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!
Surprisingly, the youngest candidate seemed to pick up the technique the quickest. We trundled and crashed our way around the estate roads for about an hour before I felt the guys were competent enough to tackle the short route I’d shown them earlier. With instructions and encouragement shouted through the little window we ended up driving along the seafront and back to the garage via the town centre. By then, this driver’s gear changes were mostly quiet and clean. I must admit that it gave me quite a buzz!
After lunch I took them on a short circular route which included some up hill and down hill bits near the appropriately named village of Uphill! Then it was their turn to try climbing and decending downchanges, with varying degrees of success.
The guys pictured here had to dash off and do school contract duties but I soon had another two victims, sorry – candidates, lined up. Using the same format as before, we started on the estate roads before venturing out onto the main road. It was soon clear that one of these chaps had previous experience and, although it was a very long time since he had driven a Lodekka, it wasn’t long before he was driving like a pro. He was soon able to drive the seafront/town centre route with little input from me except encouragement.
I felt a great sense of satisfaction that so much progress was made in one day. It’s good to think that soon more fully trained drivers will be capable of taking our historic vehicles out on public service. The numbers of professional drivers who have the skills to drive these buses has been falling in recent years as the Driver CPC requirements have become more stringent.
The plan is to add more drivers to the heritage pool so that we can accept more private hire duties with our fleet of crash-box Bristols. I’m told that there is already a Saturday in May when seven vintage buses will be required! I’m hoping that we can fix up another session with the same four drivers to hone their skills further and to introduce more hill work to their experience. And after that there will be the added complication of 5-speed boxes. Watch this space!