Back in early July I took a Bristol L5G down to Buckfastleigh to take part in the South Devon Railway’s popular 1940s Festival.
The single deck bus was very familiar to me, having been a regular allocation during my time with Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare. Ex-Crosville KG131 (1950-built KFM893) still lives in Weston and is now part of the re-launched Crosville Vintage operation so my first task was to drive it down from Weston to Buckfastleigh, a distance of about 80 miles.
The Bristol L trundles along at about 42 mph on the motorway so it took about an hour and a half to complete the journey. On the way I had to face the stiff climb up Haldon Hill which, even with an empty bus, reduced my speed to about 15 mph. It’s at times like these that I feel quite vulnerable on dual carriageways and motorways due to my slow speed, relative to other traffic so I was relieved to turn off the A38 for the final few yards to the station forecourt at the South Devon Railway‘s station at Buckfastleigh.
My first departure wasn’t until 11:00 so I had time for a 45 minute break before starting service. I used that time to wander around the station and found myself in a time warp. I was surrounded by people in 1940s outfits as well as the uniformed railway staff. Visitors and re-enactors alike had gone to extraordinary lengths to enter in to the spirit of the event.
In a field adjacent to the station forecourt there was an impressive gathering of military vehicles and paraphenalia. I lost count of the number of wartime Willys Jeeps! On the station platform I passed a policeman in authentic 1940s uniform. In fact I saw him several times during the day, which turned out to be very hot and humid. To his credit (and probably his discomfort too), he kept his full uniform on all day!
After the closure of Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare it was decided to vacate the large hangar where the vehicles had been based. I was invited to help move the single deck members of the fleet, which are still owned outright by the business owner, to a new location in another part of the town.
Earlier in the day a team of volunteers had been beavering away with soapy water and a jet wash, removing dust and debris which had settled on the cherished vehicles over several months of inactivity. I had earlier arranged for Mrs Busman John to be ‘steerswoman’ (is that a word?) on 1912 MacLaren steam road locomotive ‘Gigantic’, which was also to make the same journey across town as the buses. So, while the buses were being prepared, I rode with her and shot this video:
Needless to say, she was ‘chuffed’ to bits as it had been a long-held ambition of hers to drive a traction engine! Many thanks to JJP and his steam team for making this happen.
Soon all was ready for the first of two short convoys. Each was led by a steam vehicle, the first being 1931 Sentinel DG6P steam bus ‘Elizabeth’. I was invited to drive FAE60, a 1938 Bristol L5G which had long ago been converted into a tower wagon as departmental vehicle W75 for maintaining the high level structures in Bristol Tramways (later Bristol Omnibus Company) depots. The chassis, apart from having been shortened, was unchanged so it drove just like a normal Bristol L bus. It was lovely to drive, with a very easy gear change. Crash box, of course!
Quite a lot of vintage duties have gone unreported by ‘Busman’s Holiday’ due to my house move and subsequent full time work for Crosville Motor Services. So here, dear reader, is a pictorial roundup of some of the action.
This delightful scene presented itself to me while awaiting the arrival of the steam-hauled train from Minehead, West Somerset Railway. I had arrived early at Bishops Lydeard station to convey passengers to Hestercombe House and the previous departure, a 1960s 3-car diesel multiple unit, was still in the platform. Parked nearby was a pale blue MG from the same era so I couldn’t resist taking a photo!
Occasionally we are asked to decorate our heritage buses for their wedding duties. This is something I always enjoy doing because I think the ribbons add a very appropriate flourish to the occasion. The day these two were photographed turned grey and drizzly so, by the time they arrived back at the depot, the ribbons were looking rather bedraggled!
Sometimes the customers arrange with me to come to the depot to decorate the bus themselves. Some really go to town and bring banners and balloons as well.
There are of course occasions when we get the buses wet intentionally. Before every outing we check that they are clean and here James, a young cleaner and occasional conductor, gets busy with our 1950 Bristol L. As we were preparing the interior of this bus we had to get rid of a poor dead mouse. The driver on its previous duty had apparently been sitting in the saloon munching on his lunchtime sandwiches when he gazed up at the ceiling and discovered a dead mouse behind one of the roof vent grilles. When James and I unscrewed the grille and retrieved said animal we found that it was completely flat, almost a fossil. It must have been there for years!
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.
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.
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.
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!
In tranquil surroundings bathed in autumnal sunshine, I took part in a classic wedding in rural Somerset the other day.
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.