In all my adventures as a bus driver I never thought I would find myself driving a train. A few days ago I did, but it’s not the kind of train you would expect.
Although Crosville owns two full sized steam locomotives, my duty was to drive the diminutive Land Train up and down the promenade at Weston-super-Mare.
It was the first time I’d driven such a thing so one of the Crosville managers gave me a brief introduction to the weird machine before I took it for a spin around the estate to get the hang of it. Underneath the glassfibre outline lies a small tractor, of the kind you would expect to find on a fruit farm. It’s powered by a three cylinder diesel engine and has three forward gears. Only one of these is ever used and, flat out, it can probably manage 8mph! To be fair, I wouldn’t want to go any faster for fear of the three trailers tipping over. Unladen, they are prone to wobbling about as my conductor James discovered when I powered through a few unexpected bumpy bits on the road down to the seafront!
The whole assembly is remarkably neat when it comes to turning around, being able to turn on the proverbial sixpence. I practiced on the estate roads and found that, if I turned the tractor unit sharply to do a 180° turn, the cleverly engineered trailers all followed my path looking for all the world like a line of ducklings following their mother!
After checking that all the lights were working properly, it was time to set off on what was probably the most hazardous part of the journey – the empty trip through the town to the promenade. I realised that I had to make all sorts of allowances for both the length and speed of the outfit I was driving. Particularly so when it came to emerging from junctions or entering roundabouts. I had to make sure that there was a BIG gap in the traffic!
Passengers were few in the first part of the morning and my conductor James had an easy time. But soon the sun came out and so did the holidaymakers. We were soon carrying full loads as we trundled up and down the prom. The Land Train doesn’t run to a timetable as such and just goes to and fro on demand. The train uses the wide promenade pavement, which it has to share with pedestrians. As you can see from the photo above, the ‘loco’ carries a bell and I tended to use it frequently to alert other pavement-users to our presence.
The long drawn out saga of the Exeter Bus Station redevelopment had a milestone day recently, as a strong turnout of heritage and modern buses and coaches filled the station for a farewell event.
I say long drawn out because the station was due to have been closed by now and the running day on Sunday 19th March was to have been its final fling. But planning officers, contractors and the square wheels of bureaucracy conspired to delay the closure and the site remains open for the time being.
I played a small part in the running day by collecting Western National 3307, a 1979 Bristol LH6L/ Plaxton Supreme coach which belongs to the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT), from its storage yard and driving it in service during the day. Several other historic vehicles from the area queued for fuel in a nearby town before heading off for Exeter.
I’ve driven this LH before and, although it’s not my favourite type, I found it quite easy to drive smoothly. I had time before my first duty to wander around but, even before I’d stepped off the coach, my planned duties were changed and I found myself covering a duty that was left vacant by a bus which didn’t appear.
Instead of doing a few trips up Telegraph Hill and back I was given two turns out to Alphington and one to St David’s Station. I knew roughly how to get to Alphington (a suburb on the west side of Exeter) but got the finer details about where to turn the LH coach from my WHOTT colleague Inspector Andrews. I drove down Western Way to Exe Bridges, which was very busy as per usual. Passing the Marsh Barton Trading Estate, I turned left and drove through Alphington and turned on a small triangle on the edge of the village. We stopped there to wait time and several passengers took the opportunity to take photos.
Many of you will have seen, photographed, ridden in or driven Bristol buses fitted with the unusual Cave-Browne-Cave cooling system. So here’s a photo of one of the prototype buses.
This is Hants & Dorset 1068, a 1940 Bristol K5G carrying an early version of the cooling/heating system invented by Wing Commander T. R. Cave-Browne-Cave. He was Professor of Engineering at Southampton University at the time. The photograph comes from my own collection and came to light while I was looking for images for a new book I’m writing.
In a nutshell, the traditional radiator mounted in front of the engine is omitted and two – smaller – radiators are fitted either side of the destination display. These also act as forced air heaters for warming the upper deck. In summertime, when the saloon heating isn’t necessary, the warm air can be deflected through vents on the sides of the bus.
I’m not sure why the Wing Commander was commissioned to create this system because the traditional cooling system had been working reasonably well for decades previously and indeed continues in the same form to this day. Anyway, his first prototype installation was fitted to a Southampton Corporation Guy Arab. The test went well evidently and the second installation was fitted to a Hants & Dorset Bristol K, as shown above. The front cowl, obviously from a Lodekka, was a later modification because the original front was more obviously based on the standard PV2 radiator shape.
Cave-Browne-Cave obviously sold the idea to Bristol Commercial Vehicles/Eastern Coach Works and it was widely adopted as an option for Bristol LDs and F-series Bristols as we all know. Some more of Southampton’s Guy Arabs were also fitted with CBC, as were a few Bristol Ls of West Yorkshire Road Car.
A change of plan – the 2017 Crosville Bus & Steam Rally is returning to the Helicopter Museum venue.
The last time I mentioned the rally it was going to be held on the Beach Lawns, Weston-super-Mare but, since then, there have been changes behind the scenes. After a lot of negotiation the good news is that admission will be 100% free for visitors to the rally, which will again be sited within a self-contained ‘paddock’. The Control Tower, which is in the centre of the field and was undergoing renovation last year, is now complete and may be open for visitors. For those who wish to go round the Helicopter Museum itself there will be a separate charge.
