The Weston-Keynsham Shuttle with YDL318

Some private hire duties with heritage buses involve driving many miles to reach a far-distant destination. On others, the destination is just around the corner. For this job, it was both.

YDL318-Weston-Pier

According to my Work Ticket, the destination was about a mile from the Crosville garage – Weston-super-Mare seafront. The only snag was, I had to drive to Keynsham first!

The occasion was a birthday bash for a chap who was celebrating his big Five-O and that of a little girl of seven. They and a party of folk including friends and family had booked the bus for a trip to the seaside and so I drove the 26 miles to Keynsham at the stately speed of 30mph to pick them up. Apparently many of them were members of a local VW Campervan (often referred to as a ‘bus’) club, so were delighted to see the Bristol Lodekka turn into the car park to meet them.

Prior to this I had no idea what kind of event they were going to so, as soon as I learned that birthdays were involved, I set the destination blinds appropriately! On the way there with the empty bus I nearly had a panicky moment when I was confronted by ‘Road Closed’ signs on one of the main roads through the Bristol suburbs. Fortunately I had driven along a parallel residential road on a previous private hire job so I was able to continue my journey with a hastily chosen Plan B.

By the time everyone had boarded we had half a bus-load. Understandably they all decided to travel on the top deck and, as we picked our way through the busy centre of Keynsham, I wondered whether this would affect the handling of the bus. I needn’t have worried. Lodekkas, in common with most double deck bus designs, have a low centre of gravity so I barely noticed that everyone was up top. I had warned them about the detour around the byways of Hartcliffe but discovered as we rejoined the main road that I needn’t have bothered because the closure only affected east-bound traffic!

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Vintage Bus Mystery Tour

My final private hire duty of 2015 for Crosville Motor Services turned out to be a very unusual one; a 60th birthday mystery tour. Even the driver didn’t know the destination!

YDL318-at-Wells-bus-station

All I knew was that Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) had been booked for an all-day mystery tour. From the brief details I had been given it looked like a loosely-planned pub crawl. And that is how it turned out. I usually like to know precisely where I am going with a heritage bus so that I can check out the route, parking facilities and turning spaces. This time, even after a phone call the previous week and a conversation with the organiser at the depot on the day, we decided to more or less make it up as we went along. Fortunately, I knew that all the places we discussed as potential stopping points were accessible.

The occasion was the 60th birthday of a lady who lived in Weston-super-Mare. Her husband had booked the bus and had arranged for a group of family and friends to turn up but he hadn’t told his wife! With the interior of the bus decorated with balloons and banners (and of course with ’60’ on the destination blinds) I drove the short distance from the depot to a pub just up the road from the couple’s house. I used a circuitous route so that I didn’t drive past the house on the way! A group of about 40 people plus a very nervous husband boarded the bus and we stopped outside the birthday girl’s front door. The look on her face as she opened the door was priceless! I was reminded of the time when I had done something very similar for my Mum’s 80th birthday. Neither she nor my Dad knew we were all turning up in a Hants & Dorset bus!

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A wet day at Orchardleigh House

When a couple set a date for their wedding they often plan everything in meticulous detail. What none of them can do though is book fine weather for their big day.

YDL318-&-972EHW-at-Orchardleigh

So the law of averages dictates that some weddings will be plagued by some of the wet stuff or, as we like to say here in the UK, ‘liquid sunshine’. Last Saturday in Somerset turned out to be one of those days. In the photo above I am trying (but not succeeding) to hide the fact that both buses were far from clean after doing their duty in soggy Somerset.

Let me rewind the clock a little. Compared with some recent Crosville duties, my day had started at a reasonable hour. On the way to the depot in Weston-super-Mare I picked up my conductor for the day, my friend Cherry Selby. My journey up the M5 hadn’t been pleasant, with heavy rain and spray slowing my progress. The rain had eased by the time we arrived at the depot and, on the way to the Crew Room, we were pleased to see that our rostered bus was near the front of the garage and not buried deep within as is sometimes the case. My Work Ticket showed that two buses had been allocated to this job and the two green Bristol Lodekkas were parked together. Ours was ex-Bristol Omnibus Company LC8518 (972EHW), a 1959 LD6B. I’ve had this one several times before and is very presentable, if a little quirky to drive.

To begin with, this particular Bristol AVW 6-cylinder engine is always reluctant to start when cold. On this occasion I found that, once I had it running, it really didn’t want to go any faster than a slightly fast idle. Bristol engines are renowned for having what I call a ‘lazy throttle’, with a noticable delay in delivering power when the accellerator pedal is depressed. It took several minutes of persuasion to extract anywhere near full revs from the cold engine, quite unlike the Gardner equivalent.

Being prepared by Driver Lawrence was Southern Vectis 573, a 1962 Bristol FS6G (YDL318). After agreeing our route we set off in gloomy weather for Orchardleigh House, Frome. The 40-mile trip was not straightforward and can best be described as ‘rural’. There is no direct route and we splashed our way through the lanes on a variety of A and B roads before trundling up the very long drive of the Orchardleigh estate. The guests soon piled onto the 2 buses, many of them American, judging by their accents. One chap was amazed at the condition of the buses, saying “Wow, you guys really look after your old stuff. In the USA we don’t keep anything historic, it just gets trashed!”

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Crosville Bristol L5G at Grange Hotel, Winterbourne

About a week ago I took a wedding party to The Grange Hotel, Winterbourne in a 1950 Bristol L5G where another ‘bus’ was involved; a VW Campervan.

