Crosville has a new Heritage Operations Manager

If it all seems to have gone rather quiet recently for Busman John, that’s because the opposite is true. Life has been extremely busy with bus movements, private hire duties and new responsibilities.

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One of the more unusual private hire duties is pictured above – a day spent with a film crew from BBC Bristol ‘Points West’. This was another ‘get up at silly o’clock’ day, when I had to travel up from Paignton, prepare my rostered bus and get myself in position at BBC Bristol in Whiteladies Road by 08:30.

The people from Points West, the local BBC News programme, were interviewing the six candidates for Mayor and I spent the day with the Bristol VRT open top bus taking the film crew to six locations in the Bristol area to meet and interview the candidates.

Our first stop was the duck pond in Winterbourne, just to the north of the city, then on to Kingswood where we drove along the busy shopping streets while the filming took place on the top deck.

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From there we went south to Chew Valley Lake for another interview and a lunch break. Getting there however was a bit fraught because I had only been rostered for the job the day before and hadn’t had a chance to do my normal route research. Planning our route was a bit of a team effort – not ideal. The inevitable happened, we chose a route that included a narrow, weight restricted bridge! I had to turn the bus around in a very small space and go back the way we’d come. How embarrassing!

The other stops included the very elegant Royal Avenue in Bath (pictured at the top of this post), just below the famous Royal Crescent. The footage was aired during the local news programme a few days later and was also published on the BBC Points West Facebook page in six short segments.

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Pre-season bus movements

Alongside occasional design work recently, I have also been tasked with delivering and collecting some of the Crosville fleet in preparation for the 2017 season.

This has meant a lot of solo mileage but fortunately the destinations have been familiar, so not too stressful. The first of these movements, a few weeks ago, saw me taking one of the Crosville hybrid deckers up to the Yorkshire premises of Cobus, the bus restorers. Last week I took another of the Wrightbus hybrid buses up to Cobus and, the following day, brought the first one back to Weston-super-Mare as its conversion to open top had been completed.

As before, the journey was slow and tedious. Don’t get me wrong, the bus is dead easy to drive around town as it was originally used on the (mostly flat) streets of London. But put a gradient in front of it and, just like a tired donkey, it gets all moody and unresponsive. Normally, power comes from a Cummins diesel engine which charges the propulsion batteries but in Direct Energy¬† mode (used for these long journeys) these batteries are switched out and the bus relies solely on the relatively small diesel engine. Propulsion still comes from the Siemens electric traction motor but it can only deliver the energy provided by the diesel engine. Which isn’t nearly enough on hills. Even on motorways, where gradients are usually gentle, our speed dropped away alarmingly. At times we were down to about 30mph!

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Rail River Link says farewell to the Bristol VRT

Last weekend saw the final runs in regular operational service for Torbay’s long-serving Bristol VRTs and I enjoyed a last fling with them on an evening Mystery Tour.

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Rail River Link (the bus operating division of the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company) has operated open top Bristol VRTs in the area since 2000 but now, due to the introduction next year of new regulations to bring all service buses into compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (commonly referred to as ‘DDA’), the VRTs are being phased out.

Jim O’Hara and his team of drivers delighted local transport historians and enthusiasts by putting on a weekend of extra services and Mystery Tours. The 2 remaining RRL VRTs were joined by two other vehicles, another VRT supplied by North Somerset Coaches and a Leyland Atlantean which is owned by a local collector.

I joined the party at Paignton Bus Station after returning from the afternoon Sightseeing Tour on the PD2 (FFY403). Incidentally, this was my final duty of the season as the Tours season also finished the same weekend. A good number of other people also waited near the 100 Service stop for the celebrity VRTs to arrive. A gentleman standing nearby started asking me about the buses which were due to take part and he revealed that he’d seen publicity about the weekend a few days earlier but didn’t know what a VRT was. Apparently he’d found the information he needed on a website written by a local chap who also drives for a company in Weston-super-Mare. Yes, he’d been reading this blog!

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Before long 2 of the VRTs had joined a Volvo B7 which was also in the station on the 100 run. I decided to take a ride on VDV138S for the first part of the tour. This was especially poignant because the bus (no 4 in the RRL fleet) was originally named ‘Warspite’ and was part of a batch of convertible Bristol VRTs supplied to Western National in 1977 as its 938 for service in Torbay. These buses replaced the ageing Leyland Atlantean ‘Sea Dog’ open toppers and happily several members of both types of bus have survived. Joining the fun for the weekend was VDV134S, now in Southern National NBC livery and carrying the name ‘Thomas Hardy’. To complete the set, as it were, one of the aforementioned ‘Sea Dog’ Atlanteans joined the convoy not long after we had left the bus station. Now registered MSJ499, it was originally 925GTA in the Devon General fleet and it has been returned to DG’s reversed cream and maroon livery, complete with ‘Admiral Blake’ name.