Many people will have been disappointed that ‘Elizabeth’ the Sentinel DG6P Steam Bus didn’t show up as planned at last year’s rally. I was one of them – I’ve never seen her in steam, although I’ve walked past her in the garage many times on my way to pick up a bus. During the refurbishment a lot of worn parts and rot were discovered and so much more work was required than anticipated. As I write, the bus is being re-assembled and a boiler test should have been completed successfully. There is still some confusion as to which colour she will wear when she returns. An early suggestion was that she would be outshopped in Tilling Green and Cream to match the other members of the Crosville heritage fleet. But then I heard that she would retain her maroon colour to complement Crosville’s Clayton & Shuttleworth road locomotive ‘Sonsie Quine’. Which will it be? You’ll have to wait and see. Ooh, I do love a good livery debate!
Some readers may remember that I’m also a proud owner of a Morris Minor convertible. To top it all, the Avon Branch of the Morris Minor Owners Club is having a day out at the Helicopter Museum at the same time as the Crosville Rally, but not on the same field. It’s going to be a busy day!
Following a reasonably successful Bus & Steam Rally in September, the team at Crosville Motor Services has pledged to run a similar event next year and the date will be Sunday September 10th, 2017 from 10:00 until 16:30.
Once again, I’m looking forward to taking part in this rally. Not only does it give me the chance to browse among the many visiting vehicles, it also allows me to drive several of Crosville’s own heritage buses as well as those belonging to the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection. Those who know me well will probably know that the Bristol marque is my favourite!
This time the rally will return to the seafront at Weston-super-Mare, the static displays and vintage bus rides all being based at the Beach Lawns. The biggest benefit for everyone of course is that now the whole event will be free to enter. Understandably, there were moans this year that “…we shouldn’t have to pay!” as entry to the Helicopter Museum rally site this year was £10 per adult. Although admission tickets were sold by the Museum, Crosville received a proportion of the gate takings. Most (but not all) vintage bus running days and rallies don’t levy an entry charge and enthusiasts have been used to this format for years. Also, and this is neither new nor even confined to the bus world, enthusiasts are notoriously ‘thrifty’ and many resent having to part with cash in order to enjoy a rally. What they perhaps fail to realise is that rallies and running days don’t just happen by themselves. Much time, effort and expense is needed to put these events on and operators like Crosville like to cover their costs if at all possible. As I mentioned, the 2017 event will be free so, if you attend and see a programme for sale, please buy one as this will help to offset costs.
Taking part in Crosville’s Bus & Steam Rally this year gave me a variety of jobs, including possibly my last chance to drive a vintage bus on a regular bus route.
During the run-up to the rally I found myself more involved in the planning stages than I had envisaged so it was quite a relief to watch the day unfold successfully. In a new – but possibly one-off – joint venture with the Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare, Crosville sited its Bus & Steam Rally at the Museum. The company’s bus depot was also open, of which more later.
My main concern, having planned the layout of the static exhibits, was whether we would be able to fit all the resident and visiting buses along two sides of the rectangular site. Thankfully, due to the fact that a certain number of vehicles were always out in service, there was just about enough room.
I helped with setting up early on the previous day and began by touring the site with the Crosville Safety Officer, who also acted as Chief Marshal. The rest of the morning was spent ferrying various buses over from the Crosville garage to the Museum site, with Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) acting as shuttle bus for the drivers.
The Museum staff did a great job setting up tables for the Trade Stalls within the Museum buildings. We’d had so many stall entries that several more were allocated spaces outside with the buses. Thank goodness we had dry weather!
The day of the rally itself brought ideal weather – mild, mostly sunny. I began by helping in the garage where, a few days previously, the mortal remains of GWR 4-6-0 ‘Thornbury Castle’ had been placed on display. Some of the modern bus and coach fleet were also tastefully arranged nearby.
The second annual WHOTT Vintage Bus Running Day at Dorchester has been hailed a resounding success, with plenty of visitors coming to enjoy nearly 30 buses, coaches and commercials which were on display.
For my part, I brought along an open top Bristol Lodekka which was actually a last minute replacement for the bus I had intended to bring. Following on from the WHOTT Coldharbour Mill running day earlier this year, I had intended to bring the same vehicle to Dorchester, Southern National 2700. However, a couple of days before Dorchester, the 1967 Bristol RELL developed an engine fault which couldn’t be fixed in time. The kind folks at Crosville offered open top FSF6G 891VFM (Crosville DFG81) instead, which turned out to be a very popular choice!
The RE had been based at Weymouth (just 8 miles away) for the early part of its service life, which would have made it a very appropriate entrant for the Dorchester event. In my view its non-appearance was a blessing in disguise because another – older – Southern National bus was able to take pride of place instead. 1956 Bristol LS5G TUO497 is most of the way through a restoration project and its appearance at Dorchester was the first time it had been seen in public since it was laid up in a barn in 1980.
I had an empty journey of 74 miles ahead of me when I arrived at the Crosville depot early last Sunday morning. As I opened up the garage and switched the lights on I wondered how many other buses I’d have to shunt out of the way before I could bring the Lodekka out. I was very pleased to see that, following a recent re-organisation of the depot, all the Crosville heritage fleet had been parked in an annexe to the main building, making it far easier than before to retrieve a heritage bus.
By the time I’d arrived at the Top ‘O Town car park in Dorchester the sun was shining and other buses were being marshalled into position. I reported to the WHOTT Control Bus and found that I’d been rostered for three trips out to Frampton Church (see top picture), the first of which departed at 12:40. This meant I had loads of time to browse among the buses and meet up with friends and colleagues.