Thomas the Tank Engine revisits the WSR

I’ve just enjoyed (is that the right word?) a couple of busy days at the West Somerset Railway, supporting its ‘Days Out with Thomas’ event 2016.

972EHW-Thomas-Day-2016

This year for the first time the event was held over three days instead of two weekends and two buses per day were provided by Crosville Motor Services to operate free vintage bus rides from Minehead station.

I was rostered for the Friday and Saturday so I was looking forward to a couple of days of fun. I always enjoy these turns as the format and route have become very familiar but they are quite tiring! One thing I didn’t have to do was to collect my bus from Weston-super-Mare first. Once again, another driver had kindly offered to bring it down the day before and park it on a farm outside Minehead.

Bristol LD6B 972EHW was delivered to Bristol Omnibus in 1959 as its LC8518 and was restored by the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection in 2010. It has been in the custody of Crosville at Weston for much of the time since then and it has been well cared for. Several passengers commented on its superb condition during the 2 days. Outwardly it is indeed a fine specimen but I have to admit it is sometimes tricky to drive. The gearbox has seen a lot of use over the years, as you would expect. But, of all the Lodekkas of similar vintage I have driven, this one has the most awkward ‘box. There are offsets and ‘notches’ which sometimes prevent the driver from engaging a gear smoothly, notably 1st and 2nd gears. This adds a level of difficulty to a duty which is already full of challenges. Low branches, tight corners, narrow streets… you get the picture I’m sure.

Compared with a normal private hire job, where there is quite a bit of open road running, these Minehead trips are full of cornering and gearbox work. That means that the workload for the driver is quite high – must be a bit like the old days! Of course, the bus feels a lot heavier when fully loaded and this was very evident on Saturday when, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, there were long queues for the bus.

891VFM-Thomas-2016

On Friday I was joined by Driver Carpenter with DFG81, a 1961 Bristol FSF6G from the original Crosville fleet. Being an open top bus, it was very popular!

On Saturday we had two Tilling Green Lodekkas, the second one being Southern Vectis 573 (FS6G YDL318). You would expect them to both be the same shade of green, but they are not. Southern Vectis (which applied the current paint job in 1991) obviously preferred a brighter shade than other operators.

Kilmersdon-Thomas-Day-2016

While we were running free bus trips there was a full programme of activities on the station, very similar to what was on offer when I did this turn in 2015. All the locos, steam and diesel alike, wore faces and of course the specially hired 0-6-0T loco ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ was the star of the show. (The linked photo was taken by my conductor on Saturday, Colin Harris). Mrs Kindley’s washing, the turntable and the Troublesome Trucks also had an outing.

To turn the tables (there’s a pun in there somewhere), some of the children wore images of locos on their faces! This particular face belongs to one of my grandsons, pictured here trying to engage 3rd gear.

Young-driver-in-972EHW-cabSunday for me is usually a day of rest and boy did I need one. The only thing I was driving today was an organ console at church! Today, bus rides in Minehead were being provided by the Southern Vectis Lodekka and a slightly younger Southern Vectis Bristol VR.

According to my diary, my next Crosville duty is not until later in the summer but that might easily change! So for me its back to the Sightseeing Tours around Torquay and Paignton. The 1947 Leyland PD2/3 we use presents its own set of joys and challenges but they can wait for a future post. Coming up in a few weeks’ time is another WHOTT running day and also the eagerly anticipated return to Weston of a Bristol K6A after a lengthy restoration.

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