If it all seems to have gone rather quiet recently for Busman John, that’s because the opposite is true. Life has been extremely busy with bus movements, private hire duties and new responsibilities.
One of the more unusual private hire duties is pictured above – a day spent with a film crew from BBC Bristol ‘Points West’. This was another ‘get up at silly o’clock’ day, when I had to travel up from Paignton, prepare my rostered bus and get myself in position at BBC Bristol in Whiteladies Road by 08:30.
The people from Points West, the local BBC News programme, were interviewing the six candidates for Mayor and I spent the day with the Bristol VRT open top bus taking the film crew to six locations in the Bristol area to meet and interview the candidates.
Our first stop was the duck pond in Winterbourne, just to the north of the city, then on to Kingswood where we drove along the busy shopping streets while the filming took place on the top deck.
From there we went south to Chew Valley Lake for another interview and a lunch break. Getting there however was a bit fraught because I had only been rostered for the job the day before and hadn’t had a chance to do my normal route research. Planning our route was a bit of a team effort – not ideal. The inevitable happened, we chose a route that included a narrow, weight restricted bridge! I had to turn the bus around in a very small space and go back the way we’d come. How embarrassing!
The other stops included the very elegant Royal Avenue in Bath (pictured at the top of this post), just below the famous Royal Crescent. The footage was aired during the local news programme a few days later and was also published on the BBC Points West Facebook page in six short segments.
Another delivery duty for Crosville Motor Services recently took me on a return journey to Yorkshire, this time with a hybrid double deck bus.
It’s a journey I’ve done several times before so I hardly used the printed route notes I always carry in the cab. On previous journeys I’ve delivered a 1950 Bedford OB and a 1949 Bristol K6A to the restoration premises of Cobus in Yorkshire.
For various operational reasons I was unable to leave the depot until after 10:00 but, not having driven one of these hybrid buses before, I was glad to be able to accompany another driver on a similar bus as we took it into Weston-super-Mare town centre to swap it with the bus I was to take north. Watching his every move, I soon learned that it was really no different to driving any other modern bus with an auto gearbox.
If you haven’t already guessed, a hybrid bus uses a combination of battery power and energy from a small diesel engine for propulsion. Before I left the depot an engineer flipped a couple of switches behind a panel to put the bus into ‘DE’ (Direct Energy) Mode, which meant that the batteries would not be depleted on the long journey. The bus is built for Euro 6 economy on urban services but would require diesel power throughout the 260 mile trip to Hunmanby.
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.
I had the opportunity to drive a brand new coach last week. Always on the lookout for odd jobs to keep me busy during the winter, I accepted this one with with a mixture of tredipation and curiosity.
It proved to be a very long day, thanks to the rail network. The driving sector went like clockwork, fortunately! I can’t tell you much about the coach in question, except that it’s a TC12 made by Yutong in China with a DAF 10.8 litre engine. It was delivered to Crosville last autumn, wearing the livery you see above, after attending a trade show. Before entering service it needed to carry the more usual all-over-green Crosville coaching livery and that’s where I came in. It was my job to drive the coach – as yet unregistered – over to Marden Commercials in South Benfleet, Essex.
After a full hour of preparation, during which trade plates were attached, I was ready to set off. It was a voyage of discovery, even before leaving the yard as I had to find out where all the relevant switches were located. Headlights, wipers/washers, door controls and so on were laid out in front of me on a dashboard that wouldn’t look out of place on the flightdeck of a bizjet! The final task was to take on a full tank of fuel. The provision of a fuel gauge on the central digital display was a luxury for me. None of the heritage buses I drive normally have one at all. I have to rely on a makeshift dipstick and a Mark One Eyeball!
Now that I’m working on the sightseeing tours 5 days a week and also some Saturdays for Crosville, life has become rather hectic of late. Hence the lack of new posts. So, to bring you up to date, here are some recent happenings in Busman John’s world.
