Summer 2018 heritage happenings

Alongside my coach driving duties for Bakers Dolphin, I’ve been able to keep my crash box skills up to date with some of the ex-Crosville heritage fleet.

YDL318-at-WSR-Steam-Fair

I had made it known that I’d be happy to do a few voluntary turns, if any came up. Towards the end of the summer term, Uphill Primary School in Weston-super-Mare had requested that a vintage bus attend the School and Village Fair in the school grounds. Crosville had provided a bus for static display for several years running and I was asked to take a bus – any bus – to the Fair. Mrs Busman John was keen to come along as well so we chose to take open top Crosville DFG81 (Bristol FSF6G 891VFM) as the weather seemed once again to be wall-to-wall sunshine.

The Lodekka hadn’t seen any action since the closure of Crosville in April so we went down to the depot early to make sure that she would start. Fortunately there were no problems so we drove the short distance to Uphill. After parking on the school field we left the bus open so that people could have a look around. Many did, most heading for the top deck! We had a look round the stalls and displays but, when we got back to the bus, found that I’d left the power on and some children were taking great delight in dinging the bell. Not only was it annoying for the nearby stall-holders but it might have depleted the batteries so I turned off the isolator when no-one was looking.

891VFM-in-BD-yard

At the end of the afternoon we took the scenic route back to the depot – via the seafront of course – which pleased Mrs Busman John, who was naturally riding up top. Sensing the need for a cheeky photo opportunity, I drove into Locking Road Coach Park and briefly parked the Lodekka among the Bakers Dolphin coaches!

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The final curtain for Crosville

The writing was on the wall for a long time but Saturday April 21st marked the end of another chapter in the long-running Crosville Motor Services story. Although this is now old news, it deserves an airing here because of my involvement with the latter-day company.

To recap, a combination of falling revenue and some difficulties with the Traffic Commissioner made it inevitable that the company would have to cease trading.

The management of the Weston-super-Mare company decided to go out with a flourish, so organised a running day on the last day of operation. Based at the Beach Lawns on Weston’s seafront, heritage vehicles were either lined up on display or used in service on the 100 route to Sand Bay. With Crosville’s Sentinel steam bus ‘Elizabeth’ joining in the action as well, that meant that the road to Sand Bay got very busy at times! (Photo copyright Paul Jones, used with permission).

Sadly I was committed elsewhere on that day so missed most of the action but did have a couple of hours to spare in the morning so I was able to help ferry some of the heritage buses out to the seafront site, including recently restored Bristol K6A HLJ44 and Bristol FS6G YDL318.

Then it was time to put all the toys away in the box and go home. With local bus routes and private hire bookings unable to run due to the lack of an Operators Licence, the next few weeks were rather sad as the once-busy depot was gradually cleared out. Most of the service buses and coaches were sold off, either for further use or for scrap. I drove two ex-school contract vehicles, Leyland Tiger CRZ9853 and a yellow Dennis Javelin coach (whose number I have already forgotten), up to a coach trimmer near Banbury. In a final twist, each had only been bought for its seats. With most of the ‘modern’ vehicles sold, the vast hangar which served as the Crosville depot looked forlorn.

There was a plan to continue running the heritage fleet, which had a healthy order book for 2018, under the auspices of Southern National (another JJP Holdings company) but this failed to materialise due to licencing issues. All bookings were cancelled and refunded. This had a direct impact on me because I had been, up to this point, managing the bookings and crew rosters for the heritage fleet.

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Southern Vectis 573 returns to service

One of the stalwarts of Crosville’s heritage fleet returned recently from an external refurbishment and its appearance is now more authentic than it’s been for many years.

The 1962 Bristol FS6G (YDL318) was driven back from Yorkshire by my friend Paul Carpenter just in time to go on display at the Crosville Bus & Steam Rally in September. It took pride of place alongside last year’s new restoration, Bristol K6A HLJ44. During the event I used it to take a group of rally visitors on a guided tour of the Crosville depot.

For many years purists have complained that 573’s appearance was spoiled by having black window rubbers (illustrated here in an earlier photo). Nothing unusual in that for a Lodekka, I hear you say. But FS types from 1962 had cream rubber when new so I’m particularly pleased that the owner has gone to the trouble of reglazing the bus using cream rubber.

The other nagging issue was the front numberplate, which has been in the square format more usually seen on the earlier LD Lodekkas. Now the front cowl has been remodelled to match its original appearance, including the fitting of a specially cast fleet number. The Gardner 6LW engine has also been completely rebuilt to as-new condition.

