“Did you go to Winkleigh this year?” The words were uttered in hushed, almost reverent tones. Actually, I hadn’t been to Winkleigh recently.
Why would I? It’s a small mid-Devon village with a charming 14th century church, 2 pubs, a Post Office, a butcher’s shop, a wet fish shop, a general stores, a vets and a doctors’ surgery. None of these, although vital to the life of the village, would draw me to Winkleigh. Then there’s the old WWII airfield, once the home of RAF Winkleigh, which used to host Beaufighter and Mosquito night fighters. Now we’re getting warmer.
In a corner of the airfield – quite a large corner actually – is a hangar, sundry outbuildings and hardstandings. Since the early 1960s this has been the home of Colin Shears’ vehicle collection, a safe haven for countless classic cars, commercial vehicles, buses and coaches. The location soon became famous as the West of England Transport Collection (WETC) and over the years ever since, hundreds of enthusiasts have made the trek to Winkleigh for the annual Open Day. Many of the vehicles on display would have ended up as baked bean tins, were it not for Colin’s determination to save them and many historically important vehicles still with us in 2015 owe their survival to Colin Shears.
Sadly, Colin passed away about a week ago after a spell in hospital. He died at the grand old age of 81 and will be sorely missed in the classic vehicle world. Fortunately for us, Colin’s son Daniel has inherited the collection and is continuing in the tradition his father started. In his hands, the collection is safe and indeed continues to grow. Recently the collection at Winkleigh, under Dan’s direction, has developed a military flavour!
A visit to Winkleigh is a unique experience. Not only will you see sparkling examples of buses, coaches and commercial vehicles with important westcountry connections, you will also see some in a desperate state. Some will have languished at the end of the restoration queue for many years, some will have been acquired as a source of spares and have been heavily cannibalised. Despite this, Colin’s legacy is a lifetime of activity with road transport which has bequeathed the preservation world with some priceless examples of our transport heritage. It comes as no surprise that the Greenway House Leyland PS1 that I drove last year and the Sightseeing Tours Leyland PD2 that I currently drive have both spent time at Winkleigh!
The boss of the Dartmouth Steam Railway’s bus division (Rail River Link) looked most bemused as we drove past each other in Paignton town centre the other day. Even so, he waved enthusiastically at me from behind the wheel of his Volvo Olympian on service 100 to Totnes. I don’t think he expected to see open top Leyland PD2/3 FFY403 out and about so early in the season!
This was on Thursday last week when, together with the proprietor of English Riviera Sightseeing Tours, the 1947 ex-Southport Corporation Titan was awakened from its winter slumbers for pre-season servicing. The process of extracting the bus from storage was rather time consuming, due to battery issues. Not on the PD2, I hasten to add, but on the MCW Metrobus parked in front of it. The old PD2, bless her, started on the button. Mostly because I had disconnected her batteries after some work was done back in January.
Eventually, after much swapping of batteries, we managed to start the ex-London Transport Metrobus – filling the storage shed with trademark Gardner smoke in the process. Then it was the Titan’s turn and soon she also was standing outside in the sunshine, looking very dusty.
With the Metrobus returned to the shed, I drove the PD2 back along the Totnes road and through Paignton which is where my aforementioned ex-employer and I exchanged busman’s waves. It was good to be sitting behind the wheel of the PD2 again, such a familiar place! She trundled along without any complaint, except for a bout of ‘tyre-bump’. That’s my term for the rhythmic bump-bump-bump produced by tyres that have stood in the same position for several months. Apparently the rubber deforms in that time and retains the shape until a few miles have been covered.
I know some of you are still waiting for news of the long-awaited replica Tilling dust jackets. Thanks for being patient – it will be worth the wait. But for those who are keen to have a look-alike jacket ready for the 2015 season, there is an alternative.
This is a bus-style jacket produced by Yarmouth Stores, a workwear manufacturer on the east coast of England. They’ve been making these for several years now and they look quite convincing if you regularly play the part of a traditional bus driver or bus conductor. In fact I used to wear one of these before I found an original one online. I’m wearing a Yarmo jacket in the photo below, which was taken by Cherry Selby, a lovely lady conductor who took me under her wing when I first started conducting.
Sold under the ‘Yarmo‘ brand, the Summer Bus Jackets (ref JK37) are available in most sizes with a choice of green or maroon trim. When their new website goes live you will be able to purchase these online but, until then, call Yarmouth Stores on 0800 1300521 and ask for Sharon, the Sales Manager. The price is a very reasonable £31.95 plus £3.50 for delivery. If you ask nicely and mention ‘Busman’s Holiday’ you might even get a small discount!
If you have your own collection of bus uniform buttons you can use them with these jackets because the black plastic buttons provided are removable and have a split-ring fastening just like the originals.
I ought to point out that these jackets are made to a freelance pattern and the fabric is polyester, rather than the cotton twill that the originals were made from.
If you are interested in uniform trousers as well – complete with coloured piping down the legs, these are available from Yarmo as well. Like the jackets, these are made from polyester fabric and come in most sizes. You can choose from yellow, red or green piping. I wear a pair of these in the summer as they are much lighter and more comfortable than the original woollen serge trousers.
In other news, it’s nearly time to blow the cobwebs off the 1947 PD2 bus in readiness for the 2015 sightseeing season and I have my first Crosville private hire duty of the year in about 10 days’ time.
One of my blog readers sent me a couple of photos of a mystery bus, now operating in New Zealand.
Ray Bounsall emigrated to Australia many years ago but originally hailed from Somerset. He and his wife were on holiday in New Zealand recently and were amazed to see this RML in Christchurch. Ray managed to fire off a couple of photos as the bus passed by and has given me permission to post them here. The bus retains its London blinds but has lost its UK registration number. Any fleet number it may have carried is also missing so, which bus is it?
Some quick net research reveals that the mystery bus is in fact 1967-built RML2724 (originally registered SMK724F) and was exported to New Zealand in 2005. It is now operated by Hassle-Free Tours in Christchurch and is one of three ex-London Transport Routemasters in their fleet.
During their visit to Christchurch, Mr & Mrs Bounsall saw much evidence of the terrible earthquake that rocked the city a few years ago. “By the way, whatever you may have seen on the telly when Christchurch was hit by the massive earthquake in 2011 is only a shadow of the real damage done. The centre of this beautiful city has had its heart ripped out and 4 years on, there is still a lot of rebuilding to be undertaken. If the LT AEC had been driving around 4 years earlier it could have been mistaken for a post WW2 war era. It was like it had been blitzed.”
Ray also says that he thought he recognised the driver of the Routemaster. “Looks like you driving, were you having a busman’s holiday?”