Bristol Lodekka and Bedford OB visit Dillington House

It was one of those balmy autumn days when the sunshine still had enough warmth to qualify as an ‘Indian Summer’. I arrived at the Crosville depot in Weston-super-Mare to prepare my allocated bus, ex-Bath Services Bristol LD6G L8515 (969EHW). It was already sitting outside in the sun, along with ‘Bosworth’, the ex-Crosville Bedford OB. A driver colleague, who was on his first heritage private hire job, was already there completing his walk-round checks.

Our destination was Dillington House, a large country house near Ilminster, Somerset. As usual, I had researched my route and had written out some bullet-point directions to take with me in the cab just to remind me. I’m glad I printed off a second copy because my colleague, knowing that he would probably be following me, hadn’t checked his map very thoroughly! I gave him my second copy just in case we got separated.

Our route took us down the M5 as far as Taunton and then via the A358 towards Ilminster before striking out through the lanes to the venue.

969EHW-at-Dillington-House

We had arrived with time to spare (always a good plan!) so we wandered round a bit, admiring the extensive grounds and impressive frontage to the house. Dillington House has a converted stable block (pictured above) which has additional accommodation as well as function rooms.

When the wedding guests appeared I was told that the first bus was to take the groom, bridesmaids and ushers to the church first, before returning to collect any guests who hadn’t been able to be seated in the Bedford. So, very lightly loaded, I set off towards the church at Curry Rivel, where the wedding ceremony was to take place. Most of the route was along country lanes so there was much gearbox work to do as I negotiated bends in the road and oncoming traffic.

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2012 – a busy year up at the noisy end

2012 was a momentous year. I managed to pass my PCV bus driving test by the skin of my teeth and followed that with 25 vintage bus driving duties!

KFM767-Clifton-CollegeBut one of my first jobs of 2012 was to promote the Crosville heritage bus fleet at a couple of Wedding Fairs. These were worth doing and many of the bookings I drove for later in the year started out as enquiries at these fairs. For one of these fairs I was invited to drive a Bristol Lodekka. This was before I’d taken my test but, as the bus was empty and not in service, my car licence sufficed. However, slightly soft front tyres and my general unfitness saw to it that I really struggled with the heavy steering, even with no load! I’ve since discovered that, even with properly inflated tyres, that bus is heavier to steer at low speed than some others.

With the fairs out of the way my focus turned to passing my practical test. For various reasons, much time had passed since I’d passed the Theory, Hazard Perception and Case Studies components of my PCV driving test. I had used up my allotted holiday allowance in my day job so I had to wait until new year 2012 to book a week off in February for training and the test. The test date happened to be Valentines Day but, as you will remember if you were following my progress back then, the lunch I had with my wife that day turned into a very sombre affair because I failed the test.

I very nearly gave up altogether, so crushing was the feeling of defeat. However, due to encouragement from several blog readers and family members, I booked more training sessions and a new test with just a few days of entitlement left. I had two years after passing my Theory Test in which to pass my Practical Test and most of that time had been spent waiting in vain for training with Quantock. I eventually passed my Practical Test within a few days of the end of February, which is when my time would run out.

Practical-test-pass

My feelings of elation and relief knew no bounds when I eventually found myself holding that coveted blue certificate! I went on to pass the PCV Practical Demonstration test and soon received my Driver CPC card in the post which entitled me to drive professionally at last.

I wondered how soon it would be before I would find an opportunity to drive a heritage bus in service. I passed the news of my test pass to the folks at Crosville Motor Services and awaited developments. I already had a conducting date in my diary for the week after my test so I was both pleased and daunted to see that, when my Job Ticket arrived, it showed that I was the driver! The management were kind enough to provide me with a conductor for this, my first driving turn with them. It wasn’t strictly necessary as the bus had driver-operated doors and the customer hadn’t paid for a conductor. I was very glad of the support and, even though the conductor was younger than my youngest son, he knew his job very well and everything went like clockwork.

Many more driving turns followed. 25 of them, to be exact! I often had to pinch myself to check that I wasn’t dreaming. I had pursued this ambition to drive a vintage bus since I was a young boy but never in a million years thought that I would have the opportunity to learn to drive a bus, let alone drive Bristol Lodekkas (and other Bristol marques) in service. I spent many hours as a youngster standing (and then kneeling, as I grew taller) on the bench seat watching the drivers of Wilts & Dorset Lodekkas at work in the cab. I was fascinated by the skills and techniques involved in handling a crash gearbox. I’m convinced that those childhood experiences helped me enormously when I eventually came to occupy that cab seat myself and take charge of a Bristol Lodekka. The fact that so many of them survive is remarkable in itself but the fact that I’m able to drive them in the 21st century is truly amazing.

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To Tickenham at 30mph max

I thought that 50mph was slow amid 21st century traffic but that was before I’d sampled 30mph max! My usual bus, a Bristol FLF with a 5-speed manual box, has a top speed of about 53mph but today I had a different Lodekka which only has a 4-speed box. Not only that but it’s fitted with a low ratio rear axle, which means that top speed is only 30mph, occasionally 33mph on a good downhill stretch!

