Lodekka battles with low branches in Lullington Lane

Yesterday’s private hire duty was notable for taking me to some places with very limited clearance. It was a good test of my spacial awareness skills.

The allocated bus was open top Lodekka DGF81 (FSF6G 891VFM), a genuine Crosville bus dating from 1961. I had spent most of the previous day in the office at Crosville and had time to check and fuel the bus so that I didn’t have to spend too much time early the next day in preparation. The pickup time was 10:30 at Orchardleigh House, near Frome so I allowed myself a generous 2 hours to make the empty journey. The most direct route was nevertheless a tortuous, rural one and my speed would rarely get above 30mph.

In fact ‘limited clearance’ could apply to the outward journey quite easily as I trundled through the villages of Banwell, Sandford and Blagdon. There was plenty of hedge-hugging, double-declutching and wheel-heaving! Reaching West Harptree, I set off along the B3114 to eventually join up with the A39 at Chewton Mendip towards Bath. Briefly reaching 45mph, I soon went back down the box for the turning to Farrington Gurney, Midsomer Norton and Radstock. Somerset seems to have more than its fair share of double-barrelled place names and today I seemed to be visiting most of them!

Finally, after passing through Buckland Dinham, I reached the imposing entrance to Orchardleigh House. I’ve been here before with a heritage bus and I recognised the twin stone-built lodges which stand guard over the gated entrance to the vast estate. The drive up to the house is almost a mile long and passes through a golf course on the way.

I parked the bus near the Walled Garden and the complex of cottages in which most of the wedding guests had spent the previous night. I caught up with some of them on the lawn and learned that the celebrations had started the previous evening!

Our buses are not decorated with ribbons as standard (although I plan to change that eventually) so some family members set to work with cream ribbons, bows and streamers of their own.

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BBC Antiques Roadshow Park and Ride

I spent a very long day assisting with the making of an episode of the BBC Antiques Roadshow last week, by driving a Bristol Lodekka on a Park & Ride service.

As well as having a glimpse behind the scenes as the programme was being filmed, I also had the pleasure of conveying most of the Roadshow experts on the bus. But my abiding memory of the day was that it left me completely exhausted!

I left home at 06:00 in order to pick up the bus and be in position by 08:15. As this was to be a very long duty, I had arranged for the bus (ex-BOC Bristol Lodekka LC8515) to be driven to an outstation just a couple of miles outside Minehead, which is where the programme was due to be filmed the next day. As I drove up the M5 in the pouring rain my heart sank as I knew that the cab of this bus is not watertight in any way. Walking around doing my checks left me soggy and even the Bristol AVW engine seemed reluctant to start.

My first task was to ferry the Antiques Roadshow experts from their hotel, where I also met my conductor Richard, to the West Somerset Railway station at Minehead. It was strange to see them up close and to exchange a bit of banter about the wet weather. One of them, clearly not a bus expert, asked “Is this a Routemaster?”

My instructions were to spend the rest of the day shuttling to and fro between the station and the Monday Market field, which was being used as a Park & Ride car park. I had looked it up on Google Maps previously and, while there did appear to be a tarmac track it didn’t seem to offer anywhere to turn the bus so, to avoid the risk of getting bogged down on account of the weather, I reversed the bus off the main road and down the track to the field. I was pleased to see in my mirrors as I slowly backed around a corner that a large part of the field had been recently covered with hardcore and stone chippings so, for the rest of the day, there were no problems getting in and out.

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Bristol L tackles a stiff climb out of Bath

It’s not often I get a wedding duty in the depths of winter but yesterday was one such day. The job included a very steep climb which really tested the pulling power of the bus.

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The destination was in Bath, which meant a 30-mile empty journey from Weston-super-Mare. I knew it was going to be a cold day so I set out wearing lots of layers! Even so, I was beginning to feel chilly by the time I had finished my walkaround checks. I was pleased to see that my rostered bus, ex-Crosville KG131 (1950 Bristol L5G KFM893), had been well prepared the day before. She stood in the garage gleaming, wearing white wedding ribbons inside and out. A quick peep into the fuel tank with a torch revealed that she had been topped up to the brim with go-juice as well.

