In all my adventures as a bus driver I never thought I would find myself driving a train. A few days ago I did, but it’s not the kind of train you would expect.
Although Crosville owns two full sized steam locomotives, my duty was to drive the diminutive Land Train up and down the promenade at Weston-super-Mare.
It was the first time I’d driven such a thing so one of the Crosville managers gave me a brief introduction to the weird machine before I took it for a spin around the estate to get the hang of it. Underneath the glassfibre outline lies a small tractor, of the kind you would expect to find on a fruit farm. It’s powered by a three cylinder diesel engine and has three forward gears. Only one of these is ever used and, flat out, it can probably manage 8mph! To be fair, I wouldn’t want to go any faster for fear of the three trailers tipping over. Unladen, they are prone to wobbling about as my conductor James discovered when I powered through a few unexpected bumpy bits on the road down to the seafront!
The whole assembly is remarkably neat when it comes to turning around, being able to turn on the proverbial sixpence. I practiced on the estate roads and found that, if I turned the tractor unit sharply to do a 180° turn, the cleverly engineered trailers all followed my path looking for all the world like a line of ducklings following their mother!
After checking that all the lights were working properly, it was time to set off on what was probably the most hazardous part of the journey – the empty trip through the town to the promenade. I realised that I had to make all sorts of allowances for both the length and speed of the outfit I was driving. Particularly so when it came to emerging from junctions or entering roundabouts. I had to make sure that there was a BIG gap in the traffic!
Passengers were few in the first part of the morning and my conductor James had an easy time. But soon the sun came out and so did the holidaymakers. We were soon carrying full loads as we trundled up and down the prom. The Land Train doesn’t run to a timetable as such and just goes to and fro on demand. The train uses the wide promenade pavement, which it has to share with pedestrians. As you can see from the photo above, the ‘loco’ carries a bell and I tended to use it frequently to alert other pavement-users to our presence.
There are two of these trains, each of which carrying the identity of its mainline counterpart. The one I drove was linked to GWR ‘Hall’ class 4-6-0 locomotive No 4936 ‘Kinlet Hall’ which is currently undergoing a heavy general overhaul at Tyseley Locomotive Works.
In other news, I recently had to take Crosville DFG81 (Bristol FSF6G 891VFM) up to Bristol to have a new tachograph head fitted. It was fascinating to see the bus on the rolling road while the new tacho was calibrated. This bus, as you can imagine, is extremely popular during the summer months and has been used for weddings, tours and school leaver proms.
One of the latter, with my son Peter as conductor, took us to the Somerset village of Thurlbear. Before we set off for a drive through Taunton, every pupil on the top deck was given a helium-filled balloon. After a countdown, they were all released together!
The same bus was rostered for another school leaver event the next day but the weather couldn’t have been more different. We took closed-top Lodekka 972EHW instead so everyone stayed (relatively) dry. There were still drips inside, not least in the cab!
I really enjoy driving this Lodekka. It is unusually fast, thanks to it having a rear axle that would originally have been fitted to a coach such as a Bristol RELH. It has very steady steering and, even at 45mph, runs as though it was on rails. Both of these traits came in useful when, on another recent occasion, I took the bus up to Gloucestershire. Crosville had entered its open top Bristol VRT for the Bus Rally at the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Steam Railway at Toddington but this was unavailable so dependable DFG81 was substituted. As ever, it proved very popular, not least with me! I was accompanied this time by Mrs Busman John, who found herself pressed into service as my conductor for a couple of runs out to Broadway.
Finally, plans are coming together well for the Crosville Bus & Steam Rally on Sunday September 10th. We already have a number of visiting buses, coaches, classic cars and steam vehicles booked in but there’s still room for more. If you (or someone you know) has a vehicle that they would like to bring along – entry is free – please visit the Rally page on the Crosville website, from where Entry Forms can be downloaded.