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!
While the wedding party got themselves seated, I managed a quick photo of the bus. I made sure that the fleet name was in the shot!
We were soon on our way, taking the A36 Warminster road out of the city. Once again I relied on the previous evening’s ‘dry run’ with Google maps. Having a bus with a 5-speed box was useful, although top speed was only 40mph, due to the bus only having a low-ratio back axle. The weather was mostly bright and sunny, ideal for a wedding in the country.
On the way to the venue I had to stop at the Rose & Crown, Limpley Stoke. Not for liquid refreshment, although that would have been very welcome, but to pick up a small group of guests from the bus stop on the adjacent main road. The groom, who had booked the bus, was disappointed to learn that I wouldn’t be going off the main road and into the pub car park as requested. I think he understood the reason, after I had explained that getting in would be as easy as pie but getting out again would be impossible, due to the very acutely angled junction with the main road. I had already decided that, due to the lack of room to turn left back onto the A36, I would be staying on the main road. As it happened, someone texted ahead when we were almost there and they were all waiting patiently at the bus stop. Even if they hadn’t been forewarned, I’m sure they would have heard our labouring bus as it slowly climbed the hill towards the pub in 2nd gear.
Just as we approached Wick Farm, the wedding venue, Google Street View let me down. The map imagery was taken just as the venue was being developed and showed what looked like an access road being prepared just off the A36. When we got there however, the entrance was nowhere to be seen. Then I glimpsed a large sign beside the next junction which proclaimed ‘Wick Farm 200 yards on the left”. We had sailed past the junction before I realised that I should have turned left at the junction. So instead, I carried on a few more yards and pulled into a wide junction on the right which led to Norton St Philip in order to turn around. This involved a bit of reversing and I could have done with a conductor’s help at that point but I made do with using the mirrors and peering over my shoulder and looking past the passengers and through the back windows. Apparently this manoever generated a round of applause on the top deck!
The guests alighted at Wick Farm, set in the chalky landscape but no longer involved in its cultivation. The turning space seen here was designed for taxis and limousines but not double deck buses so I had to take a couple of bites at turning the bus. My arms are feeling the effects even as I type this! After a short wait I drove the empty bus across the A36 and down the road to Norton St Philip where the bridal party was getting ready at a hostelry in the village. I parked beside The George Inn while I waited.
The beautifully dressed bride and her attendants bravely tackled the stairs to travel on the top deck while the others rode downstairs. It was only a few minutes before we were back at Wick Farm. I took a break at this point and waited for the wedding ceremony to take place because I had been asked to wait so that the newlyweds could have some photos with this bus. I sat in the warmth of the upper saloon and was surprised to see, over the rooftops of the converted farm buildings, the White Horse carved into the chalky hillside near Westbury. I didn’t realise I was that close!
The photo session was soon over and I was free to go. The empty journey was uneventful, except for a couple of stops on the way to enable me to set up a camcorder on the lower front window to record our progress through Bath. It’s a journey that this bus must have done many times in the 1960s and 70s and I thought that, even though the camera mount is a bit shaky, it was worth uploading.
There’s also a clip from a later part of the journey, including Brislington, Hartcliffe and Bishopsworth, here: http://youtu.be/9N23Cqf9Pok
Back at the depot I parked in the sunshine next to two other returnees so that I could plan my reversing manoever into the garage.
The garage was strangely empty of most of the heritage fleet. Some were being prepared to travel to the Bristol Harbourside Rally the next day and some were in storage in another unit nearby. This was to make room for a number of new vehicles fresh from the paint shop, due to enter service with the local bus service fleet. I was due to take a vehicle to the Harbourside rally but sadly had to decline due to the 150th Anniversary celebrations at our church. Maybe next year!
In summary, despite my sentimental attachment to it, this isn’t my favourite bus to drive. It performs well but the stiff gearchange gave me some grief. All the other Lodekkas I’ve driven seem happy to slip easily into neutral but this one put up a bit of a fight which makes clean, accurately timed changes difficult to come by! My other gripe is that this bus is fitted with a direction indicator switch mounted on the headlight dip stalk, which is in turn mounted on the steering column. The usual place for the direction indicator is to the driver’s right, beside the door. The benefit here is that you turn the pointer in the direction in which you intend to go, it flashes in sync with the indicators and you can see it. To operate the switch on L8515 I had to reach under the vibrating steering wheel, which has left me with a bruised forearm, I discovered this morning. The other disadvantage is that the pointy bit is facing backwards so that, if I’m turning left, I have to turn the switch in a clockwise direction which feels all wrong. And the light doesn’t flash, it stays lit meaning that I forgot that it was still on, several times. If you were following me yesterday, sorry! You might think that all Lodekkas look the same but I can tell you that, from the driving seat, each one is different!