Not long after my Birnbeck Pier duty (see previous post) I had the opportunity to run free bus tours around Minehead with a bus that’s very close to my heart.
This is a duty that I’ve done many times before in support of the West Somerset Railway. This particular day was billed as a ‘Shaun the Sheep’ day, aimed at children of course, and one of the attractions on offer was the chance to have a free ride on a vintage bus.
I was thrilled to find that, for the first time on a private hire job, I’d been allocated a Bristol KSW. Crosville doesn’t own one of these in operational condition (although a genuine ex-Crosville example has just been taken north for a full restoration) so the one I was to drive was on loan from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection.
L8089 entered service with the Bath Services subsidiary of Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company in 1952 and was often in use on the long distance Bath – Salisbury route. This is where my family connection comes in. Salisbury is where my grandparents lived and L8089 would have driven past their house many times. I remember Bath Services Lodekkas (the successors to the lowbridge Bristol Ks) passing by when I stayed with my grandparents in the 1960s and 70s.
So now you can imagine my delight to be given this particular bus to drive! However, I tried not to let the mists of nostalgia cloud my vision while I prepared the bus in its compound near Minehead and drove it over to the WSR terminus to begin service.
In a lot of ways this bus felt very familiar as it has the same Bristol AVW engine as LD6B 972EHW, which I have also used this year at Minehead. The gearbox sounds different but the gear ratios are similar. The KSW has a 5-speed ‘box though, which gives it a top speed of about 40mph.
The bus was quite popular, despite the weather being showery and blustery. It was in fact a replacement for the originally rostered open top Lodekka, but I wasn’t going to complain!
However, I did come unstuck when I came to the end of the seafront on the first couple of runs. What I didn’t know when I set out was that the KSW has a larger turning circle than a Lodekka. I found this out the hard way. There is a roundabout at the end of Minehead seafront, next to the Golf Course car park, and it isn’t very big. I remember when I conducted on the 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ service that the Bristol LDL drivers had to use full right lock to get around but only if they shaped up correctly. I’ve been using this technique ever since starting these WSR duties without trouble. But the KSW, even on full right lock, just wouldn’t go round in one go. Embarassingly I had to reverse and have another crack at it. Even then the roundabout defeated me and I had to shunt backwards a second time. Phew, I was red in the face from exertion as well as embarassment! I wondered if I had entered the turn incorrectly so decided to give it one more go on the second trip. But no, the same result and the same red face on exiting the roundabout. So I had to omit the section that goes past Butlins and use the much larger Seaward Way roundabout to turn the bus.
One other thing of note on this bus was the sunken gangway. Being a lowbridge bus, ECW had to use the four-abreast seating arrangement to achieve the lower body height demanded by operators which served routes with low bridges. This is a curious format not seen on modern buses. In fact the Lodekka design, when it was introduced in 1954, effectively consigned this seating arrangement to history. However, it was a source of great amusement to most of my passengers as most of them had never seen such a thing.
Loadings had tailed off by 4pm so I headed back to the storage compound soon afterwards and bade farewell to L8089. Another one ticked off the list!