Having performed faultlessly in Exeter the previous day, Exeter Corporation No 5 gathered up her skirts and headed back to mid Devon, ‘Empty to Depot’.
Only two of us turned up in the morning of Day Three, one to drive the escort car and one to drive the bus. The only other witnesses to our departure from Exeter were some Sunday morning drivers and some bemused pedestrians. Once again I had dressed in my winter uniform. Yes, I know we were not carrying passengers this time but I just can’t bring myself drive a vintage bus in ‘mufti’.
With the Autovac problem still with us we topped up the small reserve tank, did a thorough walkaround check (which included setting the destination blind to ‘Depot’) and set off for the countryside. As you would expect, the city traffic was much lighter than on our outward journey the previous Friday and we made good progress out of the city. As I sat in the cramped cab listening to the wonderful two-tone whine from the gearbox, I silently bade farewell to the city on Maud’s behalf, wondering how long it would be before she returned. Hopefully sooner than 76 years!
Once out of the city we began the gentle climb up the River Exe valley towards Tiverton. The 86-year-old stalwart forged on without missing a beat and soon we pulled over in Stoke Canon where we’d planned to stop and top up the fuel again.
The only real pinch points on our route were the two narrow river bridges at Stoke Canon and Bickleigh. These are particularly tricky to negotiate when the bus has no nearside mirror. I was keenly aware of the stone parapets which, had we scraped them, would have spoiled Maud’s gorgeous paint job somewhat. Not wanting to risk any narrow squeaks, I held back and allowed traffic to pass on the wider parts of each bridge.
Back on the open road, I let the Maudslay gather speed when gradients and visibility allowed. Braking performance is adequate but nowhere near as effective as on a modern vehicle so I needed to plan for greater braking distances than normally, in case we met a hazard on a bend. After a particularly free-running stretch (I was told later that the bus had managed 35mph) we stopped on the side of the road to let a queue of traffic pass by. The engine was quite hot after that burst of speed and the radiator began to boil over with no breeze passing through it. Although my right foot had not yet been on the floor, I made a mental note to ease off the throttle and not push the bus quite so hard!
Another stop was made at the Esso filling station in Tiverton for a final top-up. We also took the opportunity to refill the radiator as there were several stiff climbs ahead of us. Once we had left the town, our progress was more leisurely. Not just because we were travelling along country roads but also because I was keen not to overheat the engine again. Despite my intention, she did boil again briefly but only as a result of climbing one of the aforementioned hills. At one point I had to go down to second gear and the decrease in forward speed turned the radiator into a kettle again.
This was the only concern of the return journey. Other than that, it was drama-free. After about two hours of driving we arrived once more at the WHOTT storage facility and, not wanting to stop the engine for fear of being unable to restart it, I drove the bus straight into her shed.
All in all, it had been an extraordinary weekend. For me, it was a great honour and privilege to have been entrusted with the task of driving such an historic vehicle on such a momentous journey back to its home territory. I think it was very brave of the WHOTT Trustees to consider taking the old Maudslay bus down to Exeter under its own power when so many things could have gone wrong. That they didn’t is due mostly to the very thorough way in which the bus had been prepared (including her original restoration by York Bros of Northampton) and restored to her original configuration. Many mechanical issues have been dealt with over the past two years at WHOTT. The diff has been rebuilt, as has the carburretor, magneto and Autovac. Yes, there are still some problems to sort out but the fact that she survived a round trip of nearly 60 miles without breaking down is testament to the skills and tenacity of those who have worked on her. Tribute must also be made to the one individual who paid for her acquisition and subsequent restoration. Sir, if you ever read this, I take my driver’s hat off to you.
To experience what it is like to ride inside the Maudslay bus, you’ll have to wait until her next appearance at a public event. Until then there is an excellent set of videos on YouTube which chart our journey to down to Exeter in detail. Of particular interest to me are Part 6 and Part 7, in which cameraman Mike rides inside the bus during its historic arrival in Exeter. Thanks for reading!
Top: Robert Crawley (WHOTT)