Not long after my Birnbeck Pier duty (see previous post) I had the opportunity to run free bus tours around Minehead with a bus that’s very close to my heart.
This is a duty that I’ve done many times before in support of the West Somerset Railway. This particular day was billed as a ‘Shaun the Sheep’ day, aimed at children of course, and one of the attractions on offer was the chance to have a free ride on a vintage bus.
I was thrilled to find that, for the first time on a private hire job, I’d been allocated a Bristol KSW. Crosville doesn’t own one of these in operational condition (although a genuine ex-Crosville example has just been taken north for a full restoration) so the one I was to drive was on loan from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection.
L8089 entered service with the Bath Services subsidiary of Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company in 1952 and was often in use on the long distance Bath – Salisbury route. This is where my family connection comes in. Salisbury is where my grandparents lived and L8089 would have driven past their house many times. I remember Bath Services Lodekkas (the successors to the lowbridge Bristol Ks) passing by when I stayed with my grandparents in the 1960s and 70s.
So now you can imagine my delight to be given this particular bus to drive! However, I tried not to let the mists of nostalgia cloud my vision while I prepared the bus in its compound near Minehead and drove it over to the WSR terminus to begin service.
When a couple set a date for their wedding they often plan everything in meticulous detail. What none of them can do though is book fine weather for their big day.
So the law of averages dictates that some weddings will be plagued by some of the wet stuff or, as we like to say here in the UK, ‘liquid sunshine’. Last Saturday in Somerset turned out to be one of those days. In the photo above I am trying (but not succeeding) to hide the fact that both buses were far from clean after doing their duty in soggy Somerset.
Let me rewind the clock a little. Compared with some recent Crosville duties, my day had started at a reasonable hour. On the way to the depot in Weston-super-Mare I picked up my conductor for the day, my friend Cherry Selby. My journey up the M5 hadn’t been pleasant, with heavy rain and spray slowing my progress. The rain had eased by the time we arrived at the depot and, on the way to the Crew Room, we were pleased to see that our rostered bus was near the front of the garage and not buried deep within as is sometimes the case. My Work Ticket showed that two buses had been allocated to this job and the two green Bristol Lodekkas were parked together. Ours was ex-Bristol Omnibus Company LC8518 (972EHW), a 1959 LD6B. I’ve had this one several times before and is very presentable, if a little quirky to drive.
To begin with, this particular Bristol AVW 6-cylinder engine is always reluctant to start when cold. On this occasion I found that, once I had it running, it really didn’t want to go any faster than a slightly fast idle. Bristol engines are renowned for having what I call a ‘lazy throttle’, with a noticable delay in delivering power when the accellerator pedal is depressed. It took several minutes of persuasion to extract anywhere near full revs from the cold engine, quite unlike the Gardner equivalent.
Being prepared by Driver Lawrence was Southern Vectis 573, a 1962 Bristol FS6G (YDL318). After agreeing our route we set off in gloomy weather for Orchardleigh House, Frome. The 40-mile trip was not straightforward and can best be described as ‘rural’. There is no direct route and we splashed our way through the lanes on a variety of A and B roads before trundling up the very long drive of the Orchardleigh estate. The guests soon piled onto the 2 buses, many of them American, judging by their accents. One chap was amazed at the condition of the buses, saying “Wow, you guys really look after your old stuff. In the USA we don’t keep anything historic, it just gets trashed!”
They say that ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd’ but I beg to differ. Sharing a wedding duty with two other colleagues brings with it much cameraderie and banter, not to mention practical assistance in tight spots.
Last weekend’s duty called for two Lodekkas to transport a large group of wedding guests from a church near Taunton to a reception venue on the other side of town. It gave me the chance to meet up again with one of my former colleagues from ‘Exmoor Explorer’ days, Conductress Cherry Selby. Our pickup point was All Saints Church in the strangely named village of Trull, just outside Taunton and we arrived at the nearby Community Hall car park to find that there was a large section coned off for the wedding buses. How very organised!
Two white vintage cars awaited the bridal party while the rest of the guests were grouped together beside the churchyard for photographs before boarding the buses. With Driver Wilkins leading in Bristol Omnibus LD6B LC8518 (972EHW), we drove in convoy across Taunton to Roughmoor Farm which is near the new Park & Ride site on Silk Mills Road. Both buses were almost full and the steering on Southern Vectis FS6G 573 (YDL318) was noticably heavy. Or maybe I’m still shaking off my winter lethargy…
After our passengers had departed for the reception, we drove across town and parked up near a big Sainsburys store for 5 hours before returning to the farm. In the bright sunlight both buses looked splendid, having enjoyed the attentions of the cleaners back at the depot. 573 is still very presentable, despite being due for a repaint this year. The Bristol Omnibus Lodekka rarely gets an outing these days so we swapped buses and I drove it for the return journey.
While we waited, Driver Wilkins regaled us with scary tales of coach tours to Alpine ski resorts while Cherry and I reminisced about our adventures on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’.
2015 is a special year for those who remember the buses and operations of Wilts & Dorset Motor Services Ltd. The company was incorporated in 1915 and various events will take place throughout this year to commemorate the W&D Centenary. For my part, in addition to attending a vintage bus running day in Salisbury in June, I’m going to post some archive photos from my collection. ‘Wilts & Dorset through the years’, you could say. Except that the photos won’t be in any particular order, just selected randomly as the mood takes me. Well, it’s my blog isn’t it?
