Bedford OB trip to Haselbury Mill goes like clockwork

Any reader of this blog will know that many of my duties with vintage buses have moments of drama or unexpected problems. Most of these make the day ‘interesting’ and most problems are soon overcome. Just now and then a job comes along which is completely problem free. My latest job for Crosville was one of these – it went like clockwork throughout.

MFM39-at-Haselbury-Mill

The Work Ticket required me to turn up at Haselbury Mill at 13:20 with Bedford OB coach MFM39 (Crosville SL71). Having had a few problems with fuelling before with this delightful vehicle I was pleased to find that it had been fuelled for me a few days previously.

enlarged-garage Arriving at the depot in Weston-super-Mare in good time, I had my first sight of the newly expanded garage. Now all the company’s heritage fleet is all together, along with a number of others from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection. One end of the garage was a sea of Bristol/ECW products! My photo shows just one end of the line-up.

With walk round checks complete, I took the 29-seater coach out of the depot and down the A38/M5 towards Taunton. The Art Deco interior had been decorated with bows and ribbons in preparation for this wedding duty. With plenty of time in hand, I was able to enjoy the journey and work on my gearchange technique with the OB’s crash ‘box. Although I’m quite proficient with a Bristol Lodekka, the double de-clutch technique has to be varied to suit the Bedford’s peculiarities. Changing down had previously been a rather clumsy affair, often going into the lower gear with a noticeable crunch. I experimented with the revs and timing to ensure that the gears went in smoothly and, by the time I was driving down the country lane towards Haselbury Mill, things had improved.

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Bristol Lodekka and Bedford OB visit Dillington House

It was one of those balmy autumn days when the sunshine still had enough warmth to qualify as an ‘Indian Summer’. I arrived at the Crosville depot in Weston-super-Mare to prepare my allocated bus, ex-Bath Services Bristol LD6G L8515 (969EHW). It was already sitting outside in the sun, along with ‘Bosworth’, the ex-Crosville Bedford OB. A driver colleague, who was on his first heritage private hire job, was already there completing his walk-round checks.

Our destination was Dillington House, a large country house near Ilminster, Somerset. As usual, I had researched my route and had written out some bullet-point directions to take with me in the cab just to remind me. I’m glad I printed off a second copy because my colleague, knowing that he would probably be following me, hadn’t checked his map very thoroughly! I gave him my second copy just in case we got separated.

Our route took us down the M5 as far as Taunton and then via the A358 towards Ilminster before striking out through the lanes to the venue.

969EHW-at-Dillington-House

We had arrived with time to spare (always a good plan!) so we wandered round a bit, admiring the extensive grounds and impressive frontage to the house. Dillington House has a converted stable block (pictured above) which has additional accommodation as well as function rooms.

When the wedding guests appeared I was told that the first bus was to take the groom, bridesmaids and ushers to the church first, before returning to collect any guests who hadn’t been able to be seated in the Bedford. So, very lightly loaded, I set off towards the church at Curry Rivel, where the wedding ceremony was to take place. Most of the route was along country lanes so there was much gearbox work to do as I negotiated bends in the road and oncoming traffic.

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Bristol Lodekka gets stuck in narrow lane – almost

OB-&-Lodekka-Cheddar-2

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!

OB-&-Lodekka-Holiday-Inn

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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Taking Bosworth the Bedford to a 1940s wedding

It may have been a last minute substitution for a vintage double deck bus, but ‘Bosworth’ the Bedford OB coach was the perfect replacement.

Bosworth-at-the-bus-stop-2

Saturday was a glorious day and I eagerly stepped aboard ex-Crosville SL71 (MFM39). This was the first time I had experienced an OB, either as a driver or a passenger, so I prepared myself for a steep learning curve. My first problem was that everything appeared to be dead so, having checked all the fluid levels, I started looking for the master switch. Nobody I spoke to knew where it was but I found it eventually, lurking underneath one of the seats. Back in the driving seat, I turned the ignition key and the engine burst into life with a little bit of choke. It soon settled down to the wonderful 6-in-a-bar burble that only a straight-6 petrol engine can make.

Armed with a fuel card I edged out of the depot, gathering mental data all the time. I topped up the fuel tank and headed out of Weston-super-Mare towards the village of Banwell. This delightful coach is actually owned by Trevor Smallwood but was hired on this occasion to Crosville Motor Services. It shares the garage with the Crosville fleet full time and is looked after by their staff. Like the majority of its brethren, this 1950-built OB wears the elegant bodywork of Duple. The rounded body and sweeping curves of the detailing are typical of this pre-war design. Many years earlier, when it was first restored, Bosworth was owned by Terry Jones who, at the time, was only 20 and didn’t have a driving licence! Coincidentally, I photographed Bosworth in 1988 in Torquay when Terry had first licenced it for commercial service. I didn’t know then that I would be driving it in service 25 years later!

