Coaches to the Seaside 2019

Looking back to the autumn, one of my last outings with a vintage bus was at the ‘Coaches to the Seaside’ event at Weston-super-Mare. This took place on Sunday September 1st and was based at Weston seafront, with a static display at the Helicopter Museum.

Yes, I know that was a long time ago but I’ve been mega busy at work and we’ve also had a bereavement in the family which has taken my attention for a while so please accept my apologies for such a long gap between blog posts.

‘Coaches to the Seaside’ was organised by a number of local enthusiasts in collaboration with Crosville Vintage and the Helicopter Museum. I was offered the chance to take Crosville SL71 (1951-built Bedford OB MFM39) from the Crosville Vintage base to the static display area at the Helicopter Museum, an offer which I could hardly refuse! So, after going to church in the morning, Mrs Busman John and I prepared the OB and drove it to the site on Locking Moor Road.

It was lovely to step aboard the old girl, not having driven her for about a year. There’s something about the slightly musty aroma, the odd driving position and the beautifully tuneful gearbox that is unmistakeably OB. However, the one annoying tendency was that the petrol engine didn’t idle very well and was prone to stalling when pulling up at a junction or traffic lights.

I had been promised a few driving turns during the event but no details had arrived beforehand so I presented myself to one of the marshals after a picnic lunch. Apparently there were a number of heritage vehicles running a shuttle service between the Helicopter Museum and the seafront but none of them were operating to a timetable and there was no driver roster. Very haphazard! I was invited to crack on and take the next load of passengers, who were waiting at a bus stop just outside the museum, down to the seafront as soon as I was ready.

With a full load on board, we made our stately way down the main road and through the town centre, where we were snapped by a roadside photographer. As I’ve mentioned before, this OB has heavy steering so I was glad to wait for a bit at the Tropicana while our passengers alighted. One of the organisers was there and admitted that the timetable had gone to pot so he told me to load up and get going as soon as I was ready.

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Driving the 300 heritage service to Lynmouth

There are a handful of timetabled services and tourist operations in the UK which use heritage vehicles for a certain number of days. This summer I’ve had the chance to drive for one of them in Somerset.

Earlier this year I was invited by Steve Morris at Quantock Heritage to join the driver roster for his 300 service from Minehead to Lynmouth. At the time I had very little heritage driving work lined up so I agreed and signed up for a series of Wednesdays during the summer holidays. This was of course done with the knowledge and blessing of my full time employer Bakers Dolphin, as workloads are always lighter during the school holidays.

In a nutshell, the service runs two return journeys every weekday throughout the school summer holidays. It operates from outside the WSR railway station on Minehead seafront and ends in the car/coach park next to the Lyndale Tearooms in Lynmouth. The route goes through Minehead town centre, picking up outside the Co-op by request and then continues out of town to join up with the A39 to Lynmouth. As it is a timetabled public service, the 300 picks up and sets down at any of the bus stops along the route and is used by tourists mostly, including a good number of hikers heading for the high ground of Exmoor.

Quantock Heritage is able to use non-compliant (step entrance) heritage vehicles on this route because the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act 2005) rules have an exemption allowing a non-compliant vehicle to be used on up to 20 days per vehicle in a year. There are three single deck buses available for use so the summer period is amply covered.

The bus I used on all but one of my turns was newly-restored Birmingham City Transport 2257 (JOJ257), a 1950 Leyland Tiger PS2 with a 34-seat front entrance Weymann body. An interesting history of this batch of BCT saloons is on this Classic Buses web page.

On my first turn I was accompanied by Steve so that he could show me the ropes and we met at a farm on the outskirts of Minehead where the bus is outstationed. The bus is a testament to the skills of Steve and Andrew at Quantock who, together with an experienced joiner who was brought in especially, transformed this former tow bus from a gutted wreck into the smart vehicle pictured above.

