Life has been so hectic lately that ‘Busman’s Holiday’ posts have been regrettably thin on the ground. As promised in an earlier post, here is a flavour of a typical day in my new role as a Baker Dolphin coach driver.
During term time every available driver (except those away on tour) starts and ends his day with a school or college run. Most days will see me rising, blurry eyed, at about 5am (ugh!) ready for an early start at the depot. Regular practice is for the Operations Department to finalise the day’s roster by the evening of the previous day. Unfortunately this means that I won’t know what duties I’ve got until the previous evening, which leaves very little time to do my customary route planning.
As soon as I arrive I pick up my Work Tickets and the keys for my coach and greet some of my colleagues before heading off into the coach park to find my allocated coach. With up to 70 vehicles stabled there overnight, finding the right one sometimes takes a while! For the next 20 minutes or so I complete my walkaround checks and fill in a Defect Report. If anything is amiss – such as a blown bulb – this must be attended to before I can leave.
Depending on which school/college route I’ve been given, I may have to check with another driver or a member of the Operations staff if it’s one I haven’t done before. Although all the pickup points are listed on my Work Ticket the exact locations aren’t always clear. One route which I have done quite often is a Bridgwater College route which starts in Portishead, near Bristol. After a quick blast up the M5 for the first pickup, it meanders through the Gordano valley and into Clevedon to pick up students from a couple of places in the town. I continue southwards and into Yatton and finally Congresbury before re-joining the M5 for a short distance. Arrival at Bridgwater College is normally around 08:40. On busy days I will then have a series of short jobs, mostly conveying school children on swimming trips or other outings.
My favourite kind of duty is a private hire day trip, some of which last for the rest of the day after a school run. One such trip (as illustrated above) took in two venues in Devon. The coach was hired by members of a U3A group in Weston-super-Mare and I met them at the town’s coach park. I welcomed them on board, made sure they were comfortable and checked with the group leader about further pickup stops. After giving a safety talk over the PA we set off, picking up a few more passengers along Locking Road as we headed towards the M5 motorway.
The coach I had been allocated was a comfortable Mercedes-Benz Tourismo, which has an automatic dry-plate gearbox. From a passenger’s point of view, it feels like a manual box (with a pause between gearchanges) but the automatic transmission takes care of all the clutch work. It’s 10 years old and was bought second hand by Bakers Dolphin, with 3 others, from Swanns of Chedderton. I quite like driving these coaches although some of my colleagues don’t get along too well with having to wait for gearchanges to complete. They are rather ‘leisurely’ which is a pain when one is hoping for a swift acceleration!
Alongside my coach driving duties for Bakers Dolphin, I’ve been able to keep my crash box skills up to date with some of the ex-Crosville heritage fleet.
I had made it known that I’d be happy to do a few voluntary turns, if any came up. Towards the end of the summer term, Uphill Primary School in Weston-super-Mare had requested that a vintage bus attend the School and Village Fair in the school grounds. Crosville had provided a bus for static display for several years running and I was asked to take a bus – any bus – to the Fair. Mrs Busman John was keen to come along as well so we chose to take open top Crosville DFG81 (Bristol FSF6G 891VFM) as the weather seemed once again to be wall-to-wall sunshine.
The Lodekka hadn’t seen any action since the closure of Crosville in April so we went down to the depot early to make sure that she would start. Fortunately there were no problems so we drove the short distance to Uphill. After parking on the school field we left the bus open so that people could have a look around. Many did, most heading for the top deck! We had a look round the stalls and displays but, when we got back to the bus, found that I’d left the power on and some children were taking great delight in dinging the bell. Not only was it annoying for the nearby stall-holders but it might have depleted the batteries so I turned off the isolator when no-one was looking.
At the end of the afternoon we took the scenic route back to the depot – via the seafront of course – which pleased Mrs Busman John, who was naturally riding up top. Sensing the need for a cheeky photo opportunity, I drove into Locking Road Coach Park and briefly parked the Lodekka among the Bakers Dolphin coaches!
Quite a lot of vintage duties have gone unreported by ‘Busman’s Holiday’ due to my house move and subsequent full time work for Crosville Motor Services. So here, dear reader, is a pictorial roundup of some of the action.
This delightful scene presented itself to me while awaiting the arrival of the steam-hauled train from Minehead, West Somerset Railway. I had arrived early at Bishops Lydeard station to convey passengers to Hestercombe House and the previous departure, a 1960s 3-car diesel multiple unit, was still in the platform. Parked nearby was a pale blue MG from the same era so I couldn’t resist taking a photo!
