A few days ago I had the pleasure of transporting staff from a Bristol web development company on a scenic tour through the Chew Valley, Somerset.
Managers at Simpleweb had planned a Christmas celebration for staff at two venues but had kept the means of transport secret. So when I turned up with ex-Bath Services Lodekka L8515 (969EHW) outside their Albion Dock offices I got some blank looks when I announced that their vintage bus was ready and waiting!
I was originally rostered with ex-Crosville Bristol L5G KG131 (KFM893) but this is now in winter storage but I was more than happy with the replacement, especially as the final destination was in the centre of Bath!
For the first time in many months I drove up to Bristol on the A370 and saw firsthand some of the major works on a new South Bristol Link road which will eventually skirt around the south side of Bristol. This will prove very useful to me on those occasions when I need to head across in the Bath direction.
The client had requested a scenic route to their first destination, via the Chew Valley so I had previously spent some time planning my route. What I hadn’t planned for was a road closure near Chew Magna, a village through which I’d planned to pass.
The bus wasn’t full by any means and all the passengers were easily accommodated upstairs. Due to a road closure near the Cumberland Basin, we headed out of the city through Bedminster but met more roadworks on the A38 where the aforementioned South Bristol Link road is under construction. We soon turned off the A38 and passed through much more pleasant countryside as we pottered along the B-roads through Winford and the Chew Valley.
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.
My latest duty for Crosville Motor Services involved another trip to Minehead in support of the West Somerset Railway. It was an action-packed day which included a surprise appearance by a bus I have been itching to sample for ages.
Rising at silly-o’clock-in-the-morning for an early drive up from Torbay, I booked on at 08:00 at the Crosville depot in Weston-super-Mare. The previous weekend I had done the same duty so the early start was slightly easier to cope with. On the first occasion I led a convoy of three heritage vehicles, a closed top Bristol Lodekka, an open top Lodekka and an open top Bristol VRT. The reason being that, by common concensus, I knew the route to Minehead better having done it twice before already. One of these, ex-Bristol Omnibus 1959 LD6B LC8518 (972EHW), was left in the First bus depot in Minehead as it was required on both weekends. The duty, as previously, involved providing free bus rides for those attending the special event at the West Somerset Railway (WSR) which, on these two weekends, was a ‘Days Out with Thomas’ event.
Owing to the fact that my rostered bus was already in Minehead, I travelled as a passenger on ex-Crosville KG131, a 1950 Bristol L5G (KFM893), with my friend Dave Moore at the wheel. It was unusual for me to be riding in the passenger saloon and I was surprised at how quiet it was, compared to the racket that I’m used to hearing in the cab! Admittedly it’s a very agreeable racket.
The action kicked off at about 10:20 but, until the first train arrived from Bishops Lydeard with more passengers, takers for the free bus rides were few. Conductor Kemble and I were in charge of the closed top Lodekka and we clocked up a grand total of 3 trips in the morning. As predicted, the open top Lodekka, 1961 ex-Crosville DFG81 (FSF6G 891VFM) was the most popular with people eventually queueing up to board before it had even arrived back from its previous trip.
Our 15-minute route was the same as before – a short jaunt up the main street and then along the seafront to Butlins and back – just long enough to give people a few good views and of course a decent ride on a vintage bus!
I recently took part in the vintage bus running day to commemorate the Wilts & Dorset Centenary. It also gave me the opportunity to relive some of my childhood memories in Salisbury.
Wilts & Dorset Motor Services Ltd was incorporated in 1915 and the centenary of that event was celebrated in great style in Salisbury, with more than 50 buses operating old W&D routes or on static display. The day ended with all the surviving Wilts & Dorset buses at the event being posed together for photographs (see above).
I had originally planned to take a Hants & Dorset Bristol K6A – now owned by Crosville Motor Services – to the event but the bus is still undergoing refurbishment so that plan fell through. Knowing that I was available but had no bus to drive, the event organisers invited me to drive Wilts & Dorset 628 (1956-built Bristol LD6G OHR919) instead. Of course, I leapt at the chance, having enjoyed driving it at the Salisbury Bus Station Closure event in January 2014.
The day started at silly-o’clock, when my alarm went off. With my son Peter for company (he was also to be my conductor for the day) I set off for Salisbury, where I had arranged to meet the owners of the bus. Allan and Kevin Lewis also own Hants & Dorset 1450 (Bristol FS6G 5677EL) and were happy for me to drive their Wilts & Dorset Lodekka while they crewed their FS.
All the buses running in service began to congregate in the Millstream Approach Coach Park, along with growing numbers of photographers. Peter and I began to wonder if we’d have to join them as our bus didn’t arrive until 10 minutes before our planned departure on service. Salisbury’s one-way system was to blame!
Suitably attired in our Tilling uniforms (OK, so they’re more suited to a Hants & Dorset bus, but red-trimmed jackets are as rare as hen’s teeth), we took charge of 628 and drove round to our stop on the Blue Boar Row. The sight that greeted us was amazing. Every one of the bus stops along the busy city centre street seemed to be occupied by a heritage bus of some sort. There was only just enough room for us to tuck in at the back. As soon as we drew up hordes of people rushed to board, even crossing the road from the static display area.
