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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Crosville Bedford OB returns from Cobus

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog post about a long trip up to Yorkshire to deliver a Bedford OB coach to a restoration centre. I was also given the chance to bring the same vehicle back to Somerset again after it had been tidied up. Despite the distance, I decided to accept. Not least because if I start a job, I like to finish it!

Unlike last time I decided to do the return trip in one day, having been assured that the misfiring which had plagued the outward journey had been fixed. So, after travelling up to Hunmanby on the train the day before, I turned up bright and early at Cobus. Steve Waggitt, the proprietor, was there to meet me and was grinning like a Cheshire cat! And here’s why:

MFM39-freshly-painted

I followed Steve round to the garage where ‘Bosworth’ the Bedford stood, ready to go. The Cobus team had worked a miracle on the Duple Vista-bodied coach, which had externally looked a bit tired when I delivered it three weeks earlier. Now it stood looking for all the world as if it had just been built! The patchwork-effect Tilling livery, previously several shades of cream and green, was gone and in its place was a showroom-finish paint job that left me awestruck.

Steve proudly showed me the aluminium trim which had been polished and mounted on rubber strips. New glazing rubbers had been fitted around the back windows and all the dinks in the panels had been levelled and filled. They had done a top job, right down to the finely signwritten legal lettering.

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Save wear and tear on your clutch: don’t use it!

In an effort to avoid ‘Greenway overload’, here’s a brief account of a wedding hire I did a few weeks ago for Crosville Motor Services. It wasn’t a particularly complicated duty so it afforded me the chance to experiment a little with my driving technique.

Sometime ago a couple of my regular readers commented that in the old days (they were obviously ‘old hands’) they used to be so proficient at changing gear with the Bristol constant mesh gearboxes that they could do it without using the clutch. Judging by comments made by other drivers from the same era, they were not alone in the habit of clutchless changes. Anyway, one of them challenged me to try it one day.

DEL893C-Broad-Street

I decided to pick up the gauntlet, so to speak, and try this for myself. But first I had to deal with a bit of stress at the depot. While doing my walk around checks on the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF, I found that the nearside indicators weren’t working. I’ve had this once before and the fact that neither front nor rear indicators worked pointed to a failed bulb. Unfortunately, both duty mechanics were out on an emergency recovery so I had to wait until they returned before my bus could be fixed. To their credit, they both set to work straight away as they knew I had a deadline to meet. With one up a ladder at the front and the other crouching at the rear, they quickly replaced both bulbs and normal service was resumed.

Not wanting to cause any further delay, I postponed my clutch experiment until the empty return journey so I took the long-legged Lodekka from Weston to Bristol using the textbook double de-clutch technique I’ve always used. I picked up a bus load of passengers from the Arnos Vale Cemetery (strange place to have a wedding…) and took them the short distance into the city where they were due to eat and party the night away at the Rummer Hotel, which is close to the Bristol Registry Office in Corn Street/Broad Street (pictured above).

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Bosworth and Busman John visit Cobus, Yorkshire

I’m not known for running marathons but this week’s epic trip up to Yorkshire with ‘Bosworth’ the Bedford certainly felt like one.

MFM39-Cobus-4

I was offered the chance to drive Crosville SL71 (MFM39) from the present day Crosville garage in Weston-super-Mare up to Cobus, whose restoration premises are near Bridlington, Yorkshire. How could I refuse? The round trip would take 2 days so I packed a toothbrush and set off early on Monday.

I found the Bedford OB, which I had driven on wedding duties a couple of times before, parked up in the garage along with the rest of the heritage fleet. Unfortunately one of them, a Hants & Dorset FLF, was blocking the OB in so I climbed into the FLF’s cab to move it. Even more unfortunately it wouldn’t start. In fact there was no electrical power at all, the batteries having been run flat. Anyway, it took three of us leaning heavily on the front cowl to move it out of the way.

With a clear exit now, I drove the OB out of the garage where I completed my checks. The first stop of course was the filling station for petrol. I didn’t know how far I would get before needing to top up again but it was essential to leave with a full tank. I had taken the precaution of putting a handy piece of metal in the OB’s boot with which to dip the tank on the journey so I could see how much fuel was being used.

It was good to be driving the old girl (or is ‘Bosworth’ a boy?) again. I suppose it’s a bit like getting re-acquainted with an aged maiden aunt. The OB is a lot older than me and needs to be treated with plenty of respect! Together we headed out of town and onto the northbound M5.

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