The boss of the Dartmouth Steam Railway’s bus division (Rail River Link) looked most bemused as we drove past each other in Paignton town centre the other day. Even so, he waved enthusiastically at me from behind the wheel of his Volvo Olympian on service 100 to Totnes. I don’t think he expected to see open top Leyland PD2/3 FFY403 out and about so early in the season!
This was on Thursday last week when, together with the proprietor of English Riviera Sightseeing Tours, the 1947 ex-Southport Corporation Titan was awakened from its winter slumbers for pre-season servicing. The process of extracting the bus from storage was rather time consuming, due to battery issues. Not on the PD2, I hasten to add, but on the MCW Metrobus parked in front of it. The old PD2, bless her, started on the button. Mostly because I had disconnected her batteries after some work was done back in January.
Eventually, after much swapping of batteries, we managed to start the ex-London Transport Metrobus – filling the storage shed with trademark Gardner smoke in the process. Then it was the Titan’s turn and soon she also was standing outside in the sunshine, looking very dusty.
With the Metrobus returned to the shed, I drove the PD2 back along the Totnes road and through Paignton which is where my aforementioned ex-employer and I exchanged busman’s waves. It was good to be sitting behind the wheel of the PD2 again, such a familiar place! She trundled along without any complaint, except for a bout of ‘tyre-bump’. That’s my term for the rhythmic bump-bump-bump produced by tyres that have stood in the same position for several months. Apparently the rubber deforms in that time and retains the shape until a few miles have been covered.
One of my blog readers sent me a couple of photos of a mystery bus, now operating in New Zealand.
Ray Bounsall emigrated to Australia many years ago but originally hailed from Somerset. He and his wife were on holiday in New Zealand recently and were amazed to see this RML in Christchurch. Ray managed to fire off a couple of photos as the bus passed by and has given me permission to post them here. The bus retains its London blinds but has lost its UK registration number. Any fleet number it may have carried is also missing so, which bus is it?
Some quick net research reveals that the mystery bus is in fact 1967-built RML2724 (originally registered SMK724F) and was exported to New Zealand in 2005. It is now operated by Hassle-Free Tours in Christchurch and is one of three ex-London Transport Routemasters in their fleet.
During their visit to Christchurch, Mr & Mrs Bounsall saw much evidence of the terrible earthquake that rocked the city a few years ago. “By the way, whatever you may have seen on the telly when Christchurch was hit by the massive earthquake in 2011 is only a shadow of the real damage done. The centre of this beautiful city has had its heart ripped out and 4 years on, there is still a lot of rebuilding to be undertaken. If the LT AEC had been driving around 4 years earlier it could have been mistaken for a post WW2 war era. It was like it had been blitzed.”
Ray also says that he thought he recognised the driver of the Routemaster. “Looks like you driving, were you having a busman’s holiday?”
Many of the classic buses and coaches which we enjoy today owe their survival to non-PSV use after withdrawal. One such bus is a Bristol FLF which has featured heavily on these pages in the past.
The photo above shows Hants & Dorset’s 1220 (FLF6G DEL893C) in gleaming H&D livery a couple of years ago but long before that it entered service, still wearing faded Poppy Red, with Double Two Shirts in about 1981. This large Wakefield-based manufacturer used to run quite an extensive fleet of ex-service vehicles, mostly Bristol FLFs and VRTs, to convey staff to and from the factory. I recently came across a YouTube clip of some of these vehicles in action:
After passing through the hands of several owners, including Quantock Motor Services (left, seen entering Porlock), it reached Weston-super-Mare in the ownership of the fledgling Crosville Motor Services. It became a mainstay of the heritage hire fleet and was the first bus I drove in service after passing my PCV test in 2012.
2015 is a special year for those who remember the buses and operations of Wilts & Dorset Motor Services Ltd. The company was incorporated in 1915 and various events will take place throughout this year to commemorate the W&D Centenary. For my part, in addition to attending a vintage bus running day in Salisbury in June, I’m going to post some archive photos from my collection. ‘Wilts & Dorset through the years’, you could say. Except that the photos won’t be in any particular order, just selected randomly as the mood takes me. Well, it’s my blog isn’t it?
