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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Heritage bus roundup: Spring 2018

Early Spring 2018 brought a flurry of heritage bus activity for me. Although we’re now well into a very hot summer, here’s a sample of what I was up to earlier.

This is a very attractive Bedford OB coach which was once operated by the original Crosville Motor Services in north Wales and now resides in Weston-super-Mare. It is now up for sale but I was asked to drive it up to Bristol to have its analogue tachograph calibrated as part of preparations for sale.

I’ve have driven this delightful vehicle several times before and I savoured the sounds from the very tuneful and distinctive gearbox. However I didn’t much like the steering, which is very heavy! I don’t know if this is typical of OBs because this is the only one I’ve driven (so far).

I saw this OB in Dorset recently, during on a birthday treat visit to Ringwood Brewery. I would have volunteered myself as a driver but Ringwood is quite a trek from Weston-super-Mare! If it had a canvas tilt on the back it would have looked exactly like the Bedford OB van that my grandfather used to operate (there’s a tiny me standing next to him). That was green as well!

One of the stalwarts of the Crosville fleet in recent years has been ex-Crosville Bristol FSF6G 891VFM and this is seen here having a thorough steam clean prior to its first outing of 2018. This was a trip down to Minehead to spend the day giving free rides to people who attended the Paw Patrol special event for children put on by the West Somerset Railway. I’ve driven at several of these events before and I was happy to be rostered as the driver. I really enjoy driving this Lodekka because I find it easy to drive it smoothly. It also has a good turn of speed (45mph+ on the level) thanks to having a rear axle from a¬†coach fitted.

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WHOTT Running Day 2015, Dorchester

Sunday August 16th was the date of the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) Running Day. Set in the ancient market town of Dorchester, this new format proved to be much more successful than the traditional static bus rallies of previous years.

Dorchester-Lewis-OBs

Although I’d had the date in my diary for some time, no particular task had been assigned to me so I was pretty much free to help out on the day whenever the need arose. As it turned out, I ended up with a couple of very interesting driving turns.

The venue was the Top o’ Town car park in Dorchester, chosen because the erstwhile Dorset bus and coach operator Bere Regis Motor Services once had its offices on the site. The day also saw the launch of a new book by Stuart Shelton, a comprehensive fleet history documenting every vehicle that Bere Regis ever owned. The book runs to 96 pages and I had the privilege of preparing the artwork for this WHOTT publication. This complements a similar book on the history of the company by Andrew Waller.

Dorchester-CLJ413Y

My first task was to help move some vehicles which had been stabled overnight in the Damory yard just round the corner from the event venue. I elected to drive Bristol LHS coach CLJ413Y, which is the sole surviving ex-Bere Regis coach still wearing its original livery. It also happens to be the very last LH chassis built by Bristol Commercial Vehicles. As some of you might know, the Bristol LH is not my favourite vehicle of all time but I was happy to drive this particularly historic coach the short distance to the static display area.

I pottered about after that, watching other vehicles arriving and society stalls being laid out. Of particular interest was a scale model of a Harrington-bodied Commer Avenger coach. This had for many years been on display above the doorway of the old Bere Regis offices that used to stand just a few yards away. In the static display area was an immaculate pair of Bedford OBs in the livery of Lewis Coaches, as seen in the photo at the top of this post.

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Bedford WTB on the Isle of Wight

While browsing through some old holiday photos today I came across this shot of Bedford WTB JT8077. I enjoyed a short ride to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in this historic coach in 1995, a couple of years after it joined the small fleet operated by John Woodhams, Ryde. I remember it sounding every bit as tuneful as the Bedford OB which succeeded it!

Bedford-WTB-JT8077-Isle-of-Wight

Here is a brief history of this 1937-built vehicle, taken from the website of Vintage Tours where the Bedford still operates to this day:

JT 8077 is a 1937 Bedford WTB with 25 seat coachwork by Duple. JT was new to South Dorset Coaches at Corfe Castle in Dorset, and stayed with the company for thirty years before passing to Adge Cutler, of Wurzels fame. Adge and his brother Roy took her to a number of rallies, including the London to Brighton Historic Commercial vehicle Run. Following Adge’s untimely death in a road accident, she passed to new owners in Gloucestershire in the mid 1970s. She became semi derelict before passing to Pearce, Darch & Willcox, at Cattistock, in Dorset who restored her, and re-certified her as a psv in 1987. After two or three years the company and its modern coaches sold out to Southern National, but JT remained in the old garage until 1992 when acquired by the present owner. Very few WTBs survive today, and JT is the only example in passenger service.

Terry Browne’s Flickr photostream has a good photo of the WTB, in company with Bedford OB CCF648, on a wedding duty a couple of years ago.

Crosville Bus Rally 2014

Several of you went along to the Crosville Bus Rally, also known as the Weston-super-Mare Running Day, last Sunday. I know, because I saw some of you there! I hope you enjoyed yourselves as we basked in the fine, sunny weather.

4-Bristol-Ls-at-Crosville-Rally-2014

This was the scene which was created at the far end of the large site on Beach Lawns – a fine quartet of Bristol L single deck buses. The two in the middle are owned by the present-day Crosville Motor Services and are genuine ex-Crosville vehicles. The other two were visiting for the day and are both ex-Bristol Tramways.

An event like this takes months of planning and several days spent feverishly washing, fettling and checking of vehicles. I was unable to be involved in any of the physical preparations this year but did contribute my artworking skills to the creation of the Rally Programme.

On the day itself I turned up at the depot early. It had already been transformed from the usual bustling hub of activity into a well-planned display of service buses, school contract coaches and a few heritage vehicles. Outside, a large number of buses (almost entirely of Bristol manufacture) awaited drivers to ferry them down to the main seafront site. I was nominated to take NHU2, a prototype of the Bristol LS marque, but in the end rode as a passenger on 869NHT, a 1961 Bristol FS6G which actually used to operate along Weston’s seafront years ago.

There followed a frantic period of shuffling and shunting as the various buses were positioned within the main site by the marshals. A growing number of visiting vehicles were arriving at the same time. As 10:00 approached I prepared to ride on the 108 service, a round-the-houses Town Circular which I had helped to devise. However, the bus allocated to this departure had been commandeered to run a shuttle to the depot and back as large numbers of people were arriving there, parking their cars in the depot and were waiting for transport to the main site. Eventually I too was commandeered to run the same service with Bristol FLF DEL893C. Although several other heritage buses from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection were already operating this shuttle they had been overwhelmed by the numbers of people.

I was allocated a fine conductor, namely Richard Kemble who was one of many volunteers who travelled from far and wide to support the event and make it happen. We took the FLF on a couple of trips to the depot to help clear the queue of visitors.

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