A visit to Eastern Coach Works, Lowestoft

I’ve done a couple of delivery jobs for Crosville Motor Services recently and one of them took me to the Far East (of England). To Lowestoft, in fact.

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of any vehicle built by Bristol Commercial Vehicles. Due mostly to Government ownership, the majority of these were bodied by Eastern Coach Works and it was to the coastal town of Lowestoft, where the ECW factory was located, that each newly-built chassis had to be taken years ago.

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Crosville has sold a Volvo B10M coach to a new owner who lives near Lowestoft and I was asked to drive the coach there from Weston-super-Mare. I knew that the 280-mile journey would take most of the day so I arranged to stay the night in Lowestoft and return the next day by train.

VanHool-bodied K7CJT has carried the number CRZ9825 while in service with Crosville but, by the time I arrived to take it to its new home, it had regained its original mark. The workshop staff had given it a once over the previous day and, not having driven this vehicle before, I spent some time checking it over before venturing out onto the road. Locating the side and headlight switch seemed to take me the longest time and I tried a good number of the rocking switches on the dash before finding the correct (rotary) switch near the steering column. That’s what happens when all the switch labels have worn off after years of use! A colleague at the depot, who is keen on the heritage side of the business, came over to see where I was going and asked me if I was going anywhere near the site of the ECW factory. I said I didn’t know where it was, not having time to research it the day before when planning my route. Lowestoft is quite a big town and I thought it would be unlikely that I’d be passing the site, even if I knew where it had been.

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Bath Services bus crew in miniature

Some time ago I featured a few photographs of a very well researched model of a Bath Services Bristol L5G. Now, to complete the scene, a colleague and I have joined the bus on the fine scale model railway.

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The detailed layout, along with its skilled owner, is located in far-away Melbourne, Australia and the bus crew is of course represented in miniature form! The layout is described in more detail in this post from March 2014.

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The addition of the driver and conductor was the finishing touch to this wayside station cameo and Ray, always keen to get the details right, asked for some help with the bus crew uniforms. Although I’m a relative newcomer to the world of vintage buses I did have some photographic reference, including a shot of a colleague and me wearing authentic ‘Tilling’ uniforms beside a Bath Services Lodekka.

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Ray used these photos as reference material for the professional model makers who painted the cast resin bus crew. I hope you’ll agree that the finished scene is remarkable. I also approve of the early Morris Minor in the background, complete with split screen and clap-hand wipers!

In other news, I’m ‘between jobs’ as they say in the acting profession. Driving for the local sightseeing tours has come to an end now and, although I have a couple of wedding duties with Crosville coming up in November, I’m driving a desk and catching up with jobs at home before the next bus-related project comes along. Also on the horizon is a new book, based on the early part of this blog and covering the trials and tribulations of a bus conductor who is looking for promotion up to the noisy end! Good fireside reading – anyone interested in buying a copy one day?

Rail River Link says farewell to the Bristol VRT

Last weekend saw the final runs in regular operational service for Torbay’s long-serving Bristol VRTs and I enjoyed a last fling with them on an evening Mystery Tour.

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Rail River Link (the bus operating division of the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company) has operated open top Bristol VRTs in the area since 2000 but now, due to the introduction next year of new regulations to bring all service buses into compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (commonly referred to as ‘DDA’), the VRTs are being phased out.

Jim O’Hara and his team of drivers delighted local transport historians and enthusiasts by putting on a weekend of extra services and Mystery Tours. The 2 remaining RRL VRTs were joined by two other vehicles, another VRT supplied by North Somerset Coaches and a Leyland Atlantean which is owned by a local collector.

I joined the party at Paignton Bus Station after returning from the afternoon Sightseeing Tour on the PD2 (FFY403). Incidentally, this was my final duty of the season as the Tours season also finished the same weekend. A good number of other people also waited near the 100 Service stop for the celebrity VRTs to arrive. A gentleman standing nearby started asking me about the buses which were due to take part and he revealed that he’d seen publicity about the weekend a few days earlier but didn’t know what a VRT was. Apparently he’d found the information he needed on a website written by a local chap who also drives for a company in Weston-super-Mare. Yes, he’d been reading this blog!

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Before long 2 of the VRTs had joined a Volvo B7 which was also in the station on the 100 run. I decided to take a ride on VDV138S for the first part of the tour. This was especially poignant because the bus (no 4 in the RRL fleet) was originally named ‘Warspite’ and was part of a batch of convertible Bristol VRTs supplied to Western National in 1977 as its 938 for service in Torbay. These buses replaced the ageing Leyland Atlantean ‘Sea Dog’ open toppers and happily several members of both types of bus have survived. Joining the fun for the weekend was VDV134S, now in Southern National NBC livery and carrying the name ‘Thomas Hardy’. To complete the set, as it were, one of the aforementioned ‘Sea Dog’ Atlanteans joined the convoy not long after we had left the bus station. Now registered MSJ499, it was originally 925GTA in the Devon General fleet and it has been returned to DG’s reversed cream and maroon livery, complete with ‘Admiral Blake’ name.

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Free bus tours with a 1952 Bristol KSW

Not long after my Birnbeck Pier duty (see previous post) I had the opportunity to run free bus tours around Minehead with a bus that’s very close to my heart.

