Town tours for Bridgwater College Rag Day

My final bus driving duty of 2016 involved a road cone, a Bristol Lodekka and a witch. Yes, you’ve guessed correctly, it was Bridgwater College Rag Day.

My conductor and I brought ex-Bath Services 1959 Bristol LG6G 969EHW down to Bridgwater College on the last day of term when traditionally the sixth form college students and staff dress up and do all sorts of wacky stuff in the name of charity. ‘Rag’ stands for Raise and Give, I learned today.

We had been given a route to follow, which was very similar to the one taken by the famous Bridgwater Carnival procession. As soon as I had parked the bus in one of the departure bays at the college we knew we were in the right place as almost every person that passed by was wearing a fancy dress costume of some sort. Pirates, road cones, bananas, clowns… and of course the aforementioned witch.

bridgwater-college-rag-witchThe lady in question (pictured above) actually organised the bus tours we were about to provide and her costume was, as you can see, a work of art. Well done Sue!

She had planned for us to take groups of students and staff on a 20-minute circuit of Bridgwater town centre. As part of the trip each team had to take part in a quiz based on notable buildings that we passed on our way around. There were also a couple of questions relating to the bus and the teams had to listen carefully to my little welcome speech to pick up clues.

The bus was never full and the route was free of gradients so driving the Lodekka was certainly not arduous. My conductor Richard and I were happy to be involved in the frivolities and I must admit that I felt right at home, dressed in my 1960s busman’s uniform, when I ventured inside the college building during a break in proceedings. In fact my outfit looked quite tame compared to some of the others!

Sadly the weather turned dull and wet as the day went on and by the time we ran the last trip we had all the lights on. If it wasn’t for the rain I would have taken more photos so, for now, you’ll have to make do with a set of photos and a YouTube video made by the college. This is made up from outtakes so presumably a fully edited version will appear in the new year.

All that remains is for me to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas. I hope your 2017 will bring good health and happiness. I look forward to sharing more bus adventures with you next year. Ding-Ding merrily on high…!

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A Vintage Christmas Jolly for Simpleweb

A few days ago I had the pleasure of transporting staff from a Bristol web development company on a scenic tour through the Chew Valley, Somerset.

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Managers at Simpleweb had planned a Christmas celebration for staff at two venues but had kept the means of transport secret. So when I turned up with ex-Bath Services Lodekka L8515 (969EHW) outside their Albion Dock offices I got some blank looks when I announced that their vintage bus was ready and waiting!

I was originally rostered with ex-Crosville Bristol L5G KG131 (KFM893) but this is now in winter storage but I was more than happy with the replacement, especially as the final destination was in the centre of Bath!

For the first time in many months I drove up to Bristol on the A370 and saw firsthand some of the major works on a new South Bristol Link road which will eventually skirt around the south side of Bristol. This will prove very useful to me on those occasions when I need to head across in the Bath direction.

The client had requested a scenic route to their first destination, via the Chew Valley so I had previously spent some time planning my route. What I hadn’t planned for was a road closure near Chew Magna, a village through which I’d planned to pass.

The bus wasn’t full by any means and all the passengers were easily accommodated upstairs. Due to a road closure near the Cumberland Basin, we headed out of the city through Bedminster but met more roadworks on the A38 where the aforementioned South Bristol Link road is under construction. We soon turned off the A38 and passed through much more pleasant countryside as we pottered along the B-roads through Winford and the Chew Valley.

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Classic transport at Burrington wedding

In tranquil surroundings bathed in autumnal sunshine, I took part in a classic wedding in rural Somerset the other day.969ehw-kfm893-winford-manor

It seems to have been ages since I drove a heritage bus for a wedding. In fact, although I’ve done numerous private hire duties for Crosville Motor Services during this year, the last one to involve a wedding was back in May.

One of the many delights of Crosville private hire duties is that occasionally they involve more than one bus. So it was good to meet up with my friend Dave Moore at the Crosville depot last Saturday as together we prepared our two vehicles. I was rostered with 1950 Bristol L5G KFM893 (Crosville KG131) and Dave had 1959 Bristol LD6G 969EHW (Bath Services L8515). The duty Operations Manager popped over with a bag of ribbons and bows supplied by the client. He appeared rather keen not to be involved in affixing them to the buses so left them for Dave and me to sort out. Fortunately we had both arrived with plenty of time in hand so we had time to dress up the buses as well as do our usual checks and preparations. I also had a few moments to check on two other Lodekkas, both of which were undergoing major engine surgery.

As is my custom, I had earlier studied the routes for the day. So had Dave, so we agreed on the best route for our buses. Although there was nothing we could do to avoid the long and arduous climb of Red Hill on the way towards Bristol Airport, we decided not to use the more direct road to Winford Manor which would have taken us there via a long and occasionally narrow lane. By going a little further past the Airport, we made use of a wider road which offered fewer hazards.

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Bath Services bus crew in miniature

Some time ago I featured a few photographs of a very well researched model of a Bath Services Bristol L5G. Now, to complete the scene, a colleague and I have joined the bus on the fine scale model railway.

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The detailed layout, along with its skilled owner, is located in far-away Melbourne, Australia and the bus crew is of course represented in miniature form! The layout is described in more detail in this post from March 2014.

