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