First wedding duty for refurbished Bristol FSF

Not only was I very glad to be offered this duty but the sunshine also turned up and bathed the day with warmth and brightness. The wedding couple had chosen Crosville DFG81 (891VFM), built in 1962 as a closed top double deck bus, as their transport for the day.

891VFM Boulevard

This vehicle is no stranger to these pages but it has benefitted recently from a mechanical overhaul, some bodywork repairs and a repaint into Tilling Cream. The icing on the cake, as I’m sure you will agree from the photos, is the application of period advertising. As a former graphic designer I was very pleased to see this, as I think it adds a touch of authenticity to an already stunning bus.

Unlike some heritage buses and coaches I’ve driven, this FSF started readily as it has always done. Others seem very reluctant and many’s the time I’ve listened with a sinking feeling as the batteries run out of puff, requiring booster pack assistance to get the engine started.

Once all my checks had been done I drove out of town and across what was once the main runway of RAF Locking. Most of the former airfield is now being developed for housing and many of the new roads on the estate have been given names relating to its former life as an airfield such as Gypsy Moth Road, Leonides Avenue and Rapide Way*.

The pickup point was in a fairly narrow residential road in Locking village and I had earlier flagged up the possibility of difficulties with gaining access, if parked cars became an issue. Thankfully I was able to weave my way between them successfully and arrived in good time. The bride and groom plus others in the wedding party were delighted with the bus and, although there were less than a dozen of them, they boarded noisily in the morning sunshine.

An extra pickup point was requested on the way for more family members so, once they were on board, we trundled onwards. By now I had settled into Lodekka mode and did my best to give my passengers a pleasant ride with no grinding or crashing of gears. Thankfully the only noises from the gearbox were musical ones!

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Vintage Allsorts: pre-season positioning moves

When a friend asks you if you could help move an assortment of heritage buses between two locations and you haven’t driven a half-cab bus for several months, what would you say?

Well, ‘yes’, of course! And so I did, with barely concealed excitement. A couple of days ago I spent a happy afternoon driving and shunting a variety of buses (and one coach) in preparation for what we all hope is a busy few months with private hire jobs for Crosville Vintage.

As I arrived at the location where some of the buses are stored I saw a Bristol L coach on a low-loader so I spent a few minutes inspecting it. A recent acquisition by private collector Jonathan Jones-Pratt, LTA895 (1266 in the Southern National/Royal Blue fleet) is a 1951 Bristol LL6B with a shapely Duple 37-seat body. Although complete, the brush-painted bodywork looks rather tired so it is going off for a thorough re-restoration. I was unable to view the interior but I suspect that it too will need some TLC. As the designation LL6B suggests, this elegant coach retains its Bristol 6-cylinder engine and I look forward to driving it one day. I’m rather fond of the melodious Bristol gearbox fitted to 6-cylinder engines. The ‘box fitted to Gardner 5-cylinder engines is not so tuneful, in my opinion.

HJA965EBut my first drive was a Leyland PD2, added to the Crosville fleet last year along with a PS1, of which more later. I’m quite familiar with the PD2 marque, having driven one regularly on sightseeing tours for several seasons in Torbay. This one, a 1967-built PD2/40 with Neepsend bodywork, was originally No 65 in the Stockport Corporation fleet in whose livery it remains today.

For many years it was a mainstay of the Quantock Motor Services heritage fleet but has now moved to Weston-super-Mare and is now one of four heritage vehicles in the active private hire fleet of Crosville Vintage.

Once in the cab, it felt a very familiar place and the slow tickover sound of the Leyland O.600 diesel engine next to me was very comforting. The 7-mile drive to the Crosville operating base, just outside Weston-super-Mare, was long enough for me to reacquaint myself with the 50/50 gearbox. By that I mean that it’s a manual 4-speed ‘box with synchromesh on 3rd and 4th gears but not on 1st and 2nd. So, to move between 1st and second, as well as down from 3rd, I had to use my trusty-but-rusty double-declutch technique.

Manoevering into the industrial unit which serves as an operational base for the private hire fleet was tiring. The steering on a PD2 is normally heavier than its Bristol counterparts but this was compounded by the fact that my arms are not as fit as they used to be. Several years of power-assisted coach driving has spoiled me!

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A typical day as a Bakers Dolphin coach driver

Life has been so hectic lately that ‘Busman’s Holiday’ posts have been regrettably thin on the ground. As promised in an earlier post, here is a flavour of a typical day in my new role as a Baker Dolphin coach driver.

During term time every available driver (except those away on tour) starts and ends his day with a school or college run. Most days will see me rising, blurry eyed, at about 5am (ugh!) ready for an early start at the depot. Regular practice is for the Operations Department to finalise the day’s roster by the evening of the previous day. Unfortunately this means that I won’t know what duties I’ve got until the previous evening, which leaves very little time to do my customary route planning.

