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.
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.
Returning later, I checked the mystery tour route once more and set off once the passengers were all accounted for. I was in my element. Ahead of me was a nostalgic plod around Bristol with an ex-Bristol bus, with musical accompaniment from the Bristol-built AVW engine. Most Lodekkas supplied with Bristol engines were fitted with the more powerful BVW engine but those built in 1959, as this one was, were fitted with the final examples of the AVW. It sounds quite different from the Gardner equivalent, with a pleasingly throaty roar.
We headed for our first stop, a pub in The Arches area, via Filton and Ashley Down. Our bus looked quite at home in the city streets, if a little out of place among the modern traffic. A bit later our group trooped merrily back on board and my conductor gave me two bells. Actually, on this bus, it’s a buzzer but that’s just me being pedantic. By now it was getting very warm in the cab. Not only was the AVW pumping out heat next to me, the pipes associated with the CBC cooling system were adding their bit too. The weather was unseasonably warm and I was definitely regretting my decision to wear my Tilling winter uniform!
A short while later we’d passed through Redland and arrived at another pub next to Cotham Parish Church. This time our passengers disappeared for nearly an hour! Fortunately they were moderate drinkers and none appeared to be the worse for wear when they boarded for the last segment of the tour.
We descended carefully down Park Street and wound our way through the rush hour traffic in The Centre to pause at Temple Meads station for a final photostop before returning the passengers to their hotel. All were very appreciative, having enjoyed their trip down memory lane.