Winter is the time when most of the heritage fleet is serviced, repaired or refurbished so the Bristol L was the only member of the fleet which was active. However, the job involved transporting more than 60 people to the reception venue so a modern coach was to join me. Needless to say, we didn’t travel together as my single decker needed a head start due to its slower performance.

As I drove out of the garage there was sleet in the air so I pulled on a pair of gloves and braced myself for a wintery blast through the cab. I couldn’t help thinking of the poor bus drivers of days gone by who had to endure icy conditions day after day and still get the job done. Busmen of the past were obviously made of sterner stuff – I’m really a fair-weather driver!

Several months have passed since my last duty with a heritage bus and even longer since my last stint in a Bristol L. So maybe I could be forgiven for a few graunchy gearchanges. Fortunately, by the time I picked up my passengers, I was back in crashbox mode.

With the South Bristol Link Road now complete, I was able to cut off a significant corner as I headed towards Bath. Just like a lightning strike, I’m always looking for the path of least resistance!

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Classic transport at Burrington wedding

In tranquil surroundings bathed in autumnal sunshine, I took part in a classic wedding in rural Somerset the other day.969ehw-kfm893-winford-manor

It seems to have been ages since I drove a heritage bus for a wedding. In fact, although I’ve done numerous private hire duties for Crosville Motor Services during this year, the last one to involve a wedding was back in May.

One of the many delights of Crosville private hire duties is that occasionally they involve more than one bus. So it was good to meet up with my friend Dave Moore at the Crosville depot last Saturday as together we prepared our two vehicles. I was rostered with 1950 Bristol L5G KFM893 (Crosville KG131) and Dave had 1959 Bristol LD6G 969EHW (Bath Services L8515). The duty Operations Manager popped over with a bag of ribbons and bows supplied by the client. He appeared rather keen not to be involved in affixing them to the buses so left them for Dave and me to sort out. Fortunately we had both arrived with plenty of time in hand so we had time to dress up the buses as well as do our usual checks and preparations. I also had a few moments to check on two other Lodekkas, both of which were undergoing major engine surgery.

As is my custom, I had earlier studied the routes for the day. So had Dave, so we agreed on the best route for our buses. Although there was nothing we could do to avoid the long and arduous climb of Red Hill on the way towards Bristol Airport, we decided not to use the more direct road to Winford Manor which would have taken us there via a long and occasionally narrow lane. By going a little further past the Airport, we made use of a wider road which offered fewer hazards.

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Bath Services bus crew in miniature

Some time ago I featured a few photographs of a very well researched model of a Bath Services Bristol L5G. Now, to complete the scene, a colleague and I have joined the bus on the fine scale model railway.

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The detailed layout, along with its skilled owner, is located in far-away Melbourne, Australia and the bus crew is of course represented in miniature form! The layout is described in more detail in this post from March 2014.

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The addition of the driver and conductor was the finishing touch to this wayside station cameo and Ray, always keen to get the details right, asked for some help with the bus crew uniforms. Although I’m a relative newcomer to the world of vintage buses I did have some photographic reference, including a shot of a colleague and me wearing authentic ‘Tilling’ uniforms beside a Bath Services Lodekka.

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Ray used these photos as reference material for the professional model makers who painted the cast resin bus crew. I hope you’ll agree that the finished scene is remarkable. I also approve of the early Morris Minor in the background, complete with split screen and clap-hand wipers!

In other news, I’m ‘between jobs’ as they say in the acting profession. Driving for the local sightseeing tours has come to an end now and, although I have a couple of wedding duties with Crosville coming up in November, I’m driving a desk and catching up with jobs at home before the next bus-related project comes along. Also on the horizon is a new book, based on the early part of this blog and covering the trials and tribulations of a bus conductor who is looking for promotion up to the noisy end! Good fireside reading – anyone interested in buying a copy one day?

Vintage buses, Birnbeck Pier and MV Balmoral

Local residents in Weston-super-Mare may have been surprised to see a convoy of 5 Crosville buses a few weeks ago but they were all needed to support Birnbeck Pier.

But the Pier is supported by cast iron pillars, I hear you say. Structurally, you’d be right but just now the Pier needs all the extra support it can get if it is to survive in the future. The historic Pier is in a perilous state, having fallen into disrepair many years ago. Part of the structure fell into the sea after a ferocious storm last year which galvanised local support for saving what’s left. This is where Crosville became involved when the Birnbeck Pier Regeneration Trust chartered the historic vessel MV Balmoral.

