Bristol Poly reunion with added Bristol flavour

I was treated to a rare outing with a Bristol-engined Lodekka recently. The bus had been especially requested for this particular private hire due to its local connections as it had spent most of its service life with Bristol Omnibus Company (BOC) running around the streets of the city.

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The event in question was a gathering of about 20 folks who used to be students at the erstwhile Bristol Polytechnic, now the University of the West of England. So it was with great delight that I prepared ex-BOC LD6B LC8518 (972EHW) at the Crosville depot. Standing nearby ready to go was sister vehicle L8515 (969EHW). This was about to head out to Kilmersdon on a private hire job with Driver Moore. It was a busy day for Lodekkas because Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) was also out and about, with Driver Carpenter in charge.

Checks done and with no issues to resolve except to take on fuel, I headed up the A370 towards Bristol where I would meet up with Conductor Kemble. It took me a little while to adjust my driving technique to suit the Bristol AVW engine. The revs fall away relatively quickly when changing up, compared with a Gardner 6LW. Probably something to do with having a lower rotating mass. Perhaps someone with a Degree in Physics can explain. Anyway, the upshot is that I could make a faster gearchange than I normally would although I still had to factor in rising or falling gradients as per usual.

As I drove along Anchor Road, opposite Brunel’s SS Great Britain, I found my conductor waiting on the pavement near the pickup point as planned. We welcomed the party of ex-students aboard. Their leader explained that they had all attended Bristol Poly (as it was then) about 30 years ago and hadn’t seen each other since graduating.

I had been supplied with a ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ route beforehand, which I had studied thoroughly. My knowledge of Bristol was going to be tested today, mostly because they changed the route as soon as they’d boarded! Fortunately my Conductor lives in Bristol and we agreed that he would use bell codes to remind me of significant junctions. A last resort would be to bang on the glass behind me and gesticulate wildly.

First stop was the Bristol Poly campus in Frenchay, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. The bus drew many admiring glances, especially from a group of Wessex Bristol drivers who were standing beside one of the bus shelters. Our passengers alighted and disappeared inside the UWE buildings for lunch, a presentation by UWE staff and a guided tour of the campus. They were to be collected about 3 hours later so I took the bus (literally) to have lunch with relatives who live nearby.

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Warminster Vintage Bus Running Day 2014

So I finally made it to the Warminster Vintage Bus Running Day! It was a long but satisfying day as I drove a shiny Bristol L bus around the country lanes in the county of my birth and also carried a Very Discerning Passenger.

I’ve known about this high profile event for some time but have not managed to attend until this year. As some of you will know, on most Sundays you will find me in church but I like to make one or two exceptions during the year and this time it was Warminster’s turn to make it onto the calendar! I didn’t manage to take many photographs (too busy driving) but the best of the bunch are here, starting with this peaceful scene outside the Parish Church at Sutton Veny.

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My day started early, arriving at the Crosville depot at 08:15 to prepare Crosville KG131, a 1950 Bristol L5G. The management had very kindly agreed to let me take this fine looking bus to Warminster. They had cleaned and polished it especially – even the tyres were shiny! Paul, a fellow driver with whom I’ve been teamed up before, was already busy preparing Southern National 2700, an early Bristol RELL. He too was going to Warminster but left ahead of me (as did a Bath Services KSW6B in the hands of a former owner) as his first duty on the extensive programme of free services was earlier than mine.

Everything on the bus was ticketty-boo so, after topping up the fuel tank, I set off. My route took me through Cheddar, Wells, Shepton Mallet and Frome, and the long journey provided a useful opportunity to brush up my driving technique. These events are fun but I do find them a bit daunting because of the high percentage of enthusiast and bus-owning fratenity that they attract. These guys flock to the older vehicles to ‘sample the ride’ but really they’re dying to see the driver make a pig’s ear of the constant-mesh gearbox! But having driven this particular gem several times this year on private hire duties for Crosville I was quite confident I could give my passengers a good ride.

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With at least 40 vehicles attending, including this charming 1930 Albion lorry, the small-ish car park which served as the centre of operations was run with military precision. Full marks to the organisers and marshals, who knew just where every bus (each one carried a running number) was supposed to be, just by checking it on a list.

I was directed to a parking space near the exit, which gave me a chance to freshen up and meet up with my conductor. He’d been for a ride on a Silver Star Atlantean and got to our bus in the nick of time! Fortunately I’d sent him all the route and timetable details previously so our briefing was, well… brief! I noticed another Bristol L lurking in the car park with the same destination and route number as ours and discovered that we were to run together. Just as well, because the queue at the departure stand was huge!

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The Railway Connection

Many of you will have followed my driving adventures since I was a lowly conductor and will know that the subject of railways has cropped up more than once. In fact it’s curious how often the buses I’ve conducted on – or have driven – have crossed paths with trains of one sort or another. Naturally, those hauled by steam locomotives grab my attention more than any others!

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This was the scene a couple of weeks ago when the Sightseeing Tours bus was parked at Preston Sands halfway through the afternoon tour. The coastal road passes over the railway line by Hollicombe Beach and I’d spotted a plume of steam rising from the stationary loco as it waited for a path into Paignton station. Fortunately I had plenty of time to position myself for a photo before the train passed by. The loco was GWR 4-6-0 No 5029 ‘Nunney Castle’ which was hauling the Cathedrals Express into Paignton from Westbury.

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Several years ago I was a conductor for Quantock Motor Services (sadly no longer trading) which had its depot right next to Bishop’s Lydeard station on the West Somerset Railway. I was able to see, hear and smell many steam-hauled trains while preparing buses.

Quantock used to provide a fleet of buses for a Christmas Park and Ride service into Taunton town centre and it was while conducting on one of these services that the bus I was on passed over the new Silk Mills bridge just as Gresley Pacific ‘Sir Nigel Gresley‘ passed directly underneath!

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