Coaching gains and losses at Bakers Dolphin

Occasionally I’m asked to do some interesting jobs for Bakers Dolphin, in between school runs. One of these saw me collecting a 2018-plate Mercedes-Benz Tourismo coach from Gloucester.

The two coaches pictured above have recently been purchased by Bakers Dolphin for day trip and tour work, an indication perhaps that things are looking a bit more rosy for the company despite the loss of income suffered during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

A colleague and myself were driven up to an industrial estate in Gloucester by another driver to collect the pair and, after dealing with the paperwork, we were given the keys and asked to see if they would start. My heart sank. Apparently they had been sitting in the yard for a few weeks before the sale to Bakers. Sure enough, neither would start although there was just enough juice in the batteries to light up the dashboard.

I found the yard supervisor and gave him the bad news. Fortunately for us, he had a jump pack in his office and duly wheeled it out. “I don’t know if there’s enough charge in it to start two coaches but we’ll have a go!” My heart sank for a second time. We opened the battery locker on the coach that my colleague was going to drive, hooked up the leads and started it up without any trouble. Then it was my turn. Once again I connected the leads, turned on the jump pack and sat in the driver’s seat. After saying a little prayer I turned the key. After a heart-stopping moment the 11 litre diesel at the back came to life. What a relief!

Matey wandered back to his office with his jump pack in tow while my colleague and I completed our walkaround checks. Fortunately, apart from a non-standard n/s mirror being fitted to my coach, everything checked out. We both decided that there was enough fuel in each coach to get us back to Weston without the need to refuel but, if there wasn’t we had come prepared with some petty cash.

Taking great care not to scratch Bakers’ new coaches, we headed back to the M5 motorway and headed south, destination Weston-super-Mare. These modern coaches have all the latest gadgets and gizmos (aircon, satnav, toilet, galley, automatic everything) and are very comfortable to ride in.

The two Tourismos, at the time of writing, remain in the Bakers garage still in plain white. In due course they will go through the company’s paint shop to enter service in the standard blue and white livery like the one pictured here.

At the other end of the scale, four withdrawn Volvo B10M coaches left the garage a few days later to be dismantled/recycled. All carry VanHool Alizee T8 bodies and have served the company well over many years. E220JJF (pictured below, nearest the camera) operated for Clarkes of Penge when new in 1988 and is one of several identical vehicles to join Bakers Dolphin a few years later. I’ve driven several of them during my time here and, despite their great age, they still go well and are popular with the workshop staff due to their no-frills simplicity and lack of computer management. One of the chaps said to me the other day “all you need to do is keep the fluids topped up, chuck some fuel in and it will run forever!”

A small group of staff watched wistfully as the four were driven away. Apparently they were going to a dismantler in Slough but parts of them will live on in other vehicles. I was told that the engines, gearboxes and running gear were to be shipped out to Nigeria!

A couple of identical coaches remain in service on schools work, with another two withdrawn at the back of the garage. Anybody want a T8?

Photo: Nigel Williscroft

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