Wedding at Maunsel House: always have a Plan B

When severe traffic delays threaten to ruin your day even before it has begun, you need to have a Plan B up your sleeve. This was one of those days.

It was while drinking my morning cup of tea that the ever-vigilant Mrs Busman John saw a social media post saying that the M5 motorway, which I was planning to use on my route down to Maunsel House near Bridgwater, had been completely closed southbound following a serious collision the previous evening. I would have checked Google Maps anyway but this gave me advanced warning and brought Plan B into play.

Maunsel House is a modest 15th century country estate just outside the village of North Newton, whose Parish Church was the location for the wedding ceremony. I was booked to arrive at 12 noon, to be in position for a 12:20 departure for the church. With the M5 shut and all other alternative routes clogging up fast, I girded my loins and arrived at the garage more than an hour earlier than originally planned.

Fortunately my allocated bus was ready to go and presented no issues so within 20 minutes I had locked up and was ready to leave. LFM320 was fleet no KA244 in the Crosville fleet when delivered in 1950. Its Leyland E181 engine drives through a 4-speed crash gearbox and, despite having a juddery clutch, provides a reasonably smooth ride.

Avoiding the M5 motorway completely, I motored southwards on the A38. Having long sections with a 50mph speed limit, my top speed of just over 40mph did not hinder following traffic too much. As I approached Highbridge I met a long queue of traffic which disappeared out of sight into the distance so I changed to Plan C, a B-road that I often use on various school routes. It did seem strange to be driving a 1950s half-cab bus instead of a school coach!

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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.

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Steve SD goes to Wells and Glastonbury with a Leyland PD2

In Steve’s first contribution to my ‘Busman’s Holiday’ blog, he takes us along with him on the platform – and the cab – of ex-Stockport Corporation Leyland PD2 HJA965E.

‘Twas the night before my second (ever) Crosville Vintage ‘heritage bus’ job as a conductor, that I prepared my uniform. Black shoes with parade gloss kiwi, grey trousers, respectable shirt and tie – with my best blazer!  Well, it was somebody’s wedding so I had to do my bit. I wore my grandfather’s FF conductor’s badge (most probably issued in Norwich, because he once worked as a driver and conductor in Norwich and North Norfolk).

The 19th June 2021 arrived.  With (dare I say) ‘child-like’ excitement I stood at the side of the Wellington Road in Taunton, waiting to be collected by the designated driver for the day… the very ‘dapper’ Andrew. Resisting the temptation to use my best ‘hail and ride’ signalling, I saw this beautiful looking 1967 Leyland Titan PD2 (HJA 965E) approaching from the direction of Silk Mills Road.  Resplendent in its red/cream paint, with the obligatory ‘Number 9’ route displayed in the blind, I greeted Andrew as he pulled up at my imaginary bus stop.  We chatted briefly about the day ahead, before proceeding to Glastonbury and The City of Wells – in our ‘Transport of Delight’.  We proceeded through the bustling Taunton Town Centre, with shoppers gazing in awe as we passed by.   Happily standing on the platform (I hasten to add, with both hands lightly gripping the handrails) I smiled at shoppers as we trundled towards the outskirts.  I am now well acquainted with the words “ I used to go to school on one of those” from many people of a certain age, as I travel to a growing number of events and venues – and I confess it makes me chuckle. 

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Introducing a new Guest Writer: more vintage variety in the Westcountry

I’m very pleased to be able to introduce to you a fellow busman who, like me, enjoys being out and about on board heritage buses and coaches. I’ve invited Steve SD (pictured below, left) to contribute some of his more recent adventures.

But before I share the first of these, here is some background info on his journey so far.

Steve served in HM Armed Forces from the age of 15-22 and then took a career in Public Service until 2002. A year later Steve qualified as a DVSA (Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency) Approved Driving Instructor (cars), teaching young (and not so young) people to pass their car test.  

In 2007, a major highlight for Steve was being accepted for a contract in the Middle East as a Fleet Driver Trainer in Qatar, where he was engaged in the assessment and training of multi-national employees who needed to drive utility vehicles and large buses at the oil refineries (and within city environments) across the State.  

2008 saw Steve re-engage in the training of people in the UK to drive cars and buses.  In 2009, Somerset County Council engaged Steve’s qualifications and skills in the training to test standard, and the triennial assessment, of Local Authority minibus drivers.  Because of his position as an independent Fleet Driver Trainer, Steve was happily engaged by a smattering of bus and coach operators across Somerset to train employees to pass their Category D bus/coach driving test. 

Finally, this year (2021) Steve decided to hang up his hi-vis jacket and relax into calm retirement.  That is, until he discovered the delights of the heritage bus and coach world.  Putting his trainer qualifications aside…  Steve will unashamedly tell anybody and everybody that he has found it very difficult to learn the dark art of driving a heritage bus – and appreciates any help offered by ‘those who know’!

*Since passing his PSV driving test all those years ago, Steve has driven a variety of buses coaches countless times on an ‘ad hoc’ basis for many different operators across Somerset (including National Express Bristol – London).  Whether for morning/afternoon school runs, swimmers, private hire to the sea-side, theatre and adventure parks, Steve has absorbed a lot of experience of the bus/coach industry.

I am looking forward to reading about some of Steve’s exploits on the platform and perhaps in the cab too. Please join with me in welcoming Steve to ‘Busman’s Holiday’!

You won’t have long to wait for Steve’s first blog post – it’s already in preparation.

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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