Sunshine and symmetry at Brympton House, Yeovil

For my private hire duty to Brympton House, Yeovil I decided that I would use my Tilling summer dust jacket, it being early May. I believe this was usually the time when bus crews would hang up their heavy winter uniforms in favour of the lighter jackets. With bright, warm weather having been forecast, this turned out to be a good decision.

I was up with the lark (or alarm clock, due to the unreliability of larks in South Devon) for the journey up to Weston-super-Mare. My allocated bus was Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) which, as regular readers will know, has a top speed of 30mph. With a 50 mile empty journey to make before the pickup, an early start was essential. However, stress levels began to rise when my bus, together with the one my fellow driver was to take, were nowhere to be found. We soon learned that Crosville had run out of space in their main garage and had begun renting space in a huge industrial unit (once an aircraft hangar) nearby. Our buses were stored there, along with several others from the Crosville heritage fleet. With checks done I was keen to be on my way but we had to make a detour to top up with fuel. This meant that I would be watching the time anxiously all the way to Yeovil.

There’s a saying that goes “A watched kettle never boils” and I told myself, as the miles slowly passed by, that it was pointless checking the time as I would get there when I got there. In other words, checking my watch wouldn’t get me there any quicker!

brympton-1

After travelling south via the M5, A358 and A3088, I arrived on the outskirts of Yeovil and soon found Brympton House. I was a few minutes late but guests were still assembling on the gravel drive in front of the beautiful old house. It made a change to have plenty of room to turn and park the bus!

Soon we were on our way. This bus is a delight to drive in comparison with the Bath Services LD6G with which I had my last trip. Despite having endured several years’ use as a driver training bus, this one drives like it was brand new. Not that I’ve ever driven a brand new Lodekka, of course. It just seems to slip into gear with a minimum of fuss and feels quite well mannered.

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Clifton Downs scenic tour

I was delighted to arrive at the Crosville depot last Saturday to find that I was rostered with my friend Paul to drive a two-bus wedding day trip to Clifton Downs, Bristol. Not only that, but we had two buses that I may have seen in my youth. Regular readers will know all about the ex-Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF which I seem to have driven more than any other bus this year (not that I’m complaining, of course). H&D buses often ran into Salisbury bus station on the Southampton service and I saw these many times during family holidays to Salisbury.

The other vehicle was LD6G 696EHW from Bath Services, a subsidiary of Bristol Omnibus. I used to see this bus (and others from the Bath Services fleet) pass my grandparents’ house in Wilton Road, Salisbury on its way in to the city’s bus station. So you can imagine it was rather special to have these two buses out on a private hire job together. They are pictured below parked up in Albert Road, Bristol awaiting the call to pick up wedding guests nearby.

As you can see, both vehicles are equipped with the Cave-Browne-Cave cooling system, the filling of which requires two people so Paul and I helped each other top up each other’s bus before we left the depot.

Both buses are fitted with 5-speed gearboxes so our progress up the A370 was fairly swift. We arrived near the pickup point with time to spare so we waited for a call from one of the ushers. The pickup point was on the busy A4 and we had arranged, with military precision, a pickup with minimal disruption to the traffic. The only flaw was that there were roadworks right outside the Arnos Vale Cemetary, where we were to pick up our passengers. As it happened there was a gap in the coned off areas just big enough for a bus to pull in. Paul pulled in with the Bath Services Lodekka while I waited further back up the road at a bus stop. The road was helpfully straight so I could see the bus being loaded. When Paul climbed into his cab I pulled out of the bus stop and stopped in the gap which he had just vacated and continued to load the remaining guests.

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Rain stops play… almost

Yesterday dawned slowly. In other words, it was barely getting light at 7am when normally it would be bright enough to set the senses jingling at the prospect of a new day. It hadn’t improved much by the time I left home for what may possibly be my last conducting turn on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’. Arriving at the Bishops Lydeard garage of Quantock Motor Services I was rather alarmed to see Bristol LDL6G VDV752 already out on the road and ready to go. Even more worryingly, there was already a conductor inside! However, it turned out a ‘clerical error’ had been made in the office and the aforementioned conductor left soon afterwards. Home to bed again, I was told.

We proceeded up to Porlock for breakfast, about an hour’s drive with an empty bus, through several showers of rain. On the way we passed through the appropriately named village of Washford (above). Today, I decided, it should be re-named ‘Awash-ford’. Arriving at Porlock’s Doverhay car park, I decided to delay wiping down the upper deck seats until AFTER we’d had breakfast at the Lorna Doone Hotel. I needn’t have worried. There weren’t any passengers to occupy them. We departed, still empty, for Minehead and parked at the seafront stop in a huge puddle of rainwater.

