Heritage bus roundup: Spring 2018

Early Spring 2018 brought a flurry of heritage bus activity for me. Although we’re now well into a very hot summer, here’s a sample of what I was up to earlier.

This is a very attractive Bedford OB coach which was once operated by the original Crosville Motor Services in north Wales and now resides in Weston-super-Mare. It is now up for sale but I was asked to drive it up to Bristol to have its analogue tachograph calibrated as part of preparations for sale.

I’ve have driven this delightful vehicle several times before and I savoured the sounds from the very tuneful and distinctive gearbox. However I didn’t much like the steering, which is very heavy! I don’t know if this is typical of OBs because this is the only one I’ve driven (so far).

I saw this OB in Dorset recently, during on a birthday treat visit to Ringwood Brewery. I would have volunteered myself as a driver but Ringwood is quite a trek from Weston-super-Mare! If it had a canvas tilt on the back it would have looked exactly like the Bedford OB van that my grandfather used to operate (there’s a tiny me standing next to him). That was green as well!

One of the stalwarts of the Crosville fleet in recent years has been ex-Crosville Bristol FSF6G 891VFM and this is seen here having a thorough steam clean prior to its first outing of 2018. This was a trip down to Minehead to spend the day giving free rides to people who attended the Paw Patrol special event for children put on by the West Somerset Railway. I’ve driven at several of these events before and I was happy to be rostered as the driver. I really enjoy driving this Lodekka because I find it easy to drive it smoothly. It also has a good turn of speed (45mph+ on the level) thanks to having a rear axle from a¬†coach fitted.

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Thomas the Tank Engine revisits the WSR

I’ve just enjoyed (is that the right word?) a couple of busy days at the West Somerset Railway, supporting its ‘Days Out with Thomas’ event 2016.

972EHW-Thomas-Day-2016

This year for the first time the event was held over three days instead of two weekends and two buses per day were provided by Crosville Motor Services to operate free vintage bus rides from Minehead station.

I was rostered for the Friday and Saturday so I was looking forward to a couple of days of fun. I always enjoy these turns as the format and route have become very familiar but they are quite tiring! One thing I didn’t have to do was to collect my bus from Weston-super-Mare first. Once again, another driver had kindly offered to bring it down the day before and park it on a farm outside Minehead.

Bristol LD6B 972EHW was delivered to Bristol Omnibus in 1959 as its LC8518 and was restored by the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection in 2010. It has been in the custody of Crosville at Weston for much of the time since then and it has been well cared for. Several passengers commented on its superb condition during the 2 days. Outwardly it is indeed a fine specimen but I have to admit it is sometimes tricky to drive. The gearbox has seen a lot of use over the years, as you would expect. But, of all the Lodekkas of similar vintage I have driven, this one has the most awkward ‘box. There are offsets and ‘notches’ which sometimes prevent the driver from engaging a gear smoothly, notably 1st and 2nd gears. This adds a level of difficulty to a duty which is already full of challenges. Low branches, tight corners, narrow streets… you get the picture I’m sure.

Compared with a normal private hire job, where there is quite a bit of open road running, these Minehead trips are full of cornering and gearbox work. That means that the workload for the driver is quite high – must be a bit like the old days! Of course, the bus feels a lot heavier when fully loaded and this was very evident on Saturday when, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, there were long queues for the bus.

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Number 831 to Roughmoor Farm

They say that ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd’ but I beg to differ. Sharing a wedding duty with two other colleagues brings with it much cameraderie and banter, not to mention practical assistance in tight spots.

YDL318-&-972EHW-at-Roughmoor-Farm

Last weekend’s duty called for two Lodekkas to transport a large group of wedding guests from a church near Taunton to a reception venue on the other side of town. It gave me the chance to meet up again with one of my former colleagues from ‘Exmoor Explorer’ days, Conductress Cherry Selby. Our pickup point was All Saints Church in the strangely named village of Trull, just outside Taunton and we arrived at the nearby Community Hall car park to find that there was a large section coned off for the wedding buses. How very organised!

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Two white vintage cars awaited the bridal party while the rest of the guests were grouped together beside the churchyard for photographs before boarding the buses. With Driver Wilkins leading in Bristol Omnibus LD6B LC8518 (972EHW), we drove in convoy across Taunton to Roughmoor Farm which is near the new Park & Ride site on Silk Mills Road. Both buses were almost full and the steering on Southern Vectis FS6G 573 (YDL318) was noticably heavy. Or maybe I’m still shaking off my winter lethargy…

972EHW-&-YDL318-at-Sainsburys

After our passengers had departed for the reception, we drove across town and parked up near a big Sainsburys store for 5 hours before returning to the farm. In the bright sunlight both buses looked splendid, having enjoyed the attentions of the cleaners back at the depot. 573 is still very presentable, despite being due for a repaint this year. The Bristol Omnibus Lodekka rarely gets an outing these days so we swapped buses and I drove it for the return journey.

While we waited, Driver Wilkins regaled us with scary tales of coach tours to Alpine ski resorts while Cherry and I reminisced about our adventures on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’.

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Crosville Bus Rally 2014

Several of you went along to the Crosville Bus Rally, also known as the Weston-super-Mare Running Day, last Sunday. I know, because I saw some of you there! I hope you enjoyed yourselves as we basked in the fine, sunny weather.

4-Bristol-Ls-at-Crosville-Rally-2014

This was the scene which was created at the far end of the large site on Beach Lawns – a fine quartet of Bristol L single deck buses. The two in the middle are owned by the present-day Crosville Motor Services and are genuine ex-Crosville vehicles. The other two were visiting for the day and are both ex-Bristol Tramways.