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Another long day at the WSR S&D Gala

My second ‘appearance’ at the West Somerset Railway in support of its celebration of the Somerset & Dorset Railway was just as exhausting as the first one but equally, just as rewarding.

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Leaving home at 04:30 is unusual for me – I’m not normally called upon to work such long shifts. Plus, living so far from the Crosville Motor Services bus depot in Weston-super-Mare is a burden worth carrying when it comes to Gala days like this one. Once again I prepared my bus, ex-Crosville Bristol VRT DVG260 (HTU159N), for its long duty.

HTU159N-at-Taunton-station

I arrived at Taunton Railway Station with plenty of time in hand so I had a chance to eat a late breakfast. Sadly, it came out of a Tupperware box* rather than the kitchen of the Quantock Belle which I would have preferred! I wore my traditional 1960s bus uniform, including a matching heavy overcoat. I was glad to have this because the weather, although forecasted to be bright and reasonably warm later, was decidedly chilly at this time in the morning and there are no heaters fitted to this bus! Moving up to the bus stop next to Platform 2 I loaded a handful of passengers for Bishops Lydeard, most of whom were carrying rucksacks and camera equipment.

The journey to the WSR’s southern terminus only takes about 20 minutes and the first departure of the day was waiting in the station as we arrived at the coach stop. Even at that time, the car parking spaces at the station were filling quickly and I made a mental note to use the service bus stop (which has a clear run to the station exit) on the other side of the bus shelter next time.

My next run from Taunton was far busier, with an almost full load. It took me several attempts to leave because, as soon as I pulled away, more people would emerge from the station and clamber breathlessly aboard. Even after circumnavigating the station car park I was flagged down by three more passengers, including one in a wheelchair. Getting him and his chair onto the bus was a bit of an ordeal because there was no raised pavement nearby. The VR made light work of the heavy load, thanks to the powerful Gardner 6LX engine and power-steering! I heard one of the passengers, who obviously also had an interest in buses, say to his friend as they boarded “Great – a bit of Crosville VR thrash”. The Bristol VR has a pleasingly raucous engine note and I love to hear it when it’s working hard. But I’m not one for thrashing buses so my usual, smooth driving technique prevailed. Although I may have been quite firm with the ‘loud pedal’ once or twice…

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West Somerset Railway celebrates S&DJR 50th anniversary

Some people called it the ‘Slow & Dirty’. To others it was the ‘Serene & Delightful‘ but, however you wish to recall it, the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway has become one of Great Britain’s most celebrated railway lines and, 50 years after closure, it still remains as popular as ever.

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I had the chance a few days ago to be involved in the West Somerset Railway’s excellent Spring Gala, which took the 50th anniversary of the S&D’s closure as its theme. For my part, I provided a bus link between Taunton railway station and the WSR’s southern terminus at Bishops Lydeard.

It was a very enjoyable day but there was a price to pay – I had to leave my house at 04:30 to be in position with my allocated bus by 07:35! Good grief, why do I accept these duties?!

Once again the staff at Crosville Motor Services had done their bit. My bus, a 1975 Bristol VRT originally supplied to Crosville in Chester, had been cleaned and fuelled the previous day before being parked at the front of the garage. Dawn was just breaking as I drove out of the depot, heading for Taunton.

It always takes a while to become really familiar with a bus that’s ‘new’ to me. I hadn’t driven this VR before but I quickly found that it’s in great shape, remarkably free from the creaks, groans and rattles that usually accompany a ride in a bus of this type and age. The semi-automatic gearchange was a delight, too. Some semi-auto ‘boxes seem to hang on to the previous gear too long when changing, making for a rather jerky ride but I found it easy to make changes that were silky smooth. The trick, of course, is to pause in neutral as you would with a manual box while the revs die away, otherwise the bus will lurch forward in the new gear. Not only that but it’s not good for the transmission either!HTU159N-Bishops-Lydeard

My first departure was 07:45, as advertised in the Railway’s publicity. Only four hardy souls boarded! The journey to Bishops Lydeard only took about 20 minutes and on our arrival a member of the platform staff came and introduced himself. He was keen to know how long my journey had taken because the next arrival would connect with the 09:05 train to Minehead.