KFM893-with-VW-camper-Portishead

My allocated bus, ex-Crosville KG131 (KFM893), was in the middle of a line of other heritage buses but I had to move another Bristol L out of the way first. This is another acquisition by Crosville, an ex-Bristol Tramways bus. Delivered to Bristol Tramways (the forerunner of Bristol Omnibus Company) in 1949, this Bristol L5G ran as fleet no C2736, including a spell based in Weston-super-Mare running on the Sand Bay service. LHY976 carries a dual door 33-seat ECW body, a feature that is believed to be unique to Bristol Tramways.

KG131 can manage 42mph with its overdrive Bristol gearbox so it wasn’t long before I arrived in Portishead, via the M5. I arrived before everyone was ready so I was invited into the bride’s house by her father and was offered a welcome cup of tea. While inside, the bride’s ‘limousine’ arrived, an early VW camper van. Both the bus and the VW were a surprise for the bride. While we waited I chatted to the camper van’s driver who told me that he had spent £40,000 on the vehicle and its restoration. The quality of the workmanship (the owner also works in the motor trade) is evident in the immaculate finish on the classic vehicle.

The VW driver wasn’t sure of the route through Bristol, so we agreed that he could follow me. We had been requested not to use the M5, although it would have been quicker, but to travel through the city to reach Winterbourne. I had visited the wedding venue, The Grange Hotel, on my very first heritage duty with Crosville – just one week after passing my PCV test.

With a relatively light load (only about 8 passengers on board) we set off from Portishead, crossed over the M5 and continued past Leigh Woods on the A369 to Bristol. The traffic through the city wasn’t too heavy (it was before midday) although I did have to wait for the VW camper van once after a set of traffic lights changed just as we passed through. A short blast up the M32 took us up to the ring road and thence through Hambrook towards Winterbourne.

KFM893-with-VW-camper-Grange-Hotel

Parking up outside the hotel, we waited while the wedding ceremony took place. The Bristol L seemed to dwarf the VW, especially as the camper van’s suspension had been lowered!

We had been asked to remain in place while photographs were taken so, after the ceremony, the bridal party and guests emerged into the warm summer sunshine and the interminable process of taking group photos began. It took ages! In fact we were there for an hour and a half while photographs were taken, some of which included both vehicles.

KFM893-Grange-Winterbourne-confettiFinally, confetti was thrown and the last photos were taken. At last we were dismissed by the father of the bride who, to be fair, was very appreciative.

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Wilts & Dorset Centenary Running Day, Salisbury

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-lineup

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!

W&D-crew-on-platformSuitably 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!

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Old Lodekka goes from Old Down to Old Sodbury

This time I’m going to make do with a pictorial report of my most recent wedding duty for Crosville Motor Services.

There are two reasons for this; the first is that you are probably fed up with endless accounts of buses at weddings and the second is that my attention is being drawn to my next outing. Of which more later. So, because I can’t be bothered to write my usual Perfectly Presented Piece of PCV Prose (bus blog), I’ll let the pictures and captions tell the story:

972EHW-Old-Down-Manor-alighting

For this particular duty I was rostered with ex-BOC LC8518 (Bristol LD6B 972EHW) and a theme emerged as soon as I saw the Work Ticket. Not only was I taking the oldest Lodekka in the Crosville Heritage Fleet, I was also picking up from Old Down Manor. To top it all, the wedding was to take place at Old Sodbury!

 

972EHW-outside-Crosville-depot

I found my bus waiting for me in the maintenance bay, having undergone an inspection the day before. It had also been fuelled up so all I needed to do was to check oil and water, and complete the rest of my walkaround checks. I brought it out of the shadowy interior into the bright sunshine to do this. Then it was time to trundle northwards to meet Conductor Kemble at Cribbs Causeway, next to the M5.

972EHW-Old-Sodbury-church

After picking up some of the guests at Old Down Manor, some more at the Premier Inn, Alveston and yet more at a small hotel round the corner, we headed off through Yate to the delightfully named village of Old Sodbury. The parish church is located right at the end of a lane and I had to park carefully alongside a hedge to allow room for wedding cars and suchlike.

 

972EHW-neat-parking

Even though I say so myself, I judged my parking manoever perfectly. I swear I didn’t put the cone there afterwards just for the photo!

 

 

 

 

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Vintage Bus Running Days in 2015

2015 looks like being a vintage year for bus running days, which seems to be the preferred format for what used to be the traditional ‘bus rally’. The chance to ride on buses that we remember from our youth is of course far more appealing than walking around them at a largely static display as in former years.

Looking through the pages of my Bus & Coach Preservation magazine (others are available from your local newsagent) I can see that there are events up and down the country virtually all through the year. Naturally I can attend only a handful of these because they are mostly on Sundays, when I’m normally busy in church. So, for your interest, here is a list of the few events (not just running days) that I plan to be at. Plus one or two in my local area which I’d love to attend, but can’t.

FJ6154-Westpoint-rally-1

Lord Mayor of Exeter ~ May 2
On Saturday May 2nd Councillor ‘Percy’ Prowse is due to attend the final public engagement of his year as Lord Mayor of Exeter. He has asked the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) to provide a suitable vehicle for the occasion, specifically Exeter Corporation No 5 (FJ6154). This 1929 Maudslay ML3 was one of the first motor buses ordered by the Corporation to replace the trams which operated the city’s public transport. It was officially launched after restoration at last year’s WHOTT rally, with yours truly behind the wheel. I’m due to take the bus out for a proving run this week, prior to driving it from its base in mid-Devon down to Exeter under its own power.

Taunton-Running-Day

Taunton Bus Running Day ~ May 10
This is one event that I’m not able to attend, but am happy to list it here for westcountry folk who don’t yet know about it. Normally run under the auspices of Quantock Motor Services, the Taunton Bus Running Day will feature most of the Quantock Heritage fleet plus a good number of visiting vehicles (photo © Ken Jones). More details on this poster.

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