Hiding from the heatwave at Coombe Lodge

If there’s anything worse than driving a Bristol Lodekka in the middle of a heatwave, it’s driving a Lodekka with CBC cooling in the middle of a heatwave.

On one of the hottest June days since the infamous summer of 1976, I had to endure the searing heat of not only the weather but also of the plumbing for the Cave-Brown-Cave cooling apparatus which passes through the driver’s cab.

This came the day after an equally hot and energetic duty with Bristol FSF6G 891VFM on the 100 service to Sand Bay and, while I usually enjoy sunny days, I began to wish it wasn’t quite so hot. Together with my conductor Kevin, I prepared ex-BOC LC8515 (Bristol LD6B 972EHW) at the Crosville depot. The bus hadn’t been used for a week or so and was very reluctant to start. It needed a lot of persuasion and, as I sat in the cab teasing the Bristol AVW engine into life, I began to wonder if it would ever develop enough power to drag the bus out of the garage! Eventually the AVW settled down into its familiar burble so I left it running while we attached ribbons and bows which had been sent in by the customer. With all the checks completed we set off through Banwell, Churchill and Lower Langford.

We arrived at Coombe Lodge with time to spare so we parked the bus in the turning circle and sought out some shade. Coombe Lodge is an attractive mansion built with local Bath stone, topped off with Cotwold tiles. It was originally the opulent country residence of the Wills family (founders of the W.D. & H.O. Wills Tobacco Company, based in nearby Bristol) and I was pleased to see that it retains a lot of wooden panelling. It’s not particularly ancient, being completed in 1932, but the pseudo-Jacobean style is well suited to its current use as a conference and wedding venue.

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Crosville has a new Heritage Operations Manager

If it all seems to have gone rather quiet recently for Busman John, that’s because the opposite is true. Life has been extremely busy with bus movements, private hire duties and new responsibilities.

LEU263P-Royal-Avenue-Bath-BBC

One of the more unusual private hire duties is pictured above – a day spent with a film crew from BBC Bristol ‘Points West’. This was another ‘get up at silly o’clock’ day, when I had to travel up from Paignton, prepare my rostered bus and get myself in position at BBC Bristol in Whiteladies Road by 08:30.

The people from Points West, the local BBC News programme, were interviewing the six candidates for Mayor and I spent the day with the Bristol VRT open top bus taking the film crew to six locations in the Bristol area to meet and interview the candidates.

Our first stop was the duck pond in Winterbourne, just to the north of the city, then on to Kingswood where we drove along the busy shopping streets while the filming took place on the top deck.

LEU263P-Chew-Valley-Lake

From there we went south to Chew Valley Lake for another interview and a lunch break. Getting there however was a bit fraught because I had only been rostered for the job the day before and hadn’t had a chance to do my normal route research. Planning our route was a bit of a team effort – not ideal. The inevitable happened, we chose a route that included a narrow, weight restricted bridge! I had to turn the bus around in a very small space and go back the way we’d come. How embarrassing!

The other stops included the very elegant Royal Avenue in Bath (pictured at the top of this post), just below the famous Royal Crescent. The footage was aired during the local news programme a few days later and was also published on the BBC Points West Facebook page in six short segments.

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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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WHOTT Running Day at Dorchester 2016

The second annual WHOTT Vintage Bus Running Day at Dorchester has been hailed a resounding success, with plenty of visitors coming to enjoy nearly 30 buses, coaches and commercials which were on display.

DFG81-at-Frampton-Church

For my part, I brought along an open top Bristol Lodekka which was actually a last minute replacement for the bus I had intended to bring. Following on from the WHOTT Coldharbour Mill running day earlier this year, I had intended to bring the same vehicle to Dorchester, Southern National 2700. However, a couple of days before Dorchester, the 1967 Bristol RELL developed an engine fault which couldn’t be fixed in time. The kind folks at Crosville offered open top FSF6G 891VFM (Crosville DFG81) instead, which turned out to be a very popular choice!

TUO497-Dorchester

The RE had been based at Weymouth (just 8 miles away) for the early part of its service life, which would have made it a very appropriate entrant for the Dorchester event. In my view its non-appearance was a blessing in disguise because another – older – Southern National bus was able to take pride of place instead. 1956 Bristol LS5G TUO497 is most of the way through a restoration project and its appearance at Dorchester was the first time it had been seen in public since it was laid up in a barn in 1980.

I had an empty journey of 74 miles ahead of me when I arrived at the Crosville depot early last Sunday morning. As I opened up the garage and switched the lights on I wondered how many other buses I’d have to shunt out of the way before I could bring the Lodekka out. I was very pleased to see that, following a recent re-organisation of the depot, all the Crosville heritage fleet had been parked in an annexe to the main building, making it far easier than before to retrieve a heritage bus.

By the time I’d arrived at the Top ‘O Town car park in Dorchester the sun was shining and other buses were being marshalled into position. I reported to the WHOTT Control Bus and found that I’d been rostered for three trips out to Frampton Church (see top picture), the first of which departed at 12:40. This meant I had loads of time to browse among the buses and meet up with friends and colleagues.

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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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