This post might seem out of place on a blog that’s almost exclusively devoted to buses which are more than 40 years old. It’s here because it is part of my bus driving story.
I’ve been job hunting recently and the good folk at Crosville Motor Services kindly offered me a few extra duties to help me out. One of these was a modern coach duty and I agreed to take it because I knew it would broaden my experience, apart from anything else. As it happens, what I learned on this day would come in very handy just a few days later.
I arrived at the depot to find three coaches, in Crosville’s white coaching livery, lined up in the sunshine. We were to provide these three coaches as part of a 16-coach hire to Millfield School, Street, Somerset. I had been allocated a ‘mentor’ to help me through my first duty with a modern coach and we worked through the walkaround checks together because there are more items to check than on a heritage bus. Seat belts, for instance.
Soon it was time to set off and initially I regretted saying that I knew the route into the school as I had done a ‘dry run’ at home with Google Maps. The other drivers saw this as their chance to get an easy drive and said “OK then, you can lead!” I’d had a guided tour of my new ‘office’, with all its dials and switches so I gingerly led the way out of the depot. The coach allocated to me was a Scania L94IB with 53-seat Van Hool bodywork. It has an automatic gearbox which is controlled by a series of push buttons located in a panel on the driver’s right, along with the air-operated parking brake. The journey out of Weston-super-Mare and along to the motorway junction at Brent Knoll was a bit hairy, as I hadn’t driven a coach of this size since the day I passed my test. In fact this one was larger than the one in which I took my test and I had to work hard to adapt my driving technique to cope with the longer wheelbase. I did nudge one curb on the way out of Weston but I think that, under the circumstances, that’s allowed!
It was quite refreshing to find myself bowling along the M5 at an effortless 62mph. I’ve been used to old plodders with a top speed of 30 or 40mph! We came off at the next junction and headed across country on the A39 towards Glastonbury. Google Maps came up trumps again and I led the way through Street and into the North car park of the prestigious (and very expensive) Millfield School. The only trouble was, the place was deserted. After a quick phone call we discovered that the instructions on our Work Tickets were out of date as the plans had changed the previous evening.
We were instructed to make our way round to another entrance. That too was deserted when we got there (we were very early, it turned out) so we drove further into the campus and lined up in a car park to await instructions. There was time for a long cool drink and a bite of lunch before we got the call to join 12 other coaches at the entrance we’d just left. The coaches were rapidly filling up with language students who were based at the school for the summer holiday. They were being taken on a day trip to 4 different destinations – ours was Wells, about 8 miles away. The organisers had planned the day with military precision and it wasn’t long before the long procession of multi-coloured coaches, from several local operators, left the campus.
I wasn’t leading this time but followed the other 2 Crosville coaches into Wells bus station, where we parked in the coach bays. I had a spot of bother with the door – it wouldn’t lock properly. My mentor, Gary, helped to find the problem. It wasn’t broken at all, it was just ‘operator error’!
We wandered into the small but attractive City of Wells and found a quiet cafe in which to refresh ourselves while our European visitors explored the Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace. It was a time for ‘busmen’s stories’ and tales of ski tours in white-out conditions and errant ex-colleagues were trotted out for my benefit, none of which will be aired here!
We went back to the coaches early so that we could start the engines and get the air-con going. Once fully loaded we set off when ready and returned the students to Millfield School. By now I was really quite used to driving the coach and was able to refine my driving a bit more, working to position myself on the road more accurately and shape up for corners so that I didn’t cross the white centre line or brush the hedges!
I was second one back at the depot and parked up in the same spot in the yard that I’d started from. Looking back, it was an interesting experience but I think I still prefer the older half-cabs. I managed to carry out the duty fairly well but I’m more at home in the cab of a Bristol Lodekka, even if it is more strenuous!
I’m indebted to my driver colleague Gary, who was very helpful during the day. If you’re reading this Gary, your support was much appreciated.
My next post involves Boats, Trains and Buses. Any guesses?