As soon as I arrive I pick up my Work Tickets and the keys for my coach and greet some of my colleagues before heading off into the coach park to find my allocated coach. With up to 70 vehicles stabled there overnight, finding the right one sometimes takes a while! For the next 20 minutes or so I complete my walkaround checks and fill in a Defect Report. If anything is amiss – such as a blown bulb – this must be attended to before I can leave.

Depending on which school/college route I’ve been given, I may have to check with another driver or a member of the Operations staff if it’s one I haven’t done before. Although all the pickup points are listed on my Work Ticket the exact locations aren’t always clear. One route which I have done quite often is a Bridgwater College route which starts in Portishead, near Bristol. After a quick blast up the M5 for the first pickup, it meanders through the Gordano valley and into Clevedon to pick up students from a couple of places in the town. I continue southwards and into Yatton and finally Congresbury before re-joining the M5 for a short distance. Arrival at Bridgwater College is normally around 08:40. On busy days I will then have a series of short jobs, mostly conveying school children on swimming trips or other outings.

My favourite kind of duty is a private hire day trip, some of which last for the rest of the day after a school run. One such trip (as illustrated above) took in two venues in Devon. The coach was hired by members of a U3A group in Weston-super-Mare and I met them at the town’s coach park. I welcomed them on board, made sure they were comfortable and checked with the group leader about further pickup stops. After giving a safety talk over the PA we set off, picking up a few more passengers along Locking Road as we headed towards the M5 motorway.

The coach I had been allocated was a comfortable Mercedes-Benz Tourismo, which has an automatic dry-plate gearbox. From a passenger’s point of view, it feels like a manual box (with a pause between gearchanges) but the automatic transmission takes care of all the clutch work. It’s 10 years old and was bought second hand by Bakers Dolphin, with 3 others, from Swanns of Chedderton. I quite like driving these coaches although some of my colleagues don’t get along too well with having to wait for gearchanges to complete. They are rather ‘leisurely’ which is a pain when one is hoping for a swift acceleration!

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Summer 2018 heritage happenings

Alongside my coach driving duties for Bakers Dolphin, I’ve been able to keep my crash box skills up to date with some of the ex-Crosville heritage fleet.

YDL318-at-WSR-Steam-Fair

I had made it known that I’d be happy to do a few voluntary turns, if any came up. Towards the end of the summer term, Uphill Primary School in Weston-super-Mare had requested that a vintage bus attend the School and Village Fair in the school grounds. Crosville had provided a bus for static display for several years running and I was asked to take a bus – any bus – to the Fair. Mrs Busman John was keen to come along as well so we chose to take open top Crosville DFG81 (Bristol FSF6G 891VFM) as the weather seemed once again to be wall-to-wall sunshine.

The Lodekka hadn’t seen any action since the closure of Crosville in April so we went down to the depot early to make sure that she would start. Fortunately there were no problems so we drove the short distance to Uphill. After parking on the school field we left the bus open so that people could have a look around. Many did, most heading for the top deck! We had a look round the stalls and displays but, when we got back to the bus, found that I’d left the power on and some children were taking great delight in dinging the bell. Not only was it annoying for the nearby stall-holders but it might have depleted the batteries so I turned off the isolator when no-one was looking.

891VFM-in-BD-yard

At the end of the afternoon we took the scenic route back to the depot – via the seafront of course – which pleased Mrs Busman John, who was naturally riding up top. Sensing the need for a cheeky photo opportunity, I drove into Locking Road Coach Park and briefly parked the Lodekka among the Bakers Dolphin coaches!

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Heritage bus roundup: Spring 2018

Early Spring 2018 brought a flurry of heritage bus activity for me. Although we’re now well into a very hot summer, here’s a sample of what I was up to earlier.

This is a very attractive Bedford OB coach which was once operated by the original Crosville Motor Services in north Wales and now resides in Weston-super-Mare. It is now up for sale but I was asked to drive it up to Bristol to have its analogue tachograph calibrated as part of preparations for sale.

I’ve have driven this delightful vehicle several times before and I savoured the sounds from the very tuneful and distinctive gearbox. However I didn’t much like the steering, which is very heavy! I don’t know if this is typical of OBs because this is the only one I’ve driven (so far).

I saw this OB in Dorset recently, during on a birthday treat visit to Ringwood Brewery. I would have volunteered myself as a driver but Ringwood is quite a trek from Weston-super-Mare! If it had a canvas tilt on the back it would have looked exactly like the Bedford OB van that my grandfather used to operate (there’s a tiny me standing next to him). That was green as well!

One of the stalwarts of the Crosville fleet in recent years has been ex-Crosville Bristol FSF6G 891VFM and this is seen here having a thorough steam clean prior to its first outing of 2018. This was a trip down to Minehead to spend the day giving free rides to people who attended the Paw Patrol special event for children put on by the West Somerset Railway. I’ve driven at several of these events before and I was happy to be rostered as the driver. I really enjoy driving this Lodekka because I find it easy to drive it smoothly. It also has a good turn of speed (45mph+ on the level) thanks to having a rear axle from a¬†coach fitted.

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