Around Minehead with an open top Bristol VRT

In a welcome return to heritage buses, I spent two days driving around Minehead, Somerset, in an open top 1976 Bristol VRT giving free rides to people who were taking part in a West Somerset Railway event.

The West Somerset Railway has not been able to run any passenger-carrying trains this year because the coronavirus lockdown was announced before the 2020 timetable had begun. But two consecutive weekends were set aside to offer a Living Museum event, where people could pre-book tickets to enter Minehead station and see shunting and turntable demonstrations, see exhibitions and have a ride on a vintage bus. I was asked to drive for the second weekend.

The vehicle in use was 1976-built Bristol Omnibus C5055 (Bristol/ECW VRT LEU263P) and, as it had been used during the previous weekend’s event, it was still in Minehead so I didn’t need to drive it all the way from Weston-super-Mare, where it is stored. So, after a fairly leisurely drive down the A39, I arrived at about 09:45 to find the bus parked up in the coaling bay at the WSR’s Minehead shed.

In addition to my usual walk-around checks, I had to go around the bus with disinfectant and wipe down all the frequent contact areas such as handrails and seat tops. This was just the start of a very strict anti-Covid19 regime. I dipped the tank and found it about a quarter full so, knowing that the bus would be taken back to Weston at the end of the next day’s duty, I stopped off at the Morrisons filling station for fuel.

I finally arrived outside the Turntable CafĂ© beside Minehead station where I met my conductor for the day who, under normal circumstances, would have been checking tickets on one of the WSR’s popular steam train services. We introduced ourselves and ran through the various procedures – face coverings, maximum capacity (only 20 per journey), anti-bac sweeps after every journey and so on. Also in attendance was another railway volunteer who was acting as despatcher in our loading bay.

Continue reading

Busman John’s Virtual Bus Rally

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.

Coaches to the Seaside 2019

Looking back to the autumn, one of my last outings with a vintage bus was at the ‘Coaches to the Seaside’ event at Weston-super-Mare. This took place on Sunday September 1st and was based at Weston seafront, with a static display at the Helicopter Museum.

Yes, I know that was a long time ago but I’ve been mega busy at work and we’ve also had a bereavement in the family which has taken my attention for a while so please accept my apologies for such a long gap between blog posts.

‘Coaches to the Seaside’ was organised by a number of local enthusiasts in collaboration with Crosville Vintage and the Helicopter Museum. I was offered the chance to take Crosville SL71 (1951-built Bedford OB MFM39) from the Crosville Vintage base to the static display area at the Helicopter Museum, an offer which I could hardly refuse! So, after going to church in the morning, Mrs Busman John and I prepared the OB and drove it to the site on Locking Moor Road.

It was lovely to step aboard the old girl, not having driven her for about a year. There’s something about the slightly musty aroma, the odd driving position and the beautifully tuneful gearbox that is unmistakeably OB. However, the one annoying tendency was that the petrol engine didn’t idle very well and was prone to stalling when pulling up at a junction or traffic lights.

I had been promised a few driving turns during the event but no details had arrived beforehand so I presented myself to one of the marshals after a picnic lunch. Apparently there were a number of heritage vehicles running a shuttle service between the Helicopter Museum and the seafront so I was invited to crack on and take the next load of passengers, who were waiting at a bus stop just outside the museum, down to the seafront as soon as I was ready.

With a full load on board, we made our stately way down the main road and through the town centre, where we were snapped by a roadside photographer. As I’ve mentioned before, this OB has heavy steering so I was glad to wait for a bit at the Tropicana while our passengers alighted.

Continue reading

Bringing a 1947 Leyland PD1 from Yorkshire to Somerset

Due to the unfortunate collapse of a company in Yorkshire, I had the chance to collect a Leyland PD1 and drive it all the way to Weston-super-Mare following its purchase by a local collector.

But first, an apology. If you are reading this, you are either subscribed to my blog or you are a very patient watcher! I’m aware that I haven’t posted much recently but this is due to a lack of time to write more material rather than a lack of any bus-related activity. I have several more posts up my sleeve and I’ll do my best to bring them to you as soon as I can.

