I recently took part in the vintage bus running day to commemorate the Wilts & Dorset Centenary. It also gave me the opportunity to relive some of my childhood memories in Salisbury.
Wilts & Dorset Motor Services Ltd was incorporated in 1915 and the centenary of that event was celebrated in great style in Salisbury, with more than 50 buses operating old W&D routes or on static display. The day ended with all the surviving Wilts & Dorset buses at the event being posed together for photographs (see above).
I had originally planned to take a Hants & Dorset Bristol K6A – now owned by Crosville Motor Services – to the event but the bus is still undergoing refurbishment so that plan fell through. Knowing that I was available but had no bus to drive, the event organisers invited me to drive Wilts & Dorset 628 (1956-built Bristol LD6G OHR919) instead. Of course, I leapt at the chance, having enjoyed driving it at the Salisbury Bus Station Closure event in January 2014.
The day started at silly-o’clock, when my alarm went off. With my son Peter for company (he was also to be my conductor for the day) I set off for Salisbury, where I had arranged to meet the owners of the bus. Allan and Kevin Lewis also own Hants & Dorset 1450 (Bristol FS6G 5677EL) and were happy for me to drive their Wilts & Dorset Lodekka while they crewed their FS.
All the buses running in service began to congregate in the Millstream Approach Coach Park, along with growing numbers of photographers. Peter and I began to wonder if we’d have to join them as our bus didn’t arrive until 10 minutes before our planned departure on service. Salisbury’s one-way system was to blame!
Suitably attired in our Tilling uniforms (OK, so they’re more suited to a Hants & Dorset bus, but red-trimmed jackets are as rare as hen’s teeth), we took charge of 628 and drove round to our stop on the Blue Boar Row. The sight that greeted us was amazing. Every one of the bus stops along the busy city centre street seemed to be occupied by a heritage bus of some sort. There was only just enough room for us to tuck in at the back. As soon as we drew up hordes of people rushed to board, even crossing the road from the static display area.
Eventually Peter gave me two bells and we departed slowly on our first journey, which was the number 60 to Wilton. Slowly, because other buses were also departing and the crowds were spilling over from the pavements into the road. I’m sure I’ve never seen so many camera lenses pointing in my direction before!
The bus felt very heavy as I hauled it around the corners and down the New Canal. This was quite an emotional moment for me because, as a child on holiday with my grandparents, I would have caught buses just like this one from this very street. In fact it’s quite possible that I rode on this bus back then as it was allocated to Salisbury garage and I have it underlined in my Ian Allan bus spotter’s book!
Again, I have the organisers to thank for putting me on the Wilton route as they had heard of my family connections to Salisbury. Both sets of my grandparents used to live on Wilton Road, along which the number 60 service to Wilton used to run.
Navigating the route was not a problem as it was very straightforward and Wilton is only 3 miles west of Salisbury. And of course I remember it well from my childhood! After passing Wilton House and the famous Wilton Carpets factory, we turned into Wilton’s Market Place for a 5-minute layover before returning to Salisbury. This photo shows us returning to the city along Fisherton Street after our second trip to Wilton.
We deposited our passengers in Castle Street and proceeded as directed on our duty board to the Coach Park to await our next duty. Due to very limited space in the city centre (and no Bus Station in which to wait time) all buses not actually running a service had to await their next duty in the Coach Park and we slotted in between a Bath Services Bristol KSW6B and an early Silver Star Leyland Atlantean, both of which would have appeared in Salisbury when they were originally in service.
Our next departure was to Amesbury, a town about 10 miles away on the edge of Salisbury Plain. Now showing 2 on the front and back blinds, we loaded at the same stop as before. There were very few empty seats and again the bus felt very heavy to drive. Not just the steering but maintaining momentum and braking were affected noticeably. There is quite a long climb up to Porton Down and we acquired quite a following during this section. As always, I was conscious of the long queue of drivers fretting behind us so I pulled into a bus layby soon after we’d breasted the summit and waved the following traffic by. As the long line of cars streamed past a couple of photographers jumped off and began to line up some shots, despite me edging up to the end of the layby with my hand on the trafficator switch. I shouted to them through the side window that I was only stopping to let the traffic past and they’d get left behind if they didn’t get back aboard, pronto!
