Of the many casualties of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, the one that I have missed most this year is the opportunity to drive at various bus rallies and running days. Some organisations have run a virtual event instead, so here’s mine!
There are many buses I have driven or have seen that I would like to invite to my Virtual Bus Rally but I’ve narrowed it down to this selection. The captions describe my reasons for inviting them to my event.
I attended the Exeter Twilight Event a couple of times and I’m shown here having just arrived at Crossmead with Bristol Omnibus LC8518 (LD6B 972EHW). I would invite this bus to my event as it is powered by the relatively rare Bristol AVW engine. And because it’s a Lodekka of course.
I’d like to invite this 1947 ex-Bullock of Featherstone Leyland PS1, mostly because it carries one of only two surviving Barnaby bodies. Also partly because I would love to see it restored and fit to attend a rally. When I used to drive it in Torbay it was desperately in need of attention. By the way, the gentleman waving to me is Richard Wilson (AKA Victor Meldrew), who was just about to board the bus.
Bournemouth Corporation received three Burlingham-bodied Leyland PS2s for circular tours of the resort and remarkably all of them survive. I drove this one when it was in service with English Riviera Sightseeing Tours in Torbay where it was performing a similar function to when it was new. It retains its sumptuous 1930s-style coach interior and that helps to ensure its presence at my Virtual Bus Rally.
I would include this venerable 1930 Dennis GL, fitted with a Roberts toastrack body. It’s a bit quirky to drive, having the accelerator pedal in the middle and the footbrake pedal on the right. It messes with your brain! It is shown acting in a promotional role for the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours operator that I used to drive for until I moved to Somerset.
Although this ex-Southdown Bristol VRT was built in 1977, I would still class it as rather modern. However, it deserves its place on my invitation list because it is now a classic design in its own right, being one of many preserved examples of a sucessful first generation rear engined bus. This particular bus was my regular allocation when I drove for Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company in 2013.
This is one of a very few AECs that I have driven. Its owner Steve Goss kindly offered me the chance to drive it when we both attended the WHOTT bus rally in Dorchester. I had driven an open top Bristol Lodekka to the event but was keen to get up close and personal with this Devon General 1965 AEC Regent V because I remember it in service in Exmouth, where I grew up.
Another vehicle that deserves to be included is this 1965 Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF6G. It became my regular bus at Crosville Motor Services on wedding duties. I’m pictured here driving it along Torquay seafront during the Torbay Bus Running Day just a month after I had passed my PCV driving test.
Pictured at the final WHOTT rally to be held at Westpoint Showground, Exeter, is Exeter Corporation No 5, Maudslay ML3 (FJ9424). The superb livery is the brush-painted handiwork of Ashley Blackman (The Revivist). I was chosen (allegedly because of my skill with a crash ‘box and my slim stature) to drive the bus at its debut event, after a long and costly restoration. I later went on to drive the old girl down to Exeter from mid-Devon to transport the Mayor of Exeter and his entourage to the historic Guildhall for a civic event.
Pictured with me at the same WHOTT event is Nick Muir who is wearing the Exeter Corporation uniform he wore as a conductor on the Maudslay’s successors. Photo by Robert Crawley.
Any bus with an exposed radiator gets my attention. If it’s a Bristol, so much the better. And if it’s wearing a Tilling Red and Cream livery that’s better still! Ex-Crosville (and later Thames Valley) Bristol L6A GFM882 is pictured at a wedding in Crowcombe, Somerset in 2019 on a duty I did for Quantock Heritage. It qualifies for entry because it is very similar to the Wilts & Dorset Bristol Ls I remember seeing in Salisbury, although by then they had a modified full front.
Although not a half cab, this early Southern National Bristol RELL (HDV626E) gets an invite mostly because of its aural effects. I’m pictured here arriving back at Coldharbour Mill, Uffculme, Devon, after a trip through nearby Cullumpton. The throaty roar from the exhaust threatened to shatter the shop windows as we passed through the narrow streets! Photo by Paul Carpenter.
My late father would have seen this bus many times as it passed his house in Wilton Road, Salisbury on the Bath Services route shown on the blind. Any Bristol K would be welcome at my virtual bus rally but this one gets an invitation because it retains its Bristol AVW engine as well as having a family connection. On the occasion shown I was driving it around Minehead in association with a West Somerset Railway special event.
This Bristol K6A (Hants & Dorset TD895 – HLJ44, retaining its AEC engine) earns its place because of the stunning restoration carried out by The Revivist (Ashley Blackman). I remember driving it up to Yorkshire from Somerset – that was a long 35mph slog! It is presented in the livery it wore when new – delivered initially to London Transport in 1949 to cover for RT losses and late deliveries due to the war.
