A Bristol Lodekka is nominally eight feet wide but what really matters is, can you successfully judge whether your bus will fit through a given gap? That was the dilemma I found myself in a couple of days ago in Bristol.
The duty started at the Crosville depot in Weston-super-Mare, where my rostered bus had been parked outside in the sunshine with several others which were also due out on weddings. Since my last heritage duty Crosville has expanded into the entire building they occupy, which was once part of the Westland helicopter building complex. I had wondered, as I drove to Weston, whether I would have to pick my bus out from a long line of about 15 green Bristol buses which are now parked against the side wall!
As I did my walkaround checks, the Hants & Dorset FLF emerged from the dark depths of the garage, followed shortly afterwards by a pall of blue smoke from the cold Gardner engine. It was one of four Lodekkas out on wedding jobs that day. My bus, the Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G, only has a top speed of 30mph so I left the depot with plenty of time in hand in case of delays, especially as I had to cross the centre of the city to reach my first pickup point.
There was plenty of traffic in the city but it was all moving freely and I made good time. I had to smile as I waited at some traffic lights on the approach to St James Barton roundabout. There in front of me was a hoarding which proclaimed “Homage to the Bristol Scroll” and featured a large version of the elegant logo which adorned the front of the bus I was driving. Apparently some local artists have been showcasing their work, based on the logo, in The Bearpit which sits in the centre of the roundabout.
Most regular readers will know that I prefer to drive half cab buses but last week I was offered some duties driving modern coaches. As I am still looking for full time work as a Graphic Designer or a Copywriter, any offer of work will be considered!
Crosville Motor Services, along with many other coach firms, have been providing a rail replacement service to bridge the gap between Taunton and Bristol. This followed the devastating storms in early 2014 which led to extensive flooding of the Somerset Levels. Part of the Great Western trackbed had been washed away or inundated by floodwater so the coaches were required to maintain a connection for the passengers who would otherwise be stranded.
My first day’s duty started at 17:00 so I collected all the info I would need for the evening’s runs and boarded the firm’s van. In case you were wondering how I was going to transport a load of weary rail passengers in an Vauxhall Astra panel van, I’d better explain that I was using this to position myself down to Taunton railway station where I was to relieve another driver.
I had checked out the route in and out of the station the day before but it was useful to do a ‘dry run’ in the van just to be sure. The rail replacement coaches were using the Down (south) side of the station to set down and pick up passengers so I waited in a nearby shelter out of the biting wind. Once the other driver had arrived, I got him to give me a quick guided tour of the coach so that I knew where all the switches and controls were. The only modern coaches I’d previously driven were the ones I’d trained on before taking my PCV test and the one I drove last year to Millfield School.
After the other driver had disappeared in the van back up to Weston I settled myself into the driver’s seat. Soon a First Great Western despatcher called me forward to the platform entrance for the 19:00 departure and I picked up a solitary passenger. This suited me quite well as I knew that the first few miles would be a bit of a learning curve for me. I was driving CRZ9851 (originally P153FUJ), a Dennis Javelin/Plaxton Premiere with a 6-speed manual gearbox. It took me a while to find a gearchange technique that would give the smoothest ride as, even though it obviously has synchromesh, quicker or slower changes made a difference.