Last week I had my first half cab drive since March and it was a long distance delivery job for a new owner.
The AEC Regent III, 1951-built RT2591 (LYF316), came to Somerset in 2019 as part of a batch of purchases from the former Yorkshire Heritage Bus Company fleet. My friend Dave Moore and I had quite an adventure bringing this bus and a Wigan Leyland PD1 back (full story here).
Being suplus to requirements in Weston-super-Mare, RT2591 has now been sold to a gentleman in Kent so this was a solo delivery journey.
I hadn’t driven a bus with a pre-selective gearbox for several years so I had arranged to take the bus for a quick drive the previous afternoon, just to familiarise myself with it. Not the kind of task a driver can do safely when the bus is parked only 3 minutes from the motorway! Fortunately I recalled the required technique readily, helped by the fact that I’d watched several YouTube videos showing the driver in the cab of an RT. The thing to remember is that the pedal on the left (normally the clutch in a manual ‘box vehicle) is a gearchange pedal. A gear is selected in advance of actually needing it using the column-mounted selector. The pedal does the actual change when the time comes.
Confident that I knew my way around, I turned up before daybreak the next day to do my checks. It happened that there had been an overnight frost so my first job was to scrape away the ice on the cab windows! The 9.6 litre engine sprang into life readily enough but I began to get worried when it didn’t appear to be building up air. In the RT there aren’t any air pressure gauges. In fact the only dial in the cab is the speedometer! Instead, there is a metal ‘flag’ which hangs down in front of the driver when the air is low. Imprinted on the flag is the word ‘Stop’, making it abundantly clear that it’s not safe to move off. In this case, I couldn’t move off anyway because the gearchange mechanism is air-operated and I couldn’t engage any gear at all!
I revved the engine and waited for several minutes. Still no air. Time was ticking by and I was keen to get away as I didn’t know what delays I might encounter on the way. Not only that but my ticket for a return train journey had already been booked.
In desperation I sent a couple of messages and I soon learned that this particular RT is reluctant in the cold. A bit like me, in fact. The trick is to hold the gearchange pedal down while revving the engine. Lo and behold, within a few seconds after doing this, the ‘Stop’ flag withdrew itself into its box above the windscreen and all was well.
Looking back in my family archives I came across this photo of ex-London Transport AEC Regent III, RT 1377 when operating with Guernseybus in the 1990s.
The bus has been on the island of Malta since 2008 and the BusWeb site carries this snippet of information about it: “Originally London Transport RT1377 (KXW 476), this AEC Regent III operated for many years as an open-topper on the island of Guernsey, first with Guernseybus and then with Island FM as a publicity vehicle. It arrived on Malta in 2008 and is pictured in March 2009 in as acquired condition. The intention was to use it on sightseeing tours, but it never entered service and is now with the Malta Historic Vehicle Trust.
The young chap in the driver’s seat in the photo above is my eldest son, who shares my interest in historic transport. He’s grown up with his own family now but last year sampled the cab of a Crosville Bristol L5G when I passed through his neck of the woods last year.
What is it about Dads? We feel constrained to put our young children in the driver’s seat of any old bus we come across! I did the same with the old RT on Guernsey. In the back of my mind I was trying to re-create the photo my Dad took of me in the cab of a Lodekka when I was about 4. How could I turn down the opportunity to do the same?! So here’s young son Peter in the cab of RT1377.
If you have been following this blog for some time you will have seen evidence that Peter joins me sometimes as bus conductor. I’m delighted that, although he never saw half-cab buses in service, he’s developed an affinity for the old days and is more than happy to don a Tilling uniform and run the platform on special occasions.
Several readers have pestered me / encouraged me to write an article on what it’s like to drive a vintage bus. This I have now done and the page “How to drive a vintage bus” can be accessed from the link at the top of the home page.
It is not meant to be a comprehensive tutorial, just my personal impressions of driving buses from a bygone era. I hope you enjoy reading them!
Last weekend turned out to be a bit of a bus fest. I had a day off from work on Friday and decided to go up to Somerset to help with preparations for the Depot Open Weekend at Quantock Motor Services. This was a two-day affair (as most weekends are…) which aimed to showcase our new depot at Bishops Lydeard. Tours were also to run to our old depot at Norton Fitzwarren and our restoration base at Langley Marsh.
After a quick meeting in the office I offered to stick around and help where needed. I should have known better, as I was introduced to a bucket and mop before I could say “nothing too strenuous…”. Outside in the yard were three or four single deck half cabs being washed. I was instructed to bring one of them (a North Western Bristol L5G) inside the garage and park it, Le Mans style, alongside some others.
Some were up for sale and others were there just for show. The rest of the morning was spent sweeping and mopping out the floors of the single deckers and making them presentable.
All around me barriers were being put up, the workshop area was being tidied up and other buses were being positioned. Lunchtime came and went. Finally I completed the final interior, a 1939 Blue Bus Services Daimler single decker which was due to be out on service the next day.
My arms were aching a bit by this time but there was to be no respite yet. Together with some other volunteers, I was whisked off to the old depot at Norton Fitzwarren to carry on cleaning! Yet more buses were being power washed and left out in the yard to be swept out. The interior of the garage had been transformed. It still contained a motley collection of roadworthy vintage buses and coaches, ‘restoration projects’, engines and gearboxes but they were arranged more tidily!