To start with, I was going to conduct and my colleague Paul (who used to be a driver for Hants & Dorset) was going to drive but, after discussions, he drove the Crosville Bristol L seen in the distance of the picture above while I drove the Lodekka. Thank you Paul!

Our pickup point was Burwalls, just at the southern end of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. The journey up from Weston gave me a chance to get accustomed to the Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G, which I had only driven once before. Despite both being Lodekkas fitted with the ubiquitous Gardner 6LW, the difference between this bus and the FLF which I usually drive was quite noticeable. To start with, the engine sounded quieter and not as harsh and rattly as the FLF’s. As we drove up the A370 towards Bristol I noted that there were far fewer rattles and vibrations in the cab. The steering seemed to be much tighter for a start, with much less free play. The other, most obvious difference between the two buses is the difference in top speeds, as I mentioned earlier. 30mph is fine in town or for climbing hills on the Isle of Wight but hopeless when out on the open road on the mainland where there are considerable distances to cover. I was very aware of the massive tailbacks that built up very quickly behind me and several times I pulled over into bus stop laybys to let the traffic go by.

You may have noticed in the photograph above that this Lodekka has a white steering wheel. I’m not sure if this would have been fitted from new but it usually alerted the driver to the fact that he was driving an 8ft wide bus. I believe this was introduced on the Bristol KSWs, as the previous Bristol Ks were 7ft 6in wide. Whether or not that’s true, the white plastic covering was in excellent condition and made driving even more pleasant. The covering on the FLF I’m used to driving is cracked and broken in places which means it’s rather rough on my hands!

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Weston-super-Mare Vintage Bus Running Day

EDIT: This page refers to the 2012 event. See this page for news of the Crosville Bus Rally 2013 or, better still, visit the rally page on the Crosville website.

The folks at Crosville Motor Services, for whom I drive quite frequently, are putting together ambitious plans for a Running Day on Sunday August 26th. It will involve putting out every roadworthy bus in their garage, if they can find enough crews of course!

That will, of course, include more than Lodekkas. Although they have been the staple diet of this blog, I’m pleased to say that other examples of the Bristol marque will be present, including  K, L, MW, VR and LH. Non-Bristol vehicles may even turn up as visitors to redress the Bristol-heavy bias!

The day will also include a celebration of 25 years since the local Badgerline company was established.

If all goes to plan, Crosville’s timetabled services 100, 145 and 152 will all be operated by heritage buses and a shuttle service, linking the depot to various parts of the town, will be operated by up to 6 Bristol Ks. Most of these will be supplied by the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection, which shares garage space with Crosville’s own heritage fleet.

There will be static displays, a road-making demonstration and society stalls at the depot, admission to which will be by the purchase of a programme. This also allows you unlimited travel on any of the timetabled services running on the day. Also on display will be some of the modern bus and coach fleet, together with some interesting Crosville restoration projects including an AEC Matador recovery vehicle.

I’ve had great fun designing an advert for the event, which you can also download as a PDF, if you feel like printing one out. I’m sure they’d welcome any help with spreading the word!

Crosville Running Day A4 poster

If any of you are qualified PCV drivers with crash gearbox experience or have done conducting and would like to help, please call the Crosville office on 01934 635259. I’ve got my name down for this event (how could I miss it?) and I’m secretly hoping to have a go in one of the Bristol Ks. The only down side is that it’s on a Sunday, when I’m usually to be found in church, but I’m making a special exception this time!

In other news, I’m off up to Cheltenham tomorrow. No, not the races! I’m out with the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF again, providing transport for a wedding. The forecast is appalling though, so spare a thought for yours truly as I battle through wind and weather.

Wilts & Dorset photo archive, part 2

Here are some more images from my collection of historic Wilts & Dorset photographs.

This is a 1946 Bristol K5G, of which there were many in the Wilts & Dorset fleet in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Note the early design of ventilator on the side windows. Eastern Coach Works was soon to change this to the more familiar all-aluminium design as seen below. Also caught in the shot is the rear end of a Vauxhall Wyvern (or Velox), one of those sit-up-and-beg cars from the 1950s that resembled the American design style of the time. My grandfather had one.

Shown here is a 1947 Bristol K5G, seen either when brand new or fresh from a re-paint.

At the other end of its life, I photographed Bristol KSW6G in the yard at Salisbury’s Castle Street depot in 1973, shortly before withdrawal. I suspect it was having battery troubles, hence the starting handle being inserted through the radiator. However, I wouldn’t fancy being the chap with the job of swinging the heavy Gardner lump with a handle! I remember seeing these old Bristol Ks on country services, en-route to such far-flung places as Hindon. As seen above, they were also put out on Private Hire runs. I clearly recall being taken to Sunday School on one of these, which was hired by the Elim Pentecostal church in Salisbury town centre. I enjoyed the lengthy ride all round the city, gathering up children from the suburbs.

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