An event like this takes months of planning and several days spent feverishly washing, fettling and checking of vehicles. I was unable to be involved in any of the physical preparations this year but did contribute my artworking skills to the creation of the Rally Programme.

On the day itself I turned up at the depot early. It had already been transformed from the usual bustling hub of activity into a well-planned display of service buses, school contract coaches and a few heritage vehicles. Outside, a large number of buses (almost entirely of Bristol manufacture) awaited drivers to ferry them down to the main seafront site. I was nominated to take NHU2, a prototype of the Bristol LS marque, but in the end rode as a passenger on 869NHT, a 1961 Bristol FS6G which actually used to operate along Weston’s seafront years ago.

There followed a frantic period of shuffling and shunting as the various buses were positioned within the main site by the marshals. A growing number of visiting vehicles were arriving at the same time. As 10:00 approached I prepared to ride on the 108 service, a round-the-houses Town Circular which I had helped to devise. However, the bus allocated to this departure had been commandeered to run a shuttle to the depot and back as large numbers of people were arriving there, parking their cars in the depot and were waiting for transport to the main site. Eventually I too was commandeered to run the same service with Bristol FLF DEL893C. Although several other heritage buses from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection were already operating this shuttle they had been overwhelmed by the numbers of people.

I was allocated a fine conductor, namely Richard Kemble who was one of many volunteers who travelled from far and wide to support the event and make it happen. We took the FLF on a couple of trips to the depot to help clear the queue of visitors.

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Vintage bus driver training #2

I ran another one-day driver training course at the weekend and introduced four new candidates to the dark art of double de-clutching!

Crosville Motor Services, for whom I work as a part time heritage driver, want to expand their pool of drivers with the skills needed to successfully take a heritage bus out on a private hire duty. I agreed to act as instructor as my abilities as a half-cab bus driver seem to be appreciated.

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I’m rarely at the depot on a Sunday – I’m usually in church – and there was very little activity going on when I arrived last Sunday morning. One Lodekka was being prepared for a private hire duty in Bristol by its driver and conductor but otherwise the place was quiet. After introducing myself to my candidates I found the training bus, which was hidden behind a modern open top bus. Ex-Bristol Omnibus C7246 (FHU59D) is a Bristol FLF6B and is one of 6 Lodekkas in the garage at the moment.

With preparation done, I gave the 4 candidates – one lady and three men – a brief introduction to driving heritage buses. I also gave them some diagrams which show graphically what you do with your feet when changing gear in different scenarios, along with the text from my ‘How to drive a vintage bus’ page from this blog for them to read as their homework. I then took them out for a 10 minute demo ride while they crowded round the little window behind the cab which, on this bus, has no glass.

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Exeter Twilight Bus Evening 2013

972EHW-at-Crossmead

It was one of those times when a day spent driving a halfcab bus is like a session at the gym. By the time I had parked the bus back at the depot in the late evening of Sunday November 10th, my arms felt like jelly. But it was so worth it!

I met my Simon, my conductor for the day, at the garage and we prepared the bus together. We had ex-Bristol Omnibus LC8518 (972EHW), the same vehicle that I’d driven on a wedding duty the previous day. Also being prepared was London Transport RTW29, a rare 8ft-wide Leyland-engined RT. Its bright red livery was being buffed to a shine by Jon, the MD of Crosville Motor Services, who was joining us at the Exeter Twilight event.

We set off as soon as we were ready and took the Lympsham road out of Weston-super-Mare. As I coaxed the bus up to a breathtaking maximum speed of 35mph, my conductor donned my conductor gear and settled down for the long journey to Exeter. I always feel rather vulnerable on the motorway with such a slow vehicle and kept checking my rearview mirror for traffic approaching from behind. Plan B: hit the hard shoulder!

Just before Taunton a familiar shape loomed up behind the bus, that of a green Bristol L. It passed us and slowly disappeared into the distance, probably doing 45mph or more. Taking a comfort break at Taunton Services, I was surprised to see the same single deck bus already in the coach park. I parked nearby and got chatting to the driver. The bus was in fact not a Bristol L but an earlier Bristol J (built 1934) but received a new body in 1955 along with a more up to date PV2 radiator. This made it look like a Bristol L.

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Back on home turf with a BOC Lodekka

A few days ago I was once again given the honour of driving an ex-Bristol Omnibus Lodekka through the city it served more than 50 years ago.

LC8518 (972EHW) belongs to the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection and is on hire to Crosville Motor Services at the moment. It is in immaculate condition, having completed a thorough restoration about 3 years ago.

972EHW-at-St-Aidans

After doing my walkaround checks I brought the bus out of the darkness of the garage and into the daylight. My conductor arrived shortly afterwards and, after re-fuelling the bus at the newly-commissioned bowser (hooray, no more trips to Morrisons!) we set off up the A370 for Bristol. By coincidence, the pickup point for this private hire duty was just a stone’s throw from where my parents-in-law live, so I didn’t need to research the route at all! The weather was dull, cold and wet so I wiped the condensation off the cab windows while we waited for the bridal party to board.

The trip to St Aidan’s Church, St George was very light, with only the bride, her parents and bridemaids on board. This leg of the journey was mostly new territory for me so, once again, I had studied Google Maps and carried a bullet point list of directions in the cab just in case. When we arrived, Barry my conductor commented that he was impressed that I appeared to know my way around Bristol better than he did, and he was brought up there! I had to admit my reliance on Google and some previous knowledge due to family connections. I also had to admit that, in the event of a road closure somewhere on my planned route, I would have been a bit stuck! My PCV training taught me to always have a Plan B but I’m afraid I don’t often have one up my sleeve.

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