A Woolworths Wedding: branches everywhere!*

In the photo below you can see two double deck buses sitting serenely outside a country house but the tortuous journey they had to make to get there tells a different story.

The job in question called for a pair of red double deck buses to convey wedding guests from Huntsham Court in Devon to a church in Taunton for the marriage ceremony and back again afterwards. But what you need to realise, dear reader (and which also filled me with fear and a sense of foreboding), is that Huntsham Court lies in the middle of the Devonshire countryside.

The venue can be reached by several routes, all of which are narrow and twisty. But for drivers of highbridge double deck buses such as my colleague and me, it is the trees and their overhanging branches that present the greatest worry. As I researched the various routes on Google Maps I realised that I’d been to this venue before with a modern coach and that the road I had used then seemed to be the most suitable, although far from ideal.

The looming presence of overhanging branches near a farm and another on the driveway of the house itself was sufficiently worrying that I decided to drive the route in my car the day before so that I could get out and assess the clearance for myself. Having also driven one or two of the other potential routes, I reckoned that this one was do-able but only with the assistance of a conductor walking in front.

My conductor was Mrs Busman John, who has joined the team quoting the old adage ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. Together we prepared London Transport AEC Routemaster RM1001 (1CLT) and collected my old friend Cherry on the way. She was conductress for the other bus, which we met at Tiverton Parkway where driver Andrew was waiting for us.

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Vintage Allsorts: pre-season positioning moves

When a friend asks you if you could help move an assortment of heritage buses between two locations and you haven’t driven a half-cab bus for several months, what would you say?

Well, ‘yes’, of course! And so I did, with barely concealed excitement. A couple of days ago I spent a happy afternoon driving and shunting a variety of buses (and one coach) in preparation for what we all hope is a busy few months with private hire jobs for Crosville Vintage.

As I arrived at the location where some of the buses are stored I saw a Bristol L coach on a low-loader so I spent a few minutes inspecting it. A recent acquisition by private collector Jonathan Jones-Pratt, LTA895 (1266 in the Southern National/Royal Blue fleet) is a 1951 Bristol LL6B with a shapely Duple 37-seat body. Although complete, the brush-painted bodywork looks rather tired so it is going off for a thorough re-restoration. I was unable to view the interior but I suspect that it too will need some TLC. As the designation LL6B suggests, this elegant coach retains its Bristol 6-cylinder engine and I look forward to driving it one day. I’m rather fond of the melodious Bristol gearbox fitted to 6-cylinder engines. The ‘box fitted to Gardner 5-cylinder engines is not so tuneful, in my opinion.

HJA965EBut my first drive was a Leyland PD2, added to the Crosville fleet last year along with a PS1, of which more later. I’m quite familiar with the PD2 marque, having driven one regularly on sightseeing tours for several seasons in Torbay. This one, a 1967-built PD2/40 with Neepsend bodywork, was originally No 65 in the Stockport Corporation fleet in whose livery it remains today.

For many years it was a mainstay of the Quantock Motor Services heritage fleet but has now moved to Weston-super-Mare and is now one of four heritage vehicles in the active private hire fleet of Crosville Vintage.

Once in the cab, it felt a very familiar place and the slow tickover sound of the Leyland O.600 diesel engine next to me was very comforting. The 7-mile drive to the Crosville operating base, just outside Weston-super-Mare, was long enough for me to reacquaint myself with the 50/50 gearbox. By that I mean that it’s a manual 4-speed ‘box with synchromesh on 3rd and 4th gears but not on 1st and 2nd. So, to move between 1st and second, as well as down from 3rd, I had to use my trusty-but-rusty double-declutch technique.

Manoevering into the industrial unit which serves as an operational base for the private hire fleet was tiring. The steering on a PD2 is normally heavier than its Bristol counterparts but this was compounded by the fact that my arms are not as fit as they used to be. Several years of power-assisted coach driving has spoiled me!

