You’ve no doubt heard the old phrase “You wait ages for a bus and then two come along together” (or similar). Well, in an odd way, the same has happened with my most recent Crosville duties. I’ve now had two consecutive wedding jobs when I’ve been allocated a bus fresh from restoration/refurbishment.
After nearly a year off the road, Hants & Dorset 1220 has made a very welcome return to service. I almost regarded this 1965-built Bristol FLF6G as my regular bus in 2012, my first season with Crosville. There were times when I was rostered with it so often that I used to envy some of the other drivers when they were allocated different buses. Just a minute, how blasé can you get? We’re talking about 50-year-old buses here – I’m lucky to be driving one at all!
While filling in the vehicle’s running sheet on Saturday morning, I discovered that I was the last driver to use this FLF on a job before it was taken out of service. Since then it has had all its seats re-trimmed, ceiling painted and the interior generally tidied up. You may have read in some of my posts last year that the interior of this bus was looking very tired, with many of its leather seats showing plenty of wear and tear, so this refurbishment makes the FLF very presentable again.
But, appearance aside, the biggest benefit for me is the FLF’s top speed. I had a reasonably long empty journey to make so it was very pleasing to be bowling along the motorway at 50mph!
My destination, for an 11:15 pickup, was the Guyers House Hotel in Corsham, Wiltshire. This was my third visit to this venue so the only route research I needed to do was the bit from the hotel to the church in Atworth.
It didn’t take me long to become re-acquainted with driving the FLF, it really is easy compared to the Bristol L I had last time. However, the 30ft length caught me out as a turned into Guyer’s Lane on the approach to the hotel. I didn’t make a wide enough sweep and couldn’t quite make the turn. Fortunately the following traffic had seen me shaping up for the turn and had slowed to a virtual halt so there was room behind me for a quick shunt to get me round. How embarrassing!
In what seems to be like a dream come true, I’ve been invited to drive a Wilts & Dorset Bristol Lodekka in Salisbury in a few weeks’ time.
Those who follow this blog regularly will know that my interest in old buses stems from many happy childhood holidays spent with my Grandparents in Salisbury. Back then (in the 1960s and 70s) the Wilts & Dorset fleet was mostly Bristol vehicles – of LD, FS, FLF, MW, LS and RE varieties. My favourites were the LDs. To me, the perfect British bus. My passion for driving began when, as a small boy, I used to kneel on the bench seat behind the cab and watch the driver at work. Here is a photo I took of an FS6B in Salisbury Bus Station in the summer of 1973:
I have been invited to drive Wilts & Dorset LD6G 628 (OHR919) on Sunday January 5th 2014 as part of an event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station. My Ian Allan bus spotter’s book confirms that I saw it in Salisbury at least once and probably rode on it too. So you can imagine how privileged I feel to be asked to drive it during such an historic occasion.
Salisbury Reds, the current operator of most of Salisbury’s bus routes, have arranged for up to 15 heritage buses to run free trips on four routes. The duty sheet that I’ve seen shows that I’m due to drive two of them during the course of the day, including the very last passenger carrying service from Salisbury Bus Station at 15.45. Several duplicates have also been lined up to satisfy demand for this departure!
The photo below (from Flickr) shows the bus I’m due to drive a few years ago. By coincidence, one of the journeys I’m driving is the 37 from Alderbury & Whaddon to Salisbury!
In my continuing search for employment I sent an on-spec enquiry to Local Link, (also known as Dial-a-Bus) one of my local bus service operators.
The photo above shows one of their buses in Paignton Bus Station today. It so happened that they were planning to recruit some more drivers so I was asked to come in for an interview. Of interest to the manager who interviewed me was the fact that I’d already been working for Rail River Link and it seems their Transport Manager had given me a good reference.
The interview went well but I had a few misgivings about the hours I would be required to work. They had no part time work available, only full time, which meant using up nearly all the driving hours that the VOSA rules allow. Putting that aside, all other aspects of the job seemed to be favourable. The Local Link depot is quite close to where I live and they use the same ticketing system as Rail River Link so I wouldn’t have had to learn a whole new system. A bonus: they employ a cleaner so drivers don’t have to wash their own buses before clocking off!
I went for an assessment drive in one of their Optare Solos. It’s a simple machine – you just point and shoot. In other words, it had automatic transmission in common with most modern buses designed for local service work. I found it a lot narrower than the Volvo Olympians I had driven in the summer and the interviewer commented that I’d probably get around much more quickly when I’d got used to the smaller size of the vehicle! I think he was trying to say that I was being more cautious than necessary.
Back at the depot, we talked about routes, hours and duties. The Transport Manager told me he wanted to start me the following Monday with a week of route training. I thanked him before I left to think it over.
Checking back over the duration of my recent Crosville duties, it turned out that there wouldn’t be enough driving hours available to drive for both Local Link and Crosville with a sufficiently comfortable margin. I didn’t want to curtail my heritage driving nor inconvenience either company if I was liable to run out of driving hours. I called the next day to decline the job offer.
I learned later that the Rail River Link manager (the one who had given me a glowing reference) had punched the air when he was told that I hadn’t accepted the job. We spoke recently and he wants me to drive for them next season. He also dangled a particularly juicy carrot before me, in the form of an ex-Devon General Bristol VRT which has been ‘repatriated’ from Yorkshire!
After about 14 months of restoration work on Crosville KG131, it fell to me to have the honour of taking it out on its first revenue-earning job. The 1950-built bus was waiting for me in the sunshine when I arrived and looked as if it had just emerged from the Finishing Shop at Eastern Coach Works. A five-figure sum has been apparently spent on the very thorough restoration, with lots of wooden framing and most of the aluminium panels being replaced.
In some ways it was a shame that more than half of the wedding duty would take place in darkness but, as it turned out, that gave me the chance to indulge in some night-time photography.
I had arrived with plenty of time in hand, just in case of unforseen delays due to the vehicle being fresh from the restoration workshop but the only thing missing was the little key to open up the tachometer head. The Workshop Manager soon found one for me and I was able to complete my walkaround checks. On starting the 5-cylinder Gardner 5LW diesel engine, there were clouds of blue smoke – typical behaviour while these engines are cold – but this soon cleared by the time I had left Weston.
KFM893 was numbered KG131 in the original Crosville fleet, but was later changed to SLG131 which is borne out by a small metal plaque which is still carried above the rear entrance door. It is fitted with slightly more plush seating than a standard bus and carries a Tilling dual-purpose livery. This being KG131’s first duty since restoration, I was feeling quite apprehensive as I drove out of the depot. It would be terrible if I dented or scratched it on its first trip!