Bristol L tackles a stiff climb out of Bath

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.

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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!

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Post-restoration duty for Bristol L KFM893

After about 14 months of restoration work on Crosville KG131, it fell to me to have the honour of taking it out on its first revenue-earning job. The 1950-built bus was waiting for me in the sunshine when I arrived and looked as if it had just emerged from the Finishing Shop at Eastern Coach Works. A five-figure sum has been apparently spent on the very thorough restoration, with lots of wooden framing and most of the aluminium panels being replaced.

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In some ways it was a shame that more than half of the wedding duty would take place in darkness but, as it turned out, that gave me the chance to indulge in some night-time photography.

I had arrived with plenty of time in hand, just in case of unforseen delays due to the vehicle being fresh from the restoration workshop but the only thing missing was the little key to open up the tachometer head. The Workshop Manager soon found one for me and I was able to complete my walkaround checks. On starting the 5-cylinder Gardner 5LW diesel engine, there were clouds of blue smoke – typical behaviour while these engines are cold – but this soon cleared by the time I had left Weston.

KFM893 was numbered KG131 in the original Crosville fleet, but was later changed to SLG131 which is borne out by a small metal plaque which is still carried above the rear entrance door. It is fitted with slightly more plush seating than a standard bus and carries a Tilling dual-purpose livery. This being KG131’s first duty since restoration, I was feeling quite apprehensive as I drove out of the depot. It would be terrible if I dented or scratched it on its first trip!

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