Taking part in Crosville’s Bus & Steam Rally this year gave me a variety of jobs, including possibly my last chance to drive a vintage bus on a regular bus route.
During the run-up to the rally I found myself more involved in the planning stages than I had envisaged so it was quite a relief to watch the day unfold successfully. In a new – but possibly one-off – joint venture with the Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare, Crosville sited its Bus & Steam Rally at the Museum. The company’s bus depot was also open, of which more later.
I travelled up on the Friday before the rally, bringing a coach with me. This was Western National 3307 (Bristol LH6L AFJ727T) which belongs to WHOTT. The LH was parked up inside the Crosville Motor Services garage until it was required for the rally.
My main concern, having planned the layout of the static exhibits, was whether we would be able to fit all the resident and visiting buses along two sides of the rectangular site. Thankfully, due to the fact that a certain number of vehicles were always out in service, there was just about enough room.
I helped with setting up early on the previous day and began by touring the site with the Crosville Safety Officer, who also acted as Chief Marshal. The rest of the morning was spent ferrying various buses over from the Crosville garage to the Museum site, with Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) acting as shuttle bus for the drivers.
The Museum staff did a great job setting up tables for the Trade Stalls within the Museum buildings. We’d had so many stall entries that several more were allocated spaces outside with the buses. Thank goodness we had dry weather!
The day of the rally itself brought ideal weather – mild, mostly sunny. I began by helping in the garage where, a few days previously, the mortal remains of GWR 4-6-0 ‘Thornbury Castle’ had been placed on display. Some of the modern bus and coach fleet were also tastefully arranged nearby.
I made my way over to the rally site behind the wheel of a Bristol MW5G belonging to the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection and then busied myself doing a bit of marshalling and catching up with visiting friends.
Taking pride of place near the site entrance was Hants & Dorset TD895 (Bristol K6A HLJ44) which had arrived just the day before direct from restoration in Yorkshire. The finishing touch had been the application of period advertising, for which I’d helped by preparing artwork. I must say that the completed bus looked absolutely stunning, sitting there in the sunshine looking as good as new (see main photo). It has been presented as it would have appeared in London when it went on loan to London Transport when new in 1949. I’m looking forward to my first driving turn with it!
Even after the gates had opened, more and more visiting vehicles continued to arrive including classic cars and steam-powered vehicles. Making a well-timed arrival was Crosville’s own Clayton & Shuttleworth Road Locomotive, proudly driven by the Boss himself from the garage. Much use was made of the whistles, of which there are several, on the final approach! After taking up its position on a hardstanding, it was joined by a Sentinel steam waggon and a Stanley steam car.
I’d been allocated a turn on the free bus service which linked the rally site with the Crosville garage, the railway station and the seafront. I was to share the turn with my driver friend Dave Moore and, as it’s ages since I did any conducting, I elected to let Dave do the driving and I returned to my once-familiar spot on the rear platform. Our bus was Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318). Only one thing was missing – my trusty Setright ticket machine!
After one round trip I was due to relieve another driver in town. Driver Carpenter and I had earlier agreed to run open top Crosville DFG81 (Bristol FSF6G 891VFM) in service on the 100 to Sand Bay, duplicating the regular Leyland Olympian buses. These are due to be withdrawn shortly due to the new DDA (disabled access) regulations coming into force next January. For the same reason this may have been the last occasion a vintage bus would run on a regular Crosville service although the new rules do allow a few exemptions.
For the rest of the afternoon I enjoyed myself with the open top Lodekka, doing a good impression of a 1960s bus driver on stage carriage service. It took me most of the first outward journey to fully get back into stage carriage mode and having to stop on request came as a bit of a surprise sometimes! Having not driven this route before (except via YouTube) I didn’t know where all the stops were. This was a bit tricky when someone rang for a stop in Kewstoke village which is an unmarked stop!
My one fear was that we’d meet the other open top bus coming the other way in a particularly awkward place. Sure enough, we met on a narrow road in Kewstoke! Unfortunately there was traffic following both buses so there was a standoff for a short while. Luckily, those behind me could see the situation ahead and were able to reverse a little way, allowing me to also reverse and pull across the road into a parking space to let the other service bus go by. Further shenanigans ensued as I reversed my way out of the space to resume my journey. All I can say is that I’m glad I’ve been driving a heavy Leyland PD2 all summer as manoevering a fully loaded Lodekka in a tight space is strenuous work!
After four round trips we found ourselves with a virtually empty bus so, leaving the remaining journeys to the Olympians, I dropped my conductor in the town centre and headed back to the garage. By this time the rally had finished and, although all the resident buses had been brought back, they were scattered all around the yard. I joined forces with some of my colleagues to shunt the modern vehicles out of the way so that we could then bring the heritage buses back inside. I put my bus handling skills to good use squeezing the old girls into yet more tight spaces and, in the process, broke my own record for driving more buses in one weekend than ever before! By the time they’d all been put to bed it was 7pm so I left in order to have a meal before returning to Devon with the Western National LH coach again.
There will undoubtedly be another rally next year. In fact September 10th 2017 has already been set aside so put it in your diaries now! We will try to improve the experience for visitors and this includes reviewing the venue. Although more than 1,000 people paid for tickets, which gave them joint admission to both the rally and the Helicopter Museum, some adverse comments were heard regarding the ticket prices. There were other issues as well but, on the whole, the rally was a resounding success. If you were there, thanks for coming!