The second annual WHOTT Vintage Bus Running Day at Dorchester has been hailed a resounding success, with plenty of visitors coming to enjoy nearly 30 buses, coaches and commercials which were on display.
For my part, I brought along an open top Bristol Lodekka which was actually a last minute replacement for the bus I had intended to bring. Following on from the WHOTT Coldharbour Mill running day earlier this year, I had intended to bring the same vehicle to Dorchester, Southern National 2700. However, a couple of days before Dorchester, the 1967 Bristol RELL developed an engine fault which couldn’t be fixed in time. The kind folks at Crosville offered open top FSF6G 891VFM (Crosville DFG81) instead, which turned out to be a very popular choice!
The RE had been based at Weymouth (just 8 miles away) for the early part of its service life, which would have made it a very appropriate entrant for the Dorchester event. In my view its non-appearance was a blessing in disguise because another – older – Southern National bus was able to take pride of place instead. 1956 Bristol LS5G TUO497 is most of the way through a restoration project and its appearance at Dorchester was the first time it had been seen in public since it was laid up in a barn in 1980.
I had an empty journey of 74 miles ahead of me when I arrived at the Crosville depot early last Sunday morning. As I opened up the garage and switched the lights on I wondered how many other buses I’d have to shunt out of the way before I could bring the Lodekka out. I was very pleased to see that, following a recent re-organisation of the depot, all the Crosville heritage fleet had been parked in an annexe to the main building, making it far easier than before to retrieve a heritage bus.
By the time I’d arrived at the Top ‘O Town car park in Dorchester the sun was shining and other buses were being marshalled into position. I reported to the WHOTT Control Bus and found that I’d been rostered for three trips out to Frampton Church (see top picture), the first of which departed at 12:40. This meant I had loads of time to browse among the buses and meet up with friends and colleagues.
There was a large queue of people waiting at the stop as I pulled up to load. Conductor Terry Damerel watched them all pile on and we eventually left with a full 3-bell* load. Fortunately there aren’t any significant gradients on the way to the tiny village of Frampton, about 4 miles north of Dorchester. Even so, the Lodekka seemed to struggle every time we met even the slightest incline. I decided that, on balance, I would still prefer a 5-speed Lodekka with a high ratio diff because it provides a top speed of 50mph so a bit of stick work on gradients is a small price to pay!
Two more departures followed after a break for lunch but they were not quite so heavily loaded. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed giving my passengers a pleasant ride. A ride on a bus with a crash gearbox can be an awful experience if the driver misses a gear or gets his timing wrong so my challenge is always to make my changes smooth and quiet. There was one junction which tested my skill more than any other. The A356 that passes through Frampton joins the A37 into Dorchester at a T-junction which is on a falling gradient. The trouble is not much of the A37 is in view while standing at the junction and, with a sluggish bus like a fully loaded Lodekka, I had to choose my moment carefully before emerging. On two out of the three return trips, no sooner had I committed to pulling out, a car came round the corner accelerating out of the 30mph zone at Grimstone village. This meant a quick snatch-change into 2nd gear followed by 2 more quick double-declutch changes. Fortunately, on a falling gradient, I could get into 4th gear in very short order without crunching the gears.
Once again I had to be on top of my game as several other bus owners and event organisers were among our passengers! Knowing that critical eyes and ears were scrutinising my every move was a bit nerve-wracking, but this aspect is part and parcel of every vintage bus running day or rally. I am sure that the other drivers at the event are used to this feeling!
There were a few commercial vehicles in the static display area, including a 1935 Beardmore Taxi cab.
Finally, I must mention one other bus that took part in the Dorchester running day and that’s Hants & Dorset 1254 (KRU224F), a 1967 Bristol FLF. This is powered by one of the last Bristol BVW engines built. But what set it apart was the quality of the recent overhaul and paint job. The finish on the bus is absolutely stunning as these photos attempt to show. Apparently, according to a recent report on the bus in Bus & Coach Preservation magazine, the repaint was carried out by a commercial firm and this outstanding vehicle is available for private hire from Dekkabus, Poole.
In other news, my regular driving duties on the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours bus continue on weekdays but this coming weekend I’m one of several drivers running a fleet of heritage buses between Clevedon and Birnbeck Piers in Somerset. This is in conjunction with a River Avon Cruise on MV Balmoral in support of the regeneration of Birnbeck Pier, Weston-super-Mare.
*3-bell load: back in the old days a conductor used to give his driver three dings on the bell if they were leaving a bus stop with a full standing load. This meant that the driver was to continue past any further bus stops, even if there were passengers waiting, until a single bell indicated that some of the passengers wanted to alight and thus make room for more.
891VFM loading up at Dorchester – Paul Carpenter