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.
Many of you will have seen, photographed, ridden in or driven Bristol buses fitted with the unusual Cave-Browne-Cave cooling system. So here’s a photo of one of the prototype buses.
This is Hants & Dorset 1068, a 1940 Bristol K5G carrying an early version of the cooling/heating system invented by Wing Commander T. R. Cave-Browne-Cave. He was Professor of Engineering at Southampton University at the time. The photograph comes from my own collection and came to light while I was looking for images for a new book I’m writing.
In a nutshell, the traditional radiator mounted in front of the engine is omitted and two – smaller – radiators are fitted either side of the destination display. These also act as forced air heaters for warming the upper deck. In summertime, when the saloon heating isn’t necessary, the warm air can be deflected through vents on the sides of the bus.
I’m not sure why the Wing Commander was commissioned to create this system because the traditional cooling system had been working reasonably well for decades previously and indeed continues in the same form to this day. Anyway, his first prototype installation was fitted to a Southampton Corporation Guy Arab. The test went well evidently and the second installation was fitted to a Hants & Dorset Bristol K, as shown above. The front cowl, obviously from a Lodekka, was a later modification because the original front was more obviously based on the standard PV2 radiator shape.
Cave-Browne-Cave obviously sold the idea to Bristol Commercial Vehicles/Eastern Coach Works and it was widely adopted as an option for Bristol LDs and F-series Bristols as we all know. Some more of Southampton’s Guy Arabs were also fitted with CBC, as were a few Bristol Ls of West Yorkshire Road Car.
Since getting acquainted with Maud I’ve developed an interest in very early motorbuses. Maud of course is Exeter Corporation No 5, a 1929 motorbus which I had the honour of driving back to Exeter a couple of years ago.
Today I came across some photographs of an early Great Western Railway motorbus with very local connections, having been photographed in my home town of Paignton. They are in fact postcards and the images were posted in a Facebook group called ‘Paignton in Pictures’. I have permission from the group’s administrator to reproduce the images here.
The postcard shown above, dated 1906, was originally a black and white photograph which has been hand coloured by an artist, a common practice in the early days of photography which was intended to produce a more life-like product. It also made the image more saleable of course! The image shows passengers alighting from a GWR motorbus which has parked outside the Gerston Hotel, Paignton. The photographer would have been standing right outside the GWR’s Paignton railway station and the passengers were likely to be boarding a train there.
It’s a bit unfortunate that a local horse-drawn hansom cab is obscuring part of the bus but happily there is another postcard that features a photograph that seems to have been taken on the same occasion but from a different angle. This one clearly shows that the bus was No T-390 and I contacted my friend Robert Crawley to see if he could tell me more about it. Robert is Chairman of the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT), which has an extensive archive of information and images relating to all aspects of transport in this area.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.