Staff at Eastern Coach Works 1948

Following a visit I made to Lowestoft several years ago, I posted on here to describe the journey with a Volvo B10M coach. Now a former Lowestoft resident has contacted me, having read the post recently.

Penny Ewles-Bergeron writes “My uncle by marriage Archie Fuller worked at the Eastern Coach Works in Lowestoft for a number of years and I have a few images from the 1940s that might interest you.” Penny sent me these fascinating photos which show Archie Fuller and some of his workmates at ECW. She goes on to say “I’ve always been keen on history and family history has an extra piquancy, of course.  Archie (Daniel Archibald) Fuller was born 26th Feb 1916 and died in October 1996, being buried in Kirkley Cemetery on 1st November.  He married my aunt Grace May Ewles in 1947 or 8 (I don’t have the exact date) and they lived at 20 Homefield Avenue, Lowestoft all their married lives. I’m afraid only one of the photos is truly useful from a bus enthusiast point of view but you definitely pick up the camaraderie from these images.  In his younger years he had been a cook on a fishing boat – stories of lashing pans to the stove in the galley – he remained in charge of cooking chips at home after that!  Always delicious.  I don’t know when he left the bus factory”.

If you are a regular reader of this blog or if you browse through some of the previous pages you will know that the majority of the heritage buses I had driven carry bodies by Eastern Coach Works. It is very likely that Archie Fuller and his workmates helped assemble some of them. I wonder what Archie would think if he knew that his handiwork has survived well into the 21st century?

From what I’ve picked up from restorers and their clients, ECW products have a reputation for being well built, using quality raw materials such as burmese teak. Perhaps this has contributed to so many vehicles having survived way beyond their planned service lives.

Click on a photo to view full size and to read the caption.

There’s a brief history of Eastern Coach Works here and there’s also a fascinating archive film of ECW on YouTube:

Coronavirus, furlough but no buses

Just a quick update, in case anyone was wondering if I had dropped off the face of the planet. I haven’t, but there has been no bus-related action to write about for quite a while.

Friday May 1st was the last time I drove for a living and that was on the Bakers Dolphin combined school route to Churchill School, carrying just 5 students. From that date I was placed on the Government’s Job Retention Scheme, otherwise known as ‘furlough’. The UK Government pays 80% of my normal contracted hours and effectively I have been on extended leave. In some ways it has given me a taster of what it might be like when I eventually retire! I have been busy under lockdown conditions, mostly working in my garden to set up a secondhand greenhouse, demolish a garden shed, prepare the ground for a new one and build a wooden log store from the good parts of the old shed. Gotta love recycling!

Sadly there has been no bus action and the many heritage bus turns – weddings mostly – that would normally have come my way have been postponed until a later date due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. There is however a rumour that I may be undertaking a few bus positioning runs before and after restoration work but nothing has been confirmed yet. My only involvement with the heritage bus movement has been online, by browsing various groups where bus photos are posted from happier times. Some interaction with The Revivist* via Facebook has however been both fascinating and rewarding. In due course you may see me in a Live Stream talking about driving and if that happens I will post details here.

The prolonged shut-down of the holiday and tourism season has had many casualties, including the recent and very sad closure of Shearings Holidays, together with its parent company Specialist Leisure Group. I shall miss seeing that distinctive blue livery on the roads once we return to normality. The group also included the famous name of Wallace Arnold, an operator with a long history and connections with the west country. The Wallace Arnold name lives on in the form of several preserved coaches, the latest being James Pratt’s Volvo B10M (W656FUM). From what I’ve heard, Bakers Dolphin is in a stronger position to weather the Covid-19 storm thanks to super-human efforts by the company directors and some very good trading in recent years.

It now seems that my period of furlough may be about to end, as I had a call from Bakers Dolphin last week to offer me some work. It would of course be school work, driving a minibus, starting sometime this coming week (w/c June 1st). If I can manage to make something interesting happen, I may be able to squeeze another Busman’s Holiday blog post out of it!

*The Revivist, or to give it its full title ‘The Revivist: Classic Vehicle Restoration & Coach Painting’ is the brainchild of Ashley and Kirsty Blackman and offers not only a world-beating paint finish on your bus but also very informed and generous support to all in the preservation movement. Their regular contributions to Bus & Coach Preservation magazine have demonstrated Ashley’s skill as a vehicle restorer as well as his passion for sharing his knowledge of heritage vehicles and how best to care for them. Their Facebook page (linked above) is the place to start if you want to get involved.

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!

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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.

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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!