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.

Staff at Eastern Coach Works 1948

Following a visit I made to Lowestoft several years ago, I posted on here to describe the journey with a Volvo B10M coach. Now a former Lowestoft resident has contacted me, having read the post recently.

Penny Ewles-Bergeron writes “My uncle by marriage Archie Fuller worked at the Eastern Coach Works in Lowestoft for a number of years and I have a few images from the 1940s that might interest you.” Penny sent me these fascinating photos which show Archie Fuller and some of his workmates at ECW. She goes on to say “I’ve always been keen on history and family history has an extra piquancy, of course.  Archie (Daniel Archibald) Fuller was born 26th Feb 1916 and died in October 1996, being buried in Kirkley Cemetery on 1st November.  He married my aunt Grace May Ewles in 1947 or 8 (I don’t have the exact date) and they lived at 20 Homefield Avenue, Lowestoft all their married lives. I’m afraid only one of the photos is truly useful from a bus enthusiast point of view but you definitely pick up the camaraderie from these images.  In his younger years he had been a cook on a fishing boat – stories of lashing pans to the stove in the galley – he remained in charge of cooking chips at home after that!  Always delicious.  I don’t know when he left the bus factory”.

If you are a regular reader of this blog or if you browse through some of the previous pages you will know that the majority of the heritage buses I had driven carry bodies by Eastern Coach Works. It is very likely that Archie Fuller and his workmates helped assemble some of them. I wonder what Archie would think if he knew that his handiwork has survived well into the 21st century?

From what I’ve picked up from restorers and their clients, ECW products have a reputation for being well built, using quality raw materials such as burmese teak. Perhaps this has contributed to so many vehicles having survived way beyond their planned service lives.

Click on a photo to view full size and to read the caption.

There’s a brief history of Eastern Coach Works here and there’s also a fascinating archive film of ECW on YouTube:

Busman John’s Virtual Bus Rally

Of the many casualties of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, the one that I have missed most this year is the opportunity to drive at various bus rallies and running days. Some organisations have run a virtual event instead, so here’s mine!

There are many buses I have driven or have seen that I would like to invite to my Virtual Bus Rally but I’ve narrowed it down to this selection. The captions describe my reasons for inviting them to my event.

Dennis toastrack bus in Torquay

Way back in sunny May I paid a return visit to Torbay and met up with my friends at English Riviera Sightseeing Tours. I spent the day driving their open top Leyland PD2 and also met their newest acquisition, a Dennis Toastrack Bus.

Needless to say, the folks there were delighted to have me back, if only for a day. Apparently my gentle driving style has been sorely missed! It was great to be in the driving seat of FFY403 once again and to hear the banter and gags of my tour guide ‘Wayne Champagne’ as we trundled around the tour route.

Since I last drove it, the PD2 had undergone some engine repairs, the fuel pump and injectors getting particular attention. Those with long memories will remember that my only disppointment with driving the PD2 was its excessively high idle speed. Usually a Leyland O.600 engine will tick over very slowly without doing any harm, sometimes with a little ‘hunting’ too. But on FFY the idle speed used to be so high that I had to de-clutch far sooner than normal when rolling to a stop. I seemed to have to coast for ages with my foot on the clutch before stopping.

Anyway, having refurbished the pump and replaced a split rubber diaphragm, the idle speed could be brought right down so driving it again this year brought great satisfaction. At long last I was able to hear the engine idling normally. Why couldn’t this work have been done when I was a regular driver?!

Wayne couldn’t resist bringing out one of his favourite gags in my honour as we passed through Paignton during the afternoon tour. As we approached Manor Corner on the return to Torquay, we were about to pass the Paignton Spiritualist Church. “I have some late breaking news for you, folks,” piped up Wayne. “This evening’s clairvoyance meeting at the Spiritualist Church has been cancelled,” he continued with barely suppressed giggles, “due to unforeseen circumstances!” Gales of laughter from the saloon behind me followed by “It’s not my fault, ladies and gentlemen, that one was especially for our driver John!” from Wayne. He knows that I’m a churchgoer (though not a Spiritualist) and likes to trot that one out for my benefit, although I doubt that Spiritualists can look into the future any more than I can.

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Summer 2018 heritage happenings

Alongside my coach driving duties for Bakers Dolphin, I’ve been able to keep my crash box skills up to date with some of the ex-Crosville heritage fleet.

YDL318-at-WSR-Steam-Fair

I had made it known that I’d be happy to do a few voluntary turns, if any came up. Towards the end of the summer term, Uphill Primary School in Weston-super-Mare had requested that a vintage bus attend the School and Village Fair in the school grounds. Crosville had provided a bus for static display for several years running and I was asked to take a bus – any bus – to the Fair. Mrs Busman John was keen to come along as well so we chose to take open top Crosville DFG81 (Bristol FSF6G 891VFM) as the weather seemed once again to be wall-to-wall sunshine.

The Lodekka hadn’t seen any action since the closure of Crosville in April so we went down to the depot early to make sure that she would start. Fortunately there were no problems so we drove the short distance to Uphill. After parking on the school field we left the bus open so that people could have a look around. Many did, most heading for the top deck! We had a look round the stalls and displays but, when we got back to the bus, found that I’d left the power on and some children were taking great delight in dinging the bell. Not only was it annoying for the nearby stall-holders but it might have depleted the batteries so I turned off the isolator when no-one was looking.

891VFM-in-BD-yard

At the end of the afternoon we took the scenic route back to the depot – via the seafront of course – which pleased Mrs Busman John, who was naturally riding up top. Sensing the need for a cheeky photo opportunity, I drove into Locking Road Coach Park and briefly parked the Lodekka among the Bakers Dolphin coaches!

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