I don’t often do weekday driving duties but, for reasons that I’ll come to later, I did one yesterday. Once more it involved a long empty journey and a short (in mileage anyway) loaded trip. But, if the customer is happy to pay the price, who am I to complain?
The bus allocated to me for this trip was ex-Bristol Omnibus C5055 (later Badgerline 8622) Bristol VRT LEU263P. I hadn’t driven this bus before so the first few miles served as ‘type familiarisation’. It was altogether less strenuous than driving a Lodekka. For a start, you enter the bus via the same door as the passengers and walk straight into the cab through a little door beside the entrance gangway, much the same as most modern buses. Fitted with power steering and a semi-automatic gearbox, there’s virtually nothing left for the driver to do except point the thing in the right direction!
I soon had the hang of the semi-automatic gearbox. Pausing between gears, even though there’s no clutch to operate, produced the smoothest changes. In service many drivers used to flick the little gear selector straight from one to the next gear. It worked, but the bands in the gearbox had to absorb a huge amount of energy as the engine revs dropped almost instantly to the new ratio. This caused an uncomfortable lurch, not to mention frequent visits to the workshop when the ‘box wore out.
The journey from Weston to Exmouth took about 2 hours. With a steady muted roar from the engine in the back, accompanied by that distinctive transmission whine, we motored on at a reasonable 50mph. Exmouth, situated at the mouth of the River Exe as the name suggests, is the east Devon town where I grew up so, as you can imagine, my eyes lit up when I saw that Exmouth was the destination. As you can see in the photo above, the load was entirely teenaged girls. Giggly, hyped-up girls dressed in ball gowns and glittery accessories. They were in no particular hurry to board, prefering instead to finish their sparkly drinks in the garden of the old Coastguard Cottage at the top of Foxholes Hill.
As soon as I opened the air-operated front door, one of the parents asked if I would like a cup of tea. Of course, I said “yes please”! I don’t think I have ever been offered a cup of tea on arrival before and, when it arrived, it was just like nectar! I stood on the grass, mug in hand, looking from the clifftop across Lyme Bay towards Brixham and, just hidden by Hope’s Nose, Paignton. I couldn’t resist calling Mrs Busman John on my mobile to say “I can see you – almost!”
Eventually it was time to leave and the girls, with their long dresses and high heels, cautiously and noisily climbed the stairs to occupy the top deck. The summer sun shone down warmly, providing the party with the perfect evening for the Exmouth Community College Prom. There was one tricky bit to the journey and that was a hairpin bend halfway down Foxholes Hill. I remembered it from my childhood and had checked it out on the map. Yes, it was still as tight as ever! As I suspected, I had to take two bites at it when I arrived, there being insufficient room to swing round in one go. During my safety talk on the top deck before we set off, I warned the girls that, when we got to the bend, they needn’t be alarmed if it looked as if we were heading straight for a tree. Of course we DID head straight for a tree but it was actually planned that way! Inevitably gales of laughter and mock screams of fright filled the air as I brought the bus to a halt a few inches from the tree before reversing.
Further down the road there were some low hanging branches and, although I did my best to weave slowly through them, the screams from above told me that some expensive hairdos were getting an unexpected brushing!
The end-of-year Prom night is obviously a huge event. Never used to be when I attended school in Exmouth. On the way through the town centre we passed an enormous limousine and a tractor pulling a decorated trailer loaded with more party goers carnival-fashion through the streets. I had been instructed to approach the Pavilion, on Exmouth’s 2-mile-long seafront, from the harbour end. As I turned onto the seafront road I discovered why. The Police had closed the road to all but Pavilion-bound traffic, which formed a long queue surrounded by hundreds of cheering onlookers. Ahead of us was a classic Mini, full of tuxedoed young men. Further up the queue was a red Routemaster, several large 4x4s and the limo we’d seen earlier. Security men lined the route, keeping the crowds back. It felt as though I was driving a bus-load of celebrities to the Oscars!
Finally we reached the head of the queue, where there was absolute bedlam. The girls on top were screaming and chanting, the crowd shouted back and the Pavilion joined in with thumping muzak played from huge speakers outside. After clattering downstairs, they posed in front of the bus for a gaggle of official photographers before being ushered through the crowd and inside the Pavilion to party the night away.
After leaving the area I drove past the end of the road where my parents live. Well, I couldn’t visit my home town and not stop by, could I? Sadly my Dad couldn’t be there as his cancer is quite advanced now and he doesn’t have much energy. After a quick photo opportunity with my dear Mum, it was time to head for home. The Gardner 6LXB echoed noisily off the buildings and hedgerows as it powered the VR up the hills between Exmouth and Exeter, where I stopped at the motorway services for a break and some food.
The daylight was fading by the time I left so it was on with the lights for the run back to the garage. Earlier in the day, while waiting for departure time, I had a poke around the garage and checked up on Crosville DFG81 (891VFM) which has had major surgery on its Gardner 6LW engine block.
This isn’t a view you often see but it illustrates how close the engine is to the driver’s left leg. That’s the gearstick in the foreground! You can just see part of the crankshaft, where the front part of the block has yet to be replaced.
The reason for my weekday duty? The company for which I have worked as a graphic designer for 10 years went bust this week so I have time on my hands while I look for new opportunities. Senior Artworker, with copywriting and IT Support skills, seeks full time position…
In the meantime, I’m off out again tomorrow with a bus to a wedding. Not with the Exeter Guy Arab V as expected but with an ex-Crosville Bedford OB.