I took a wedding party to one of my most unusual destinations recently – the SS Great Britain! It was also a great pleasure to be in the driver’s seat of ex-Crosville Bristol L5G KG131 (KFM893) again, which still looks stunning after its recent re-restoration last year.
I enjoy driving this 1950 Bristol L because, not only is it immaculate to look at, it is mechanically very sound and predictable. Compared with the 1947 Leyland PS1 I’ve been driving in Torbay recently the steering is amazingly light, despite both buses being of similar design and from the same era. If there is any trouble, it’s usually down to me. Ever since I first drove this bus a couple of years ago I’ve often come to grief changing down from 3rd to 2nd gear. The ‘box is very different to that on a Lodekka and, if you don’t get the revs just right or lift the clutch fully, it lets you know in no uncertain terms. Usually audible ones. True to form, I had one or two ‘moments’ during this trip.
I had a rather delayed start as once again I had trouble with lights. This time the brake lights wouldn’t come on but I had a pair of expert mechanics on hand to suss out the trouble which turned out to be a poorly adjusted switch beneath the brake pedal. They soon had it fixed and I reached my destination only a little later than I’d planned. The pickup point was at the luxurious Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel on College Green. I reversed into a space near the main entrance but, in view of the cobbled street and profusion of high heels, was asked to pull up to the pavement right outside.
It was a relatively short drive from the hotel to the SS Great Britain but even so, I took great pleasure in driving through the busy city centre. Many heads turned our way as the 64 year old veteran made stately progress among the 21st century traffic. I did my best not to crunch any gears and delivered the guests as close as I could to the entrance to the ship. Quite by chance a big red Bristol Sightseeing Bus pulled in behind me, driven by none other than Terry Jones, a previous owner of the Bedford OB I mentioned in my last post.
One of the lady passengers on my bus had a very expensive-looking leather bag with her but didn’t want to take it with her onto the ship so my ancient brass T-key had to make a rare appearance to unlock the boot, where we hid the aforementioned bag.
The reception took place in the restored dining room on board Brunel’s historic ship and the guests weren’t due to re-appear for another hour and a half so I reversed the bus into a space in the adjoining coach park and went for a wander along the quayside.
A frequent ‘toot’ on a steam whistle revealed that one of the 2 Peckett steam engines on the Bristol Harbour Railway was in steam and sure enough, as I walked towards the M-Shed Museum, the 0-6-0 saddle tank ‘Henbury’ clanked past, hauling 2 wagonloads of passengers along the short piece of demonstration track.
Back at the SS Great Britain, I grabbed a quick shot of the stern of the vessel through a gap in the fence before bringing the Crosville ‘L’ around the block to await the return of the wedding guests.
Once they were all aboard we set off, via a circuitous route, back to the hotel. I had been requested to take a scenic route up onto the Clifton Downs. I was reminded, as we forged up the long, steep climb up Bridge Valley Road, that most ‘Downs’ are usually ‘up’. Funny, isn’t it?
The climb eased but, a little further on, the old Bristol bus bit back. I think it knows that I have sometimes screwed up a downchange and it chose that moment, with a full load, to remind me. I missed a change into 2nd completely and had to bring the bus to a stand before I could get it into gear. Grrrr. (That’s the noise the gearbox made, closely followed by me in the cab).
Once we were back at the hotel one guest, an elderly gentleman who many years ago had driven all sorts of military vehicles with crash gearboxes, helpfully shared some advice with me. “Foot off the gas, clutch in, neutral, revs up, clutch again and slip it in. That should do it!” Thanks mate. Actually, it was all done with tongue firmly in cheek and no offence was meant or taken!
The wedding photographer wanted a few more shots in the low evening light so I stood aside until he was finished. After packing away the step stool I took the bus out into the city again and headed for the Cumberland Basin and the road back to Weston.
Although I’ve had quite a few eventful duties with the Greenway House Leyland PS1 and a surprise birthday bus event with Crosville, my next post will probably feature a new adventure with yet another 1947 Leyland on my doorstep.