On duty in Bristol with a Bristol Omnibus Lodekka

A particularly satisfying wedding duty came my way the other week when I was rostered to transport a wedding party to a reception venue in Bristol. Satisfying, because I was allocated a bus which ran in the city throughout most of its service life.

972EHW-Clifton-Down-2

I had driven this bus only once before, on my assessment session back in 2011. It was unavailable for service for most of this season due to fuel system repairs and has only recently been declared fit again. I was looking forward to experiencing this bus on a ‘live’ duty and especially as I would be able to drive through the city streets where it was once a familiar sight.

LC8518 was built in 1959 for the Bristol Omnibus city services and has a Bristol AVW 6-cylinder engine driving through a 4-speed gearbox. Top speed is about 33mph so the empty journey from Weston to Bristol gave me plenty of time to become accustomed to the bus. In most respects it was similar to drive to the other Lodekkas I have driven, the most significant difference lay in the AVW engine. This sounds quite different to a Gardner 6LW, more throaty I suppose. It delivers its power differently, too. When I press the loud pedal to accelerate there is a noticeable delay while the engine develops more power. It’s as if it’s girding up its loins for the task ahead! With a 6LW you get what you ask for almost instantly. Once I had allowed for this, driving LC8518 was a real pleasure.

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Round Robins on the Dartmouth Steam Railway

Now that I’ve had several weeks’ experience as a local bus driver for the Dartmouth Steam Railway & River Boat Company, a blog post is well overdue.

Open-top-No3-Steamer-Quay

Briefly, the company runs steam trains from Paignton to Kingswear, ferries and river boats on the River Dart and a fleet of buses to connect them all together. The most popular outing is the ‘Round Robin‘ which gives travellers a train journey, a boat trip and a bus journey to take them back to where they started from. Visitors can choose which way round they go but this decision is usually dictated by the tides because Steamer Quay at Totnes (which is tidal) cannot be reached at low tide.

In addition to linking in with the trains and boats, the buses also run as a timetabled service for locals – effectively a regular local bus service similar to (and sometimes competing with) Stagecoach and First. Some buses also serve Torquay but most ply between Paignton and Totnes.

The buses in use are two open top Bristol VRTs (one ex-Crosville and one ex-Southdown), three ex-East Yorkshire Olympians and an ex-Plymouth Citybus Dennis Dart. The depot is on land next to the railway’s Churston Station, due to be developed with proper handstandings and buildings over the coming winter. Churston-depot

So, what is a typical day like? At the moment I’m working a duty which just runs between Paignton and Totnes. The duty starts at 13:15 so I leave my car at the Churston depot and take a Stagecoach bus from there to Paignton Bus Station (I’ve been issued with a Staff Bus Pass). When the Service 100 bus arrives at Stand 4 from Totnes I relieve the driver, who has been on duty since about 08:00, and operate the service for the rest of the day.

The changeover is quite quick. The other driver will have already changed the destination blind for Totnes at the previous stop so all that remains for me to do is set up my cash tray and log in to the ‘Ticketer’ system. I’m ready for business so will deal with any passengers waiting at the stand. Some will already have ‘Round Robin’ tickets so they just need to be clipped. Some will have Concessionary Passes so they are counted by the electronic reader pad which is part of the ticketing system. Others will buy single or return tickets either to Totnes or one of many other stops on the way.

After signing my name as Driver 2 on the Running Sheet and noting down the actual departure time, I’m ready to go. Headlights on, hazards on, check mirrors, select reverse, sound the horn and reverse carefully back from the stand. If I’m in one of the Volvo-powered Olympians, progress is quite quick but the VRs, being 20 years older and less powerful, are slower. Summertime traffic will hinder progress of course, no matter which bus I’m driving!

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Farewell, Dad.

You may have noticed a lack of blog posts lately. Life has been rather hectic and not just because of my bus driving job with my local steam railway. My Dad has been poorly with cancer for many months and last week he finally passed away.

4-generations-seaton

This photo was taken earlier this year when we had a ‘boys’ day out’. Four generations of transport lovers! Our final trip of the day was on the Seaton Tramway which is a wonderful journey down memory lane, although Dad was the only one who would have remembered trams in everyday service!

He was the one who hoisted me into the driver’s seat of a Wilts & Dorset Bristol Lodekka when I was only 3 or 4 years old. That’s when my interest in buses began. Sadly I was not able to take him for a ride I’d planned for him in a Bath Services Bristol KSW, a bus he would have seen passing his front door in Salisbury. However, I am glad that I was able to take him (and all my family) out for a day on a Hants & Dorset FLF last year.

I have several new posts lined up for your delight. The trouble is, they’re all in my head at the moment – I just haven’t had time to put finger to keyboard. I hope you can wait a little longer…