Occasionally we are asked to decorate our heritage buses for their wedding duties. This is something I always enjoy doing because I think the ribbons add a very appropriate flourish to the occasion. The day these two were photographed turned grey and drizzly so, by the time they arrived back at the depot, the ribbons were looking rather bedraggled!
Sometimes the customers arrange with me to come to the depot to decorate the bus themselves. Some really go to town and bring banners and balloons as well.
There are of course occasions when we get the buses wet intentionally. Before every outing we check that they are clean and here James, a young cleaner and occasional conductor, gets busy with our 1950 Bristol L. As we were preparing the interior of this bus we had to get rid of a poor dead mouse. The driver on its previous duty had apparently been sitting in the saloon munching on his lunchtime sandwiches when he gazed up at the ceiling and discovered a dead mouse behind one of the roof vent grilles. When James and I unscrewed the grille and retrieved said animal we found that it was completely flat, almost a fossil. It must have been there for years!
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.
If there’s anything worse than driving a Bristol Lodekka in the middle of a heatwave, it’s driving a Lodekka with CBC cooling in the middle of a heatwave.
On one of the hottest June days since the infamous summer of 1976, I had to endure the searing heat of not only the weather but also of the plumbing for the Cave-Brown-Cave cooling apparatus which passes through the driver’s cab.
This came the day after an equally hot and energetic duty with Bristol FSF6G 891VFM on the 100 service to Sand Bay and, while I usually enjoy sunny days, I began to wish it wasn’t quite so hot. Together with my conductor Kevin, I prepared ex-BOC LC8515 (Bristol LD6B 972EHW) at the Crosville depot. The bus hadn’t been used for a week or so and was very reluctant to start. It needed a lot of persuasion and, as I sat in the cab teasing the Bristol AVW engine into life, I began to wonder if it would ever develop enough power to drag the bus out of the garage! Eventually the AVW settled down into its familiar burble so I left it running while we attached ribbons and bows which had been sent in by the customer. With all the checks completed we set off through Banwell, Churchill and Lower Langford.
We arrived at Coombe Lodge with time to spare so we parked the bus in the turning circle and sought out some shade. Coombe Lodge is an attractive mansion built with local Bath stone, topped off with Cotwold tiles. It was originally the opulent country residence of the Wills family (founders of the W.D. & H.O. Wills Tobacco Company, based in nearby Bristol) and I was pleased to see that it retains a lot of wooden panelling. It’s not particularly ancient, being completed in 1932, but the pseudo-Jacobean style is well suited to its current use as a conference and wedding venue.
Yesterday’s private hire duty was notable for taking me to some places with very limited clearance. It was a good test of my spacial awareness skills.
The allocated bus was open top Lodekka DGF81 (FSF6G 891VFM), a genuine Crosville bus dating from 1961. I had spent most of the previous day in the office at Crosville and had time to check and fuel the bus so that I didn’t have to spend too much time early the next day in preparation. The pickup time was 10:30 at Orchardleigh House, near Frome so I allowed myself a generous 2 hours to make the empty journey. The most direct route was nevertheless a tortuous, rural one and my speed would rarely get above 30mph.
In fact ‘limited clearance’ could apply to the outward journey quite easily as I trundled through the villages of Banwell, Sandford and Blagdon. There was plenty of hedge-hugging, double-declutching and wheel-heaving! Reaching West Harptree, I set off along the B3114 to eventually join up with the A39 at Chewton Mendip towards Bath. Briefly reaching 45mph, I soon went back down the box for the turning to Farrington Gurney, Midsomer Norton and Radstock. Somerset seems to have more than its fair share of double-barrelled place names and today I seemed to be visiting most of them!
Finally, after passing through Buckland Dinham, I reached the imposing entrance to Orchardleigh House. I’ve been here before with a heritage bus and I recognised the twin stone-built lodges which stand guard over the gated entrance to the vast estate. The drive up to the house is almost a mile long and passes through a golf course on the way.
I parked the bus near the Walled Garden and the complex of cottages in which most of the wedding guests had spent the previous night. I caught up with some of them on the lawn and learned that the celebrations had started the previous evening!
Our buses are not decorated with ribbons as standard (although I plan to change that eventually) so some family members set to work with cream ribbons, bows and streamers of their own.