Late night bus journey from Weston-super-Arctic

If you live in the UK you’ll know all about the cold snap we’ve endured recently (March 2018). Spare a thought for the busman who drew the short straw.

Now and then I take on private hire jobs for Crosville with relatively modern vehicles, especially in the winter months when there are very few duties for the heritage fleet. This past weekend saw me driving a busload of party-goers through a snowstorm in the wee small hours. Deep joy!

The duty involved driving mostly after dark so opportunities for photography were few so, for you dear reader, I will paint a word picture.

We knew it was coming, thanks to the weather reports. An amber warning for Devon, Cornwall and Somerset for snow and ice, together with advice from the Police not to travel on the roads unless absolutely necessary. Some weeks ago I had taken a booking for Crosville to take a group of people from Cheddar to the Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare and return. With heavy snow forecast for Sunday March 18th I was hoping that I would be able to complete my duty before the snow made the roads treacherous. I suppose I just about made it!

We’d been asked to transport 70 people so we allocated one of our double deck buses from the service fleet. I took the bus straight out of service on the 106 to Worlebury Woods, leaving the driver to return to the depot in the works van. After popping my tacho chart into the bus I high-tailed it across to Cheddar via Congresbury and Langford – the quickest way I knew. I only had about 35 minutes before I was due to pick up my passengers in the middle of Cheddar.

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Weston-super-Mare Land Train

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.

There are two of these trains, each of which carrying the identity of its mainline counterpart. The one I drove was linked to GWR ‘Hall’ class 4-6-0 locomotive No 4936 ‘Kinlet Hall’ which is currently undergoing a heavy general overhaul at Tyseley Locomotive Works.

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2015 in review

As 2015 draws to a close, I think a summary of my ‘Busman’s Holiday’ blog stats should be my final word of the year. The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys have prepared a 2015 annual report for my blog.

Once again, earlier posts about heritage buses for sale and my progress towards gaining my bus driver’s licence drew the highest number of views. I’m not worried that they’re old posts because their popularity helps my rankings in Google searches and potentially encourages people to read other posts while they’re here.

Thank you for adding your own page views to the total and I look forward to writing more bus-related musings for you in 2016. Happy New Year!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 47,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 17 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Sentinel Steam Bus joins Crosville Heritage Fleet

An unusual bus has joined the Crosville Motor Services Heritage Fleet and is being prepared for public service.

GT2827-in-Crosville-depotThis is ‘Elizabeth’, a 1931 Sentinel DG6P steam waggon which was converted to carry passengers in 2006 by the addition of a specially built body. Until last year she was running in regular tourist service in the Yorkshire town of Whitby.

Elizabeth was delivered on a low loader (still in steam) in July and has since been tidied up cosmetically. This includes the application of Crosville fleetnames. I took a few photos of her in the Crosville garage when I was up there recently. I have to admit she looked rather incongruous, parked among all the regular service buses!

GT2827-front-detailIf all goes well, the steam bus will operate in Weston-super-Mare on a number of dates in August and September on a special 40-minute tour route, starting from Princess Royal Square. See the Crosville website for details and updates.

The 30-seat body was constructed for the previous operator in Whitby and has wooden slatted seats. The passenger saloon is separate from the cab so that soot and smells are kept to a minimum.

GT2827-interiorI was invited to be a conductor on this bus for a few of its running dates but, much as I would have loved it, had to decline as I was already committed. Maybe next year…

Here’s a link to a YouTube video of Elizabeth at work in Whitby.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 42,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The blind leading the blind to Greenway House

That’s the way the cookie crumbles; the luck of the draw; that’s life… these are ways to describe something that happens to you over which you have no control. So it was that I introduced a potential relief driver to the delights of the Agatha Christie vintage bus. Don’t get me wrong, everything went very well but there was a certain irony in that fact that I’m not exactly an experienced half cab driver and this was only my second day in service with this bus! But let me tell you about my first day.

AHL694-front-view

I felt very apprehensive as I arrived at Greenway Quay to prepare the bus. Going solo is quite different from following in an experienced driver’s shadow! I probably took far longer doing my checks and preparing myself than necessary, mostly due to doing things in the wrong order. Thankfully it wasn’t raining or blowing a gale so it was actually quite nice to be pottering around the quay in bright sunshine.

Finally everything was ready and it was time to bite the bullet and take the old girl up the hill on my own. Soon after leaving the Quay there is a very tight bend with very unforgiving stone walls either side so I was careful to follow the advice I’d been given. I negotiated ‘the narrows’ unscathed but messed up my downchange from 2nd to 1st just beforehand. Handbrake on, start again.

I topped up the fuel tank at the filling station on the main road and set off towards Torquay. With time in hand, I waited beside the Inn On The Green pub which was once a private residence, built originally by Isaac Merritt Singer (of Singer Sewing Machine fame) for his son Mortimer.

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School Prom night at Exmouth Pavilion

I don’t often do weekday driving duties but, for reasons that I’ll come to later, I did one yesterday. Once more it involved a long empty journey and a short (in mileage anyway) loaded trip. But, if the customer is happy to pay the price, who am I to complain?

LEU263P-Foxholes-Hill-Exmouth

The bus allocated to me for this trip was ex-Bristol Omnibus C5055 (later Badgerline 8622) Bristol VRT LEU263P. I hadn’t driven this bus before so the first few miles served as ‘type familiarisation’. It was altogether less strenuous than driving a Lodekka. For a start, you enter the bus via the same door as the passengers and walk straight into the cab through a little door beside the entrance gangway, much the same as most modern buses. Fitted with power steering and a semi-automatic gearbox, there’s virtually nothing left for the driver to do except point the thing in the right direction!

I soon had the hang of the semi-automatic gearbox. Pausing between gears, even though there’s no clutch to operate, produced the smoothest changes. In service many drivers used to flick the little gear selector straight from one to the next gear. It worked, but the bands in the gearbox had to absorb a huge amount of energy as the engine revs dropped almost instantly to the new ratio. This caused an uncomfortable lurch, not to mention frequent visits to the workshop when the ‘box wore out.

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