For most of its former career 2257 was a ‘One Man Operated’ bus and this continues today, with a Setright ticket machine mounted on a plinth beside the driver. The bulkhead behind the driver’s seat has been cut away to provide access to the saloon and so that the passengers can communicate with the driver.

With all checks done and opening numbers written on the waybill, we set off for Minehead seafront. I used the journey to get used to driving the bus. I found that it was very similar to most of the PD2 and PS2 buses that I’ve driven before, including the rather heavy steering (compared to a Bristol L, for instance). The 9.8 litre Leyland O.600 engine tends to ‘hunt’ noticeably, which was my only gripe. This makes it difficult to drive smoothly at low engine revs because the engine speed is not constant but rises and falls rythmically.

I had to smile when issuing the first few tickets because it was me that set up the print run for the ticket rolls when I was a conductor in about 2007! The bus was about half full when we left at 10:05. Having left Minehead, I drove along the A39 with Steve behind me giving directions. Passing through Allerford, we arrived in Porlock and waited at the stop beside Doverhay car park until departure time. I had arrived early and this tendency plagued my first journey – I had been bombing along the main road at 42mph when 35 would have been ample! After driving through the narrow streets of the pretty village we took a right turn and followed the Toll Road, which climbs through the wooded slopes towards the edge of Exmoor. This avoids climbing the infamous Porlock Hill, of which more anon.

It was here that I met my first challenge: hairpin bends. There are two of them on the Toll Road and Steve talked me through the approach (go down through the gears to 1st). The first bend can’t be done in one go, even on full left lock so I had to virtually bury the nose in the hedge and then carefully roll backwards towards the armco barrier, unwinding the steering at the same time. Then slowly forward in 1st to re-apply full left lock to complete the turn. I was pretty breathless by then!

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Bringing a 1947 Leyland PD1 from Yorkshire to Somerset

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!

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1940s Festival on the South Devon Railway

Back in early July I took a Bristol L5G down to Buckfastleigh to take part in the South Devon Railway’s popular 1940s Festival.

The single deck bus was very familiar to me, having been a regular allocation during my time with Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare. Ex-Crosville KG131 (1950-built KFM893) still lives in Weston and is now part of the re-launched Crosville Vintage operation so my first task was to drive it down from Weston to Buckfastleigh, a distance of about 80 miles.

The Bristol L trundles along at about 42 mph on the motorway so it took about an hour and a half to complete the journey. On the way I had to face the stiff climb up Haldon Hill which, even with an empty bus, reduced my speed to about 15 mph. It’s at times like these that I feel quite vulnerable on dual carriageways and motorways due to my slow speed, relative to other traffic so I was relieved to turn off the A38 for the final few yards to the station forecourt at the South Devon Railway‘s station at Buckfastleigh.

My first departure wasn’t until 11:00 so I had time for a 45 minute break before starting service. I used that time to wander around the station and found myself in a time warp. I was surrounded by people in 1940s outfits as well as the uniformed railway staff. Visitors and re-enactors alike had gone to extraordinary lengths to enter in to the spirit of the event.

In a field adjacent to the station forecourt there was an impressive gathering of military vehicles and paraphenalia. I lost count of the number of wartime Willys Jeeps! On the station platform I passed a policeman in authentic 1940s uniform. In fact I saw him several times during the day, which turned out to be very hot and humid. To his credit (and probably his discomfort too), he kept his full uniform on all day!

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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!

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To Crowcombe with a Thames Valley Bristol L6A

A recent outing with a vintage bus saw me doing a solo duty for a wedding in West Somerset.

This was one of a handful of private hire duties I’m doing for Quantock Heritage as I’m keen to keep my crash-box skills finely honed!

The duty was solo in more ways than one, because there was nobody around at the depot either so I had to prepare the bus on my own. Fortunately, having done a duty here back in February, I knew the drill and the bus had already been checked, washed and fuelled.