The subject of this post is Wigan Corporation 34 (JP6032), a 1947 Leyland PD1 with a Leyland 53-seat lowbridge body. For many years it had been a stalwart of the Yorkshire Heritage Bus Co fleet until financial difficulties led eventually to the entire fleet being put into the hands of a receiver. As ever in these situations, there was the possibility that some of these might be sold abroad or worse, broken up for spares. Jonathan Jones-Pratt bought five of the vehicles and my friend Dave Moore and I were approached to act as ‘ferry drivers’.

We were assured that both our buses had been checked over by someone at the secure yard where they were being stored so all seemed OK for the long journey south. As per usual, I did quite a bit of route research and found that there was a low railway bridge on the most obvious route from the yard to the south-bound M1, so I planned a route that would take me via Tankersley on more suitable roads.

Armed with the address where the buses were stored, Dave and I set off early in the morning by train and arrived at Penistone station about midday. A short taxi ride took us to a remote location where the Yorkshire Heritage fleet was parked in a secure compound. A couple of staff from the facility met us and showed us the two buses we were to bring back. My first impression of the PD1 was that it was OK if a little tatty. Dust and cobwebs indicated that this bus had not been used for a while!

Dave was to bring back a smart looking London Transport RT so he began his walkaround checks while I took stock of the Wigan PD1. I had a look around the RT too, (RT2591, a 1951 AEC Regent III RT3 with Park Royal body) and although the exterior is very presentable, the interior looked a bit tired, with several seats having damage. In its favour though were several original interior adverts dating from the decimal currency change-over in February 1971.

The Wigan PD1 really was an unknown quantity as nobody there had any experience of the vehicle so I poked around for quite a while before starting it up and checking all the usual daily check items. The engine started first time and ticked over slowly with a characteristic Leyland ‘hunting’ rhythm. Apparently new batteries had been fitted in readiness for the journey. I took the bus out of the compound and drove it up and down the nearby yard, just to get a feel of the vehicle and check that I could make it stop as well as make it go!

My checks revealed that the nearside front indicator wasn’t working so, while I waited for a chap to fit a new bulb, I took the above photo. I also noticed that the charge lamp on the control box in the cab wasn’t going out, even when I revved the engine so I highlighted this as well. The two chaps spent a while fiddling about and proclaimed, after watching the headlights while the engine was revved, that the dynamo was charging, despite the red lamp not going out. I was not convinced and decided not to stop the engine until I’d reached Weston-super-Mare, just in case!

Continue reading

Another Bristol L for Weston-super-Mare collector

Following a lengthy re-restoration, a 1950 Bristol L has joined four others at a private location in Weston-super-Mare.

I haven’t yet been to see it but here’s a quick overview. The bus is a single deck Bristol LL6B, originally fleet no KW175 (LFM756) in the Crosville Motor Services fleet when new. It operated from the Chester depot until 1968 when it entered private hands and passed through a number of owners before being purchased by Jonathan Jones-Pratt in 2016. It went straight from its previous owner to the premises of ace restorer Ashley Blackman (also on Facebook) where it has been undergoing a complete external overhaul. The green and cream livery was applied by hand using traditional coach painting methods. I’m always amazed at the mirror finish that Ashley manages to get with his brush work!

The icing on the cake for me is the application of period advertising panels, each one carefully signwritten in the traditional way.

I’m looking forward to seeing this smart Bristol LL6B up close and perhaps have a drive. The 5-speed crash gearbox mated to the 6-cylinder Bristol AVW engine is particularly musical so it should be a treat for the ears as well as a sight for the eyes.

In other news…

Another Bristol bus to receive an external makeover (although now resident in West Yorkshire with Yesteryear Cars) is former Eastern National Bristol KSW5G WNO480. I became acquainted with this open top bus when it was purchased by Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare. However, in all the time it was in Weston, it only carried passengers in the town on one occasion and that was the Crosville Rally in 2017. While at Crosville it received a repair to the nearside wing and the dynamo was overhauled but, despite being made operational, no work was found for it as the company already had two open toppers active.

WNO480 was acquired by English Riviera Sightseeing Tours and I delivered it to Torquay last April. Once again, it was never used (there being a lack of suitable drivers for the crash box) and has now moved north. The photo shows the new Crosville-esque livery nearing completion after receiving repairs to some wooden framing and panels. It is likely to be used for wedding transport in Yorkshire this season.

Continue reading