Due to the unfortunate collapse of a company in Yorkshire, I had the chance to collect a Leyland PD1 and drive it all the way to Weston-super-Mare following its purchase by a local collector.
But first, an apology. If you are reading this, you are either subscribed to my blog or you are a very patient watcher! I’m aware that I haven’t posted much recently but this is due to a lack of time to write more material rather than a lack of any bus-related activity. I have several more posts up my sleeve and I’ll do my best to bring them to you as soon as I can.
The subject of this post is Wigan Corporation 34 (JP6032), a 1947 Leyland PD1 with a Leyland 53-seat lowbridge body. For many years it had been a stalwart of the Yorkshire Heritage Bus Co fleet until financial difficulties led eventually to the entire fleet being put into the hands of a receiver. As ever in these situations, there was the possibility that some of these might be sold abroad or worse, broken up for spares. Jonathan Jones-Pratt bought five of the vehicles and my friend Dave Moore and I were approached to act as ‘ferry drivers’.
We were assured that both our buses had been checked over by someone at the secure yard where they were being stored so all seemed OK for the long journey south. As per usual, I did quite a bit of route research and found that there was a low railway bridge on the most obvious route from the yard to the south-bound M1, so I planned a route that would take me via Tankersley on more suitable roads.
Armed with the address where the buses were stored, Dave and I set off early in the morning by train and arrived at Penistone station about midday. A short taxi ride took us to a remote location where the Yorkshire Heritage fleet was parked in a secure compound. A couple of staff from the facility met us and showed us the two buses we were to bring back. My first impression of the PD1 was that it was OK if a little tatty. Dust and cobwebs indicated that this bus had not been used for a while!
Dave was to bring back a smart looking London Transport RT so he began his walkaround checks while I took stock of the Wigan PD1. I had a look around the RT too, (RT2591, a 1951 AEC Regent III RT3 with Park Royal body) and although the exterior is very presentable, the interior looked a bit tired, with several seats having damage. In its favour though were several original interior adverts dating from the decimal currency change-over in February 1971.
The Wigan PD1 really was an unknown quantity as nobody there had any experience of the vehicle so I poked around for quite a while before starting it up and checking all the usual daily check items. The engine started first time and ticked over slowly with a characteristic Leyland ‘hunting’ rhythm. Apparently new batteries had been fitted in readiness for the journey. I took the bus out of the compound and drove it up and down the nearby yard, just to get a feel of the vehicle and check that I could make it stop as well as make it go!
My checks revealed that the nearside front indicator wasn’t working so, while I waited for a chap to fit a new bulb, I took the above photo. I also noticed that the charge lamp on the control box in the cab wasn’t going out, even when I revved the engine so I highlighted this as well. The two chaps spent a while fiddling about and proclaimed, after watching the headlights while the engine was revved, that the dynamo was charging, despite the red lamp not going out. I was not convinced and decided not to stop the engine until I’d reached Weston-super-Mare, just in case!
Dave meanwhile had completed his checks and was ready to face the journey of just over 200 miles. We agreed to top up the fuel tanks at the earliest opportunity and set off on our planned route. At the first decent layby we stopped and had a break (and lunch) so that, even though this was not a paid duty, we would still be compliant with Drivers’ Hours regulations having been ‘on duty’ since we had boarded the train.
The PD1 has a constant mesh (crash) gearbox and a Leyland 7.4 litre 6-cylinder E181 engine, which pre-dates the more common 9.8 litre O.600 engine. I soon had the measure of the ‘box and we ploughed on after lunch at a stately 35mph. At a push the PD1 would do nearer 40 but I didn’t want to thrash it and risk a breakdown.
Travelling slowly with a bus on a motorway is always an unnerving experience but I reckonned that two old slow buses travelling together was slightly less risky, especially as Dave in the RT was behind me protecting my rear!
And so the journey progressed. I would say that it was uneventful, but I’d be lying. At one point we were faced with almost stationary traffic in all three lanes of the M1 and, as I decelerated, there was a horrendous noise from the engine. At first it sounded like the big ends had gone and I jiggled with the throttle to see how the engine behaved. Then I looked in the mirror and saw clouds of white/grey smoke pouring from the exhaust pipe. As I came to a halt the smoke cleared and the engine idled normally. With nerves jangling, I pulled away gently as the traffic began to move. Everything sounded normal again and the exhaust was clear so I carried on, listening intently for any change in engine noise.
As we slowed for a motorway services stop later on, the noise began again and so did the grey smoke. Again, everything cleared as we drove around the HGV parking area to find a parking spot. I decided that it was probably not a mechanical failure but more likely a fault with the fuel injectors, with unburnt fuel making a sound similar to the ‘pinking’ sound you sometimes get with a petrol engine when the ignition timing is too far advanced.
Still not trusting the charging system, I left the engine running while Dave and I in turn went to find relief and refreshment, in that order! When the time came for us to make a move, the second major fault of the day revealed itself. The RT would not re-start! There was not enough energy in the batteries to turn the engine. Rather than the PD1 not charging its batteries, it was in fact the RT that let us down although Dave had not reported any indications of a fault. A call to base resulted in a wait of over an hour before rescue, in the form of a breakdown van with a 24v booster on board, arrived.
We had not bargained for this extra delay and we now realised that the last part of the journey would be done in the dark. The rest of the journey south via the A42/M42 and M5 passed without incident and we eventually arrived in Weston later in the evening. Two relieved drivers climbed down from their respective cabs to be greeted by an equally relieved owner.
Three further double deck buses from the erstwhile Yorkshire Heritage fleet travelled south in the following weeks, some staying in Weston with one (Southampton Corporation 394, AEC Regent V KOW902F) later finding a new home with the Southampton & District Transport Heritage Trust.
In other news, while returning from Frogmore House near Windsor with a Bakers Dolphin day trip, I stopped at Membury Services right next to a very smart looking RTW467 (LLU957). Judging from the destination blinds, it was on its way to take part in the annual ImberBus event. If you want to learn more about this extraordinary event, watch this excellent documentary video.