Around Minehead with an open top Bristol VRT

In a welcome return to heritage buses, I spent two days driving around Minehead, Somerset, in an open top 1976 Bristol VRT giving free rides to people who were taking part in a West Somerset Railway event.

The West Somerset Railway has not been able to run any passenger-carrying trains this year because the coronavirus lockdown was announced before the 2020 timetable had begun. But two consecutive weekends were set aside to offer a Living Museum event, where people could pre-book tickets to enter Minehead station and see shunting and turntable demonstrations, see exhibitions and have a ride on a vintage bus. I was asked to drive for the second weekend.

The vehicle in use was 1976-built Bristol Omnibus C5055 (Bristol/ECW VRT LEU263P) and, as it had been used during the previous weekend’s event, it was still in Minehead so I didn’t need to drive it all the way from Weston-super-Mare, where it is stored. So, after a fairly leisurely drive down the A39, I arrived at about 09:45 to find the bus parked up in the coaling bay at the WSR’s Minehead shed.

In addition to my usual walk-around checks, I had to go around the bus with disinfectant and wipe down all the frequent contact areas such as handrails and seat tops. This was just the start of a very strict anti-Covid19 regime. I dipped the tank and found it about a quarter full so, knowing that the bus would be taken back to Weston at the end of the next day’s duty, I stopped off at the Morrisons filling station for fuel.

I finally arrived outside the Turntable CafĂ© beside Minehead station where I met my conductor for the day who, under normal circumstances, would have been checking tickets on one of the WSR’s popular steam train services. We introduced ourselves and ran through the various procedures – face coverings, maximum capacity (only 20 per journey), anti-bac sweeps after every journey and so on. Also in attendance was another railway volunteer who was acting as despatcher in our loading bay.

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WNO480 goes to Torquay

1953 Eastern National Bristol KSW5G WNO480 is now enjoying a new career down on the sunny English Riviera. Or is it?

After its sale by the owner of Crosville Motor Services I recently drove this bus down to Torquay which, until last year, was my home patch. In many ways WNO is more suited to English Riviera Sightseeing Tours than it was to its former Weston-super-Mare owner, where it never really found any proper work to do.

The bus arrived needing work done to its dynamo and this was duly carried out last year. Accident damage to the front nearside mudguard was also fettled but, after a brief appearance at the Crosville bus rally in September, it remained idle in the garage. Crosville already has two other active open top buses (both visible in the photo above) and there just wasn’t enough work to sustain yet another, albeit more historic, open top bus. Hence the decision to sell.

In the photo above WNO480 is seen being prepared for the journey south with trade plates displayed and carrying a generous supply of water under the stairs! To the left of the KSW is ex-Bristol Omnibus VRT LEU263P. It was also being prepared for a long journey, this time northwards for MOT work. Unusually, the KSW has a 12 volt electrical system with just one enormous 12 volt battery under the floor instead of the usual two. The battery had been on charge the previous day as months of idleness had taken their toll.

Mrs Busman John had decided to follow me on this occasion, not only to transport me home to Weston later but also to visit some friends before we left. True to form, she had to hold back as we drove out of the estate. WNO, in common with most Gardner-powered vehicles, was emitting clouds of blue/white smoke from the exhaust but this cleared as the 5-cylinder engine warmed up. This particular 5LW engine sounds rather nasal and raucous due to having large mesh gauze covering the ports where an air filter would normally be fitted. I don’t know why this was done – a previous owner is responsible for this modification!

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Free bus tours with a 1952 Bristol KSW

Not long after my Birnbeck Pier duty (see previous post) I had the opportunity to run free bus tours around Minehead with a bus that’s very close to my heart.

ohy938-at-minehead-wsr

This is a duty that I’ve done many times before in support of the West Somerset Railway. This particular day was billed as a ‘Shaun the Sheep’ day, aimed at children of course, and one of the attractions on offer was the chance to have a free ride on a vintage bus.

I was thrilled to find that, for the first time on a private hire job, I’d been allocated a Bristol KSW. Crosville doesn’t own one of these in operational condition (although a genuine ex-Crosville example has just been taken north for a full restoration) so the one I was to drive was on loan from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection.

