Several of you went along to the Crosville Bus Rally, also known as the Weston-super-Mare Running Day, last Sunday. I know, because I saw some of you there! I hope you enjoyed yourselves as we basked in the fine, sunny weather.
This was the scene which was created at the far end of the large site on Beach Lawns – a fine quartet of Bristol L single deck buses. The two in the middle are owned by the present-day Crosville Motor Services and are genuine ex-Crosville vehicles. The other two were visiting for the day and are both ex-Bristol Tramways.
An event like this takes months of planning and several days spent feverishly washing, fettling and checking of vehicles. I was unable to be involved in any of the physical preparations this year but did contribute my artworking skills to the creation of the Rally Programme.
On the day itself I turned up at the depot early. It had already been transformed from the usual bustling hub of activity into a well-planned display of service buses, school contract coaches and a few heritage vehicles. Outside, a large number of buses (almost entirely of Bristol manufacture) awaited drivers to ferry them down to the main seafront site. I was nominated to take NHU2, a prototype of the Bristol LS marque, but in the end rode as a passenger on 869NHT, a 1961 Bristol FS6G which actually used to operate along Weston’s seafront years ago.
There followed a frantic period of shuffling and shunting as the various buses were positioned within the main site by the marshals. A growing number of visiting vehicles were arriving at the same time. As 10:00 approached I prepared to ride on the 108 service, a round-the-houses Town Circular which I had helped to devise. However, the bus allocated to this departure had been commandeered to run a shuttle to the depot and back as large numbers of people were arriving there, parking their cars in the depot and were waiting for transport to the main site. Eventually I too was commandeered to run the same service with Bristol FLF DEL893C. Although several other heritage buses from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection were already operating this shuttle they had been overwhelmed by the numbers of people.
I was allocated a fine conductor, namely Richard Kemble who was one of many volunteers who travelled from far and wide to support the event and make it happen. We took the FLF on a couple of trips to the depot to help clear the queue of visitors.
My main responsibility during the day was to run Service 108, the Town Circular tour. Hourly departures were to have been handled by a recent Crosville acquisition, Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) which is an early flat screen Bristol RELL. In the event, this spent most of the day on the depot shuttle service so it fell to me to run the Town Circular service with Richard. We took one of the single deck Bristol L buses shown in the photo at the top of this post and ran the 108 nearly all day, with a few breaks in between.
Crosville KG131 (KFM893) was a very popular bus and loadings were good. It has undergone a very thorough restoration recently and, along with most of the heritage fleet, had been given an extra coat of polish for the rally. Crosville’s MD had suggested a circular route which included a run along the seafront but this section was rather tedious because of the sheer volume of traffic. The rest of the route made its tortuous way through the town before arriving back at the rally site. This was a challenge for my gearchanging skills and of course tested my upper body stamina with so many corners to negotiate! Fortunately, having spent so much time driving half cab buses this year my level of fitness is much higher than in previous years and I managed to survive the day without feeling exhausted.
Another recent addition to the Crosville heritage fleet is a fine example of the RT series. RTW29 (KGK529) is a comparatively rare 8ft-wide version of the Leyland-powered RT variant and this bus was presented in mint condition. It appeared on the Town Circular service a couple of times, giving us a bit of a break.
The rally site was packed with local visitors, holidaymakers and enthusiasts. It was a pleasure to meet some of them and I was especially pleased to invite one man to sit in the cab of the Hants & Dorset FLF. He had recognised the registration (DEL893C) as one of the buses he drove when it was allocated to Poole depot while in H&D service. He was delighted to see it again!
Without doubt the highlight of the day for me was to drive KG131 on the 108 service with KG118 (KFM767) running behind as a duplicate. This was driven by Chris Pratt, who has spent many long hours restoring the bus not once, but twice! Both buses carried virtually full loads and must have made quite a sight as they made their musical progress through the town. Chris and I were both turned out in Tilling summer uniform, complete with white-topped caps. For most other journeys on the 108 I dispensed with the jacket as it was really too warm to wear it all the time. This photo, taken by Ken Jones, shows me watching passengers boarding in the nearside mirror.
I lost count of the number of times I drove the Town Circular as we ran as often as required, rather than strictly to the timetable we’d published in the programme. Needless to say, I was in my element! I feel very fortunate to have been able to drive so many passengers around the town in such an immaculately presented bus.
Finally, as the event drew to a close, another driving opportunity came my way. For ages I have wanted to drive a Bristol K double deck bus but the chance has never arisen. As guest buses drove off and visitors drifted away, all available driver were summoned to take the remaining buses back to the depot. One of those that remained was a Bristol KSW6B, Bristol Omnibus C8320 (UHY360). I leapt at the chance to climb into the cab and so, with my conductor Richard safely aboard, I adjusted the seat (I’ve only got short legs…) and drove off the grass site and onto the seafront road. The throaty roar from the higher-revving Bristol AWV engine sounded quite different from the slower Gardner 5 cylinder engine we had been used to all day. Another box ticked!
I joined a handful of other drivers aboard the Southern National RELL which took us back to the seafront one last time so that we could bring the last few buses back. However, we arrived to find just one solitary bus standing forlornly on the grass – Bedford OB MHU49. This was Bristol Tramways’ first postwar Bedford bus and carries a utility body. It has been faithfully restored, even down to the wooden slatted seats. So we all piled aboard and sampled some OB music on the journey back to the Crosville garage!
Back at the depot, I stayed on for a bit to help shunt all the heritage buses back into the garage and this photo shows some of them awaiting their turn to be parked up.