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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The final curtain for Crosville

The writing was on the wall for a long time but Saturday April 21st marked the end of another chapter in the long-running Crosville Motor Services story. Although this is now old news, it deserves an airing here because of my involvement with the latter-day company.

To recap, a combination of falling revenue and some difficulties with the Traffic Commissioner made it inevitable that the company would have to cease trading.

The management of the Weston-super-Mare company decided to go out with a flourish, so organised a running day on the last day of operation. Based at the Beach Lawns on Weston’s seafront, heritage vehicles were either lined up on display or used in service on the 100 route to Sand Bay. With Crosville’s Sentinel steam bus ‘Elizabeth’ joining in the action as well, that meant that the road to Sand Bay got very busy at times! (Photo copyright Paul Jones, used with permission).

Sadly I was committed elsewhere on that day so missed most of the action but did have a couple of hours to spare in the morning so I was able to help ferry some of the heritage buses out to the seafront site, including recently restored Bristol K6A HLJ44 and Bristol FS6G YDL318.

Then it was time to put all the toys away in the box and go home. With local bus routes and private hire bookings unable to run due to the lack of an Operators Licence, the next few weeks were rather sad as the once-busy depot was gradually cleared out. Most of the service buses and coaches were sold off, either for further use or for scrap. I drove two ex-school contract vehicles, Leyland Tiger CRZ9853 and a yellow Dennis Javelin coach (whose number I have already forgotten), up to a coach trimmer near Banbury. In a final twist, each had only been bought for its seats. With most of the ‘modern’ vehicles sold, the vast hangar which served as the Crosville depot looked forlorn.

There was a plan to continue running the heritage fleet, which had a healthy order book for 2018, under the auspices of Southern National (another JJP Holdings company) but this failed to materialise due to licencing issues. All bookings were cancelled and refunded. This had a direct impact on me because I had been, up to this point, managing the bookings and crew rosters for the heritage fleet.

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Heritage bus roundup: Spring 2018

Early Spring 2018 brought a flurry of heritage bus activity for me. Although we’re now well into a very hot summer, here’s a sample of what I was up to earlier.

This is a very attractive Bedford OB coach which was once operated by the original Crosville Motor Services in north Wales and now resides in Weston-super-Mare. It is now up for sale but I was asked to drive it up to Bristol to have its analogue tachograph calibrated as part of preparations for sale.

I’ve have driven this delightful vehicle several times before and I savoured the sounds from the very tuneful and distinctive gearbox. However I didn’t much like the steering, which is very heavy! I don’t know if this is typical of OBs because this is the only one I’ve driven (so far).

I saw this OB in Dorset recently, during on a birthday treat visit to Ringwood Brewery. I would have volunteered myself as a driver but Ringwood is quite a trek from Weston-super-Mare! If it had a canvas tilt on the back it would have looked exactly like the Bedford OB van that my grandfather used to operate (there’s a tiny me standing next to him). That was green as well!

One of the stalwarts of the Crosville fleet in recent years has been ex-Crosville Bristol FSF6G 891VFM and this is seen here having a thorough steam clean prior to its first outing of 2018. This was a trip down to Minehead to spend the day giving free rides to people who attended the Paw Patrol special event for children put on by the West Somerset Railway. I’ve driven at several of these events before and I was happy to be rostered as the driver. I really enjoy driving this Lodekka because I find it easy to drive it smoothly. It also has a good turn of speed (45mph+ on the level) thanks to having a rear axle from a¬†coach fitted.

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Wilts & Dorset Buses book published

After many months of preparation, my new book ‘Wilts & Dorset Buses’ has been published.

Regular readers will know that my bus driving roots go back to my childhood days watching and riding on Wilts & Dorset buses in Salisbury, Wiltshire. My interest was mostly inherited from my father, the late Derek J Dawkins, who also passed on a large collection of photographs to me. The new book is based on this collection but also includes some of my own photos.