Following many years in storage and several more under meticulous restoration by Roger Burdett, this Wilts & Dorset Bristol K made its debut at the 2014 Warminster Bus Running Day. Roger had replaced the original Gardner 5LW with a larger 6LW but it gets an invitation to my virtual event because it completes the hat-trick of engine options and (of course) because it’s a Wilts & Dorset bus!
Seen after I had driven it to the same event as the previous photo, this 1950 Bristol L5G was another of my regular allocations for weddings at Crosville Motor Services and is a delight to drive. It also sports the attractive dual purpose livery and would contrast fittingly with the Thames Valley bus-spec Bristol L6A pictured earlier.
The aural symphony produced by the 4-speed crash gearbox of a Bedford OB would be most welcome at my Virtual Bus Rally. I’m pictured here driving Duple A-bodied Crosville SL71 (MFM39) along Weston-super-Mare seafront during a 2019 bus rally. Photo by Paul Jones.
I remember seeing and riding on this bus and its stable-mates in Salisbury, where I often went to stay with my grandparents as a child. The current owners of Wilts & Dorset Bristol LD6G OHR919 kindly let me drive it at the W&D Centenary event in 2015. I’m seen here with my son on layover at Wilton Market Place. Because of my personal connections to this bus it is guaranteed a place in my virtual event!
A year earlier I had the privilege of driving OHR919 during an event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station. Here I’m leading a convoy of Wilts & Dorset buses on the last ever timetabled departure on a suitably dismal afternoon in January 2014.
Whenever I get the chance, I love to create a ‘then and now’ photo. In 2010, even before passing my bus driver’s test, I was allowed by owner Steve Morris to bring ex-Western National no 1935 (Bristol LDL6G VDV752 of 1957) down for the Torbay Vintage Bus Running Day with a few friends. I have in my collection a photograph of the same bus taking a break while in service in the 1970s with Devon General so I couldn’t resist the chance to recreate that shot with the same bus in the same location. I would love to have this bus at my event because I spent many happy hours conducting on it while in service on the ‘Exmoor Explorer’.
Here’s another ‘then and now’ shot. WHOTT has a photograph in its extensive archive which showed Conductor Wooldridge climbing into the cab of Exeter Corporation’s Maudslay ML3 (FJ6154) while learning to be a driver. The photo on the right is me with the same bus about 80 years later. Photo (right) by Robert Crawley.
The second annual WHOTT Vintage Bus Running Day at Dorchester has been hailed a resounding success, with plenty of visitors coming to enjoy nearly 30 buses, coaches and commercials which were on display.
For my part, I brought along an open top Bristol Lodekka which was actually a last minute replacement for the bus I had intended to bring. Following on from the WHOTT Coldharbour Mill running day earlier this year, I had intended to bring the same vehicle to Dorchester, Southern National 2700. However, a couple of days before Dorchester, the 1967 Bristol RELL developed an engine fault which couldn’t be fixed in time. The kind folks at Crosville offered open top FSF6G 891VFM (Crosville DFG81) instead, which turned out to be a very popular choice!
The RE had been based at Weymouth (just 8 miles away) for the early part of its service life, which would have made it a very appropriate entrant for the Dorchester event. In my view its non-appearance was a blessing in disguise because another – older – Southern National bus was able to take pride of place instead. 1956 Bristol LS5G TUO497 is most of the way through a restoration project and its appearance at Dorchester was the first time it had been seen in public since it was laid up in a barn in 1980.
I had an empty journey of 74 miles ahead of me when I arrived at the Crosville depot early last Sunday morning. As I opened up the garage and switched the lights on I wondered how many other buses I’d have to shunt out of the way before I could bring the Lodekka out. I was very pleased to see that, following a recent re-organisation of the depot, all the Crosville heritage fleet had been parked in an annexe to the main building, making it far easier than before to retrieve a heritage bus.
By the time I’d arrived at the Top ‘O Town car park in Dorchester the sun was shining and other buses were being marshalled into position. I reported to the WHOTT Control Bus and found that I’d been rostered for three trips out to Frampton Church (see top picture), the first of which departed at 12:40. This meant I had loads of time to browse among the buses and meet up with friends and colleagues.
At 36 feet long, the Bristol RELL is not exactly tailor made for narrow, country lanes. In a perverse sort of way, I quite enjoyed having my bus driving skills put to the test in the lanes around Uffculme recently.