The finishing touch has been the application of period advertising on both sides and at the rear. I’m sure you’ll agree that this bus has been transformed by the makeover and I take my hat off to the owner, who has spent thousands of pounds on the refurbishment. Following its debut appearance at the Crosville rally, 573 made the marathon journey – at 30mph! – back to the Isle of Wight to take part in the Isle of Wight Bus Museum’s ‘Beer, Buses & Walks’ event. Quite rightly, the bus drew many admirers and compliments were plentiful.

There are a few more buses in the restoration pipeline; a Bristol LL6B, a Bristol KSW6B and a Routemaster. Exciting times ahead!

Crosville Bus & Steam Rally 2016

Taking part in Crosville’s Bus & Steam Rally this year gave me a variety of jobs, including possibly my last chance to drive a vintage bus on a regular bus route.

hlj44-at-crosville-rally

During the run-up to the rally I found myself more involved in the planning stages than I had envisaged so it was quite a relief to watch the day unfold successfully. In a new – but possibly one-off – joint venture with the Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare, Crosville sited its Bus & Steam Rally at the Museum. The company’s bus depot was also open, of which more later.

afj727t-in-crosville-depot

I travelled up on the Friday before the rally, bringing a coach with me. This was Western National 3307 (Bristol LH6L AFJ727T) which belongs to WHOTT. The LH was parked up inside the Crosville Motor Services garage until it was required for the rally.

My main concern, having planned the layout of the static exhibits, was whether we would be able to fit all the resident and visiting buses along two sides of the rectangular site. Thankfully, due to the fact that a certain number of vehicles were always out in service, there was just about enough room.

I helped with setting up early on the previous day and began by touring the site with the Crosville Safety Officer, who also acted as Chief Marshal. The rest of the morning was spent ferrying various buses over from the Crosville garage to the Museum site, with Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) acting as shuttle bus for the drivers.

trade-stall-at-crosville-rally

The Museum staff did a great job setting up tables for the Trade Stalls within the Museum buildings. We’d had so many stall entries that several more were allocated spaces outside with the buses. Thank goodness we had dry weather!

The day of the rally itself brought ideal weather – mild, mostly sunny. I began by helping in the garage where, a few days previously, the mortal remains of GWR 4-6-0 ‘Thornbury Castle’ had been placed on display. Some of the modern bus and coach fleet were also tastefully arranged nearby.

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Vintage buses, Birnbeck Pier and MV Balmoral

Local residents in Weston-super-Mare may have been surprised to see a convoy of 5 Crosville buses a few weeks ago but they were all needed to support Birnbeck Pier.

But the Pier is supported by cast iron pillars, I hear you say. Structurally, you’d be right but just now the Pier needs all the extra support it can get if it is to survive in the future. The historic Pier is in a perilous state, having fallen into disrepair many years ago. Part of the structure fell into the sea after a ferocious storm last year which galvanised local support for saving what’s left. This is where Crosville became involved when the Birnbeck Pier Regeneration Trust chartered the historic vessel MV Balmoral.

kfm893-ydl318-birnbeck-pier

A fleet of buses was hired to transport supporters to Clevedon Pier where they boarded MV Balmoral for a cruise up the Bristol Channel. This photo shows my allocated bus, Crosville KG131 (KFM893) a 1950 Bristol L5G, loading at Birnbeck Pier. Behind it is Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318), a 1962 Bristol FS6G with a 1925 Chevrolet Model K Roadster keeping it company.

Members of the Trust had planned the transfer to Clevedon in minute detail, each bus having its own load list so that everyone had an allocated seat. Our little convoy must have looked rather incongruous as we got under way because a 21st century version of a Crosville single decker followed right behind – a 2016-built Yutong coach. This is one of several purchased by the modern Crosville for use on the commuter service to Bristol.

As always, the Bristol L behaved impeccably on its fully loaded run to Clevedon. I always enjoy driving this bus which, despite its 66 years, still feels tight and rattle-free.5-buses-clevedon-pier

Unfortunately, due to a speedboat festival taking place on the closed seafront road, we were unable to unload our passengers near to the pier so we parked as close as we could and the Birnbeck Pier supporters had to walk down the road and along the pier to board the Balmoral.

It would be several hours before they returned after their cruise so all the buses returned the short distance back to the Crosville depot to lay over.

