The second annual WHOTT Vintage Bus Running Day at Dorchester has been hailed a resounding success, with plenty of visitors coming to enjoy nearly 30 buses, coaches and commercials which were on display.
For my part, I brought along an open top Bristol Lodekka which was actually a last minute replacement for the bus I had intended to bring. Following on from the WHOTT Coldharbour Mill running day earlier this year, I had intended to bring the same vehicle to Dorchester, Southern National 2700. However, a couple of days before Dorchester, the 1967 Bristol RELL developed an engine fault which couldn’t be fixed in time. The kind folks at Crosville offered open top FSF6G 891VFM (Crosville DFG81) instead, which turned out to be a very popular choice!
The RE had been based at Weymouth (just 8 miles away) for the early part of its service life, which would have made it a very appropriate entrant for the Dorchester event. In my view its non-appearance was a blessing in disguise because another – older – Southern National bus was able to take pride of place instead. 1956 Bristol LS5G TUO497 is most of the way through a restoration project and its appearance at Dorchester was the first time it had been seen in public since it was laid up in a barn in 1980.
I had an empty journey of 74 miles ahead of me when I arrived at the Crosville depot early last Sunday morning. As I opened up the garage and switched the lights on I wondered how many other buses I’d have to shunt out of the way before I could bring the Lodekka out. I was very pleased to see that, following a recent re-organisation of the depot, all the Crosville heritage fleet had been parked in an annexe to the main building, making it far easier than before to retrieve a heritage bus.
By the time I’d arrived at the Top ‘O Town car park in Dorchester the sun was shining and other buses were being marshalled into position. I reported to the WHOTT Control Bus and found that I’d been rostered for three trips out to Frampton Church (see top picture), the first of which departed at 12:40. This meant I had loads of time to browse among the buses and meet up with friends and colleagues.
My final private hire duty of 2015 for Crosville Motor Services turned out to be a very unusual one; a 60th birthday mystery tour. Even the driver didn’t know the destination!
All I knew was that Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) had been booked for an all-day mystery tour. From the brief details I had been given it looked like a loosely-planned pub crawl. And that is how it turned out. I usually like to know precisely where I am going with a heritage bus so that I can check out the route, parking facilities and turning spaces. This time, even after a phone call the previous week and a conversation with the organiser at the depot on the day, we decided to more or less make it up as we went along. Fortunately, I knew that all the places we discussed as potential stopping points were accessible.
The occasion was the 60th birthday of a lady who lived in Weston-super-Mare. Her husband had booked the bus and had arranged for a group of family and friends to turn up but he hadn’t told his wife! With the interior of the bus decorated with balloons and banners (and of course with ’60’ on the destination blinds) I drove the short distance from the depot to a pub just up the road from the couple’s house. I used a circuitous route so that I didn’t drive past the house on the way! A group of about 40 people plus a very nervous husband boarded the bus and we stopped outside the birthday girl’s front door. The look on her face as she opened the door was priceless! I was reminded of the time when I had done something very similar for my Mum’s 80th birthday. Neither she nor my Dad knew we were all turning up in a Hants & Dorset bus!
The proms season is upon us once more but sadly, for Busman John at least, it doesn’t involve any Pomp or Circumstance.
No, a busman’s lot is a noisy but unmusical one if he is to be sent on a school prom duty. Once called the School Leavers’ Party (or, if you went to a posh school, End of Year Ball), the general term used nowadays is Prom. An American import, I suspect.
Today I had two school prom duties in Torquay, both with the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours Leyland PD2 (FFY403). This morning’s tour was a very busy one, with 40 sightseers on board. Once we’d returned them to the harbourside at Torquay I bade farewell to my Tour Guide, who had the afternoon off. Taking his place on the platform was my son Peter, whose last duty with me was at Salisbury for the Wilts & Dorset Centenary. We like to keep it in the family!
We took the PD2 off-route past Torquay’s two Grammar Schools and into Sherwell Valley Primary School. I had to smile as we drove slowly past several classrooms, repeatedly capturing the awestruck attention of the excited pupils within. In the school playground, which this afternoon was turned into an impromptu bus station, the PD2 was decorated with balloons, streamers and class photos. Soon we had been joined by two stretched limousines and three pink minibuses. Yes, dear reader, pink. This incongrous collection of celebratory conveyances was booked, not by the school, but by the parents of the Year 6 pupils who were leaving the school to start their secondary education.
