Vintage bus driving – a photo potpourri

There have been so many vintage bus duties this summer that I haven’t had time to share each one individually so here’s a potpourri of recent activities.


A private hire for Crosville that was unusual – it wasn’t a wedding or a school prom! Global Design Solutions had hired Southern Vectis 573 (YDL317) to take its staff from Bristol to Bath, where they were celebrating 10 years in business. While the party and presentations were going on in the Salamander restaurant, I parked the bus in the Riverside Coach Park where it contrasted starkly with much more modern machinery!


Another private hire involved the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours bus, Southport Corporation 86 (FFY403). Directly after the afternoon sightseeing tour we picked up a load of enthusiasts from the Merseyside Bus Club. On this occasion I acted as Tour Guide, wielding a microphone instead of a steering wheel. The latter was in the care of Glyn, with whom I share the regular driving duties on this bus. We took our passengers around the Torquay segment of our normal tour route, stopping on Babbacombe Downs (seen above) for photos and also Meadfoot Beach.

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How wide is a Bristol Lodekka?

A Bristol Lodekka is nominally eight feet wide but what really matters is, can you successfully judge whether your bus will fit through a given gap? That was the dilemma I found myself in a couple of days ago in Bristol.

The duty started at the Crosville depot in Weston-super-Mare, where my rostered bus had been parked outside in the sunshine with several others which were also due out on weddings. Since my last heritage duty Crosville has expanded into the entire building they occupy, which was once part of the Westland helicopter building complex. I had wondered, as I drove to Weston, whether I would have to pick my bus out from a long line of about 15 green Bristol buses which are now parked against the side wall!


As I did my walkaround checks, the Hants & Dorset FLF emerged from the dark depths of the garage, followed shortly afterwards by a pall of blue smoke from the cold Gardner engine. It was one of four Lodekkas out on wedding jobs that day. My bus, the Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G, only has a top speed of 30mph so I left the depot with plenty of time in hand in case of delays, especially as I had to cross the centre of the city to reach my first pickup point.

There was plenty of traffic in the city but it was all moving freely and I made good time. I had to smile as I waited at some traffic lights on the approach to St James Barton roundabout. There in front of me was a hoarding which proclaimed “Homage to the Bristol Scroll” and featured a large version of the elegant logo which adorned the front of the bus I was driving. Apparently some local artists have been showcasing their work, based on the logo, in The Bearpit which sits in the centre of the roundabout.

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Sunshine and symmetry at Brympton House, Yeovil

For my private hire duty to Brympton House, Yeovil I decided that I would use my Tilling summer dust jacket, it being early May. I believe this was usually the time when bus crews would hang up their heavy winter uniforms in favour of the lighter jackets. With bright, warm weather having been forecast, this turned out to be a good decision.

I was up with the lark (or alarm clock, due to the unreliability of larks in South Devon) for the journey up to Weston-super-Mare. My allocated bus was Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) which, as regular readers will know, has a top speed of 30mph. With a 50 mile empty journey to make before the pickup, an early start was essential. However, stress levels began to rise when my bus, together with the one my fellow driver was to take, were nowhere to be found. We soon learned that Crosville had run out of space in their main garage and had begun renting space in a huge industrial unit (once an aircraft hangar) nearby. Our buses were stored there, along with several others from the Crosville heritage fleet. With checks done I was keen to be on my way but we had to make a detour to top up with fuel. This meant that I would be watching the time anxiously all the way to Yeovil.

There’s a saying that goes “A watched kettle never boils” and I told myself, as the miles slowly passed by, that it was pointless checking the time as I would get there when I got there. In other words, checking my watch wouldn’t get me there any quicker!


After travelling south via the M5, A358 and A3088, I arrived on the outskirts of Yeovil and soon found Brympton House. I was a few minutes late but guests were still assembling on the gravel drive in front of the beautiful old house. It made a change to have plenty of room to turn and park the bus!

Soon we were on our way. This bus is a delight to drive in comparison with the Bath Services LD6G with which I had my last trip. Despite having endured several years’ use as a driver training bus, this one drives like it was brand new. Not that I’ve ever driven a brand new Lodekka, of course. It just seems to slip into gear with a minimum of fuss and feels quite well mannered.

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To Gloucestershire with a Bristol McDekka

My first wedding duty in 2013 turned out to have a very Scottish flavour. A young man called Jamie was getting married to Alice in the Stone Barn, Aldsworth and many relatives had arrived from north o’ the border and needed transporting to the remote wedding venue. That’s where I played my part.