The last weekend in May 2016 was blessed with warm, summery weather. A modest collection of heritage buses sparkled in the sun as they loaded passengers in the car park of Coldharbour Mill Museum (hereinafter referred to as ‘The Mill’) in deepest Devon.
The Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) had chosen May 29th to put on a heritage bus running day as it coincided with one of the regular Steam Days held at the Mill. I had been invited to take part, but only if I brought a bus with me. I do actually own a few buses but they are 1:76 scale and sit on a shelf in my lounge! So, thanks to the generous boss of Crosville Motor Services, I brought a full sized bus.
Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) has featured quite often on this blog recently and it was my pleasure to be its custodian for the day on Crosville’s behalf. However, I was keenly aware that 2700 had only recently returned from Reliance Bus Works after having repairs done to some nearside panels. I needed to be sure that I didn’t put another dink in them! Full marks to the folks at Crosville – in the few days between me bringing 2700 back from Stoke-on-Trent and the WHOTT event, they had found the time to re-apply the nearside fleetname which meant that the RE was fully dressed for the occasion!
The first surprise of the day, as I arrived from Weston-super-Mare, was to be met by my own sister-in-law at the gates of the Langlands Industrial Estate (this is where buses were stabled until they were required for service). She is one of the Trustees at the Mill and was keen to check that things were being run efficiently and safely. Being the first bus-related event at the Mill, much feedback was gathered during the day which will be used to decide if another event should be held in the future.
Mrs Busman John and I had decided to make it a family day out so we were joined by several other members of our family, including our son Peter who has featured on these pages before as a conductor. He arrived in his 1967 Morris Minor (formerly mine) and was promptly invited to park alongside 2 Austin 7 vans in the vintage vehicle display area. He was rather chuffed!
Another lengthy delivery journey – part of my role as ‘Crosville Odd Job Man’ – occurred recently. I was sent north to collect a 1938 Bristol L5G single deck bus and bring it back to Weston-super-Mare.
Southern National 280 (ETT946) had been bought at auction in September 2015 but remained uncollected in Yorkshire until I was invited to go and collect it last week. I had seen photographs of this elderly vehicle before and, although its original Beadle-built body had once proudly worn Tilling Green and Cream livery, it appeared to be in a rather dilapidated condition. However, I was assured that it was mechanically in good order. Always up for a challenge, I accepted the invitation.
On the way up north I delivered a more recent example of the former Southern National fleet, Bristol RELL 2700 (HDV626E) to the Stoke-on-Trent premises of Reliance Bus Works for some additional work to the nearside body panels. This is a wonderful vehicle to drive, as well as being historic. It is the earliest surviving example of the RELL Series 2 body style but, from a driver’s point of view, is hard work. It has a very heavily sprung accelerator pedal which is manageable on short trips but very tiring after long stints on motorways!
From Stoke I travelled up to Selby ‘on the cushions’ (as a passenger on a train). After an overnight stay in a guest house I arrived at the premises of another historic vehicle restorer, where the old Bristol L5G stood in the chilly morning air awaiting my attentions. I had been in contact with the restorer earlier in the week but it turned out that, on the day I planned to collect the bus, he was due to be away! He had topped up the oil, fitted a fresh battery and assured me that it was ‘on the button’ and ready to go.
I wandered round the vehicle several times, checking it over. At some time in its long life it had been converted into a mobile home and, while it now stood devoid of any living accommodation, a couple of clues remained. The most bizarre of these was the back end of the bus which had been remodelled to resemble a pine-clad cottage, complete with bay window! In the offside roof there was evidence of a chimney which would have been part of a solid fuel stove inside.
After being away from base for almost exactly a year, I had the honour of bringing a refurbished Bristol RE back to Weston-super-Mare.
1967-built Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) has been receiving the attentions of restorers at Reliance Bus Works in Stoke-on-Trent since January 2015 and I was happy to be offered the chance to bring it back to the Crosville Motor Services depot again.
This particular vehicle is very significant as it is the earliest surviving Bristol RELL3 chassis. In fact, it was only the 12th example off the production line at Brislington.
I arrived by train and the proprietor kindly offered to pick me up from the station. The only trouble was, my train was diverted to Crewe at the last minute due to a faulty set of points just south of Stoke. After a hasty phone call, I jumped on a train again and we finally met up at Kidsgrove.
2700 had been parked facing the road, ready for my departure. She looked magnificent inside and out. Maybe not ‘concours’ condition but that doesn’t matter. The folks at Crosville just wanted her to be brought up to spec for private hire mechanically and to have some bodywork issues sorted out. A fresh application of Tilling Green and Cream was the finishing touch, together with some repainting inside.