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This is a duty that I’ve done many times before in support of the West Somerset Railway. This particular day was billed as a ‘Shaun the Sheep’ day, aimed at children of course, and one of the attractions on offer was the chance to have a free ride on a vintage bus.

I was thrilled to find that, for the first time on a private hire job, I’d been allocated a Bristol KSW. Crosville doesn’t own one of these in operational condition (although a genuine ex-Crosville example has just been taken north for a full restoration) so the one I was to drive was on loan from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection.

L8089 entered service with the Bath Services subsidiary of Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company in 1952 and was often in use on the long distance Bath – Salisbury route. This is where my family connection comes in. Salisbury is where my grandparents lived and L8089 would have driven past their house many times. I remember Bath Services Lodekkas (the successors to the lowbridge Bristol Ks) passing by when I stayed with my grandparents in the 1960s and 70s.

So now you can imagine my delight to be given this particular bus to drive! However, I tried not to let the mists of nostalgia cloud my vision while I prepared the bus in its compound near Minehead and drove it over to the WSR terminus to begin service.

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The Weston-Keynsham Shuttle with YDL318

Some private hire duties with heritage buses involve driving many miles to reach a far-distant destination. On others, the destination is just around the corner. For this job, it was both.

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According to my Work Ticket, the destination was about a mile from the Crosville garage – Weston-super-Mare seafront. The only snag was, I had to drive to Keynsham first!

The occasion was a birthday bash for a chap who was celebrating his big Five-O and that of a little girl of seven. They and a party of folk including friends and family had booked the bus for a trip to the seaside and so I drove the 26 miles to Keynsham at the stately speed of 30mph to pick them up. Apparently many of them were members of a local VW Campervan (often referred to as a ‘bus’) club, so were delighted to see the Bristol Lodekka turn into the car park to meet them.

Prior to this I had no idea what kind of event they were going to so, as soon as I learned that birthdays were involved, I set the destination blinds appropriately! On the way there with the empty bus I nearly had a panicky moment when I was confronted by ‘Road Closed’ signs on one of the main roads through the Bristol suburbs. Fortunately I had driven along a parallel residential road on a previous private hire job so I was able to continue my journey with a hastily chosen Plan B.

By the time everyone had boarded we had half a bus-load. Understandably they all decided to travel on the top deck and, as we picked our way through the busy centre of Keynsham, I wondered whether this would affect the handling of the bus. I needn’t have worried. Lodekkas, in common with most double deck bus designs, have a low centre of gravity so I barely noticed that everyone was up top. I had warned them about the detour around the byways of Hartcliffe but discovered as we rejoined the main road that I needn’t have bothered because the closure only affected east-bound traffic!

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An old friend re-visited in Venice

During a recent holiday in Venice I saw a bus I thought I recognised.

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Mrs Busman John and I were travelling in a hotel shuttle minibus on the island of Lido Di Venezia (near Venice) when we saw a distinctly British-looking bus. As we drew closer I thought I recognised the livery – a psuedo Huddersfield Corporation scheme applied to an ex-Leeds Corporation Daimler CVG6 bus. Confirmation came as soon as I could read the registration number 572CNW.

Later the same day we found the bus again, this time on foot so that we could have a closer look and take some photos. The bus was exported to Italy in 2011 after it was sold by Quantock Motor Services, for whom I worked as a conductor for a time.

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I conducted on this bus a few times at running days and on private hire jobs so I was rather gobsmacked to see it again! It is a permanent fixture beside a road on Lido, converted for use as a snack bar. The interior has been ripped out and the roof cut off, being replaced with a ‘lid’ which can be raised up on poles as seen here.

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It still wears the livery applied by QMS and, if you peer into the cab, you can see the ghost of a former owner still at the wheel!

I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor old girl, especially as she was in operational condition with a Class 6 MOT when sold. If you want to hear about the epic delivery journey from the UK, speak to Martyn Hearson of Reliance Bus Works!

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End of the road for bus terminii?

In the good old days, or so I’m told, bus conductors used to call out “Terminus!” when their bus reached its destination whereupon any remaining passengers would alight.

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These days, it would seem, Mr Progress is shouting “Terminus!” at terminii up and down the country, signifying the closure of once-busy transport hubs in our town centres. So, just for old times’ sake, here is a photograph of a bus station in its heyday. This is Salisbury Bus Station, taken by my father in about 1954 from his office window. Just like me when I worked for the Express & Echo newspaper in Exeter, my Dad enjoyed a fine view while supposedly at work! In his case he was learning the ropes as an architectural technician at Rawlence & Squarey.

The notes accompanying this photo state that the two buses in the foreground were at the time being used as a canteen and staff restroom. The double deck bus is Wilts & Dorset no 20 (ex-Southdown 920), a Leyland TD1 with a Willowbrook body. It originally carried a Short Bros body.

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Fast forward 60 years and Salisbury Bus Station closed in January 2014. I was there, regular readers will recall. With a tear in my eye, I led a cavalcade of historic Wilts & Dorset buses on the last ever scheduled departure. In this rather shaky clip (fast forward to 14:15) I’m driving the leading Lodekka.

On the same day Amesbury Bus Station closed. Salisbury Reds, the present-day operator of bus services in the area, could no longer justify the cost of maintaining the crumbling and outdated structures. Services now arrive and depart from various stops around the city centre. How times have changed.

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