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.
Alongside occasional design work recently, I have also been tasked with delivering and collecting some of the Crosville fleet in preparation for the 2017 season.
This has meant a lot of solo mileage but fortunately the destinations have been familiar, so not too stressful. The first of these movements, a few weeks ago, saw me taking one of the Crosville hybrid deckers up to the Yorkshire premises of Cobus, the bus restorers. Last week I took another of the Wrightbus hybrid buses up to Cobus and, the following day, brought the first one back to Weston-super-Mare as its conversion to open top had been completed.
As before, the journey was slow and tedious. Don’t get me wrong, the bus is dead easy to drive around town as it was originally used on the (mostly flat) streets of London. But put a gradient in front of it and, just like a tired donkey, it gets all moody and unresponsive. Normally, power comes from a Cummins diesel engine which charges the propulsion batteries but in Direct Energy mode (used for these long journeys) these batteries are switched out and the bus relies solely on the relatively small diesel engine. Propulsion still comes from the Siemens electric traction motor but it can only deliver the energy provided by the diesel engine. Which isn’t nearly enough on hills. Even on motorways, where gradients are usually gentle, our speed dropped away alarmingly. At times we were down to about 30mph!
It’s not often I get a wedding duty in the depths of winter but yesterday was one such day. The job included a very steep climb which really tested the pulling power of the bus.
The destination was in Bath, which meant a 30-mile empty journey from Weston-super-Mare. I knew it was going to be a cold day so I set out wearing lots of layers! Even so, I was beginning to feel chilly by the time I had finished my walkaround checks. I was pleased to see that my rostered bus, ex-Crosville KG131 (1950 Bristol L5G KFM893), had been well prepared the day before. She stood in the garage gleaming, wearing white wedding ribbons inside and out. A quick peep into the fuel tank with a torch revealed that she had been topped up to the brim with go-juice as well.
Winter is the time when most of the heritage fleet is serviced, repaired or refurbished so the Bristol L was the only member of the fleet which was active. However, the job involved transporting more than 60 people to the reception venue so a modern coach was to join me. Needless to say, we didn’t travel together as my single decker needed a head start due to its slower performance.
As I drove out of the garage there was sleet in the air so I pulled on a pair of gloves and braced myself for a wintery blast through the cab. I couldn’t help thinking of the poor bus drivers of days gone by who had to endure icy conditions day after day and still get the job done. Busmen of the past were obviously made of sterner stuff – I’m really a fair-weather driver!
Several months have passed since my last duty with a heritage bus and even longer since my last stint in a Bristol L. So maybe I could be forgiven for a few graunchy gearchanges. Fortunately, by the time I picked up my passengers, I was back in crashbox mode.
With the South Bristol Link Road now complete, I was able to cut off a significant corner as I headed towards Bath. Just like a lightning strike, I’m always looking for the path of least resistance!
Since getting acquainted with Maud I’ve developed an interest in very early motorbuses. Maud of course is Exeter Corporation No 5, a 1929 motorbus which I had the honour of driving back to Exeter a couple of years ago.
Today I came across some photographs of an early Great Western Railway motorbus with very local connections, having been photographed in my home town of Paignton. They are in fact postcards and the images were posted in a Facebook group called ‘Paignton in Pictures’. I have permission from the group’s administrator to reproduce the images here.
The postcard shown above, dated 1906, was originally a black and white photograph which has been hand coloured by an artist, a common practice in the early days of photography which was intended to produce a more life-like product. It also made the image more saleable of course! The image shows passengers alighting from a GWR motorbus which has parked outside the Gerston Hotel, Paignton. The photographer would have been standing right outside the GWR’s Paignton railway station and the passengers were likely to be boarding a train there.
It’s a bit unfortunate that a local horse-drawn hansom cab is obscuring part of the bus but happily there is another postcard that features a photograph that seems to have been taken on the same occasion but from a different angle. This one clearly shows that the bus was No T-390 and I contacted my friend Robert Crawley to see if he could tell me more about it. Robert is Chairman of the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT), which has an extensive archive of information and images relating to all aspects of transport in this area.
Another delivery duty for Crosville Motor Services recently took me on a return journey to Yorkshire, this time with a hybrid double deck bus.
It’s a journey I’ve done several times before so I hardly used the printed route notes I always carry in the cab. On previous journeys I’ve delivered a 1950 Bedford OB and a 1949 Bristol K6A to the restoration premises of Cobus in Yorkshire.
For various operational reasons I was unable to leave the depot until after 10:00 but, not having driven one of these hybrid buses before, I was glad to be able to accompany another driver on a similar bus as we took it into Weston-super-Mare town centre to swap it with the bus I was to take north. Watching his every move, I soon learned that it was really no different to driving any other modern bus with an auto gearbox.
If you haven’t already guessed, a hybrid bus uses a combination of battery power and energy from a small diesel engine for propulsion. Before I left the depot an engineer flipped a couple of switches behind a panel to put the bus into ‘DE’ (Direct Energy) Mode, which meant that the batteries would not be depleted on the long journey. The bus is built for Euro 6 economy on urban services but would require diesel power throughout the 260 mile trip to Hunmanby.
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!
Among the other entries likely to attend is this rather lovely all-Leyland Exeter Corporation PD2/1 bus. I’m helping to coordinate the event and I’ll let you know about some of the other highlights as they are confirmed. You can also check out the Rally page on the Crosville website for latest info.