in Saltford, where I ate some lunch. I had guessed that it would take me 20 minutes to drive from there to the city centre and I was just about right, arriving about 13:12 under the watchful eye of a lady warden. Almost as soon as I had got down from the cab to open the platform doors, she asked me to stop my engine!

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Turning the clock back with a Morris Minor

Those who know me well realise that a lot of the time I live with one foot in the past. So I had the perfect opportunity to do just that last weekend.

Dawkins family and Morris Minor

The occasion was the 150th anniversary of Upton Vale Baptist Church, of which we are members. The large building, opposite Torquay’s Town Hall, was first opened in April 1832 and our celebrations are spanning three weekends. Taking the theme from a Bible verse: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), last Sunday we celebrated the ‘yesterday’ part of our history and everyone was encouraged to dress up in costume, representing some part of the building’s timeline.

We tried to create the ‘Mr & Mrs 1967’ look, to suit the age of our Morris Minor, but actually we look more like ‘Mr & Mrs 1940’, particularly the spiv on the right with his trilby set at a jaunty angle.

As you can imagine, we thoroughly enjoyed getting into the yesteryear mood and a few cheap ebay purchases (such as fake NHS glasses for me and a repro antique handbag for Mrs Busmanjohn) completed the illusion. Many other folk joined the fun, with all sorts of excellent costumes worn. In other departures from the norm, we dispensed with our usual worship band, in which we sing and play, and formed a traditional choir instead.

If you’re on Facebook, there’s a great set of photos taken by photographer Paul Eaton which sum up the day very well.

My next outing with a bus, correctly attired in a Tilling bus uniform of course, will be next Saturday when I’m off to Bath with (very appropriately) a Bath Services Bristol Lodekka.

Heritage bus drivers’ training day


Those of you who drive heritage buses may remember having that word yelled in your ear as you learned to use a crash gearbox. It’s all to do with judging how long to wait while the engine revs die away before selecting the next gear.

Yesterday it was my turn to do the yelling. I spent the day training four guys from Crosville Motor Services how to drive a Lodekka and it turned out to be more successful than I expected.


I was given an ex-Bristol Omnibus FLF to use as a training bus. This isn’t used in public service but shares the garage with the active fleet. It carries NBC Leaf Green livery and has a Bristol BVW engine driving through a 4-speed crash gearbox. It also has the glass missing from the little window in the corner of the cab, all of which made it an ideal vehicle to use.

I was interested to see that it displayed ‘Staple Hill’ as this was where my wife would have got off the bus on her way home from school in Bristol. It was odd to think that she might have ridden on this very bus!

My first two candidates observed me as I drove out to a nearby roundabout and back before we sat down and discussed the major differences between driving a modern coach or bus and driving a Lodekka. I had prepared some diagramatic visual aids to help explain the double-declutch technique, which is something of a dark art to most people.

Fortunately the Crosville garage is located on a sprawling trading estate which was once part of the Westland helicopter manufacturing base. We used an empty road at the far end of the site to begin our practice sessions, partly to avoid causing a hazard to other road users and partly to lessen the noise of gear teeth being torn off!

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The day I nearly died at the wheel

Although this story is all about driving, it doesn’t involve a bus.


This photo shows a Ford 6600 tractor when fairly new. In fact I was the one that collected it from the dealer. At the time I was working at Moortown Farm near Chulmleigh, mid-Devon during the summer holidays when I was a student at Art College. That summer’s exploits could be the subject of several blog posts!

Anyway, the farm had four tractors at the time and my duties included spraying pig slurry on the fields (which was what I was doing when I took this picture), taking grain down the road to the corn mill and, later on, ploughing and cultivating the fields once the crops had been harvested.

One of the tractors, another Ford with four-wheel-drive, was still in use but was due to be replaced by the one shown above. It had a reputation for being a gutless wonder and the farmer for whom I worked often used to say that “it couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding!” and I can say from experience that he was right! However, it got the job done eventually. You just had to take your time.

Theoretically it had brakes too, but they were nearly as ineffective at making the machine stop as the engine was at making it go. The brakes only worked on the rear wheels and were purely mechanical, no power assistance. I had to press really hard with my booted feet to arrest its progress!

Using the gears, on all the tractors, was not easy. As an 18 year old student who had only recently learned to drive, I found that I could change up reasonably well but not down. He didn’t explain it very well, but the farmer told me that tractors don’t have gearboxes like cars and that, if you wanted a lower gear, you had to stop to select it. If I had known then what I know now, I would have realised that double de-clutching would have been the key to downchanges on the move.

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To Gloucestershire with a Bristol McDekka

My first wedding duty in 2013 turned out to have a very Scottish flavour. A young man called Jamie was getting married to Alice in the Stone Barn, Aldsworth and many relatives had arrived from north o’ the border and needed transporting to the remote wedding venue. That’s where I played my part.


But first I had to get there. Cheltenham is a 60 mile journey from the bus depot and Southern Vectis FS6G YDL318 is not the quickest bus in the garage, as you may remember from previous posts. I started out early, having checked everything and got the duty mechanic to put some extra puff in the front tyres. First stop was the filling station as I needed a full tank for my 30mph trek up to Gloucestershire.

The bus had been out the previous day, one of three heritage buses involved with Katie Price’s wedding. Yes, THAT Katie Price.

I arrived in Cheltenham with time to spare, fortunately. In fact I had time to have a 45 minute break before meeting the wedding party. Due to a waiting limit of 15 minutes at the Bus Station in Cheltenham I had arranged with the groom that I would wait in a layby (which I’ve used before) just outside town to await a call from one of the ushers to say they were ready. I was glad I did some homework beforehand because I discovered that roadworks had closed one of the main roads I had planned to use on my route into the town centre so I had worked out an alternative route.

As I approached the bus station in Royal Well Road the lights changed at the junction. From there I could see the bus bays and a huddle of smartly dressed wedding guests. I pulled into one of the bays and immediately took pity on the gentlemen in the group. Mostly because they were all wearing kilts. And the fact that the air temperature was barely above freezing! They quickly boarded the bus and within a few minutes we were on our way. The Stone Barn is about 20 miles out of Cheltenham, on the A40 towards Oxford. The road is mostly single carriageway and, as I was driving the Slow Bus from Cheltenham, I pulled into a couple of laybys on the way out to allow the considerable stream of traffic to pass by.

There’s quite a climb up towards Northleach and there was still evidence of significant snowfall lying in the fields. There had been deep snowdrifts too, as great heaps of snow still lay beside hedgerows and stone walls.

I regret to say that I crunched the gears on one downchange while climbing to higher ground. Well, it has been 3 months since my last duty! Other than that, the Southern Vectis Lodekka behaved impeccably, as always. Following a crib-sheet of directions I’d prepared earlier, I turned off the A40 and down a lane which ominously had a blue sign which said “Not suitable for Coaches”. I proceeded anyway, certain that buses and coaches had been to the Stone Barn before without any trouble and that, more than likely, the sign referred to restrictions further down the road at Bibury, a famous tourist spot in the Cotswolds.

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