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.
Following on swiftly from my long trek north with a Bristol K6A I delivered another bus to be repainted last week.
This was not such an arduous journey, for two reasons. This 1967-built Bristol RELL is a faster bus and, secondly, my destination was not so far away from the Crosville depot. Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) is reasonably presentable but, as the plan is for it to join the heritage fleet for private hire at some point, it really needs some tidying up and a new paint job.
2700 has had a succession of private owners since it left Western National service (it was transferred from Southern National in 1969) and has been seen frequently at running days and rallies. In fact she was at the Crosville depot in 2012, when her most recent owner brought her along to the Crosville Running Day.
My task was to deliver the bus to Reliance Bus Works, who are to carry out work to the brakes and chassis before re-applying her Tilling Green and Cream livery. After shunting a Bristol KSW out of the way, I checked the oil and started her up. The Gardner 6HLX engine filled the garage with its throaty sound, along with a haze of blue smoke which soon cleared as the engine warmed up. As before, much of the preparation had been done beforehand but I drove the bus outside and completed my walkaround checks as usual just for my own peace of mind. A full tank of fuel was required for the journey up to Stoke-on-Trent and, once this was done, I set off.