To Crowcombe with a Thames Valley Bristol L6A

A recent outing with a vintage bus saw me doing a solo duty for a wedding in West Somerset.

This was one of a handful of private hire duties I’m doing for Quantock Heritage as I’m keen to keep my crash-box skills finely honed!

The duty was solo in more ways than one, because there was nobody around at the depot either so I had to prepare the bus on my own. Fortunately, having done a duty here back in February, I knew the drill and the bus had already been checked, washed and fuelled.

My allocated bus was Thames Valley S302 (GFM882), formerly Crosville KB73/SLA73. It is a 1948 Bristol L6A, the ‘A’ signifying that it was fitted with a 6-cylinder 7.7 litre AEC diesel engine, rather than the more usual Gardner 5LW or Bristol AVW unit. This bus was converted by Crosville to OMO format comparatively early in its career in 1958 and has remained this way ever since. The bulkhead behind the driver has been removed, the side window set at an angle and a mounting for a Setright ticket machine provided. You can see the layout in this view, facing forwards.

GFM882 was parked beside an even older bus, W. Alexander & Sons P721 (VD3433), a 1934-built Leyland Lion.

Eventually my preparations were all done and I could put the moment off no longer. Yes, I was a little hesitant having not driven a crash ‘box bus since September 2018 and had never driven this particular example before. Fearing that there would be ‘Much Grinding in the (Langley) Marsh’* I set off gingerly down the hill and round the corner into Wiveliscombe, managing to find all the gears successfully. Downchanging was a different matter however and I made a right hash of several changes as the bus wound its way through the narrow streets of the town. Thankfully I had the empty journey to the pickup point to brush the cobwebs off my technique.

I soon discovered that this L6A has a well set-up clutch brake which enabled me to make quicker up-changes than usual, which is very useful when changing up a gear on uphill gradients!

I had researched the route and locality previously, as is my custom, but I could easily have come unstuck at the venue had it not been for the timely presence of the bride’s mother. I was just about to turn into the drive of the big house where the bridal party was gathering when the aforementioned lady jumped out of a car that had been following me and told me that marquees and gazebos had been set up beside the house, leaving nowhere to turn the bus. Thanking her profusely, I re-positioned, let her drive up to the house and then reversed up the drive. That could have been awkward! In fact it was still tricky because of the limited space available in the lane in which to manoever through the narrow gate.

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Heritage bus driver vacancies at Crosville

If you have read one of my blog posts that describes a private hire duty at Crosville and thought to yourself “I could do that”, now’s your chance.

WSR-Thomas-3-heritage-buses

Since taking on the job of allocating drivers for upcoming driving duties I’ve realised that a bigger team of part time drivers is needed so I’m looking for suitable drivers to join the team.

When I say ‘suitable’, I mean that you’ll need to already hold a full Category D (PCV) driving licence and hold a current DCPC card. Although I can offer familiarisation sessions with our buses, you will need to be already competent with a crash gearbox vehicle. Sadly we don’t have the resources to teach double de-clutch technique from scratch.

We’re based in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset so you will need to live within reasonably easy reach of our depot. We don’t send our buses on long distances as this is quite tedious for the drivers and adds to the wear and tear of the vehicles unnecessarily.

As you will know if you’ve read my posts, driving for Crosville is very rewarding. Taking passengers to a wedding or on a special outing is great fun and I get a lot of pleasure in helping them to have a good day.

One of the best bits of course is that you get to drive some wonderful old buses, particularly if you like Bristols. Although they can be challenging at times, the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day is immense. The standard of our heritage fleet is high and is improving all the time. For example, one of our ‘workhorse’ Lodekkas is away at the moment having a thorough refurbishment. Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) has already had its Gardner engine rebuilt and it will come back into service looking just like new. That includes new window rubbers and period adverts.

So, if you (or someone you know) would like to join the team, please leave a comment and I’ll reply to you privately.

Southern National ETT946 returns to the westcountry

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.

ETT946-Selby

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.

HDV626E-return-to-RBW

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.

ETT946-rear-windowI 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.

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Crosville Bristol L5G at Grange Hotel, Winterbourne

About a week ago I took a wedding party to The Grange Hotel, Winterbourne in a 1950 Bristol L5G where another ‘bus’ was involved; a VW Campervan.

KFM893-with-VW-camper-Portishead

My allocated bus, ex-Crosville KG131 (KFM893), was in the middle of a line of other heritage buses but I had to move another Bristol L out of the way first. This is another acquisition by Crosville, an ex-Bristol Tramways bus. Delivered to Bristol Tramways (the forerunner of Bristol Omnibus Company) in 1949, this Bristol L5G ran as fleet no C2736, including a spell based in Weston-super-Mare running on the Sand Bay service. LHY976 carries a dual door 33-seat ECW body, a feature that is believed to be unique to Bristol Tramways.