L8089 entered service with the Bath Services subsidiary of Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company in 1952 and was often in use on the long distance Bath – Salisbury route. This is where my family connection comes in. Salisbury is where my grandparents lived and L8089 would have driven past their house many times. I remember Bath Services Lodekkas (the successors to the lowbridge Bristol Ks) passing by when I stayed with my grandparents in the 1960s and 70s.

So now you can imagine my delight to be given this particular bus to drive! However, I tried not to let the mists of nostalgia cloud my vision while I prepared the bus in its compound near Minehead and drove it over to the WSR terminus to begin service.

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The Weston-Keynsham Shuttle with YDL318

Some private hire duties with heritage buses involve driving many miles to reach a far-distant destination. On others, the destination is just around the corner. For this job, it was both.

YDL318-Weston-Pier

According to my Work Ticket, the destination was about a mile from the Crosville garage – Weston-super-Mare seafront. The only snag was, I had to drive to Keynsham first!

The occasion was a birthday bash for a chap who was celebrating his big Five-O and that of a little girl of seven. They and a party of folk including friends and family had booked the bus for a trip to the seaside and so I drove the 26 miles to Keynsham at the stately speed of 30mph to pick them up. Apparently many of them were members of a local VW Campervan (often referred to as a ‘bus’) club, so were delighted to see the Bristol Lodekka turn into the car park to meet them.

Prior to this I had no idea what kind of event they were going to so, as soon as I learned that birthdays were involved, I set the destination blinds appropriately! On the way there with the empty bus I nearly had a panicky moment when I was confronted by ‘Road Closed’ signs on one of the main roads through the Bristol suburbs. Fortunately I had driven along a parallel residential road on a previous private hire job so I was able to continue my journey with a hastily chosen Plan B.

By the time everyone had boarded we had half a bus-load. Understandably they all decided to travel on the top deck and, as we picked our way through the busy centre of Keynsham, I wondered whether this would affect the handling of the bus. I needn’t have worried. Lodekkas, in common with most double deck bus designs, have a low centre of gravity so I barely noticed that everyone was up top. I had warned them about the detour around the byways of Hartcliffe but discovered as we rejoined the main road that I needn’t have bothered because the closure only affected east-bound traffic!

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Crosville Bus Rally 2014

Several of you went along to the Crosville Bus Rally, also known as the Weston-super-Mare Running Day, last Sunday. I know, because I saw some of you there! I hope you enjoyed yourselves as we basked in the fine, sunny weather.

4-Bristol-Ls-at-Crosville-Rally-2014

This was the scene which was created at the far end of the large site on Beach Lawns – a fine quartet of Bristol L single deck buses. The two in the middle are owned by the present-day Crosville Motor Services and are genuine ex-Crosville vehicles. The other two were visiting for the day and are both ex-Bristol Tramways.

An event like this takes months of planning and several days spent feverishly washing, fettling and checking of vehicles. I was unable to be involved in any of the physical preparations this year but did contribute my artworking skills to the creation of the Rally Programme.

On the day itself I turned up at the depot early. It had already been transformed from the usual bustling hub of activity into a well-planned display of service buses, school contract coaches and a few heritage vehicles. Outside, a large number of buses (almost entirely of Bristol manufacture) awaited drivers to ferry them down to the main seafront site. I was nominated to take NHU2, a prototype of the Bristol LS marque, but in the end rode as a passenger on 869NHT, a 1961 Bristol FS6G which actually used to operate along Weston’s seafront years ago.

There followed a frantic period of shuffling and shunting as the various buses were positioned within the main site by the marshals. A growing number of visiting vehicles were arriving at the same time. As 10:00 approached I prepared to ride on the 108 service, a round-the-houses Town Circular which I had helped to devise. However, the bus allocated to this departure had been commandeered to run a shuttle to the depot and back as large numbers of people were arriving there, parking their cars in the depot and were waiting for transport to the main site. Eventually I too was commandeered to run the same service with Bristol FLF DEL893C. Although several other heritage buses from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection were already operating this shuttle they had been overwhelmed by the numbers of people.

I was allocated a fine conductor, namely Richard Kemble who was one of many volunteers who travelled from far and wide to support the event and make it happen. We took the FLF on a couple of trips to the depot to help clear the queue of visitors.

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