My allocated bus was Thames Valley S302 (GFM882), formerly Crosville KB73/SLA73. It is a 1948 Bristol L6A, the ‘A’ signifying that it was fitted with a 6-cylinder 7.7 litre AEC diesel engine, rather than the more usual Gardner 5LW or Bristol AVW unit. This bus was converted by Crosville to OMO format comparatively early in its career in 1958 and has remained this way ever since. The bulkhead behind the driver has been removed, the side window set at an angle and a mounting for a Setright ticket machine provided. You can see the layout in this view, facing forwards.

GFM882 was parked beside an even older bus, W. Alexander & Sons P721 (VD3433), a 1934-built Leyland Lion.

Eventually my preparations were all done and I could put the moment off no longer. Yes, I was a little hesitant having not driven a crash ‘box bus since September 2018 and had never driven this particular example before. Fearing that there would be ‘Much Grinding in the (Langley) Marsh’* I set off gingerly down the hill and round the corner into Wiveliscombe, managing to find all the gears successfully. Downchanging was a different matter however and I made a right hash of several changes as the bus wound its way through the narrow streets of the town. Thankfully I had the empty journey to the pickup point to brush the cobwebs off my technique.

I soon discovered that this L6A has a well set-up clutch brake which enabled me to make quicker up-changes than usual, which is very useful when changing up a gear on uphill gradients!

I had researched the route and locality previously, as is my custom, but I could easily have come unstuck at the venue had it not been for the timely presence of the bride’s mother. I was just about to turn into the drive of the big house where the bridal party was gathering when the aforementioned lady jumped out of a car that had been following me and told me that marquees and gazebos had been set up beside the house, leaving nowhere to turn the bus. Thanking her profusely, I re-positioned, let her drive up to the house and then reversed up the drive. That could have been awkward! In fact it was still tricky because of the limited space available in the lane in which to manoever through the narrow gate.

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Back to bus work for a while

Most of my driving work for Bakers Dolphin involves coaches of various sorts but I’m sometimes rostered on one of the two registered bus routes as well.

Bakers Dolphin operates two bus routes on behalf of Somerset County Council, both of which serve the Bridgwater campus of Bridgwater & Taunton College. The No 62 runs from Weston-super-Mare town centre to Bridgwater College via Locking, Banwell, Churchill, Highbridge and Pawlett. It runs twice a day to serve the beginning and end of the college day.

The No 66 starts in Axbridge and passes through Cheddar, Wedmore, Mark, East Huntspill, Woolavington and Puriton before calling at Bridgwater College and terminating at Bridgwater Bus Station. It’s this route that I’ve driven most often although I sometimes get the 62 when its regular driver is off.

Now, I’m no stranger to bus service work but I’ve discovered since starting work at Bakers Dolphin that there’s a heirarchy in PCV driving work. Local bus service work is definitely near the bottom of the heap as far as coach drivers are concerned! Apart from the one regular No 62 route driver, I’ve yet to meet another driver who actually likes driving the bus routes!

Perhaps because I’m an easy-going guy who rarely complains, I often find that I’m allocated to the 66 route… sometimes for several days in a row. So what’s it like?

The duty starts at 06:30 and after 15 minutes or so of walkaround checks and preparation, I set off out of town towards Bridgwater before joining the A38 northwards. Usually I have a few minutes in hand so, in order to time my arrival in the narrow streets of Axbridge, I wait time in a layby beside the Bristol-bound A38 road.

My usual vehicle is No 97 (MX12DYS), a 2012 Wrightbus ‘StreetLite’ midibus. It’s very similar to its competitor, the Optare Solo. The rear-mounted Cummins diesel engine drives through a Voith fully automatic gearbox. Compared to most of the coaches at Bakers, the StreetLite is not a very sophisticated or comfortable bus. Braking in particular is very harsh and difficult to do smoothly. The retarder kicks in with an unexpected thump and the downward gearchanges only make it worse. Although it has air suspension, it is very hard and, together with the aforementioned deficiencies in the braking department, the ride is unpleasant and jerky. Not my usual style at all!

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