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.
I attended the Exeter Twilight Event a couple of times and I’m shown here having just arrived at Crossmead with Bristol Omnibus LC8518 (LD6B 972EHW). I would invite this bus to my event as it is powered by the relatively rare Bristol AVW engine. And because it’s a Lodekka of course.
I’d like to invite this 1947 ex-Bullock of Featherstone Leyland PS1, mostly because it carries one of only two surviving Barnaby bodies. Also partly because I would love to see it restored and fit to attend a rally. When I used to drive it in Torbay it was desperately in need of attention. By the way, the gentleman waving to me is Richard Wilson (AKA Victor Meldrew), who was just about to board the bus.
Bournemouth Corporation received three Burlingham-bodied Leyland PS2s for circular tours of the resort and remarkably all of them survive. I drove this one when it was in service with English Riviera Sightseeing Tours in Torbay where it was performing a similar function to when it was new. It retains its sumptuous 1930s-style coach interior and that helps to ensure its presence at my Virtual Bus Rally.
I would include this venerable 1930 Dennis GL, fitted with a Roberts toastrack body. It’s a bit quirky to drive, having the accelerator pedal in the middle and the footbrake pedal on the right. It messes with your brain! It is shown acting in a promotional role for the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours operator that I used to drive for until I moved to Somerset.
Although this ex-Southdown Bristol VRT was built in 1977, I would still class it as rather modern. However, it deserves its place on my invitation list because it is now a classic design in its own right, being one of many preserved examples of a sucessful first generation rear engined bus. This particular bus was my regular allocation when I drove for Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company in 2013.
This is one of a very few AECs that I have driven. Its owner Steve Goss kindly offered me the chance to drive it when we both attended the WHOTT bus rally in Dorchester. I had driven an open top Bristol Lodekka to the event but was keen to get up close and personal with this Devon General 1965 AEC Regent V because I remember it in service in Exmouth, where I grew up.
Another vehicle that deserves to be included is this 1965 Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF6G. It became my regular bus at Crosville Motor Services on wedding duties. I’m pictured here driving it along Torquay seafront during the Torbay Bus Running Day just a month after I had passed my PCV driving test.
Pictured at the final WHOTT rally to be held at Westpoint Showground, Exeter, is Exeter Corporation No 5, Maudslay ML3 (FJ9424). The superb livery is the brush-painted handiwork of Ashley Blackman (The Revivist). I was chosen (allegedly because of my skill with a crash ‘box and my slim stature) to drive the bus at its debut event, after a long and costly restoration. I later went on to drive the old girl down to Exeter from mid-Devon to transport the Mayor of Exeter and his entourage to the historic Guildhall for a civic event.
Pictured with me at the same WHOTT event is Nick Muir who is wearing the Exeter Corporation uniform he wore as a conductor on the Maudslay’s successors. Photo by Robert Crawley.
Any bus with an exposed radiator gets my attention. If it’s a Bristol, so much the better. And if it’s wearing a Tilling Red and Cream livery that’s better still! Ex-Crosville (and later Thames Valley) Bristol L6A GFM882 is pictured at a wedding in Crowcombe, Somerset in 2019 on a duty I did for Quantock Heritage. It qualifies for entry because it is very similar to the Wilts & Dorset Bristol Ls I remember seeing in Salisbury, although by then they had a modified full front.
Although not a half cab, this early Southern National Bristol RELL (HDV626E) gets an invite mostly because of its aural effects. I’m pictured here arriving back at Coldharbour Mill, Uffculme, Devon, after a trip through nearby Cullumpton. The throaty roar from the exhaust threatened to shatter the shop windows as we passed through the narrow streets! Photo by Paul Carpenter.
My late father would have seen this bus many times as it passed his house in Wilton Road, Salisbury on the Bath Services route shown on the blind. Any Bristol K would be welcome at my virtual bus rally but this one gets an invitation because it retains its Bristol AVW engine as well as having a family connection. On the occasion shown I was driving it around Minehead in association with a West Somerset Railway special event.
This Bristol K6A (Hants & Dorset TD895 – HLJ44, retaining its AEC engine) earns its place because of the stunning restoration carried out by The Revivist (Ashley Blackman). I remember driving it up to Yorkshire from Somerset – that was a long 35mph slog! It is presented in the livery it wore when new – delivered initially to London Transport in 1949 to cover for RT losses and late deliveries due to the war.
Following many years in storage and several more under meticulous restoration by Roger Burdett, this Wilts & Dorset Bristol K made its debut at the 2014 Warminster Bus Running Day. Roger had replaced the original Gardner 5LW with a larger 6LW but it gets an invitation to my virtual event because it completes the hat-trick of engine options and (of course) because it’s a Wilts & Dorset bus!
Seen after I had driven it to the same event as the previous photo, this 1950 Bristol L5G was another of my regular allocations for weddings at Crosville Motor Services and is a delight to drive. It also sports the attractive dual purpose livery and would contrast fittingly with the Thames Valley bus-spec Bristol L6A pictured earlier.
The aural symphony produced by the 4-speed crash gearbox of a Bedford OB would be most welcome at my Virtual Bus Rally. I’m pictured here driving Duple A-bodied Crosville SL71 (MFM39) along Weston-super-Mare seafront during a 2019 bus rally. Photo by Paul Jones.
I remember seeing and riding on this bus and its stable-mates in Salisbury, where I often went to stay with my grandparents as a child. The current owners of Wilts & Dorset Bristol LD6G OHR919 kindly let me drive it at the W&D Centenary event in 2015. I’m seen here with my son on layover at Wilton Market Place. Because of my personal connections to this bus it is guaranteed a place in my virtual event!
A year earlier I had the privilege of driving OHR919 during an event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station. Here I’m leading a convoy of Wilts & Dorset buses on the last ever timetabled departure on a suitably dismal afternoon in January 2014.
Whenever I get the chance, I love to create a ‘then and now’ photo. In 2010, even before passing my bus driver’s test, I was allowed by owner Steve Morris to bring ex-Western National no 1935 (Bristol LDL6G VDV752 of 1957) down for the Torbay Vintage Bus Running Day with a few friends. I have in my collection a photograph of the same bus taking a break while in service in the 1970s with Devon General so I couldn’t resist the chance to recreate that shot with the same bus in the same location. I would love to have this bus at my event because I spent many happy hours conducting on it while in service on the ‘Exmoor Explorer’.
Here’s another ‘then and now’ shot. WHOTT has a photograph in its extensive archive which showed Conductor Wooldridge climbing into the cab of Exeter Corporation’s Maudslay ML3 (FJ6154) while learning to be a driver. The photo on the right is me with the same bus about 80 years later. Photo (right) by Robert Crawley.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.