But first I had to get there. Cheltenham is a 60 mile journey from the bus depot and Southern Vectis FS6G YDL318 is not the quickest bus in the garage, as you may remember from previous posts. I started out early, having checked everything and got the duty mechanic to put some extra puff in the front tyres. First stop was the filling station as I needed a full tank for my 30mph trek up to Gloucestershire.

The bus had been out the previous day, one of three heritage buses involved with Katie Price’s wedding. Yes, THAT Katie Price.

I arrived in Cheltenham with time to spare, fortunately. In fact I had time to have a 45 minute break before meeting the wedding party. Due to a waiting limit of 15 minutes at the Bus Station in Cheltenham I had arranged with the groom that I would wait in a layby (which I’ve used before) just outside town to await a call from one of the ushers to say they were ready. I was glad I did some homework beforehand because I discovered that roadworks had closed one of the main roads I had planned to use on my route into the town centre so I had worked out an alternative route.

As I approached the bus station in Royal Well Road the lights changed at the junction. From there I could see the bus bays and a huddle of smartly dressed wedding guests. I pulled into one of the bays and immediately took pity on the gentlemen in the group. Mostly because they were all wearing kilts. And the fact that the air temperature was barely above freezing! They quickly boarded the bus and within a few minutes we were on our way. The Stone Barn is about 20 miles out of Cheltenham, on the A40 towards Oxford. The road is mostly single carriageway and, as I was driving the Slow Bus from Cheltenham, I pulled into a couple of laybys on the way out to allow the considerable stream of traffic to pass by.

There’s quite a climb up towards Northleach and there was still evidence of significant snowfall lying in the fields. There had been deep snowdrifts too, as great heaps of snow still lay beside hedgerows and stone walls.

I regret to say that I crunched the gears on one downchange while climbing to higher ground. Well, it has been 3 months since my last duty! Other than that, the Southern Vectis Lodekka behaved impeccably, as always. Following a crib-sheet of directions I’d prepared earlier, I turned off the A40 and down a lane which ominously had a blue sign which said “Not suitable for Coaches”. I proceeded anyway, certain that buses and coaches had been to the Stone Barn before without any trouble and that, more than likely, the sign referred to restrictions further down the road at Bibury, a famous tourist spot in the Cotswolds.

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A very wet wedding hire to end the year

Before I post my personal review of a very active and interesting year, here is a brief account of my last driving turn for 2012. It was easily the wettest wedding day I’ve ever driven for and I had great sympathy for the newly-weds and their guests. Everyone who sets a date for a wedding knows that most things can be planned for but the weather is one factor that cannot be relied upon to co-operate!


If you lean in close you can smell the dampness and hear the swoosh of cars passing by on the wet road. This photo was taken while I was parked up in a layby on the road into Bath as I had time in hand and took the opportunity to eat my lunch and down a couple of cups of hot coffee.

The rain had started during the night and persisted through the morning, making my journey up from Paignton a rather slow one due to the spray being kicked up by the motorway traffic. Fortunately I had allowed myself plenty of time and was prepared for traffic problems and diversions due to the excessively wet weather of late.

At the Crosville depot, three other heritage buses were being prepared for the long journey to Winchester. A Bristol LH single decker, a Bath Services Bristol LD and my old friend, a Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF. They were to take part in the annual running day organised by the Friends of King Alfred Buses (FoKAB) on New Year’s Day.

I picked up ex-Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G YDL318 from the depot and drove, at a stately maximum of 30mph, up the A38 towards Bristol. Cutting across the southern outskirts of the suburbs, I passed through Brislington and nodded towards the Lodekka’s birthplace in a tribute to the sturdily designed vehicle in which I sat, which had lasted 50 years so far.

After waiting at a convenient spot just down the road, I pulled up outside the cast iron gates of the Roman Catholic Church in Julian Road, Bath. As the wedding ended, guests boarded the bus. One of the ushers looked bemused and asked “Where’s the red bus?” I had no idea so I replied “Sorry, I don’t know. Did you have a different bus bring you here?” Apparently another operator’s bus had collected the guests from the reception venue and transported them to the church but now, with extra people having joined the party, they were expecting to see two buses. For a while it looked as though I would be making two trips but all became clear when someone else explained that the other bus would be returning soon after I had left with the first load. I was very relieved, knowing that my bus could only do 30mph and that I may have risked running out of driving hours if the weather, as well as the slow speed, had delayed my return journey to Weston.

