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!
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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!
I recently took part in the vintage bus running day to commemorate the Wilts & Dorset Centenary. It also gave me the opportunity to relive some of my childhood memories in Salisbury.
Wilts & Dorset Motor Services Ltd was incorporated in 1915 and the centenary of that event was celebrated in great style in Salisbury, with more than 50 buses operating old W&D routes or on static display. The day ended with all the surviving Wilts & Dorset buses at the event being posed together for photographs (see above).
I had originally planned to take a Hants & Dorset Bristol K6A – now owned by Crosville Motor Services – to the event but the bus is still undergoing refurbishment so that plan fell through. Knowing that I was available but had no bus to drive, the event organisers invited me to drive Wilts & Dorset 628 (1956-built Bristol LD6G OHR919) instead. Of course, I leapt at the chance, having enjoyed driving it at the Salisbury Bus Station Closure event in January 2014.
The day started at silly-o’clock, when my alarm went off. With my son Peter for company (he was also to be my conductor for the day) I set off for Salisbury, where I had arranged to meet the owners of the bus. Allan and Kevin Lewis also own Hants & Dorset 1450 (Bristol FS6G 5677EL) and were happy for me to drive their Wilts & Dorset Lodekka while they crewed their FS.
All the buses running in service began to congregate in the Millstream Approach Coach Park, along with growing numbers of photographers. Peter and I began to wonder if we’d have to join them as our bus didn’t arrive until 10 minutes before our planned departure on service. Salisbury’s one-way system was to blame!
Suitably attired in our Tilling uniforms (OK, so they’re more suited to a Hants & Dorset bus, but red-trimmed jackets are as rare as hen’s teeth), we took charge of 628 and drove round to our stop on the Blue Boar Row. The sight that greeted us was amazing. Every one of the bus stops along the busy city centre street seemed to be occupied by a heritage bus of some sort. There was only just enough room for us to tuck in at the back. As soon as we drew up hordes of people rushed to board, even crossing the road from the static display area.
Eventually Peter gave me two bells and we departed slowly on our first journey, which was the number 60 to Wilton. Slowly, because other buses were also departing and the crowds were spilling over from the pavements into the road. I’m sure I’ve never seen so many camera lenses pointing in my direction before!
My second test run with the Exeter Corporation Maudslay bus took me much further afield than the first one and provided some very useful experiences.
We’re currently only using the autovac’s gravity tank for fuel. This holds a couple of gallons of petrol which is sufficient for a short run such as this. We’re not planning to use the main tank until the weekend due to the tendency of modern petrol to go stale if not used. So, with the autovac (whose real purpose is to suck petrol up from the main tank using vacuum created in the engine’s intake manifold) topped up, we prepared to move the bus out of the shed. Unfortunately the removable trailer board, which contains auxilliary signalling lights and is fixed to the back of the bus for road runs, refused to work properly. This should have been rectified by the WHOTT electrician by Friday.
Climbing the steep track away from the farm, I tried a snatch change up to 2nd gear. It didn’t go well. The 4-cylinder Maudslay engine, even when cold, takes even longer to spool down than a Gardner 6LW so I need to adapt my technique some more.
Out in the quiet lanes I went up and down the gearbox, refining my changes. As in most things, practice makes perfect but this bus is so unique that perfection will take some time to achieve! I drove the bus on a big circular route which included some stiff gradients, which meant changing down to lower gears both to climb and descend. Unusually for the era, the Maudslay ML3 has drum brakes on all four wheels (rather than just the rear wheels) but even so, braking on downhill gradients still has to be assisted by engine braking. Additional braking assistance is also available via the parking brake which on this bus takes the form of a transmission brake, rather than operating the rear drum brakes as is usually the case. It’s really useful sometimes to supplement the footbrake with a partial application of the parking brake which is effectively a mechanical retarder.
Once or twice we started off with a bit of a lurch and some of my gearchanges were rather jerky. I’m still trying to improve my clutch technique! There were no mishaps and, apart from the troublesome auxilliary signalling lights I mentioned earlier, the bus performed as expected.
Yesterday saw me on duty with Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) on a rare Crosville job that wasn’t a wedding. I joined forces with Driver Carpenter to provide free bus rides for passengers who had travelled on the West Somerset Railway (WSR).
Due to time constraints we drove our buses (the other was BOC LC8518, a 1959 LD6B) down to Minehead separately. I had no idea how long it would take to drive the 43-mile cross country route so I arrived early to prepare my bus. Being a Saturday, the Crosville depot was still quite full of green buses, some of them local service vehicles and some of them coaches.
My rostered Lodekka was in a line-up of heritage buses and hadn’t moved since I parked it there the previous week after a long haul up a very wet M5 to Gloucester. This photo shows the bus at Elmore Church on that occasion.
Fortunately the journey down the A38 to Bridgwater and thence via the A39 to Minehead was trouble free and, after 1.5 hours, I arrived at the WSR’s northern terminus with 15 minutes to spare. Despite a fair bit of hill climbing to pass over The Quantocks, the Gardner 6LW-powered bus breezed along in 4th gear. It was very strange to be driving the very familiar section from Williton to Minehead. I had travelled that route many times on a Lodekka but always as a conductor! This goes back to my days working on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ for the erstwhile Quantock Motor Services.
The photo at the top of this post shows Driver Carpenter, ably assisted by Conductor Grant on the platform, passing my parked-up FS on one of the afternoon journeys. Not only can you see two green Bristol Lodekkas, you can also see two green ‘Hall’ class steam locomotives! Stabled on one of the Minehead shed roads are GWR 4-6-0s no 4936 ‘Kinlet Hall’ and no 6960 ‘Raveningham Hall’.
The boss of the Dartmouth Steam Railway’s bus division (Rail River Link) looked most bemused as we drove past each other in Paignton town centre the other day. Even so, he waved enthusiastically at me from behind the wheel of his Volvo Olympian on service 100 to Totnes. I don’t think he expected to see open top Leyland PD2/3 FFY403 out and about so early in the season!
This was on Thursday last week when, together with the proprietor of English Riviera Sightseeing Tours, the 1947 ex-Southport Corporation Titan was awakened from its winter slumbers for pre-season servicing. The process of extracting the bus from storage was rather time consuming, due to battery issues. Not on the PD2, I hasten to add, but on the MCW Metrobus parked in front of it. The old PD2, bless her, started on the button. Mostly because I had disconnected her batteries after some work was done back in January.
Eventually, after much swapping of batteries, we managed to start the ex-London Transport Metrobus – filling the storage shed with trademark Gardner smoke in the process. Then it was the Titan’s turn and soon she also was standing outside in the sunshine, looking very dusty.
With the Metrobus returned to the shed, I drove the PD2 back along the Totnes road and through Paignton which is where my aforementioned ex-employer and I exchanged busman’s waves. It was good to be sitting behind the wheel of the PD2 again, such a familiar place! She trundled along without any complaint, except for a bout of ‘tyre-bump’. That’s my term for the rhythmic bump-bump-bump produced by tyres that have stood in the same position for several months. Apparently the rubber deforms in that time and retains the shape until a few miles have been covered.