There was no problem meeting this train and enthusiasts in greater numbers formed a queue at the ticket office window. After two more trips, my morning’s work was done so I parked the bus in a coach bay and walked up to the ticket office myself. I had been in contact with the WSR’s Commercial Department a couple of weeks earlier on a marketing matter and the fruit of this was that I found myself on the platform holding a free Day Rover ticket!

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WHOTT Running Day 2015, Dorchester

Sunday August 16th was the date of the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) Running Day. Set in the ancient market town of Dorchester, this new format proved to be much more successful than the traditional static bus rallies of previous years.

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Although I’d had the date in my diary for some time, no particular task had been assigned to me so I was pretty much free to help out on the day whenever the need arose. As it turned out, I ended up with a couple of very interesting driving turns.

The venue was the Top o’ Town car park in Dorchester, chosen because the erstwhile Dorset bus and coach operator Bere Regis Motor Services once had its offices on the site. The day also saw the launch of a new book by Stuart Shelton, a comprehensive fleet history documenting every vehicle that Bere Regis ever owned. The book runs to 96 pages and I had the privilege of preparing the artwork for this WHOTT publication. This complements a similar book on the history of the company by Andrew Waller.

Dorchester-CLJ413Y

My first task was to help move some vehicles which had been stabled overnight in the Damory yard just round the corner from the event venue. I elected to drive Bristol LHS coach CLJ413Y, which is the sole surviving ex-Bere Regis coach still wearing its original livery. It also happens to be the very last LH chassis built by Bristol Commercial Vehicles. As some of you might know, the Bristol LH is not my favourite vehicle of all time but I was happy to drive this particularly historic coach the short distance to the static display area.

I pottered about after that, watching other vehicles arriving and society stalls being laid out. Of particular interest was a scale model of a Harrington-bodied Commer Avenger coach. This had for many years been on display above the doorway of the old Bere Regis offices that used to stand just a few yards away. In the static display area was an immaculate pair of Bedford OBs in the livery of Lewis Coaches, as seen in the photo at the top of this post.

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Another open top bus, another seafront

I had another trip to Minehead recently, this time with an open top Bristol Lodekka. There were quite a few similarities with my regular trips with a Leyland PD2 along Torquay seafront!

Once again this duty was in conjunction with the West Somerset Railway, which was holding a special event at Minehead. Crosville Motor Services has been contracted to provide heritage buses for a number of special events throughout the 2015 season.

Following our experience on the first Minehead duty we did at Easter, we decided that the two buses would arrive and depart the WSR an hour apart. This is because of the low passenger numbers at the beginning and end of the day, which a single bus can easily cover. Not only that, but a day of urban driving plus 1.5 hours of driving to and from the depot makes for quite a tiring day, especially in a Lodekka!

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My rostered bus this time was Crosville DFG81 (891VFM), a 1961 Bristol FSF6G which was converted by the original Crosville company in the 1970s. I hadn’t driven this bus since 2012, mostly because it had suffered with some engine problems and has spent a long time having major surgery in the garage. A dropped valve caused damage and this has meant that the engine required stripping right down with a lot of parts being replaced. The workshop staff also took the opportunity to overhaul the fuel pump and injectors.

The result of all this attention is that the bus now has a super-reliable, very gutsy Gardner 6LW engine. Having driven it over the Quantock Hills to get to Minehead and back, I can safely say that this FSF has the strongest 6LW I’ve encountered! Not only that, but it also benefits from having a high ratio diff, meaning that a top speed of just over 50mph is possible. When most of my most recent empty journeys have been done at 30mph max, this is heritage drivers’ heaven!

The second bus, an ex-BOC Bristol VRT (also open top) with Driver Price at the wheel, arrived about an hour after I did. By then I had already done one ‘tour’ around the town and along the seafront to Butlins and back. Just like last time, it took a while for potential passengers to materialise and I waited about 30 minutes after arriving before I had a handful of people on the top deck wanting a ride. This time we had more contact with WSR staff (last time there was none) and our free rides were regularly promoted during platform announcements.

The railway’s special guest was Postman Pat and his black and white cat Jess. He appeared at regular intervals on the station platform and goggle-eyed children shook his great podgy hand or posed for photos. Beneath Pat’s fixed grin, I wonder if the person inside the costume kept smiling throughout the day? It must have been warm inside – I certainly was and that was after taking my jacket off!

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