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!

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!

5 comments on “Heritage bus drivers’ training day

  1. davemoore1 says:

    Ah, the dreaded fifth gear! Good luck with that one. Most of us have selected 5th when we wanted 3rd. I’ve even seen professional bus drivers make that mistake. Fine if you notice before the bus grinds to a halt but if you stop, getting out of 5th is very noisy!

  2. Bill Stickers says:

    I think the FLF6B had the 8.9 litre 115bhp BVW engine John. The earlier 8.1 litre AVW 98bhp engine was used primarily on the Bristol L/K/ and LD models up until about 1958.

  3. Don McKeown says:

    I joined the original Crosville in 1977, and had three days training on an FS6B, having passed my test on a Leyland PD2 and never driven a manual gearbox bus since. I was very surprised to find that a fairly quick gearchange was required, there was no need to wait in neutral until the revs had died down completely before engaging the next gear. I was employed at Caernarfon Depot, where I drove MW’s for the next two years until they were all withdrawn. I found the MW’s a delight to drive, no problems with fifth gear so long as you changed down to fourth before coming to rest. Last year I had a brief drive on a preserved ex-West Yorkshire FS6B and once again found it hard to get used to the quick gearchange! A friend who used to drive Crosville Lodekkas at Liverpool Depot says that the Gardner engined Lodekkas were much easier to drive than the Bristol engined versions.

    • busmanjohn says:

      Thanks for your comment, Don. Yes, the gearchange with a Bristol engine is quicker. My trainees will discover this when they try out a Gardner-engined Lodekka! I’m more used to these and I wondered the other day how these guys got away with hardly pausing in neutral at all!

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