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A fleet of buses was hired to transport supporters to Clevedon Pier where they boarded MV Balmoral for a cruise up the Bristol Channel. This photo shows my allocated bus, Crosville KG131 (KFM893) a 1950 Bristol L5G, loading at Birnbeck Pier. Behind it is Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318), a 1962 Bristol FS6G with a 1925 Chevrolet Model K Roadster keeping it company.

Members of the Trust had planned the transfer to Clevedon in minute detail, each bus having its own load list so that everyone had an allocated seat. Our little convoy must have looked rather incongruous as we got under way because a 21st century version of a Crosville single decker followed right behind – a 2016-built Yutong coach. This is one of several purchased by the modern Crosville for use on the commuter service to Bristol.

As always, the Bristol L behaved impeccably on its fully loaded run to Clevedon. I always enjoy driving this bus which, despite its 66 years, still feels tight and rattle-free.5-buses-clevedon-pier

Unfortunately, due to a speedboat festival taking place on the closed seafront road, we were unable to unload our passengers near to the pier so we parked as close as we could and the Birnbeck Pier supporters had to walk down the road and along the pier to board the Balmoral.

It would be several hours before they returned after their cruise so all the buses returned the short distance back to the Crosville depot to lay over.

When we returned later we were dismayed to see the Balmoral glide past the pier and on down the Bristol Channel because there was a speedboat race taking place right next to the pier, perventing the boat from approaching the pierhead. About an hour and a half later than planned, our passengers boarded their buses and we returned to Birnbeck Pier. On the way I took advantage of the ‘overdrive’ 5-speed gearbox on the L to overtake the slower Bristol FS on the motorway!

thornbury-castle-in-crosville-depotAfter parking up in the garage I wandered over to have a look round the remains of GWR 4-6-0 7027 ‘Thornbury Castle’ which had been delivered a few days earlier. This locomotive will eventually be restored to working order. It looks very forlorn in this picture but now, a few weeks later, it has been joined by its tender, front bogie and lots of dismantled parts.

Well, that’s all for now. Life has been so busy recently that I’ve fallen behind in posting here! Next will be news of a West Somerset Railway duty with a Bristol KSW and after that a report on the recent Crosville Bus & Steam Rally.

Southern National ETT946 returns to the westcountry

Another lengthy delivery journey – part of my role as ‘Crosville Odd Job Man’ – occurred recently. I was sent north to collect a 1938 Bristol L5G single deck bus and bring it back to Weston-super-Mare.

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Southern National 280 (ETT946) had been bought at auction in September 2015 but remained uncollected in Yorkshire until I was invited to go and collect it last week. I had seen photographs of this elderly vehicle before and, although its original Beadle-built body had once proudly worn Tilling Green and Cream livery, it appeared to be in a rather dilapidated condition. However, I was assured that it was mechanically in good order. Always up for a challenge, I accepted the invitation.

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On the way up north I delivered a more recent example of the former Southern National fleet, Bristol RELL 2700 (HDV626E) to the Stoke-on-Trent premises of Reliance Bus Works for some additional work to the nearside body panels. This is a wonderful vehicle to drive, as well as being historic. It is the earliest surviving example of the RELL Series 2 body style but, from a driver’s point of view, is hard work. It has a very heavily sprung accelerator pedal which is manageable on short trips but very tiring after long stints on motorways!

From Stoke I travelled up to Selby ‘on the cushions’ (as a passenger on a train). After an overnight stay in a guest house I arrived at the premises of another historic vehicle restorer, where the old Bristol L5G stood in the chilly morning air awaiting my attentions. I had been in contact with the restorer earlier in the week but it turned out that, on the day I planned to collect the bus, he was due to be away! He had topped up the oil, fitted a fresh battery and assured me that it was ‘on the button’ and ready to go.

ETT946-rear-windowI wandered round the vehicle several times, checking it over. At some time in its long life it had been converted into a mobile home and, while it now stood devoid of any living accommodation, a couple of clues remained. The most bizarre of these was the back end of the bus which had been remodelled to resemble a pine-clad cottage, complete with bay window! In the offside roof there was evidence of a chimney which would have been part of a solid fuel stove inside.

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