So here we go, with a Wilts & Dorset Bristol L6B single deck dual purpose bus. GAM216 was delivered in 1949 as fleet no 297 wearing the pre-war W&D coaching livery (seen here in colour on sister vehicle EMW284). It was powered by Bristol’s own AVW 6-cylinder diesel engine. No 297 operated in this form until early in 1958, when the Portsmouth Aviation 32-seat body was rebuilt in Wilts & Dorset’s own workshops in Salisbury. It re-appeared in May of that year. The gently sloping waist-rail had gone, along with the elegant swooping trim which was such a familiar feature on single deckers of this era.
In this form, now wearing the simpler Tilling Red and Cream livery, 297 continued to run in W&D service until withdrawal in 1962.
Fortunately it became one of five W&D Bristol Ls to survive and happily retains its Bristol AVW engine. It is currently owned by Yesteryear Vintage Vehicle Hire and is gradually working its way to the front of the restoration queue.
Portsmouth Aviation, as the name suggests, was (and still is) a supplier of equipment to the military aviation industry. However, it made a brief foray into bus bodywork and supplied several operators in the south of England for a short time.
I was treated to a rare outing with a Bristol-engined Lodekka recently. The bus had been especially requested for this particular private hire due to its local connections as it had spent most of its service life with Bristol Omnibus Company (BOC) running around the streets of the city.
The event in question was a gathering of about 20 folks who used to be students at the erstwhile Bristol Polytechnic, now the University of the West of England. So it was with great delight that I prepared ex-BOC LD6B LC8518 (972EHW) at the Crosville depot. Standing nearby ready to go was sister vehicle L8515 (969EHW). This was about to head out to Kilmersdon on a private hire job with Driver Moore. It was a busy day for Lodekkas because Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) was also out and about, with Driver Carpenter in charge.
Checks done and with no issues to resolve except to take on fuel, I headed up the A370 towards Bristol where I would meet up with Conductor Kemble. It took me a little while to adjust my driving technique to suit the Bristol AVW engine. The revs fall away relatively quickly when changing up, compared with a Gardner 6LW. Probably something to do with having a lower rotating mass. Perhaps someone with a Degree in Physics can explain. Anyway, the upshot is that I could make a faster gearchange than I normally would although I still had to factor in rising or falling gradients as per usual.
As I drove along Anchor Road, opposite Brunel’s SS Great Britain, I found my conductor waiting on the pavement near the pickup point as planned. We welcomed the party of ex-students aboard. Their leader explained that they had all attended Bristol Poly (as it was then) about 30 years ago and hadn’t seen each other since graduating.
I had been supplied with a ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ route beforehand, which I had studied thoroughly. My knowledge of Bristol was going to be tested today, mostly because they changed the route as soon as they’d boarded! Fortunately my Conductor lives in Bristol and we agreed that he would use bell codes to remind me of significant junctions. A last resort would be to bang on the glass behind me and gesticulate wildly.
First stop was the Bristol Poly campus in Frenchay, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. The bus drew many admiring glances, especially from a group of Wessex Bristol drivers who were standing beside one of the bus shelters. Our passengers alighted and disappeared inside the UWE buildings for lunch, a presentation by UWE staff and a guided tour of the campus. They were to be collected about 3 hours later so I took the bus (literally) to have lunch with relatives who live nearby.
Before anyone comments, I know they’re about as rare as hen’s teeth. In terms of surviving half cab buses, those retaining their Bristol AVW engines are comparatively few.
This sad looking Bristol KSW joined the Crosville heritage fleet in 2012, fitted with its original Bristol AVW engine. Sadly, it would not turn over and after stripping it down, the restorers decided that the damaged block could not be economically repaired.
If you know of the whereabouts of a redundant Bristol AVW engine, or indeed have one yourself, please let me know. It doesn’t have to be a runner or even be complete just as long as it can sacrifice a few components to allow this fine ex-Crosville bus to return to action powered by an AVW. It would be so sad (and would ironically reflect the situation in the 1960s/70s) if a Gardner 6LW unit had to be fitted just to get the bus on the road. The folks at Crosville are determined to make this restoration as thorough and authentic as possible so that means retaining the Bristol AVW if at all possible. A sensible price will be paid for a suitable item.
Please contact Crosville on 01934 635259, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or just leave a comment here. Thank you!
It was one of those times when a day spent driving a halfcab bus is like a session at the gym. By the time I had parked the bus back at the depot in the late evening of Sunday November 10th, my arms felt like jelly. But it was so worth it!
I met my Simon, my conductor for the day, at the garage and we prepared the bus together. We had ex-Bristol Omnibus LC8518 (972EHW), the same vehicle that I’d driven on a wedding duty the previous day. Also being prepared was London Transport RTW29, a rare 8ft-wide Leyland-engined RT. Its bright red livery was being buffed to a shine by Jon, the MD of Crosville Motor Services, who was joining us at the Exeter Twilight event.
We set off as soon as we were ready and took the Lympsham road out of Weston-super-Mare. As I coaxed the bus up to a breathtaking maximum speed of 35mph, my conductor donned my conductor gear and settled down for the long journey to Exeter. I always feel rather vulnerable on the motorway with such a slow vehicle and kept checking my rearview mirror for traffic approaching from behind. Plan B: hit the hard shoulder!
Just before Taunton a familiar shape loomed up behind the bus, that of a green Bristol L. It passed us and slowly disappeared into the distance, probably doing 45mph or more. Taking a comfort break at Taunton Services, I was surprised to see the same single deck bus already in the coach park. I parked nearby and got chatting to the driver. The bus was in fact not a Bristol L but an earlier Bristol J (built 1934) but received a new body in 1955 along with a more up to date PV2 radiator. This made it look like a Bristol L.