When we returned later we were dismayed to see the Balmoral glide past the pier and on down the Bristol Channel because there was a speedboat race taking place right next to the pier, perventing the boat from approaching the pierhead. About an hour and a half later than planned, our passengers boarded their buses and we returned to Birnbeck Pier. On the way I took advantage of the ‘overdrive’ 5-speed gearbox on the L to overtake the slower Bristol FS on the motorway!

thornbury-castle-in-crosville-depotAfter parking up in the garage I wandered over to have a look round the remains of GWR 4-6-0 7027 ‘Thornbury Castle’ which had been delivered a few days earlier. This locomotive will eventually be restored to working order. It looks very forlorn in this picture but now, a few weeks later, it has been joined by its tender, front bogie and lots of dismantled parts.

Well, that’s all for now. Life has been so busy recently that I’ve fallen behind in posting here! Next will be news of a West Somerset Railway duty with a Bristol KSW and after that a report on the recent Crosville Bus & Steam Rally.

Thomas the Tank Engine revisits the WSR

I’ve just enjoyed (is that the right word?) a couple of busy days at the West Somerset Railway, supporting its ‘Days Out with Thomas’ event 2016.

972EHW-Thomas-Day-2016

This year for the first time the event was held over three days instead of two weekends and two buses per day were provided by Crosville Motor Services to operate free vintage bus rides from Minehead station.

I was rostered for the Friday and Saturday so I was looking forward to a couple of days of fun. I always enjoy these turns as the format and route have become very familiar but they are quite tiring! One thing I didn’t have to do was to collect my bus from Weston-super-Mare first. Once again, another driver had kindly offered to bring it down the day before and park it on a farm outside Minehead.

Bristol LD6B 972EHW was delivered to Bristol Omnibus in 1959 as its LC8518 and was restored by the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection in 2010. It has been in the custody of Crosville at Weston for much of the time since then and it has been well cared for. Several passengers commented on its superb condition during the 2 days. Outwardly it is indeed a fine specimen but I have to admit it is sometimes tricky to drive. The gearbox has seen a lot of use over the years, as you would expect. But, of all the Lodekkas of similar vintage I have driven, this one has the most awkward ‘box. There are offsets and ‘notches’ which sometimes prevent the driver from engaging a gear smoothly, notably 1st and 2nd gears. This adds a level of difficulty to a duty which is already full of challenges. Low branches, tight corners, narrow streets… you get the picture I’m sure.

Compared with a normal private hire job, where there is quite a bit of open road running, these Minehead trips are full of cornering and gearbox work. That means that the workload for the driver is quite high – must be a bit like the old days! Of course, the bus feels a lot heavier when fully loaded and this was very evident on Saturday when, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, there were long queues for the bus.

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The Weston-Keynsham Shuttle with YDL318

Some private hire duties with heritage buses involve driving many miles to reach a far-distant destination. On others, the destination is just around the corner. For this job, it was both.

YDL318-Weston-Pier

According to my Work Ticket, the destination was about a mile from the Crosville garage – Weston-super-Mare seafront. The only snag was, I had to drive to Keynsham first!

The occasion was a birthday bash for a chap who was celebrating his big Five-O and that of a little girl of seven. They and a party of folk including friends and family had booked the bus for a trip to the seaside and so I drove the 26 miles to Keynsham at the stately speed of 30mph to pick them up. Apparently many of them were members of a local VW Campervan (often referred to as a ‘bus’) club, so were delighted to see the Bristol Lodekka turn into the car park to meet them.

Prior to this I had no idea what kind of event they were going to so, as soon as I learned that birthdays were involved, I set the destination blinds appropriately! On the way there with the empty bus I nearly had a panicky moment when I was confronted by ‘Road Closed’ signs on one of the main roads through the Bristol suburbs. Fortunately I had driven along a parallel residential road on a previous private hire job so I was able to continue my journey with a hastily chosen Plan B.

By the time everyone had boarded we had half a bus-load. Understandably they all decided to travel on the top deck and, as we picked our way through the busy centre of Keynsham, I wondered whether this would affect the handling of the bus. I needn’t have worried. Lodekkas, in common with most double deck bus designs, have a low centre of gravity so I barely noticed that everyone was up top. I had warned them about the detour around the byways of Hartcliffe but discovered as we rejoined the main road that I needn’t have bothered because the closure only affected east-bound traffic!

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