The sun shone down and warmed up the interior as I drove on towards Wells so I opened the windscreen, which is hinged at the top on the driver’s side. The cooling breeze felt good! I didn’t seem to be having much trouble with the crash gearbox but my position on the road was a problem. I knew that the driving seat was positioned more towards the centre of the vehicle than most of the buses I’d driven before but I was surprised at the difference it made to one’s perception of the width of the bus. Using my mirrors often, I noticed that the offside wheels were often running on the white line in the centre of the road while I had a clear 2ft gap on the nearside! It actually took me most of the day to really get used to this.

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Sunshine and symmetry at Brympton House, Yeovil

For my private hire duty to Brympton House, Yeovil I decided that I would use my Tilling summer dust jacket, it being early May. I believe this was usually the time when bus crews would hang up their heavy winter uniforms in favour of the lighter jackets. With bright, warm weather having been forecast, this turned out to be a good decision.

I was up with the lark (or alarm clock, due to the unreliability of larks in South Devon) for the journey up to Weston-super-Mare. My allocated bus was Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) which, as regular readers will know, has a top speed of 30mph. With a 50 mile empty journey to make before the pickup, an early start was essential. However, stress levels began to rise when my bus, together with the one my fellow driver was to take, were nowhere to be found. We soon learned that Crosville had run out of space in their main garage and had begun renting space in a huge industrial unit (once an aircraft hangar) nearby. Our buses were stored there, along with several others from the Crosville heritage fleet. With checks done I was keen to be on my way but we had to make a detour to top up with fuel. This meant that I would be watching the time anxiously all the way to Yeovil.

There’s a saying that goes “A watched kettle never boils” and I told myself, as the miles slowly passed by, that it was pointless checking the time as I would get there when I got there. In other words, checking my watch wouldn’t get me there any quicker!

brympton-1

After travelling south via the M5, A358 and A3088, I arrived on the outskirts of Yeovil and soon found Brympton House. I was a few minutes late but guests were still assembling on the gravel drive in front of the beautiful old house. It made a change to have plenty of room to turn and park the bus!

Soon we were on our way. This bus is a delight to drive in comparison with the Bath Services LD6G with which I had my last trip. Despite having endured several years’ use as a driver training bus, this one drives like it was brand new. Not that I’ve ever driven a brand new Lodekka, of course. It just seems to slip into gear with a minimum of fuss and feels quite well mannered.

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Heritage bus repairs and restorations at Crosville

OB-MHU49

Back in December I took a couple of quick pictures inside the depot at Crosville while awaiting departure time on a wedding duty. There were, at that time, five heritage vehicles under (or awaiting) repair. With a varied fleet of modern buses and coaches to keep roadworthy and compliant as well, there is always some repair work going on but I was particularly interested in the older ones!

The first to greet me as I came in the door was this 1949 Bedford OB, originally fleet no 207 with Bristol Tramways. It was the first Bedford OB to be delivered to the Tramways, later to become Bristol Omnibus Company, after the war. This bus, which is one of two very similar OBs owned by the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection, has only just been restored but was in the Crosville garage for some attention to the 6-cylinder petrol engine and possibly the brakes too, as the front nearside wheel is missing. The BOVC has close links with Crosville and one day I’d love to drive this OB. The sound of these old Bedfords is very distinctive and takes me right back to my childhood when Tom Phillips, our local coal merchant, had a fleet of very run down OBs and SBs (I think) which operated from a ramshackle yard just round the corner from where I lived in Exmouth. They all wore a very dusty maroon livery.

KFM893_under_repair

One of the three Crosville Bristol L single deck buses was undergoing some substantial bodywork restoration. Shown here parked next to a fully restored sister vehicle, L5G KFM893 had spent many years with Quantock Motor Services before joining the Crosville fleet last year and a winter repaint has turned into a much larger project. Quite a lot of the wooden framework has been replaced and will also be fitted with new aluminium panels before the promised repaint. It will then be fit for use on private hire duties again.

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Crosville Running Day

You wait ages for a bus and then 12 come along all at once!

That could well sum up the cherry on the top of the Crosville cake, but more of that later.

After taking part in the preparations for the Crosville Running Day a few days earlier I was amazed at the transformation that had taken place at the depot when I arrived on the day itself. I was directed to park in the large compound at the end of the site. It was enormous and easily contained ample parking for the day’s visitors as well as static displays of heritage and modern vehicles.

Returning to the depot I found a smart display of ex-Crosville vehicles either side of the depot’s main entrance. Among them was my steed for the day, a Bristol FSF6G open top bus. This has recently returned from an extensive restoration in the North of England and looked superb.

I wasn’t due to leave the depot with the bus until 10:30 so I browsed among the many society and trade stalls that had been lined up around the largely empty garage. Apparently the staff had spent many hours cleaning the floor until it was fit to accept visitors.

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