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1940s Festival on the South Devon Railway

Back in early July I took a Bristol L5G down to Buckfastleigh to take part in the South Devon Railway’s popular 1940s Festival.

The single deck bus was very familiar to me, having been a regular allocation during my time with Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare. Ex-Crosville KG131 (1950-built KFM893) still lives in Weston and is now part of the re-launched Crosville Vintage operation so my first task was to drive it down from Weston to Buckfastleigh, a distance of about 80 miles.

The Bristol L trundles along at about 42 mph on the motorway so it took about an hour and a half to complete the journey. On the way I had to face the stiff climb up Haldon Hill which, even with an empty bus, reduced my speed to about 15 mph. It’s at times like these that I feel quite vulnerable on dual carriageways and motorways due to my slow speed, relative to other traffic so I was relieved to turn off the A38 for the final few yards to the station forecourt at the South Devon Railway‘s station at Buckfastleigh.

My first departure wasn’t until 11:00 so I had time for a 45 minute break before starting service. I used that time to wander around the station and found myself in a time warp. I was surrounded by people in 1940s outfits as well as the uniformed railway staff. Visitors and re-enactors alike had gone to extraordinary lengths to enter in to the spirit of the event.

In a field adjacent to the station forecourt there was an impressive gathering of military vehicles and paraphenalia. I lost count of the number of wartime Willys Jeeps! On the station platform I passed a policeman in authentic 1940s uniform. In fact I saw him several times during the day, which turned out to be very hot and humid. To his credit (and probably his discomfort too), he kept his full uniform on all day!

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AEC Routemaster a long way from home

One of my blog readers sent me a couple of photos of a mystery bus, now operating in New Zealand.

Routemaster-in-New-Zealand-1

Ray Bounsall emigrated to Australia many years ago but originally hailed from Somerset. He and his wife were on holiday in New Zealand recently and were amazed to see this RML in Christchurch. Ray managed to fire off a couple of photos as the bus passed by and has given me permission to post them here. The bus retains its London blinds but has lost its UK registration number. Any fleet number it may have carried is also missing so, which bus is it?

Routemaster-in-New-Zealand-3

Some quick net research reveals that the mystery bus is in fact 1967-built RML2724 (originally registered SMK724F) and was exported to New Zealand in 2005. It is now operated by Hassle-Free Tours in Christchurch and is one of three ex-London Transport Routemasters in their fleet.

During their visit to Christchurch, Mr & Mrs Bounsall saw much evidence of the terrible earthquake that rocked the city a few years ago. “By the way, whatever you may have seen on the telly when Christchurch was hit by the massive earthquake in 2011 is only a shadow of the real damage done. The centre of this beautiful city has had its heart ripped out and 4 years on, there is still a lot of rebuilding to be undertaken. If the LT AEC had been driving around 4 years earlier it could have been mistaken for a post WW2 war era. It was like it had been blitzed.”

Ray also says that he thought he recognised the driver of the Routemaster. “Looks like you driving, were you having a busman’s holiday?”

AEC Regent V at Morris Centenary Rally

I took my 1967 Morris Minor along to the Morris Centenary Rally at Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire last weekend. I was very pleased to see this very smartly presented AEC Regent V being used as the rally control point and commentary position.

Southampton 373FCR

Sadly it didn’t move during the weekend, nor was I able to see inside as it was in continuous use by orgainsers, marshals and commentators. Now in the care of the Southampton & District Transport Heritage Trust, 373FCR was operated by City of Southampton. It has East Lancs bodywork and is fitted with an AEC AV590 9.6 litre engine.

busmanjohns-morris-minor

The main purpose of the weekend was to celebrate 100 years since Morris Motors was established. Strongly represented, as you would expect, was the Morris Minor model in all its forms. Some people have estimated that there were about 1,000 of these iconic cars on the rally field and I can well believe it. There were Morris Minors for as far as the eye could see!

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