A challenge and a chuckle in deepest Dorset

A recent wedding duty with a Bristol Lodekka brought me one of my toughest challenges yet. I’m pretty good at judging the width of any bus I’m driving (well, I haven’t hit anything yet…) but this tested my driving skills to the max.

YDL318-beaminster

Even before I arrived at the pickup point, I thought we were doomed. I had met Simon, my trusty conductor at the Crosville depot and had prepared FS6G YDL318 for its long trip to Beaminster and back. Now armed with my own Crosville fuel card, I topped up the tank with diesel. I had allowed plenty of time to do the 51 mile journey, or so I thought. As we headed down the M5 in our 30mph bus all went well until we met our first traffic jam. Not long after passing Bridgwater, red brake lights lit up ahead. I’m not sure why, but all three lanes slowed to walking pace for a mile or so, very frustrating.

The route I had planned took us off the motorway at Taunton and down to meet the A303 via the A368, which is a single carriageway road. I was glad that it wasn’t too hilly because I was having to endure some very lengthy gearchanges. This particular bus has a Gardner 6LW engine, very common in Lodekkas. But, of all the ones I’ve driven, this one needs the longest pause in neutral in the history of crash gearboxes. Gardners are well known for having a lot of inertia and it takes quite a while for the revs to die away between gears when changing up. But the one in YDL, when the engine and transmission are hot, takes AGES to spin down and, if changing up on an uphill gradient, you can easily run out of road speed while waiting and you have to abandon the change and start again. Either that or force it into gear before it’s ready and suffer the inevitable grinding noise. Embarrassing!

Pretty soon though worries about changing gear were overtaken by worries about arriving late. We met nose to tail traffic on the A368, as far as the eye could see. I nervously glanced at my old wind-up watch from time to time as my generous time allowance was gradually eroded. Eventually we reached the A303, crossed over it and continued south through Ilminster on traffic-free roads. I love the summer but I’m not too keen on the traffic delays it brings!

I don’t know how we managed it but we arrived in the village square in Beaminster (pronounced ‘beh-minster’, apparently) just in time to hear church bells ringing. Phew!wedding-car-beaminster I was annoyed that I couldn’t park straight, though. As you see in the photo at the top of the page, we stuck out at an angle but my excuse is that this was the only place on the square we could use and, hidden behind the bus, there was a pile of Co-op delivery cages standing in the road so I had to do a reverse parking manoever. My arms ached a bit after that!

After the wedding car had left, the guests boarded the bus and we drove out of Beaminster and headed for the village of Waytown. I had checked the route on Google Street View and knew full well that some of it was very narrow. It was very nearly our undoing. We almost got stuck in one particular street in Netherbury, where there were parked cars on one side and a very solid looking stone wall on the other. To make matters worse, there was a telegraph pole planted beside the wall at the narrowest point! I was very glad to have a conductor right then as Simon stepped down from the platform and waved me forward as I inched my way through a gap that was only a few centimeters wider than the bus. Although I was relieved to get through unscathed, I knew we’d have to do it all again coming back!

The passengers left the bus to go into a reception venue which had been set up on the wedding couple’s property while we took the bus a bit further down the lane and reversed it into the car park of the Hare & Hounds pub. YDL318-hare-&-hounds The landlord and his wife were very kind to us, offering food and drink, as well as their ‘facilities’ while we waited for about an hour and a half to pick up the guests again. As they boarded the bus we could tell that they had been well ‘wined and dined’ as some of the erm, ‘young ladies’ were decidedly unsteady on their high heels. One be-suited young chap had just finished off a can of beer as he stepped onto the bus and was at the ‘loud’ stage of inebriation.

After navigating ‘the narrows’ again, HMS Southern Vectis set sail for The Acorn Inn at Evershot, another village about 8 miles away in the Yeovil direction. Again, I had memorised the route beforehand but many of the other guests (who were travelling by car) obviously had not. They all waited for us to depart so that they could follow the big green bus!

As we descended the hill into Evershot, the bell rang in the cab. I stopped the bus beside the verge. Looking at my nearside mirror, I could see my conductor standing on the platform, having already opened the platform doors. Standing beside him, looking very agitated, was Mr Loud. He leapt off the bus and darted behind some bushes. Simon came up to the front of the bus, laughing. A round of applause could be heard from inside the bus. Apparently Mr Loud had been asking “are we there yet?” and “how much further is it?” while at the same time doing a little pee-dance on the platform. In the end it got too much for him, the beer won the battle and he demanded that we stop the bus for relief! The convoy of cars streamed past, their occupants grinning at the escapade they’d all just witnessed. Included in the convoy was the white wedding car containing the bride and groom. I suspect that Mr Loud was teased merciliessly once everyone had disappeared into the pub!

The journey back was uneventful in comparison. We joined the A37 just before Yeovil and stuck to ‘proper’ roads – now mostly free of holiday traffic – all the way back.

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The delights of working for a steam railway

My new driving job with the Dartmouth Steam Railway & River Boat Company has brought me into closer contact with steam locomotion, another one of my heritage interests.

5239-at-churston

I have always followed the progress of this, my local steam railway, with interest but now that I am employed by the same company I am enjoying a closer look. A few weeks before I joined, the bus operation had to move its base from Totnes to Churston as the lease on the rented land it used previously was not renewed. Now it has a (rather basic) yard right next to Churston Station at the halfway point along the scenic railway line from Paignton to Kingswear.

I will go into more detail another time but one of my rostered duties involves a morning run from Torquay to Totnes via Paignton and then back to base at lunchtime to dispose of the bus. While I am re-fuelling the bus and cleaning it, I quite often enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of two trains passing in the station, as seen in the photo above.

