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.
The next day, in company with the owner of the bus, I drove the PD2 over to a yard near Ipplepen to be given a service by commercial engineer Jim Snell. While he was attending to the PD2’s joints, fluid levels and brakes, I took the opportunity to view Ron Greet’s collection of heritage buses and cars, which was nearby. I met up with Ron’s engineer and driver Paul (for whom I have conducted a few times at Quantock running days) who kindly gave us a guided tour of the collection.
In this photo (from left to right) you can see a Western National Bedford/Beadle, a City of Exeter Guy Arab V, an open top Devon General AEC Regent III, a Bedford SB and, with its front panels missing, a Grey Cars AEC Reliance. I remember seeing the latter coach (4 RDV) in Exmouth when it was in service in the 1960s with Grey Cars.
In due course it was time to take the PD2 back to its storage facility, where it will remain until we need it at Easter. It did feel strange driving it out on the open road at up to 40mph. When in service on Sightseeing Tours it rarely ventures above 25mph, which of course is an ideal speed at which to take in the spectacular views of the English Riviera.
The day after that, I had my first private hire duty with Crosville Motor Services. This was a relatively short, local trip out to East Brent with Southern Vectis 573, Bristol FS6G YDL318. In fact it was so short that I was able to take my lunch break back at the depot, after dropping my passengers at the Register Office in Weston-super-Mare.
Once again, it was a joy to be reunited with this superb bus. It is always a joy to drive and I find it easy to give my passengers a crunch and jolt-free ride. So fulfilling! Although it looks to be in excellent external condition, this bus is due to have a ‘refresh’ up at Reliance Bus Works. It may even be fitted with cream window rubbers, which will delight me no end! 573, along with most F-series Bristol buses, would have had cream rubbers from new but this one was re-glazed by Southern Vectis in the 1990s when it was brought back into service for a few years on Isle of Wight tourist services. Back then it was hard to source cream rubbers of the correct profile, apparently. The Isle of Wight Bus Museum’s FLF (Southern Vectis 611, CDL479C) suffers from the same malady and for the same reason.
Then it was a short trip back into town to collect the newlyweds and their guests and take them to the Village Hall at East Brent. The sun shone and everyone was happy, especially those who’d had memories of riding on similar buses in their childhood.
“I went to school on a bus like this…!”