To Priston Mill with a Leyland PS1

I spent a very enjoyable day with an ex-Crosville Leyland PS1 recently and, just like the previous outing, it involved a debate about a seriously steep hill.

It was the first time I had been allocated this bus, a 1947 Leyland PS1 formerly operated by Crosville in north Wales. It has been restored and maintained in excellent condition and was ideally suited to this wedding duty as it matched the cream colour of the day. It also blended well with the two other vehicles involved, a VW campervan and a Beauford limousine.

My walkaround check in the morning revealed nothing untoward so I set off at about 11:00 for Bath Mill Lodge Retreat, just outside the city of Bath. This is where I was to collect a group of wedding guests and transport them to the wedding venue, located deep in the countryside not far away.

I had driven this bus just once before, on a positioning trip across Weston-super-Mare. Powered by its original 6-cylinder Leyland E181 engine (which pre-dates the more common Leyland O.600 diesel engine) and driving through a 4-speed crash gearbox, I found that the ride was rather more ‘lumpy’ than the Gardner 6LW-powered Bristol FSF I had driven on my previous duty. I think this is mostly a Leyland engine characteristic, which seems to want to ‘hunt’ at low revs. It makes the task of driving smoothly a lot more challenging!

My usual double-declutch technique seemed to suit this vehicle without any modifications, except that the pause in neutral while changing up was a bit shorter. Later on I discovered that the gearbox has a decent clutch brake, which came in very handy when I needed to make an up change while going uphill. The clutch brake is operated by pressing the clutch pedal to the floor while the stick is in neutral and it stops the gear shafts in the ‘box spinning, making it possible to engage the next gear more quickly. There’s usually a bit of a clunk but no grinding of gears.

My route to the pickup point took me past Newton St Loe and down the 1-in-6 Pennyquick hill. This is the reason for the aforementioned debate, because I needed to go back up this hill with a loaded bus later, in order to reach the wedding venue. In fact I was so worried about this aspect of the job that I drove the route in my car a few days earlier while visiting a relative in Bristol. This confirmed that it would be risky to attempt this hill, especially as I had read on a news website recently that heavily-laden HGVs regularly got stuck on the hill and caused chaos. I didn’t want to add to that tally so had a Plan B up my sleeve.

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Open top Lodekka to Leigh Woods wedding

A recent wedding duty with a heritage bus saw me trundling through Bristol but a couple of restrictions en route caused me to make alternative plans.

But my first task was to get myself up to Bristol in good time to pick up my passengers from a hotel in Henbury. I had the same bus as my previous duty, Crosville DFG81 (Bristol FSF6G 891VFM) but this time getting it out of the garage was much easier. Since I had last been to the garage an electric roller door mechanism had been installed, which was a whole lot easier than doing my best Tarzan impression with the chain operated mechanism on previous occasions!

With up to 50mph available under my right foot, I chose to drive up the M5 and exit at Cribbs Causeway. As the Gardner 6LW engine came up to normal operating temperature I thought I was going to have cooling problems as a spray of blue coolant began to coat the bonnet and front bulkhead window. I watched carefully, hoping that it was only the result of an overfilled header tank. And so it turned out – the spray from the coolant cap dried up after a while and my anxiety level dropped from ‘tense’ to ‘mild’.

I had researched the pickup point a few days earlier and decided that it wasn’t possible to drive up to the hotel itself due to the narrow gateway and lack of space to turn around again. The only other option was to pick up at a bus stop nearby and I had arranged this with the client, via the Crosville Vintage office. Having made swift progress in the Lodekka and unhindered by traffic delays, I arrived with time in hand so I pulled over on Crow Lane in Henbury, rather than obstruct a service bus stop for longer than necessary. Anyway, it gave me a chance to find a cloth and wipe up the film of coolant from the bonnet and front window.

I drew up at the hotel bus stop shortly before the arranged time and wandered up to the hotel, meeting one of the guests in the car park. I pointed out where the bus was and waited for my passengers. What started as a day of brilliant sunshine turned grey and showery once most of the guests had arrived, prompting a mass exodus to the lower deck. However, by the time the last passengers had boarded, the sunshine had returned and most of the guests had returned to the (slightly damp) top deck.

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