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Service 400 – last one ever?

Taking a rest at Wheddon Cross

This Sunday’s conducting duty on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ could be my last one ever. Prospects of a further season as a commercial enterprise continue to look bleak, unless I can persuade Mr QMS to take a chance with the revival plans mentioned in my last post! I will of course write next week about how it went.

One of the ex-Western National Bristol LDL open top buses is also due to run on Sunday September 25th, the final run of the season. The pair of LDLs have been a popular and familiar sight as they have plodded around the tortuous Exmoor route for the best part of 10 years.

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Quantock Open Day

Conducting at this year’s Quantock Motor Services Open Weekend had its ups and downs. Mostly ups, I’m glad to say.

As you can imagine it started early, with an hour’s drive from Paignton first. That turned out to be insignificant, compared to the distance one visiting crew had travelled. Two young chaps from a museum near Glasgow had made the journey down from Scotland, just for this event. Now I like old buses, but I’m not that keen! I take my (conductor’s) hat off to them, they did a great job between them today.

The depot had been cleared of all but one of the modern fleet of coaches and buses. The one remaining coach was up on the lift so that people could see underneath. When I arrived the arrival/departure lane was full of red buses awaiting their turn with the first four departures to Taunton.

Drivers and conductors (all volunteers) gathered in one of the offices to be briefed by the Controller. Jonathan is from somewhere south-east of London and he was the brains behind the whole event. He, together with Peter (a local Quantock volunteer driver), put together the routes, timetables and crew rosters. I was given a late duty, which meant I was at a loose end until 12 noon. Unfortunately the Boss got to hear of it and I was assigned to gate duty for the morning! Armed with a fistful of programmes, I accosted every camera-toting punter who even glanced in the direction of the gate and demanded that they part with £5 in exchange for a copy of my work of art (a programme). Yes, dear reader, that was the result of many hours slaving over a hot computer.

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Torbay Vintage Bus Running Day 2010

An event coming up soon – one for which I have been planning for ages it seems – is the Torbay Vintage Bus Running Day. On Sunday September 5th a wide range of buses with a Westcountry connection will gather at Shedden Hill car park either for static display or to run free services along the seafront.

I have entered ex-Western National Bristol LDL 1935 (VDV752) and have permission to drive it down to Torbay for the day. Why this particular vehicle? Well, after operating from the WN Camborne depot from its introduction in 1957, it was converted to open top for tourist services (acquiring the name ‘Admiral Boscawen’) in the mid-1970s. It was soon transferred to South Devon where it ran services, along with sister LDL VDV753, to Totnes, Paignton and Torquay. By then Western National had merged with Devon General and 1935 wore the new NBC Poppy Red and White livery with Devon General fleetnames. I have acquired a photograph of this vehicle taken while the bus was parked in Palk Street, Torquay which is near the harbour, while on Service 124.

Why all this background? I intend to take the bus, owned and operated by Quantock Motor Services for many years, back to Palk Street and have it photographed again during the running day. A kind of ‘then and now’ shot, 35 years on.

If any of my blog readers are interested in joining me for the trip down to Torquay, please leave a comment and I’ll get in touch to make arrangements.

Another week gone, another duty done

I had another conducting duty on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ this weekend. No driving this time. We had an ex-Western National Bristol LDL6G which has a 5-speed crash gearbox so I was happy to leave that to the nominated driver! The gearbox has an additional ‘gate’ which has often caught me out when driving this bus around the old industrial estate. When in 4th gear this gate gives access to 5th gear and has its own neutral position. But if I’m not careful when changing from 4th to 3rd I can easily find myself in 5th by mistake!

The 400 trip was fairly average, as trips go. No breakdowns, accidents or other dramas. Although sunny, there was a chilly breeze and this may have kept the numbers down – we were only about half full. I was pleased to welcome a family on board from Brixham who I’ve known for some time. They took a leisurely lunch break in Exford on the way round and rejoined us on the afternoon trip. Makes a great day out!

Coming up soon – one of my blog followers commented on one of my earlier posts, ‘This is where it all started’, and has now sent in some of his own memories of his time as a conductor for Wilts & Dorset in the 1970s. I will add a special page for this fascinating personal account within the next few days.