To Burtle and back

It’s always the same with buses. You wait ages for one and then several turn up all at once. And so it is with these blog posts. Here come two vintage posts but, so that I don’t tax your little grey cells too much, the next one will be along shortly.

I recently had the pleasure of driving another Leyland PD2 belonging to Quantock Heritage, for a wedding duty on my own patch.

It’s one of a handful of wedding hire duties I’ve agreed to do for the company just to stay current with vintage buses, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. It came during a spell of very wet and squally weather we’d been enduring in June 2019, supposedly the height of summer! It also gave me a chance to work again with my conductress friend Cherry Selby.

My allocated bus was Stockport Corporation No 65 (HJA965E), a 1967 Leyland PD2/40 with East Lancs double deck bodywork. Although a late model (rear engined buses had already been around for about 6 years by the time No 65 entered service), the Corporation still favoured the traditional layout with an open rear platform. I’ve worked with this bus before, notably in 2007 when I was a conductor during the Quantock ‘Taunton Christmas Park and Ride’ operation, when I nearly froze to the platform in the bitterly cold weather!

I prepared the bus outside the small depot near Wiveliscombe with a little help from Steve, the boss. He was due to go out later with newly-restored Birmingham City Transport Leyland PS2 No.2257 (JOJ 257). If I play my cards right, I might get a turn later in the year!

When I started the Leyland O.600 engine it idled so slowly that I had to keep my foot on the gas a little for fear of it stopping altogether. It didn’t, and even when warmed up, it still ticked over slowly. In a funny sort of way it was quite pleasing because the injector pump had been set up so well (Steve favours Leylands and knows how to look after them) that there was no trace of hunting either. A very far cry from the similar Leyland PD2/3 that I used to drive in Torbay, which idled very fast due to a split diaphragm in the pump. This was only cured after I’d moved away!

I was intrigued by the interior mirror fitted inside the cab of No 65. Was it there so the driver could keep an eye on unruly passengers or was it just an over-sized vanity mirror?

I had arranged to meet Cherry at the Cross Keys pub on the outskirts of Taunton so I used the solo journey to familiarise myself with the bus. Unlike the Torbay PD2, No 65 only has synchromesh on 3rd and 4th gears so I had to double declutch my way between 1st and 2nd gears. I’m assuming that a high ratio rear axle is fitted because I managed to bowl along at 40mph in 4th gear.

The weather at this point was rather gloomy and on the way it started to rain. But, as if to brighten my day, out of the murk came a Sentinel steam waggon driving the other way!

With Cherry on board we headed out to the M5 and travelled north, turning off at the Brent Knoll junction and thence up to Cheddar on the A38. Because the route I’d planned was reasonably close to where I live, I had done a recce in the car so I’d planned in advance a reversing manoever to position the bus at the end of a small residential road to pick up the bride and her entourage.

True to form, she was nearly 25 minutes late boarding the bus! With a ‘ding ding’ from Cherry we were off through Cheddar town centre and soon pulled up outside St Andrew’s Church. Once the bridal party had made its way into the church, Cherry helped me turn the bus and position it ready for departure. Then, as is the usual custom on these duties, it was time for lunch and a proper catch-up. Cherry and I had conducted together many years ago for Quantock on the 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ and had many memories of private hire jobs to share as well.

A peal of bells announced that the wedding was over and gradually everyone assembled for the onward journey. Unfortunately the weather decided it was now time to make a reappearance and the heavens opened just as our passengers were boarding. Standing beside the platform sans umbrella, all I could do was smile politely and allow myself to get drenched.

The PD2, now with a full load, was noticeably heavier to turn, especially at low speed. Despite that, I enjoyed the softer ride, with the bus riding a bit lower on its springs. Most of the journey to the reception venue used roads that I regularly travel on Bakers Dolphin school routes so it was rather surreal to be driving a half cab double deck bus instead of a modern coach. Unlike with a coach, I also had to be mindful of the height of the PD2 – it’s not a lowbridge either – so I kept a good lookout for low branches.

Passing through the narrow streets of Wedmore is always a challenge, and this day was no different. However, nothing was dented or scratched so I drove on through Blackford and Mark with a sense of relief. The Leyland O.600 engine seemed to be in very good shape, although I did of course have to go up and down the gears quite a lot.

The last part of the journey took us down the lanes to Burtle (what a wonderful name for a village!) and finally to The Duck pub and restaurant where the reception was to take place. The guests stepped down from the platform, some of them still rather damp from the earlier downpour. I however had dried off nicely in the warm cab. Moderate exercise behind the wheel probably helped too.

Our duty done, we reversed out of the car park and returned to Taunton via the road to Highbridge and thence onto the M5. Although 40mph is a good speed for a vintage bus I was still aware of the speed difference with the rest of the motorway traffic and kept an eye on the mirror just in case I had to take avoiding action.

Having bid farewell to my helpful conductress I continued alone to Wiveliscombe. Reversing solo onto the owner’s forecourt was done with great caution. It would have been a shame to dent a panel in the final moments of the duty!

I’m fortunate to have the chance to do the occasional heritage bus duty this year and another opportunity came along a couple of weeks later, re-uniting me with an ‘old friend’.

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