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The addition of the driver and conductor was the finishing touch to this wayside station cameo and Ray, always keen to get the details right, asked for some help with the bus crew uniforms. Although I’m a relative newcomer to the world of vintage buses I did have some photographic reference, including a shot of a colleague and me wearing authentic ‘Tilling’ uniforms beside a Bath Services Lodekka.

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Ray used these photos as reference material for the professional model makers who painted the cast resin bus crew. I hope you’ll agree that the finished scene is remarkable. I also approve of the early Morris Minor in the background, complete with split screen and clap-hand wipers!

In other news, I’m ‘between jobs’ as they say in the acting profession. Driving for the local sightseeing tours has come to an end now and, although I have a couple of wedding duties with Crosville coming up in November, I’m driving a desk and catching up with jobs at home before the next bus-related project comes along. Also on the horizon is a new book, based on the early part of this blog and covering the trials and tribulations of a bus conductor who is looking for promotion up to the noisy end! Good fireside reading – anyone interested in buying a copy one day?

Free bus tours with a 1952 Bristol KSW

Not long after my Birnbeck Pier duty (see previous post) I had the opportunity to run free bus tours around Minehead with a bus that’s very close to my heart.

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This is a duty that I’ve done many times before in support of the West Somerset Railway. This particular day was billed as a ‘Shaun the Sheep’ day, aimed at children of course, and one of the attractions on offer was the chance to have a free ride on a vintage bus.

I was thrilled to find that, for the first time on a private hire job, I’d been allocated a Bristol KSW. Crosville doesn’t own one of these in operational condition (although a genuine ex-Crosville example has just been taken north for a full restoration) so the one I was to drive was on loan from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection.

L8089 entered service with the Bath Services subsidiary of Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company in 1952 and was often in use on the long distance Bath – Salisbury route. This is where my family connection comes in. Salisbury is where my grandparents lived and L8089 would have driven past their house many times. I remember Bath Services Lodekkas (the successors to the lowbridge Bristol Ks) passing by when I stayed with my grandparents in the 1960s and 70s.

So now you can imagine my delight to be given this particular bus to drive! However, I tried not to let the mists of nostalgia cloud my vision while I prepared the bus in its compound near Minehead and drove it over to the WSR terminus to begin service.

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Bristol Lodekka gets stuck in narrow lane – almost

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I often say that every private hire job I do with a heritage bus is an adventure and a wedding duty I did recently was another chapter in my story. The tale began innocently enough when I met up with my friend Paul at Crosville’s depot in Weston-super-Mare. He was rostered with ‘Bosworth’, the ex-Crosville Bedford OB coach that I took to the Trowbridge area a few weeks ago. We were to travel together to collect a wedding party from the Bristol Airport Holiday Inn, not far from the village of Churchill. Lodekka-&-OB-at-BWOCOne of our first tasks was to top up the Bedford’s tank with fuel (petrol) so we called at BWOC on the way to the pickup point. I was driving ex-Bath Services LD6G L8515 (969EHW), which already had plenty of diesel on board.

Travelling via Congresbury, we soon arrived at the Holiday Inn. As the guests assembled, we had several conversations with folk who were very impressed with the buses. It’s amazing how people are transported back to their chidhood when they see buses from another era. “I went to school on one of these…” is one of the most frequent comments!

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We set off southwards for Cheddar and, although the Lodekka has an overdrive gearbox, it still couldn’t match the Bedford’s speed! I think Paul was aware of this and held back so that we arrived at the Roman Catholic Church in Cheddar together (see photo at the top of this page). After the guests had filed into the church, Paul and I moved our buses, with assistance from my conductor Simon, into the church car park. This had been kept empty for us but the entrance is narrow and we didn’t want to risk getting stuck with passengers on board! As it happened, we managed without any fuss and settled down for a break and some lunch.

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A tight squeeze in Claverham

Google Street View plays havoc with your sense of distance. I’m just saying that in my defence, for almost overshooting a turning yesterday. But more of that later.

The occasion was a wedding duty from Bristol to Claverham with Bristol LD6G 969EHW (L8515 in the Bath Services fleet). It was a reasonably straightforward duty, as jobs go. The Crosville depot was strangely deserted when I arrived at about lunchtime. The garage was locked up and the only person on site, apart from some electricity engineers nearby, was Simon, my conductor. Our bus was parked up, all ready to go, alongside a modern bus. With time to spare, I did my walkaround checks and ate some lunch.

We set off up the A370 towards Bristol city centre where we were to pick up a wedding party from the Registry Office. Our rostered Lodekka has a 5-speed gearbox which enabled us to make good time into the city. In fact we were about 30 minutes early so I pulled into a bus layover point near Temple Meads station.

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It only took us 5 minutes to drive around to the Registry Office. We still had a while to wait for our guests to appear so I took this photo of a piper busking in the street a short distance away.

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As per usual, several people stopped to admire the bus so Simon and I chatted to them and told them why we were there. Eventually a crowd of smartly dressed people emerged from the doorway of the Registry Office and filtered through the shoppers and tourists towards the bus. We ended up with a very full load, in fact I don’t think there was a single spare seat anywhere. I felt the difference as soon as I drove off, having had 2 bells from Simon. The bus felt very heavy, slow to accelerate and harder to stop! Fortunately our progress was slow through the city traffic, allowing me time to adjust my driving to suit the heavy load.

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