The albums I inherited had been carefully annotated by my father but I have had great fun expanding on these with my own knowledge and research to create more readable captions. There’s a ‘Postscript’ section at the end which gives a more personal view of a couple of commemorative events in Salisbury in which I took part. You may have already seen that I covered these in my blog in 2014 and 2015.

I have to admit that I’m not the world’s best authority on Wilts & Dorset buses (although I know a man who could take that title) and I didn’t set out to write a reference work. I hope you’ll see that it’s a personal impression of the bus fleet as it was when my Dad was growing up in Salisbury and later, as he started his working career.

The softback book has 128 pages and the images on the inner pages are black and white. It can be obtained through Amberley Publishing and I commend it to you!

 

WNO480 goes to Torquay

1953 Eastern National Bristol KSW5G WNO480 is now enjoying a new career down on the sunny English Riviera. Or is it?

After its sale by the owner of Crosville Motor Services I recently drove this bus down to Torquay which, until last year, was my home patch. In many ways WNO is more suited to English Riviera Sightseeing Tours than it was to its former Weston-super-Mare owner, where it never really found any proper work to do.

The bus arrived needing work done to its dynamo and this was duly carried out last year. Accident damage to the front nearside mudguard was also fettled but, after a brief appearance at the Crosville bus rally in September, it remained idle in the garage. Crosville already has two other active open top buses (both visible in the photo above) and there just wasn’t enough work to sustain yet another, albeit more historic, open top bus. Hence the decision to sell.

In the photo above WNO480 is seen being prepared for the journey south with trade plates displayed and carrying a generous supply of water under the stairs! To the left of the KSW is ex-Bristol Omnibus VRT LEU263P. It was also being prepared for a long journey, this time northwards for MOT work. Unusually, the KSW has a 12 volt electrical system with just one enormous 12 volt battery under the floor instead of the usual two. The battery had been on charge the previous day as months of idleness had taken their toll.

Mrs Busman John had decided to follow me on this occasion, not only to transport me home to Weston later but also to visit some friends before we left. True to form, she had to hold back as we drove out of the estate. WNO, in common with most Gardner-powered vehicles, was emitting clouds of blue/white smoke from the exhaust but this cleared as the 5-cylinder engine warmed up. This particular 5LW engine sounds rather nasal and raucous due to having large mesh gauze covering the ports where an air filter would normally be fitted. I don’t know why this was done – a previous owner is responsible for this modification!

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Running Day to mark Exeter Bus Station closure

The long drawn out saga of the Exeter Bus Station redevelopment had a milestone day recently, as a strong turnout of heritage and modern buses and coaches filled the station for a farewell event.

I say long drawn out because the station was due to have been closed by now and the running day on Sunday 19th March was to have been its final fling. But planning officers, contractors and the square wheels of bureaucracy conspired to delay the closure and the site remains open for the time being.

I played a small part in the running day by collecting Western National 3307, a 1979 Bristol LH6L/ Plaxton Supreme coach which belongs to the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT), from its storage yard and driving it in service during the day. Several other historic vehicles from the area queued for fuel in a nearby town before heading off for Exeter.

I’ve driven this LH before and, although it’s not my favourite type, I found it quite easy to drive smoothly. I had time before my first duty to wander around but, even before I’d stepped off the coach, my planned duties were changed and I found myself covering a duty that was left vacant by a bus which didn’t appear.

Instead of doing a few trips up Telegraph Hill and back I was given two turns out to Alphington and one to St David’s Station. I knew roughly how to get to Alphington (a suburb on the west side of Exeter) but got the finer details about where to turn the LH coach from my WHOTT colleague Inspector Andrews. I drove down Western Way to Exe Bridges, which was very busy as per usual. Passing the Marsh Barton Trading Estate, I turned left and drove through Alphington and turned on a small triangle on the edge of the village. We stopped there to wait time and several passengers took the opportunity to take photos.

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