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.

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1940s Festival on the South Devon Railway

Back in early July I took a Bristol L5G down to Buckfastleigh to take part in the South Devon Railway’s popular 1940s Festival.

The single deck bus was very familiar to me, having been a regular allocation during my time with Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare. Ex-Crosville KG131 (1950-built KFM893) still lives in Weston and is now part of the re-launched Crosville Vintage operation so my first task was to drive it down from Weston to Buckfastleigh, a distance of about 80 miles.

The Bristol L trundles along at about 42 mph on the motorway so it took about an hour and a half to complete the journey. On the way I had to face the stiff climb up Haldon Hill which, even with an empty bus, reduced my speed to about 15 mph. It’s at times like these that I feel quite vulnerable on dual carriageways and motorways due to my slow speed, relative to other traffic so I was relieved to turn off the A38 for the final few yards to the station forecourt at the South Devon Railway‘s station at Buckfastleigh.

My first departure wasn’t until 11:00 so I had time for a 45 minute break before starting service. I used that time to wander around the station and found myself in a time warp. I was surrounded by people in 1940s outfits as well as the uniformed railway staff. Visitors and re-enactors alike had gone to extraordinary lengths to enter in to the spirit of the event.

In a field adjacent to the station forecourt there was an impressive gathering of military vehicles and paraphenalia. I lost count of the number of wartime Willys Jeeps! On the station platform I passed a policeman in authentic 1940s uniform. In fact I saw him several times during the day, which turned out to be very hot and humid. To his credit (and probably his discomfort too), he kept his full uniform on all day!

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The final curtain for Crosville

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.

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Southern Vectis 573 returns to service

One of the stalwarts of Crosville’s heritage fleet returned recently from an external refurbishment and its appearance is now more authentic than it’s been for many years.

The 1962 Bristol FS6G (YDL318) was driven back from Yorkshire by my friend Paul Carpenter just in time to go on display at the Crosville Bus & Steam Rally in September. It took pride of place alongside last year’s new restoration, Bristol K6A HLJ44. During the event I used it to take a group of rally visitors on a guided tour of the Crosville depot.

For many years purists have complained that 573’s appearance was spoiled by having black window rubbers (illustrated here in an earlier photo). Nothing unusual in that for a Lodekka, I hear you say. But FS types from 1962 had cream rubber when new so I’m particularly pleased that the owner has gone to the trouble of reglazing the bus using cream rubber.

The other nagging issue was the front numberplate, which has been in the square format more usually seen on the earlier LD Lodekkas. Now the front cowl has been remodelled to match its original appearance, including the fitting of a specially cast fleet number. The Gardner 6LW engine has also been completely rebuilt to as-new condition.

The finishing touch has been the application of period advertising on both sides and at the rear. I’m sure you’ll agree that this bus has been transformed by the makeover and I take my hat off to the owner, who has spent thousands of pounds on the refurbishment. Following its debut appearance at the Crosville rally, 573 made the marathon journey – at 30mph! – back to the Isle of Wight to take part in the Isle of Wight Bus Museum’s ‘Beer, Buses & Walks’ event. Quite rightly, the bus drew many admirers and compliments were plentiful.

There are a few more buses in the restoration pipeline; a Bristol LL6B, a Bristol KSW6B and a Routemaster. Exciting times ahead!