Early 2016 season roundup

Now that May has come (and almost gone) my level of bus activity has returned to normal with the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours kicking off at the beginning of the month.

FFY403-with-crew-2016

One of the first photos to go on the Tours’ new Facebook page was this one, showing my Tour Guide / Conductor smartly turned out in his new busman’s jacket. I’m not sure who the other fellow is…

Loadings have been patchy, which is par for the course in May. However, unusually warm weather in our first week of operation saw up to 30 passengers on board for some tours. The route is unchanged from last year but, just through May, we’re leaving at 11:00 instead of 10:45 just to give ourselves a better chance of attracting more custom.

YDL318-polishedOther outings have included a return to Minehead to support the West Somerset Railway’s ‘Peppa Pig’ special event. My rostered bus was Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) which appeared to have been polished to within an inch of its life!

YDL318-Blenheim-Road-Minehead

While operating free trips from Minehead station I met up with a lovely couple who used to be regular passengers on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’. It was Don who sent me this photo of the bus passing beside Blenheim Park on one of its ‘Peppa’ trips that day. Also in town on the same day was Peter and Jenny Snowden and family. They rode with me and Peter, who is one of the organisers of the Taunton Vintage Bus Running Day, couldn’t resist slipping into conductor mode!

891VFM-210516-Bath

Last Saturday saw me taking Crosville DFG81 (891VFM), an open top Bristol FSF6G, to Bath on an increasingly rainy day. The wedding party started its journey on top but I soon received the pre-arranged signal (3 bells) to pull over so that everyone could retire below! This bus was actually a last-minute replacement for the rostered bus, a Lodekka which turned out to be unserviceable with dead batteries. It was fortunate that, after some delays, I was able to make up time with the 50mph-capable FSF.

HDV626E-fuel-Stoke

Once again I acted as delivery driver for Crosville this week, travelling up to Stoke-on-Trent to collect Southern National 2700 after it had received attention at Reliance Bus Works. The photo shows the vociferous RE (its exhaust note is pleasingly throaty!) taking on fuel before the return journey.

Coming up this weekend I have another trip to Minehead, WSR. This time the visiting ‘celebrity’ is Paddington Bear! Then I’m due to drive at the WHOTT Running Day at Coldharbour Mill Museum, Uffculme. WHOTT and the Mill have teamed up and a number of buses are supporting a Steam-up Day at the Mill, when the 1910 Pollit & Wigzell engine will be operating along with much of the woollen mill’s surviving machinery.

Photo credits:

YDL318 in Minehead – Don Brain
891VFM in Bath – Richard Kemble

 

Advertisements

Another open top bus, another seafront

I had another trip to Minehead recently, this time with an open top Bristol Lodekka. There were quite a few similarities with my regular trips with a Leyland PD2 along Torquay seafront!

Once again this duty was in conjunction with the West Somerset Railway, which was holding a special event at Minehead. Crosville Motor Services has been contracted to provide heritage buses for a number of special events throughout the 2015 season.

Following our experience on the first Minehead duty we did at Easter, we decided that the two buses would arrive and depart the WSR an hour apart. This is because of the low passenger numbers at the beginning and end of the day, which a single bus can easily cover. Not only that, but a day of urban driving plus 1.5 hours of driving to and from the depot makes for quite a tiring day, especially in a Lodekka!

891VFM-Minehead-WSR

My rostered bus this time was Crosville DFG81 (891VFM), a 1961 Bristol FSF6G which was converted by the original Crosville company in the 1970s. I hadn’t driven this bus since 2012, mostly because it had suffered with some engine problems and has spent a long time having major surgery in the garage. A dropped valve caused damage and this has meant that the engine required stripping right down with a lot of parts being replaced. The workshop staff also took the opportunity to overhaul the fuel pump and injectors.

The result of all this attention is that the bus now has a super-reliable, very gutsy Gardner 6LW engine. Having driven it over the Quantock Hills to get to Minehead and back, I can safely say that this FSF has the strongest 6LW I’ve encountered! Not only that, but it also benefits from having a high ratio diff, meaning that a top speed of just over 50mph is possible. When most of my most recent empty journeys have been done at 30mph max, this is heritage drivers’ heaven!