A significant sighting this morning was ‘Illustrious’, a Bristol VRT acquired by Rail River Link (the bus operation run by the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company) in 2013 from East Yorkshire Motor Services. Originally 938 (‘Warspite’) with Western National in 1977, it finally entered service last week on the 100 service from Torquay to Totnes via Paignton. It has spent much of the last 2 years in storage awaiting and undergoing an engine transplant. It arrived from EYMS under tow, having suffered an engine seizure before withdrawal. Now, wearing RRL branding over the existing EYMS livery, 938 is active once more in Torbay where it once operated (wearing Devon General fleetnames) when new. When I was working for RRL in 2013 I had a slim chance of driving 938 in service but, as it turned out, its return to active service has been rather protracted.
If you hadn’t already heard, the Leyland Tiger PS1 which was operated by Greenway Ferry to the National Trust’s Greenway House (Agatha Christie’s former summer home), has not run at all this year and rumour has it that the ferry and bus operations are up for sale. To fill the void, Rail River Link has acquired a 2004 Dennis Dart and is now operating it to Greenway House. NT1 runs to Greenway from the railway’s Churston Station and the early morning NT5 runs from Torquay. This is where I managed a quick passing shot of it a couple of days ago. FD54FGG is especially branded for the Greenway service and carries the name ‘Miss Jane Marple’.
If you wanted me to define ‘boredom’ in a couple of words, I would suggest ‘Rail Replacement’. I was offered two more days’ work, driving a modern coach on contract to First Great Western last week. I will tell you more later in this post.
But first, my new venture will be to drive a Leyland Tiger PS1 right here in Torbay. After another short lived encounter with Local Link (formerly known as Dial-a-Bus) I have agreed to drive for Greenway Ferry Ltd. They run a fleet of pleasure boats across the Bay and up the River Dart, one of which is an historic Fairmile launch. This ex-Royal Navy Rescue Motor Launch (RML497) used to ply between Torquay and Brixham, along with its sister, under the banner of ‘Western Lady’. Keen to capitalise on the nostalgia surrounding Agatha Christie, they also run a vintage bus service to Greenway House which was once Dame Agatha’s summer residence. Now owned by the National Trust, the house and gardens are open throughout the tourist season and the PS1 links the house with Torquay, Paignton and Brixham.
Earlier this year I started working for Local Link but, after spending a few days learning two of their many routes, decided that full time Local Bus Service work was not for me so I jumped ship and headed for Greenway Quay instead. You already know that I prefer to drive half-cabs!
I will be one of two regular drivers, supplemented – if all goes well – by a relief driver who is a frequent visitor to this blog! I start this coming weekend so I will post news of this later on, with more pics.
Most regular readers will know that I prefer to drive half cab buses but last week I was offered some duties driving modern coaches. As I am still looking for full time work as a Graphic Designer or a Copywriter, any offer of work will be considered!
Crosville Motor Services, along with many other coach firms, have been providing a rail replacement service to bridge the gap between Taunton and Bristol. This followed the devastating storms in early 2014 which led to extensive flooding of the Somerset Levels. Part of the Great Western trackbed had been washed away or inundated by floodwater so the coaches were required to maintain a connection for the passengers who would otherwise be stranded.
My first day’s duty started at 17:00 so I collected all the info I would need for the evening’s runs and boarded the firm’s van. In case you were wondering how I was going to transport a load of weary rail passengers in an Vauxhall Astra panel van, I’d better explain that I was using this to position myself down to Taunton railway station where I was to relieve another driver.
I had checked out the route in and out of the station the day before but it was useful to do a ‘dry run’ in the van just to be sure. The rail replacement coaches were using the Down (south) side of the station to set down and pick up passengers so I waited in a nearby shelter out of the biting wind. Once the other driver had arrived, I got him to give me a quick guided tour of the coach so that I knew where all the switches and controls were. The only modern coaches I’d previously driven were the ones I’d trained on before taking my PCV test and the one I drove last year to Millfield School.
After the other driver had disappeared in the van back up to Weston I settled myself into the driver’s seat. Soon a First Great Western despatcher called me forward to the platform entrance for the 19:00 departure and I picked up a solitary passenger. This suited me quite well as I knew that the first few miles would be a bit of a learning curve for me. I was driving CRZ9851 (originally P153FUJ), a Dennis Javelin/Plaxton Premiere with a 6-speed manual gearbox. It took me a while to find a gearchange technique that would give the smoothest ride as, even though it obviously has synchromesh, quicker or slower changes made a difference.