Eventually Peter gave me two bells and we departed slowly on our first journey, which was the number 60 to Wilton. Slowly, because other buses were also departing and the crowds were spilling over from the pavements into the road. I’m sure I’ve never seen so many camera lenses pointing in my direction before!
January 5th 2014 dawned with a sharp frost and bright sunshine, which later turned to cloud and persistent drizzle. Perhaps this summed up the mood of those who attended a special event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station.
Wiltshire’s capital city has had a central bus station for 75 years but now, due to the ageing buildings and the changing nature of the company which has inherited them, the city has decided that it can do without the familiar starting point for most of its bus services.
Thanks to a remarkably timed contact with the owners of a surviving Wilts & Dorset Bristol Lodekka, I had the privilege of driving this bus during the running day. The photo below, taken by Dave Mant, shows me leaving the bus station with the first departure of the day to Nunton and Bodenham.
Note the similarity between this and my shot of the same location which I took in 1973. Fleet no 628, an LD6G which was new in December 1956, has been owned since it was taken out of service as a driver trainer, by two delightful brothers. They also own a Hants & Dorset FS6G. I met up with them at the bus station and before I knew it, was climbing into the cab just before departure time. Allan and Kevin were happy for me to take the bus out on the first trip because I knew my way round the route, thanks to my customary homework (and a dry run in the car the night before!)
The bus station was rapidly filling with heritage buses, most of which had a local connection. Also adding to the general busyness was a good number of enthusiasts, local residents and bus industry management. As soon as I drove the Lodekka onto the departure stand, people flocked to board our bus. I had a few moments to compose myself. It was both emotional and nerve-wracking, sitting behind the wheel of a bus I had seen and ridden on as a boy while also focussing on the task of driving as faultlessly as possible.
In what seems to be like a dream come true, I’ve been invited to drive a Wilts & Dorset Bristol Lodekka in Salisbury in a few weeks’ time.
Those who follow this blog regularly will know that my interest in old buses stems from many happy childhood holidays spent with my Grandparents in Salisbury. Back then (in the 1960s and 70s) the Wilts & Dorset fleet was mostly Bristol vehicles – of LD, FS, FLF, MW, LS and RE varieties. My favourites were the LDs. To me, the perfect British bus. My passion for driving began when, as a small boy, I used to kneel on the bench seat behind the cab and watch the driver at work. Here is a photo I took of an FS6B in Salisbury Bus Station in the summer of 1973:
I have been invited to drive Wilts & Dorset LD6G 628 (OHR919) on Sunday January 5th 2014 as part of an event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station. My Ian Allan bus spotter’s book confirms that I saw it in Salisbury at least once and probably rode on it too. So you can imagine how privileged I feel to be asked to drive it during such an historic occasion.
Salisbury Reds, the current operator of most of Salisbury’s bus routes, have arranged for up to 15 heritage buses to run free trips on four routes. The duty sheet that I’ve seen shows that I’m due to drive two of them during the course of the day, including the very last passenger carrying service from Salisbury Bus Station at 15.45. Several duplicates have also been lined up to satisfy demand for this departure!
The photo below (from Flickr) shows the bus I’m due to drive a few years ago. By coincidence, one of the journeys I’m driving is the 37 from Alderbury & Whaddon to Salisbury!
Google Street View plays havoc with your sense of distance. I’m just saying that in my defence, for almost overshooting a turning yesterday. But more of that later.
The occasion was a wedding duty from Bristol to Claverham with Bristol LD6G 969EHW (L8515 in the Bath Services fleet). It was a reasonably straightforward duty, as jobs go. The Crosville depot was strangely deserted when I arrived at about lunchtime. The garage was locked up and the only person on site, apart from some electricity engineers nearby, was Simon, my conductor. Our bus was parked up, all ready to go, alongside a modern bus. With time to spare, I did my walkaround checks and ate some lunch.
We set off up the A370 towards Bristol city centre where we were to pick up a wedding party from the Registry Office. Our rostered Lodekka has a 5-speed gearbox which enabled us to make good time into the city. In fact we were about 30 minutes early so I pulled into a bus layover point near Temple Meads station.
It only took us 5 minutes to drive around to the Registry Office. We still had a while to wait for our guests to appear so I took this photo of a piper busking in the street a short distance away.
As per usual, several people stopped to admire the bus so Simon and I chatted to them and told them why we were there. Eventually a crowd of smartly dressed people emerged from the doorway of the Registry Office and filtered through the shoppers and tourists towards the bus. We ended up with a very full load, in fact I don’t think there was a single spare seat anywhere. I felt the difference as soon as I drove off, having had 2 bells from Simon. The bus felt very heavy, slow to accelerate and harder to stop! Fortunately our progress was slow through the city traffic, allowing me time to adjust my driving to suit the heavy load.