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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Vintage Bus Mystery Tour

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!

YDL318-at-Wells-bus-station

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!

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A wet day at Orchardleigh House

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.

YDL318-&-972EHW-at-Orchardleigh

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!”

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Days Out with Thomas, Minehead

My latest duty for Crosville Motor Services involved another trip to Minehead in support of the West Somerset Railway. It was an action-packed day which included a surprise appearance by a bus I have been itching to sample for ages.

WSR-Thomas

Rising at silly-o’clock-in-the-morning for an early drive up from Torbay, I booked on at 08:00 at the Crosville depot in Weston-super-Mare. The previous weekend I had done the same duty so the early start was slightly easier to cope with. On the first occasion I led a convoy of three heritage vehicles, a closed top Bristol Lodekka, an open top Lodekka and an open top Bristol VRT. The reason being that, by common concensus, I knew the route to Minehead better having done it twice before already. One of these, ex-Bristol Omnibus 1959 LD6B LC8518 (972EHW), was left in the First bus depot in Minehead as it was required on both weekends. The duty, as previously, involved providing free bus rides for those attending the special event at the West Somerset Railway (WSR) which, on these two weekends, was a ‘Days Out with Thomas’ event.

WSR-Thomas-KFM893

Owing to the fact that my rostered bus was already in Minehead, I travelled as a passenger on ex-Crosville KG131, a 1950 Bristol L5G (KFM893), with my friend Dave Moore at the wheel. It was unusual for me to be riding in the passenger saloon and I was surprised at how quiet it was, compared to the racket that I’m used to hearing in the cab! Admittedly it’s a very agreeable racket.

WSR-Thomas-3-heritage-buses

The action kicked off at about 10:20 but, until the first train arrived from Bishops Lydeard with more passengers, takers for the free bus rides were few. Conductor Kemble and I were in charge of the closed top Lodekka and we clocked up a grand total of 3 trips in the morning. As predicted, the open top Lodekka, 1961 ex-Crosville DFG81 (FSF6G 891VFM) was the most popular with people eventually queueing up to board before it had even arrived back from its previous trip.

Our 15-minute route was the same as before – a short jaunt up the main street and then along the seafront to Butlins and back – just long enough to give people a few good views and of course a decent ride on a vintage bus!

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