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!
I was treated to a rare outing with a Bristol-engined Lodekka recently. The bus had been especially requested for this particular private hire due to its local connections as it had spent most of its service life with Bristol Omnibus Company (BOC) running around the streets of the city.
The event in question was a gathering of about 20 folks who used to be students at the erstwhile Bristol Polytechnic, now the University of the West of England. So it was with great delight that I prepared ex-BOC LD6B LC8518 (972EHW) at the Crosville depot. Standing nearby ready to go was sister vehicle L8515 (969EHW). This was about to head out to Kilmersdon on a private hire job with Driver Moore. It was a busy day for Lodekkas because Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) was also out and about, with Driver Carpenter in charge.
Checks done and with no issues to resolve except to take on fuel, I headed up the A370 towards Bristol where I would meet up with Conductor Kemble. It took me a little while to adjust my driving technique to suit the Bristol AVW engine. The revs fall away relatively quickly when changing up, compared with a Gardner 6LW. Probably something to do with having a lower rotating mass. Perhaps someone with a Degree in Physics can explain. Anyway, the upshot is that I could make a faster gearchange than I normally would although I still had to factor in rising or falling gradients as per usual.
As I drove along Anchor Road, opposite Brunel’s SS Great Britain, I found my conductor waiting on the pavement near the pickup point as planned. We welcomed the party of ex-students aboard. Their leader explained that they had all attended Bristol Poly (as it was then) about 30 years ago and hadn’t seen each other since graduating.
I had been supplied with a ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ route beforehand, which I had studied thoroughly. My knowledge of Bristol was going to be tested today, mostly because they changed the route as soon as they’d boarded! Fortunately my Conductor lives in Bristol and we agreed that he would use bell codes to remind me of significant junctions. A last resort would be to bang on the glass behind me and gesticulate wildly.
First stop was the Bristol Poly campus in Frenchay, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. The bus drew many admiring glances, especially from a group of Wessex Bristol drivers who were standing beside one of the bus shelters. Our passengers alighted and disappeared inside the UWE buildings for lunch, a presentation by UWE staff and a guided tour of the campus. They were to be collected about 3 hours later so I took the bus (literally) to have lunch with relatives who live nearby.
Driving a Bristol Lodekka is great fun but providing one as a birthday surprise for a former Lodekka driver is even better! One of my latest duties for Crosville was to do just that. All I knew when I turned up was that the customer wanted to drive a Lodekka around the industrial estate before I took him/her for a tootle round town.
My allocated bus, ex-Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318), had already been parked outside when I arrived so, after doing my walkaround checks on this and a second bus I was to take out for a wedding later, I waited for the customer to turn up. Eventually I spotted two ladies lurking by the entrance to the depot so I wandered over. They introduced themselves as the wife and daughter of the person who for whom we were providing the bus. Apparently he didn’t know anything about it and was being brought down to Weston from Bristol via a wonderful piece of subterfuge.
The chap’s name was Bob and it was his 60th birthday. He was under the impression that he was visiting the depot with his son in order to price up a new job. Apparently the pair are in business supplying replacement windows and doors. Several other members of his family were also on their way, to share in the birthday surprise.
As soon as I learned that Bob was in the dark as regards the bus, I decided to play along and put the bus back ‘in the dark’ until everyone was ready to surprise him. I love a bit of theatre! With mother and daughter on board and in phone contact with several key people, I drove the bus back into the cavernous darkness of the garage. Several cars arrived outside and soon I was beckoned forward. I poked the nose of the Lodekka out of the depot until I could see a surprised gentleman being greeted by several carloads of relatives. I chose that moment to drive the bus up towards the group. The expression on Bob’s face was a picture, in fact I wished I could have taken one right then but my hands were rather busy with a big white steering wheel. There were tears in his eyes and I don’t know how he managed to keep it all together!
In an effort to avoid ‘Greenway overload’, here’s a brief account of a wedding hire I did a few weeks ago for Crosville Motor Services. It wasn’t a particularly complicated duty so it afforded me the chance to experiment a little with my driving technique.
Sometime ago a couple of my regular readers commented that in the old days (they were obviously ‘old hands’) they used to be so proficient at changing gear with the Bristol constant mesh gearboxes that they could do it without using the clutch. Judging by comments made by other drivers from the same era, they were not alone in the habit of clutchless changes. Anyway, one of them challenged me to try it one day.
I decided to pick up the gauntlet, so to speak, and try this for myself. But first I had to deal with a bit of stress at the depot. While doing my walk around checks on the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF, I found that the nearside indicators weren’t working. I’ve had this once before and the fact that neither front nor rear indicators worked pointed to a failed bulb. Unfortunately, both duty mechanics were out on an emergency recovery so I had to wait until they returned before my bus could be fixed. To their credit, they both set to work straight away as they knew I had a deadline to meet. With one up a ladder at the front and the other crouching at the rear, they quickly replaced both bulbs and normal service was resumed.
Not wanting to cause any further delay, I postponed my clutch experiment until the empty return journey so I took the long-legged Lodekka from Weston to Bristol using the textbook double de-clutch technique I’ve always used. I picked up a bus load of passengers from the Arnos Vale Cemetery (strange place to have a wedding…) and took them the short distance into the city where they were due to eat and party the night away at the Rummer Hotel, which is close to the Bristol Registry Office in Corn Street/Broad Street (pictured above).