In the end, all was well and I delivered my load safely to the Guyers House Hotel on the outskirts of Corsham, Wiltshire. There were only two hairy moments and they both involved tight turns. The first of these came soon after I had left the church and I had seen it on the map earlier. It was a light-controlled junction so I deliberately held back at the lights to give myself room to swing wide and avoid the traffic island at the end of the turn. I had to really heave on the wheel to reach full lock as quickly as possible and I was glad to do it in one ‘take’. The other tight turn was at the end of the journey, just before the hotel. The entrance is down a narrow lane and, having been there once before in a Bristol FLF, I knew I had to pull over into the middle of the main road and turn sharply before sticking the nose down the lane. Once again, we just squeezed in with a few inches to spare.

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Into the Dragon’s Den with a Bristol Lodekka

On Saturday my conductor and I were given the honour of conveying a bus load of Dragons and other well-heeled celebrities to the Axentis Michael Memorial Ball. Yes, dear reader, the Dragons from the TV show.

But first, let me tell you about another outing earlier in the day. This was a wedding which required the use of a heritage single decker due to a low bridge en-route to the church. I was given a 1950 Bristol L5G, ex-Crosville. This is very similar to the Crosville Bristol L that I drove to Shepton Mallet earlier in the year.

The one I had last weekend is in immaculate condition, having undergone a very thorough and costly from-the-wheels-up restoration in recent years. It has been lovingly cared for ever since and looks as good as the day it was delivered to Chester depot when new.

Several months have passed since I drove the other Bristol L so I needed the empty journey to Cadbury House Hotel to familiarise myself with the vehicle. It was broadly similar to driving a Lodekka except that the gearbox layout is slightly different. The positions of the 4 forward gears are subtly different – 2nd and 4th being slightly closer to neutral than 1st and 3rd. Or is it the other way around? Well, I did say it was subtle…

The other difference to note is that the 5-cylinder Gardner diesel engine, once warmed up, takes a LONG time to spool down when changing up a gear. The gear ratios seem to be more spaced out than on a Lodekka as well, meaning that I had to use most of the rev range to achieve a satisfactory up-change otherwise I found that the engine was almost at stalling speed when the next gear was engaged. But my biggest impression was that everything was beautifully adjusted and tight. There were virtually no rattles in the cab, unlike a certain Bristol FLF I could mention.

I arrived at the hotel, owned and run by the Hilton Group, in plenty of time. Departure time came and so too did the passengers, thankfully. We made leisurely progress along the A370, turning off to pass under the railway bridge at Nailsea and Backwell station. The Parish Church at Wraxall isn’t far beyond the town of Nailsea so it wasn’t long before I pulled into a convenient bus layby just past the church. While waiting for the ceremony to finish I chatted with the owner/driver of a superb Austin Six which had conveyed the bride to the church. The driver and I had met before at a Wedding Fayre last year.

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Protests, Pride and Police

Saturday was a good day to be in the heart of Bristol. But only if you were a protestor, a police officer on overtime or gay. But not if you were going to a wedding.

I should have known things weren’t going to be easy when I arrived at the garage to collect my bus for the day. YDL318, a Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G, had been helpfully parked outside ready to go. Except that it wasn’t. As part of my walk-around checks, I dipped the fuel tank and found that it was almost empty. The folks at the garage usually make sure that the bus I’ve been allocated has been fuelled up because I don’t have a fuel card but on this occasion this hadn’t been done. Fortunately I was able to borrow a card and so, after completing my checks, I made my first visit to a petrol station in charge of a bus.

I’m glad I wasn’t paying – it cost £126 to fill the tank!

If you’ve read the previous post you’ll remember that this bus only does 30mph so it took me about an hour to drive up to Bristol. The flip side to that is that, being a low-geared bus, it climbs hills surprisingly well. To reach my pickup point I drove up Jacobs Wells Road which involves quite a long uphill haul. This bus managed to get all the way to the top in 3rd gear! OK, so being empty probably made a difference but the FLF that I sometimes drive probably would have struggled.

The Avon Gorge Hotel clings to the cliffside very close to the city end of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, part of which you can see in the photo above. I turned the bus by reversing into a nearby side street and waited for the guests to emerge into the familiar grey dampness that masquerades as summer 2012.

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