So here we go, with a Wilts & Dorset Bristol L6B single deck dual purpose bus. GAM216 was delivered in 1949 as fleet no 297 wearing the pre-war W&D coaching livery (seen here in colour on sister vehicle EMW284). It was powered by Bristol’s own AVW 6-cylinder diesel engine. No 297 operated in this form until early in 1958, when the Portsmouth Aviation 32-seat body was rebuilt in Wilts & Dorset’s own workshops in Salisbury. It re-appeared in May of that year. The gently sloping waist-rail had gone, along with the elegant swooping trim which was such a familiar feature on single deckers of this era.
In this form, now wearing the simpler Tilling Red and Cream livery, 297 continued to run in W&D service until withdrawal in 1962.
Fortunately it became one of five W&D Bristol Ls to survive and happily retains its Bristol AVW engine. It is currently owned by Yesteryear Vintage Vehicle Hire and is gradually working its way to the front of the restoration queue.
Portsmouth Aviation, as the name suggests, was (and still is) a supplier of equipment to the military aviation industry. However, it made a brief foray into bus bodywork and supplied several operators in the south of England for a short time.
A few days ago I posted a review of 2014 which was in fact generated by WordPress. It served up a number of stats relating to the performance of my ‘Busman’s Holiday’ blog but takes no account of my personal highlights of the year. So here they are.
First of all, in early January, was the special running day to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station. I had the pleasure of driving Wilts & Dorset 628 (Bristol LD6G OHR919) during the day and, on the first journey of the day, called at Salisbury General Hospital where I was born umpty-something years ago. At the end of the day there was the unforgettable moment when I led a convoy of four Wilts & Dorset buses out of the bus station on the last departure ever. Such an honour.
With a cameraman in the saloon behind me with Richard, a fixed camera in the cab and a camera car in front of the bus, I was filmed driving from Torquay to Greenway. On the way there Richard interviewed me, which was the most difficult part of the journey. Mostly because I was still driving at the time! The series is being screened on ITV at the moment – it’s on Monday evenings at 8pm. Look out for the Greenway episode! Although driving to Greenway was mostly good fun, the condition of the bus and the operation of the service left a lot to be desired and so I bade farewell in June.
Many of you will have followed my driving adventures since I was a lowly conductor and will know that the subject of railways has cropped up more than once. In fact it’s curious how often the buses I’ve conducted on – or have driven – have crossed paths with trains of one sort or another. Naturally, those hauled by steam locomotives grab my attention more than any others!
This was the scene a couple of weeks ago when the Sightseeing Tours bus was parked at Preston Sands halfway through the afternoon tour. The coastal road passes over the railway line by Hollicombe Beach and I’d spotted a plume of steam rising from the stationary loco as it waited for a path into Paignton station. Fortunately I had plenty of time to position myself for a photo before the train passed by. The loco was GWR 4-6-0 No 5029 ‘Nunney Castle’ which was hauling the Cathedrals Express into Paignton from Westbury.
Several years ago I was a conductor for Quantock Motor Services (sadly no longer trading) which had its depot right next to Bishop’s Lydeard station on the West Somerset Railway. I was able to see, hear and smell many steam-hauled trains while preparing buses.
Quantock used to provide a fleet of buses for a Christmas Park and Ride service into Taunton town centre and it was while conducting on one of these services that the bus I was on passed over the new Silk Mills bridge just as Gresley Pacific ‘Sir Nigel Gresley‘ passed directly underneath!
While browsing through some old holiday photos today I came across this shot of Bedford WTB JT8077. I enjoyed a short ride to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in this historic coach in 1995, a couple of years after it joined the small fleet operated by John Woodhams, Ryde. I remember it sounding every bit as tuneful as the Bedford OB which succeeded it!
Here is a brief history of this 1937-built vehicle, taken from the website of Vintage Tours where the Bedford still operates to this day:
JT 8077 is a 1937 Bedford WTB with 25 seat coachwork by Duple. JT was new to South Dorset Coaches at Corfe Castle in Dorset, and stayed with the company for thirty years before passing to Adge Cutler, of Wurzels fame. Adge and his brother Roy took her to a number of rallies, including the London to Brighton Historic Commercial vehicle Run. Following Adge’s untimely death in a road accident, she passed to new owners in Gloucestershire in the mid 1970s. She became semi derelict before passing to Pearce, Darch & Willcox, at Cattistock, in Dorset who restored her, and re-certified her as a psv in 1987. After two or three years the company and its modern coaches sold out to Southern National, but JT remained in the old garage until 1992 when acquired by the present owner. Very few WTBs survive today, and JT is the only example in passenger service.