Way back in sunny May I paid a return visit to Torbay and met up with my friends at English Riviera Sightseeing Tours. I spent the day driving their open top Leyland PD2 and also met their newest acquisition, a Dennis Toastrack Bus.
Needless to say, the folks there were delighted to have me back, if only for a day. Apparently my gentle driving style has been sorely missed! It was great to be in the driving seat of FFY403 once again and to hear the banter and gags of my tour guide ‘Wayne Champagne’ as we trundled around the tour route.
Since I last drove it, the PD2 had undergone some engine repairs, the fuel pump and injectors getting particular attention. Those with long memories will remember that my only disppointment with driving the PD2 was its excessively high idle speed. Usually a Leyland O.600 engine will tick over very slowly without doing any harm, sometimes with a little ‘hunting’ too. But on FFY the idle speed used to be so high that I had to de-clutch far sooner than normal when rolling to a stop. I seemed to have to coast for ages with my foot on the clutch before stopping.
Anyway, having refurbished the pump and replaced a split rubber diaphragm, the idle speed could be brought right down so driving it again this year brought great satisfaction. At long last I was able to hear the engine idling normally. Why couldn’t this work have been done when I was a regular driver?!
Wayne couldn’t resist bringing out one of his favourite gags in my honour as we passed through Paignton during the afternoon tour. As we approached Manor Corner on the return to Torquay, we were about to pass the Paignton Spiritualist Church. “I have some late breaking news for you, folks,” piped up Wayne. “This evening’s clairvoyance meeting at the Spiritualist Church has been cancelled,” he continued with barely suppressed giggles, “due to unforeseen circumstances!” Gales of laughter from the saloon behind me followed by “It’s not my fault, ladies and gentlemen, that one was especially for our driver John!” from Wayne. He knows that I’m a churchgoer (though not a Spiritualist) and likes to trot that one out for my benefit, although I doubt that Spiritualists can look into the future any more than I can.
Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare has recently acquired a 1938 Bristol L5G, originally Southern National 280 (ETT946).
Although it originally had a Mumford body, Crosville’s example now has a Beadle 36-seat body similar to one I’ve featured here before. Wilts & Dorset 504, a 1938 Bristol J (pictured below), also had a Beadle body and was transferred from Hants & Dorset in 1952, according to the notes in my Dad’s photo album.
As you will see from the photo of ETT946, it has managed to retain its original high-mounted radiator in common with only a handful of surviving Bristol L buses. Usually these were replaced by the later PV2 radiator when re-bodied. This example has been in private ownership for many years, spending most of the last decade at Winkleigh with the West of England Transport Collection. I’m grateful to Les Eddy for his permission to use the photograph at the top of this post.
The bus has seen better days and, although restored many years ago, will need a thorough re-restoration before it can join the active Heritage Fleet at Crosville. It will have to wait its turn in the queue! One day it should look a bit like this fine example, a 1940 Beadle-bodied Bristol L5G from the Western National fleet.
Apparently the bus is still driveable and it may make the journey to Somerset under its own power. I’ve volunteered for that job but a fair amount of preparation will need to be done before it is fit for the road. Watch this space!
I seem to have done a fair bit of delivery driving recently. I wrote a while ago about taking the Sightseeing Tours Bristol LH charabanc to Exeter and back for some attention to the paintwork. I also drove an open top Leyland PD2/3 to Plymouth and back for the same operator for some mechanical repairs and servicing. Probably my last driving duty for 2015 will be to return a 2009 Mercedes Sprinter minibus from Stoke-on-Trent after some attention by Reliance Bus Works. I drove it up last week and the trip was comfortable and trouble-free, which contrasts starkly with some of the delivery journeys I’ve done with more elderly vehicles!
A couple of days ago I took the unique Bristol LH charabanc on a trip to Exeter for some attention to its new paint job.
Some minor work needed to be done to the paintwork to bring it back up to pristine standard in readiness for the 2016 tour season. The bus has lain idle in Torquay since the end of September but seemed eager to go again, starting on the button. As per usual it was rather smoky to start with but that soon cleared once the engine warmed up.
After completing the usual walk round checks it was time to pick up some fuel and head off to Exeter. Everything was fine except for braking, which took a while to settle down. Anything more than gentle pressure brought the brakes full on with a bang, stopping the bus with a shudder! Fortunately this eased after a few brake applications and normal performance returned.
As you can imagine, passing motorists and car passengers gawped and pointed as we passed by. The charabanc is now so familiar to me that I tend to forget how unusual it must appear to other people!
In the last few weeks of the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours season a new tour guide joined the replica charabanc crew. He has been seen at various times on this blog already – it’s my youngest son Peter!
Peter was filling in for a crew member who was off sick but, even though I’m biased, he actually made a jolly good job of it. The Bristol LH6L (TR6147) has been running regular tours from Paignton, along the seafront to Torquay and back. It runs two tours in the morning and one in the afternoon from the Strand, Torquay where the tour route is run in reverse.
Filling the seats has been hard because the charabanc started operating part way through the season and hasn’t benefitted from any marketing or promotion, apart from flyers handed out by the crew to passers by on operating days. The weather plays a part too, as it does for the open top Leyland PD2 tours. If wet weather prevents the tours from running, any momentum is lost and it’s like starting from scratch when they re-start.
Even so, on the days that Peter worked he managed reasonable loads which always makes delivering the commentary more rewarding. He’s no stranger to a microphone, fortunately. As a worship leader in our church (and at the Bible College where he is studying) he is used to addressing much larger gatherings!
Now that I’m working on the sightseeing tours 5 days a week and also some Saturdays for Crosville, life has become rather hectic of late. Hence the lack of new posts. So, to bring you up to date, here are some recent happenings in Busman John’s world.
A significant sighting this morning was ‘Illustrious’, a Bristol VRT acquired by Rail River Link (the bus operation run by the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company) in 2013 from East Yorkshire Motor Services. Originally 938 (‘Warspite’) with Western National in 1977, it finally entered service last week on the 100 service from Torquay to Totnes via Paignton. It has spent much of the last 2 years in storage awaiting and undergoing an engine transplant. It arrived from EYMS under tow, having suffered an engine seizure before withdrawal. Now, wearing RRL branding over the existing EYMS livery, 938 is active once more in Torbay where it once operated (wearing Devon General fleetnames) when new. When I was working for RRL in 2013 I had a slim chance of driving 938 in service but, as it turned out, its return to active service has been rather protracted.
If you hadn’t already heard, the Leyland Tiger PS1 which was operated by Greenway Ferry to the National Trust’s Greenway House (Agatha Christie’s former summer home), has not run at all this year and rumour has it that the ferry and bus operations are up for sale. To fill the void, Rail River Link has acquired a 2004 Dennis Dart and is now operating it to Greenway House. NT1 runs to Greenway from the railway’s Churston Station and the early morning NT5 runs from Torquay. This is where I managed a quick passing shot of it a couple of days ago. FD54FGG is especially branded for the Greenway service and carries the name ‘Miss Jane Marple’.