I have been quite surprised by the youthfulness of the steam loco crews. A few days ago, one of the two locos in use was ex-BR(W) 2-6-0 7827 ‘Lydham Manor’, currently wearing BR black livery. I walked towards the platform past the Paint Shop, where some of my colleagues were outside painting a repaired panel from one of the buses. I watched the Manor stop in the station to await the arrival of the train from Paignton. The crew, two young chaps in their twenties, sat chatting on one of the station benches while their loco sat simmering quietly nearby. Not long after, the sound of another loco was heard, plodding up the bank from Broadsands Viaduct. The train drew to a halt with the ‘Devon Belle’, an ex-LSWR observation saloon, at the rear.  7827-at-ChurstonThe crew of the Manor climbed back onto the footplate and the driver put on the ejector to begin blowing off the brakes in readiness for the green light. After sounding the whistle, the loco eased the train forward, tender leading. As it crossed the pointwork beside the Paint Shop the Driver and Fireman leaned out of the cab on the Fireman’s side and waved to their colleagues working there. Suddenly the Driver darted back to his side of the footplate and, as the front of the loco drew level with the Paint Shop the Driver opened the cylinder drain cocks briefly, knowing full well that this would cover his colleagues in a cloud of wet steam. I can just imagine the curses of the painter who had just put a fresh coat of undercoat on the repaired panel!

The next day I had the same duty and, with a feeling of déjà vu, saw the same loco and crew in the station. This time the Paint Shop was not being used but the loco crew wouldn’t discover this until the loco was leaving the station. However, in a bit of obvious showboating, the driver this time left the station with the train brakes partly on and the regulator wide. In contrast with the usual soft exhaust beat as the train headed for the downgrade section to Goodrington, this time the loco barked loudly as if to say “Okay chaps, I’m leaving the station and I’m going to make sure you notice me!” Sadly, I was the only spectator but, as I stood in the bus yard, I smiled widely as the Manor passed by noisily.

Crosville Bus Rally 2013 cancelled

If you haven’t already heard, the proposed Crosville Bus Rally will NOT now take place as planned on Sunday September 1st 2013.

CMS-cavalcade-2

Sadly, a number of factors have contributed to this decision, the most important of which is that the business activities of Crosville Motor Services have increased enormously since this time last year. New local bus service routes have been added, new contracts have been won for the coach fleet and private hire work for the heritage buses is booming. With a much larger fleet to service and maintain, demands on the depot and staff are very high and the work involved in preparing the premises for a public event would be detrimental to the safe and timely operation of the business.

Every rally needs an army of volunteers to make it happen, not just on the day itself but also in the planning and preparation stages. Despite the efforts of several recruiting officers, foot soldiers for the Green Army (with apologies to Plymouth Argyle supporters) have been notable by their absence. The paid staff at Crosville just don’t have the time to pick up the slack.

I’m disappointed, of course. Last year’s rally was an extremely successful one, especially as it was the company’s first attempt. I thoroughly enjoyed helping with the preparations and with driving on the day, as you may remember when I wrote about it last year.

All is not lost, though. Crosville intend to put out ex-Bristol Omnibus VRT LEU263P and ex-Crosville FSF6G 891VFM as duplicates on the popular 100 service to Sand Bay on September 1st. These are both open top buses and will appear if mechanically fit and weather permitting.

Bristol Lodekka gets stuck in narrow lane – almost

OB-&-Lodekka-Cheddar-2

I often say that every private hire job I do with a heritage bus is an adventure and a wedding duty I did recently was another chapter in my story. The tale began innocently enough when I met up with my friend Paul at Crosville’s depot in Weston-super-Mare. He was rostered with ‘Bosworth’, the ex-Crosville Bedford OB coach that I took to the Trowbridge area a few weeks ago. We were to travel together to collect a wedding party from the Bristol Airport Holiday Inn, not far from the village of Churchill. Lodekka-&-OB-at-BWOCOne of our first tasks was to top up the Bedford’s tank with fuel (petrol) so we called at BWOC on the way to the pickup point. I was driving ex-Bath Services LD6G L8515 (969EHW), which already had plenty of diesel on board.

Travelling via Congresbury, we soon arrived at the Holiday Inn. As the guests assembled, we had several conversations with folk who were very impressed with the buses. It’s amazing how people are transported back to their chidhood when they see buses from another era. “I went to school on one of these…” is one of the most frequent comments!

OB-&-Lodekka-Holiday-Inn

We set off southwards for Cheddar and, although the Lodekka has an overdrive gearbox, it still couldn’t match the Bedford’s speed! I think Paul was aware of this and held back so that we arrived at the Roman Catholic Church in Cheddar together (see photo at the top of this page). After the guests had filed into the church, Paul and I moved our buses, with assistance from my conductor Simon, into the church car park. This had been kept empty for us but the entrance is narrow and we didn’t want to risk getting stuck with passengers on board! As it happened, we managed without any fuss and settled down for a break and some lunch.

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Driving for Rail-River Link in South Devon

OK, so now I can spill the beans. I am now a local bus driver for Rail-River Link, the bus service arm of the Dartmouth Steam Railway & River Boat Company (formerly the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway).

UWV614S-at-Steamer-Quay

While still looking for a permanent Graphic Design position, I’ve taken a seasonal job at the aforementioned company. I suppose it’s one of the unplanned benefits of having taken my PCV test – it qualifies me for a secondary profession! I was invited to an interview and assessment session on the strength of my bus driver CV, which I had sent to the bus operations manager. When I arrived it appeared that he had already appointed me and rostered me for service the following day!

After that first day my head was spinning and I asked for a few more days’ training so the roster was altered to allow me some proper preparation. I know the area very well so learning the routes was not a problem but getting to know all the ticket types, learning the timetable and using the ticket machine would take longer.

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