After several months without seeing a heritage bus I thought it was about time I climbed into the cab again. Although I’m still hoping that the ex-Crosville fleet will become operational again, I was asked recently to do a wedding duty for Quantock Heritage.
Those of you who have been with me from the beginning will know that I’ve worked for this company before, then trading as Quantock Motor Services Ltd, so it was good to meet up again with old friends. The duty I was asked to cover was a 2-vehicle job, picking up in Bath and ending up at Priston Mill which is a few miles outside the city.
The two vehicles were both Leyland PD2 double deck buses and the one allocated to me was Rawtenstall No 18 (RTC822). This is a 1953 Leyland PD2/12 with an all-metal Leyland body. New to Rawtenstall Corporation, it is now presented in the livery of Scout Motor Services, Preston although it never ran for that operator in service. The other vehicle was Stockport No 65 (HJA965E), a 1967 Leyland PD2/40 with a Neepsend body.
I arrived at the small bus garage at Langley Marsh in plenty of time so that I could do a thorough walkaround check and become familiar with my new surroundings. As I mentioned above, I worked for this operator before but back then it was based next to the railway station at Bishops Lydeard. The driver of the other bus was already there, doing his checks. The boss, Steve Morris, was to be conductor on the Stockport PD2 and we were to collect Bill Ricketts, my conductor, on our way through Wiveliscombe.
Our first hazard was roadworks. BT Openreach contractors had chosen this day to dig the road up right outside the garage so the workmen had to move barriers and vehicles to allow our two buses to leave. As we began our journey I quickly became attuned to driving a half cab bus again. It didn’t take long and No 18 reminded me of the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours open top PD2/3 that I used to drive until I moved away from Torbay. However, No 18 still has its roof and is in much better condition, having had a more recent restoration in Quantock ownership.
I did get caught out by the gearbox once though. The early PD2s such as the 1947 Torbay example, have synchromesh on all gears except 1st but later ones only have synchro on 3rd and 4th so I made a pig’s ear of the first couple of upward changes into 2nd until I realised there was no synchro! In all other respects it was a delight to drive, with the possible exception of the steering. I’ve found that Leylands are heavy to handle compared to Bristols and No 18 was no different.
It felt a bit bizarre actually, having Bill as my conductor because it was the other way round in former years. During the time that I worked on the 400 service ‘Exmoor Explorer’ Bill was my driver many times, while I was on the back!
It’s about 60 miles from Langley Marsh to Bath and Andrew, the lead driver, had planned a mostly direct route via Wells and Radstock. These A-roads were similar to our buses – old and slow! After many months of driving coaches with a good power-to-weight ratio, going back to a heritage bus was quite different. On hills they are very sluggish by comparison!
It took us about 2 hours to get to Prior Park College and we set our tachos to ‘rest’ as soon as we had parked just inside the gate. Lunchtime and a chance to catch up with old friends ensued. A very pleasant time! Eventually some ushers turned up with supplies for the journey – cans of drink and some blankets – although the unusually mild February weather rendered the blankets surplus to requirements. The plan was that my PD2, which seats 57 passengers, would leave first and be followed later by the Stockport PD2, which can seat 64. We weren’t sure how many people needed to travel so decided that the bus with the smaller capacity should be loaded first. In the end the Stockport PD2 only carried 12 people which meant that my fully loaded bus was very heavy to drive.
Andrew, the other driver, discussed his planned route but I was a bit dubious about it, having previously accessed Priston Mill via Marksbury on the main A39 road. His route would have taken us through the narrow lanes of Priston Village so I decided to play it safe and stick to a route I knew was reasonably safe, even if it meant taking a little longer. In the event, we still arrived first so I felt vindicated!
After a short break our 2-bus convoy trundled southwards again at a maximum speed of about 35mph. This time I only had my conductor aboard and, once I’d stopped near his house to drop him off, I was going solo. The BT contractors were still packing up as I arrived back at Langley Marsh, which meant that I had to carefully reverse past the barriers and their vehicles in order to put the bus away in the 6-bay garage. Perversely, just as I turned the engine off, the workmen drove away leaving plenty of space for the other PD2 to reverse in!
It was a great pleasure to drive this beautifully restored bus and I’m grateful to Steve Morris and his team for making it happen. As always, my main aim while driving was to give my passengers a smooth, comfortable ride and I’d like to think that I succeeded this time. There are a few more heritage bus dates pencilled in for later this year so I will of course report on these as and when they happen.
Next up will be a short piece about working a bus service for Bakers Dolphin.