It was on this outward journey that I discovered that the accelerator pedal had an alarming tendency to stick with the throttle in the fully open position. It first revealed itself as we approached a roundabout after a short climb on the outskirts of the city. Expecting the Lodekka to slow down after I lifted my right foot, I found instead that it was powering onwards with a mind of its own! The pedal is hinged at the heel end with a stub beyond the hinge which allows the pedal to be pulled upwards to stop the engine. With the bus intent on flattening the roundabout and anything which crossed its path, I stamped feverishly on the ‘engine stop’ stub until the pedal sprang back up with a bang. This was a complication I could well do without. I had enough to contend with, coping with a full load on a route I had only done once before and that was on Google Maps! Having stuck once I realised that it would probably do it again if I needed full throttle so I prepared to stamp my way out of trouble after a spell of hill climbing. It also played havoc with my gear changes, especially downchanges. Knowing that the accelerator pedal would stay down when I took my foot off, I had to be super-quick with the clutch pedal otherwise the engine would be at full revs in a split second and I would have missed the gear.
Again, we had about 5 minutes in Amesbury before returning to Salisbury. On the way back there was a ding on the bell so I pulled into the next bus stop, where a photographer left the bus to seek more material in the nearby Park and Ride car park. From here the gradients were mostly in our favour and there were fewer outbreaks of foot stamping in the cab. Back in Salisbury, we deposited our passengers in Endless Street, opposite the now boarded up former Bus Station. A very welcome lunch break then followed, after which we briefly met up with Allan and Kevin on the H&D Bristol FS6G as they came in for their lunch break.
In the afternoon we had another trip to Amesbury, this time as a duplicate to the Silver Star Atlantean which soon disappeared from sight as we struggled on the hills. We were to connect with another service in Amesbury, operated by a Wilts & Dorset single deck Bristol RE, which was already waiting for us at the stop by the Library. We sat for a few minutes while photographs were taken before setting off once more for Salisbury.
Our final trip of the day was once again on the 60 to Wilton and was memorable for two reasons, mostly because I had planned to stop outside both my grandparents’ houses on Wilton Road while Peter took photographs. We stopped near Skew Bridge on the outward journey so that Peter could cross the road and take a photo outside the house where, long ago, I had leaned over the front gate to watch the Lodekkas in the 1960s pulling away from the Halfway House stop.
The other reason was that, due to the aforementioned difficulty with the loud pedal, the engine suddenly stopped just round the corner from the bus stop in the city centre from which the 60 was to depart. Not only that but the starter motor also decided not to cooperate. It sounded as if the batteries were flat but, speaking to the owners about it later, it was actually a wiring fault. Anyway, there I was sitting in a lifeless bus with traffic building up behind me in a narrow city street. Peter knew immediately that something was wrong and came up to the cab. Seeing in my mirror that there was an RTW behind us, I asked Peter to round up some willing volunteers to give us a push. It doesn’t take much to push start a Lodekka so, when the traffic lights were green, 628 was shoved around the corner and was brought back to life. Someone pointing a camera down Castle Street captured the moment (left) without realising what was actually going on!
We left for Wilton a few minutes down and, while waiting time at Wilton Market Place, I took the liberty of changing the destination blind to show 261 instead of 60. When I was 16 and spending a summer holiday with my grandparents at their house in Wilton Road, I took a photo – which you may have seen in a previous blog post – of Wilts & Dorset 411 (Bristol LD6B LMW680) as it approached the bus stop near their house. At the W&D100 event I had the opportunity to recreate that photo, albeit with a different Lodekka. In the original photo the bus was returning from Wilton and showed 261 Waters Road on the blinds. By 1973, when I took the photo, W&D had merged with H&D following the formation of the National Bus Company and the 61 had been re-numbered 261 to save confusion in the timetable book with an existing H&D service 61. Which is a complicated way of saying that I needed the blinds to show 261 for the purposes of my 2015 photograph!
With that job done, we returned to Salisbury again but I had arranged with Peter that we would briefly stop in the same spot where LMW680 had been photographed so that he could jump off and take a new photo. Due to the push start shenanigans earlier, we were still running late and had to be back for the photocall shown at the top of this post so the positioning of the bus and photographer is not perfect. But the ‘then and now’ image below is pretty acceptable, I think.
Soon after we got back to the Coach Park we were marshalled into position for the Wilts & Dorset line-up. It was quite funny to watch the hordes of cameramen scrambling for a place on the top deck of a VRT which had been placed just for that purpose.
After the photocall, our job was done and we left Wilts & Dorset 628 in the hands of its owners, who had returned with their FS not long after the W&D formation had been disbanded. Once again I am extremely grateful to Allan and Kevin Lewis for allowing us to have such fun with their historic bus. In my view they were most generous in letting Peter and me act as crew on what was arguably the more significant of their 2 buses on this particular day.
Finally, the long service medal is awarded to those readers who have managed to read right to the end of this mammoth post!
Photo credits (used with permission)
OHR919 in Fisherton Street: Graham Tiller
OHR919 push start: Paul Knight
OHR919 Wilton Market Place: Richard Line