A few days ago I was once again given the honour of driving an ex-Bristol Omnibus Lodekka through the city it served more than 50 years ago.
LC8518 (972EHW) belongs to the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection and is on hire to Crosville Motor Services at the moment. It is in immaculate condition, having completed a thorough restoration about 3 years ago.
After doing my walkaround checks I brought the bus out of the darkness of the garage and into the daylight. My conductor arrived shortly afterwards and, after re-fuelling the bus at the newly-commissioned bowser (hooray, no more trips to Morrisons!) we set off up the A370 for Bristol. By coincidence, the pickup point for this private hire duty was just a stone’s throw from where my parents-in-law live, so I didn’t need to research the route at all! The weather was dull, cold and wet so I wiped the condensation off the cab windows while we waited for the bridal party to board.
The trip to St Aidan’s Church, St George was very light, with only the bride, her parents and bridemaids on board. This leg of the journey was mostly new territory for me so, once again, I had studied Google Maps and carried a bullet point list of directions in the cab just in case. When we arrived, Barry my conductor commented that he was impressed that I appeared to know my way around Bristol better than he did, and he was brought up there! I had to admit my reliance on Google and some previous knowledge due to family connections. I also had to admit that, in the event of a road closure somewhere on my planned route, I would have been a bit stuck! My PCV training taught me to always have a Plan B but I’m afraid I don’t often have one up my sleeve.
A particularly satisfying wedding duty came my way the other week when I was rostered to transport a wedding party to a reception venue in Bristol. Satisfying, because I was allocated a bus which ran in the city throughout most of its service life.
I had driven this bus only once before, on my assessment session back in 2011. It was unavailable for service for most of this season due to fuel system repairs and has only recently been declared fit again. I was looking forward to experiencing this bus on a ‘live’ duty and especially as I would be able to drive through the city streets where it was once a familiar sight.
LC8518 was built in 1959 for the Bristol Omnibus city services and has a Bristol AVW 6-cylinder engine driving through a 4-speed gearbox. Top speed is about 33mph so the empty journey from Weston to Bristol gave me plenty of time to become accustomed to the bus. In most respects it was similar to drive to the other Lodekkas I have driven, the most significant difference lay in the AVW engine. This sounds quite different to a Gardner 6LW, more throaty I suppose. It delivers its power differently, too. When I press the loud pedal to accelerate there is a noticeable delay while the engine develops more power. It’s as if it’s girding up its loins for the task ahead! With a 6LW you get what you ask for almost instantly. Once I had allowed for this, driving LC8518 was a real pleasure.
Those of you who drive heritage buses may remember having that word yelled in your ear as you learned to use a crash gearbox. It’s all to do with judging how long to wait while the engine revs die away before selecting the next gear.
Yesterday it was my turn to do the yelling. I spent the day training four guys from Crosville Motor Services how to drive a Lodekka and it turned out to be more successful than I expected.
I was given an ex-Bristol Omnibus FLF to use as a training bus. This isn’t used in public service but shares the garage with the active fleet. It carries NBC Leaf Green livery and has a Bristol BVW engine driving through a 4-speed crash gearbox. It also has the glass missing from the little window in the corner of the cab, all of which made it an ideal vehicle to use.
I was interested to see that it displayed ‘Staple Hill’ as this was where my wife would have got off the bus on her way home from school in Bristol. It was odd to think that she might have ridden on this very bus!
My first two candidates observed me as I drove out to a nearby roundabout and back before we sat down and discussed the major differences between driving a modern coach or bus and driving a Lodekka. I had prepared some diagramatic visual aids to help explain the double-declutch technique, which is something of a dark art to most people.
Fortunately the Crosville garage is located on a sprawling trading estate which was once part of the Westland helicopter manufacturing base. We used an empty road at the far end of the site to begin our practice sessions, partly to avoid causing a hazard to other road users and partly to lessen the noise of gear teeth being torn off!
While preparing Crosville’s ex-Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF for a wedding job last Saturday I took the picture below. Parked just beyond my bus was another Bristol FLF and, behind that, an ex-Bath Services Bristol KSW.
It reminded me that the ex-Bristol Omnibus FLF (the one wearing the rather faded NBC Leaf Green livery) has survived into preservation complete with its original Bristol BVW engine. The KSW also retains it’s Bristol engine, in this case an AVW.
The H&D FLF was itself delivered with a Bristol engine but lost it in the 1970s when numerous strikes caused the supply of spare parts to dry up. Desperate to keep it’s fleet of Lodekkas going, Hants & Dorset (in common with many other operators faced with the same problem) cannibalised older Bristol Ks and transplanted their sturdy Gardner 6LW engines into the newer buses.