A few days ago I was able to add 2 more buses to my list of those driven. City of Exeter Guy Arab IV TFJ808 and Bournemouth Corporation Leyland PS2/3 JLJ403 had been on loan to Crosville Motor Services from a private collection and I was given the chance to help drive them back to their home depot.
My driving partner for the day was a chap called Paul, a regular visitor to this blog and at one time a driver for Hants & Dorset. We decided that, as we wanted to experience driving both vehicles, we would swap over part way to Devon. These 2 buses come from the West of England Transport Collection at Winkleigh, so we had quite a long drive ahead of us. This shot of the Guy at the depot might appear to show repairs in progress but actually shows the ever resourceful workshop manager estimating how full the cylindrical fuel tank was before we set out!
I elected to drive the Leyland single decker first so, after all checks had been done, we set off for the filling station. The PS2 is a relatively easy bus to drive, having a gearbox with synchromesh on all but first gear. While at Crosville it had never been used in service as quite a number of restoration and repair jobs needed to be done to bring it up to service standards so it appeared to be rather ‘tired’ in places. On this very hot day, I might have benefitted from more ventilation in the cab but the front window hinges were seized solid! The full-front body not only seals the driver into the same confined space as the engine, it also gives him the full aural benefit of it too! I would not have liked to have been cooped up in that cab all day when the coach (as it was configured then) was operating the Town Circular Tour for Bournemouth Corporation.
We had decided that, as neither bus was suited to motorway driving, we would stick to A-roads as much as we could. So, having topped up the fuel tanks, we set off southwards in stately convoy. We paused on the outskirts of Highbridge to check that we hadn’t sprung any leaks or lost any wheels. Despite its rather run-down appearance, the PS2 drove beautifully. The steering is light (for a bus of this era), with no wobble or play. The synchromesh works as advertised, meaning that I didn’t need to double-declutch as I would do in a Bristol Lodekka. In fact the experience was very similar to driving the Southport PD2 in Torquay recently (see previous post). And so it should, they were built within 2 years of each other and feature the same engine/gearbox combination.
Of course the two classic buses turned a lot of heads as they passed through the towns and villages on the A38. The elegant style of the PS2’s Burlingham bodywork is particularly reminiscent of the pre-war coaching period, despite being built in 1949.
Just after Wellington we stopped for lunch and a driver swap. I had been looking forward to driving the 1956-built Guy for a long time. It had been used a few times for weddings while at Crosville but, although it had been allocated to me a number of times, I never got to use it for a number of reasons. I was particularly drawn to this bus because I had seen it, along with others in the same batch, while I was a lad growing up in Exmouth. It used to visit my home town while on the Exmouth – Exeter (via Clyst St Mary) service so, just for old times’ sake, I changed the blinds to show Exmouth on the back and Exeter on the front!
Getting into the Guy’s cab was a bit of an effort – the cab floor is noticeably higher off the ground than that of a Lodekka which required a 3-step climb. The next thing I noticed was that the Gardner 6LW engine idles much more slowly than that of the Leyland. It was quite a relaxed, refined tickover in comparison! The bus is fitted with Guy Motors’ own design of gearbox and it makes a distinctive sound in 2nd and 3rd gears. It’s slightly less melodious than that of a Bristol and that, for those of a musical mind, is due to the gearbox producing 2 tones that are discordant! I remember being fascinated by this sound when I heard the Guys pulling away from the bus depot in Imperial Road, Exmouth.
The crash gearbox demands the same technique as a Lodekka, complete with the interminable pause while the Gardner engine revs fall between gears. I imagined myself being in the cab of this very bus on its journey up to Exeter all those years ago and, very soon, we were driving through the city where the Guy was based. I led the way as I know the city very well and we stopped for a photo in Heavitree Road.
Sadly, we lost each other soon after this and Paul had to make his own way to Winkleigh, despite the fact that I stopped to wait. It turned out that he’d taken a different route through the city than I had! Leaving Exeter behind I drove on alone, taking the A377 at Cowley Bridge. The country road leading to Winkleigh is hilly and twisty, making driving quite hard work in the Guy, especially on such a hot and sticky day. We arrived at the yard within minutes of each other and parked outside a large garage in which most of the servicable buses in the collection are kept. The site occupies part of a disused WWII airfield and there are nooks and crannies, Nissen Huts and the odd lean-to where dozens of old buses and coaches are parked. Some of them have been there for decades and are gradually returning to nature, sadly.
I couldn’t resist moving the Guy next to a Leyland Titan PD2, also City of Exeter, which had recently been outshopped with a fresh coat of Exeter livery. The pair made a fine sight in the summer sun!
So ended a long, hot and tiring day. But it was satisfying, nonetheless. Paul and I spent a bit of time photographing various hidden treasures lying almost forgotten in the bushes. Saved from extinction perhaps, but yet to find a secure future in meaningful preservation. You can see more of my photos on my Flickr Photostream.
My next outing as a driver didn’t involve any vintage buses but took me on a trip to Wells in a modern coach. Read more in the next post!