Using the on-board PA apparatus, I welcomed the ‘little darlings’ onto the bus and gave our customary warning about staying seated and the potential hazards of passing beneath low branches. Finally, a question: “Are we all going to have fun?” to which the answer was a loud cheer. With that out of the way I started up the bus and confronted the first hazard, which had the potential to be a literal showstopper. The school caretaker had opened a gate at the end of the playground to enable the vehicles easier access back to the main road. I had earlier checked this out and was concerned to find a short, sharp gradient leading up to the road. Aware of the possibility of the rear of the platform going aground as the front of the bus tilted upwards sharply, I passed through the gate very slowly listening for a grating sound. There wasn’t one, thankfully. If I had been driving a Bristol FLF we would definitely been in trouble!
…but where is it now?
Many of the classic buses and coaches which we enjoy today owe their survival to non-PSV use after withdrawal. One such bus is a Bristol FLF which has featured heavily on these pages in the past.
The photo above shows Hants & Dorset’s 1220 (FLF6G DEL893C) in gleaming H&D livery a couple of years ago but long before that it entered service, still wearing faded Poppy Red, with Double Two Shirts in about 1981. This large Wakefield-based manufacturer used to run quite an extensive fleet of ex-service vehicles, mostly Bristol FLFs and VRTs, to convey staff to and from the factory. I recently came across a YouTube clip of some of these vehicles in action:
Staff Bus (Double Two, Wakefield)
After passing through the hands of several owners, including Quantock Motor Services (left, seen entering Porlock), it reached Weston-super-Mare in the ownership of the fledgling Crosville Motor Services. It became a mainstay of the heritage hire fleet and was the first bus I drove in service after passing my PCV test in 2012.
Last week I undertook another marathon journey to Yorkshire with a bus from the Crosville Motor Services heritage fleet. TD895 (HLJ44) is a 1949 Bristol K6A and she joined Crosville in 2013 but has not been used since then as it was felt she needed some considerable work done to bring her up to the standards required for regular use on private hire work.
So I turned up bright and early on Monday last week to take the K up to Cobus, the bus and coach restorers in Yorkshire where I took Bedford OB MFM39 last year. In the days preceding my journey, Crosville staff had been busy preparing the bus for the long trek north. The interior had been gutted some time before so all the seat frames, poles and panels had been stowed carefully inside. The 6-cylinder AEC engine had been partially rebuilt some months previously so a new set of batteries were fitted and some road tests completed.
The fuel tank had been topped up to the brim so all I needed to do was to carry out my walkaround checks. One curious aspect to this bus is that it has been kept in original condition, even down to the exterior lighting arrangements. While checking the brake lights I saw that there is a single, separate light near the offside tail lamp. When the indicator was checked I saw that there are no separate indicator lights – the tail lamp flashes and there are none at the front at all! Apparently, according to the Construction and Use Regulations, the bus is permitted to carry the lighting arrangements it was built with so it looks like I shall have to brush up on my hand signals just to be safe! Another aspect to this situation was to surface later in the journey but more on that later.
Apart from a short journey from Weston seafront back to the depot last summer, I haven’t driven a Bristol K before so I was looking forward to this journey very much. It soon became clear that it’s very much like a Bristol L to drive. Not surprising, as they have much in common. However, the AEC engine sounds very different and is probably the same unit as fitted to London Transport RT buses. I’m sure someone more knowledgeable than me will be along shortly to correct me! I soon felt right at home in the cab as I drove out of Weston and towards the M5 motorway. Despite its age, I found everything to be remarkably tight and rattle-free. Someone has done quite a lot of mechanical work I suspect. I found myself comparing the experience with Hants & Dorset 1220 (Bristol FLF DEL893C) which rattled and shook much more than this K which is 16 years older.
Owing to the partial engine rebuild I mentioned earlier I kept my speed under 35mph so that the engine could run-in adequately. I’m sure that, if opened up fully, she could probably do 40+. My progress, as you can imagine, felt painfully slow but I got used to it. I prepared myself to move into the hard shoulder if any artics left it late to pull out from behind me! As well as watching my mirrors like a hawk, I also watched the radiator filler cap in case she started to boil. I had no idea about the condition of the cooling system and how the bus would behave on a long journey but all was well. Apart from a few dribbles at the beginning (it had been filled to the brim) everything settled down nicely.
The miles passed by slowly until lunchtime, when I stopped at Tamworth Services for a break.