The second bus, an ex-BOC Bristol VRT (also open top) with Driver Price at the wheel, arrived about an hour after I did. By then I had already done one ‘tour’ around the town and along the seafront to Butlins and back. Just like last time, it took a while for potential passengers to materialise and I waited about 30 minutes after arriving before I had a handful of people on the top deck wanting a ride. This time we had more contact with WSR staff (last time there was none) and our free rides were regularly promoted during platform announcements.

The railway’s special guest was Postman Pat and his black and white cat Jess. He appeared at regular intervals on the station platform and goggle-eyed children shook his great podgy hand or posed for photos. Beneath Pat’s fixed grin, I wonder if the person inside the costume kept smiling throughout the day? It must have been warm inside – I certainly was and that was after taking my jacket off!

Continue reading

Crosville Bus Rally 2013 cancelled

If you haven’t already heard, the proposed Crosville Bus Rally will NOT now take place as planned on Sunday September 1st 2013.

CMS-cavalcade-2

Sadly, a number of factors have contributed to this decision, the most important of which is that the business activities of Crosville Motor Services have increased enormously since this time last year. New local bus service routes have been added, new contracts have been won for the coach fleet and private hire work for the heritage buses is booming. With a much larger fleet to service and maintain, demands on the depot and staff are very high and the work involved in preparing the premises for a public event would be detrimental to the safe and timely operation of the business.

Every rally needs an army of volunteers to make it happen, not just on the day itself but also in the planning and preparation stages. Despite the efforts of several recruiting officers, foot soldiers for the Green Army (with apologies to Plymouth Argyle supporters) have been notable by their absence. The paid staff at Crosville just don’t have the time to pick up the slack.

I’m disappointed, of course. Last year’s rally was an extremely successful one, especially as it was the company’s first attempt. I thoroughly enjoyed helping with the preparations and with driving on the day, as you may remember when I wrote about it last year.

All is not lost, though. Crosville intend to put out ex-Bristol Omnibus VRT LEU263P and ex-Crosville FSF6G 891VFM as duplicates on the popular 100 service to Sand Bay on September 1st. These are both open top buses and will appear if mechanically fit and weather permitting.

A double dose of deckers

I’m struggling to hold my arms above the keyboard as I write this, having had two strenous days at the wheel. On Saturday I took Bristol FLF DEL893C to Priston Mill, near Keynsham, on a private hire trip.

Priston Mill is at the end of a long, single track lane and I had visions of having to manoever around oncoming traffic in the confined space. As it happened, I only met a handful of cars coming the other way and only had to reverse once. Several people at the venue showed great interest in the bus and I gave out details to potential hirers.

After a break in Bristol I had another private hire job in the evening, collecting a wedding party from the Merchants Hall, Clifton, Bristol and taking them to their evening venue, a restaurant in the centre of Bristol. It was dark by that time so I didn’t take photographs, although the wedding photographer did. With a virtually full load, we took the road down to the Avon Gorge and turned up into Park Street. In the old days Bristol’s buses would often be down to 1st gear by the time they got to the top of this hill and, as my heavily-laden bus struggled up on Saturday I was soon down to 2nd gear. The revs continued to fall away and I was just reaching for the gear stick when Goldbrick House, the party venue, hove into view. I decided to plod on in 2nd and, by the time we drew level with the restaurant, the engine was down to idling speed and I quickly de-clutched and hauled on the handbrake. Just made it!

Now empty, the FLF almost flew up the remainder of the hill. Well, not really. Having to start off in 1st gear I had to wait until I got to the top before changing up and gaining speed. I’m not confident enough with my snatch changes to attempt one at anything above walking pace. The journey back to the depot in Weston-super-Mare was easy. The only hard bit was parking in the dimly-lit yard next to a Bristol Tramways L5G. With nobody about I had to get out and check in case I reversed into the garage wall!

Continue reading