KG131 can manage 42mph with its overdrive Bristol gearbox so it wasn’t long before I arrived in Portishead, via the M5. I arrived before everyone was ready so I was invited into the bride’s house by her father and was offered a welcome cup of tea. While inside, the bride’s ‘limousine’ arrived, an early VW camper van. Both the bus and the VW were a surprise for the bride. While we waited I chatted to the camper van’s driver who told me that he had spent £40,000 on the vehicle and its restoration. The quality of the workmanship (the owner also works in the motor trade) is evident in the immaculate finish on the classic vehicle.

The VW driver wasn’t sure of the route through Bristol, so we agreed that he could follow me. We had been requested not to use the M5, although it would have been quicker, but to travel through the city to reach Winterbourne. I had visited the wedding venue, The Grange Hotel, on my very first heritage duty with Crosville – just one week after passing my PCV test.

With a relatively light load (only about 8 passengers on board) we set off from Portishead, crossed over the M5 and continued past Leigh Woods on the A369 to Bristol. The traffic through the city wasn’t too heavy (it was before midday) although I did have to wait for the VW camper van once after a set of traffic lights changed just as we passed through. A short blast up the M32 took us up to the ring road and thence through Hambrook towards Winterbourne.

KFM893-with-VW-camper-Grange-Hotel

Parking up outside the hotel, we waited while the wedding ceremony took place. The Bristol L seemed to dwarf the VW, especially as the camper van’s suspension had been lowered!

We had been asked to remain in place while photographs were taken so, after the ceremony, the bridal party and guests emerged into the warm summer sunshine and the interminable process of taking group photos began. It took ages! In fact we were there for an hour and a half while photographs were taken, some of which included both vehicles.

KFM893-Grange-Winterbourne-confettiFinally, confetti was thrown and the last photos were taken. At last we were dismissed by the father of the bride who, to be fair, was very appreciative.

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All ship shape and Bristol fashion

I took a wedding party to one of my most unusual destinations recently – the SS Great Britain! It was also a great pleasure to be in the driver’s seat of ex-Crosville Bristol L5G KG131 (KFM893) again, which still looks stunning after its recent re-restoration last year.

KFM893-at-SS-Gt-Britain

I enjoy driving this 1950 Bristol L because, not only is it immaculate to look at, it is mechanically very sound and predictable. Compared with the 1947 Leyland PS1 I’ve been driving in Torbay recently the steering is amazingly light, despite both buses being of similar design and from the same era. If there is any trouble, it’s usually down to me. Ever since I first drove this bus a couple of years ago I’ve often come to grief changing down from 3rd to 2nd gear. The ‘box is very different to that on a Lodekka and, if you don’t get the revs just right or lift the clutch fully, it lets you know in no uncertain terms. Usually audible ones. True to form, I had one or two ‘moments’ during this trip.

I had a rather delayed start as once again I had trouble with lights. This time the brake lights wouldn’t come on but I had a pair of expert mechanics on hand to suss out the trouble which turned out to be a poorly adjusted switch beneath the brake pedal. They soon had it fixed and I reached my destination only a little later than I’d planned. The pickup point was at the luxurious Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel on College Green. I reversed into a space near the main entrance but, in view of the cobbled street and profusion of high heels, was asked to pull up to the pavement right outside.

KFM893-Bristol-MarriottIt was a relatively short drive from the hotel to the SS Great Britain but even so, I took great pleasure in driving through the busy city centre. Many heads turned our way as the 64 year old veteran made stately progress among the 21st century traffic. I did my best not to crunch any gears and delivered the guests as close as I could to the entrance to the ship. Quite by chance a big red Bristol Sightseeing Bus pulled in behind me, driven by none other than Terry Jones, a previous owner of the Bedford OB I mentioned in my last post.

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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.

IMAG0340

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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Bedford OB trip to Haselbury Mill goes like clockwork

Any reader of this blog will know that many of my duties with vintage buses have moments of drama or unexpected problems. Most of these make the day ‘interesting’ and most problems are soon overcome. Just now and then a job comes along which is completely problem free. My latest job for Crosville was one of these – it went like clockwork throughout.

MFM39-at-Haselbury-Mill

The Work Ticket required me to turn up at Haselbury Mill at 13:20 with Bedford OB coach MFM39 (Crosville SL71). Having had a few problems with fuelling before with this delightful vehicle I was pleased to find that it had been fuelled for me a few days previously.

enlarged-garage Arriving at the depot in Weston-super-Mare in good time, I had my first sight of the newly expanded garage. Now all the company’s heritage fleet is all together, along with a number of others from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection. One end of the garage was a sea of Bristol/ECW products! My photo shows just one end of the line-up.

With walk round checks complete, I took the 29-seater coach out of the depot and down the A38/M5 towards Taunton. The Art Deco interior had been decorated with bows and ribbons in preparation for this wedding duty. With plenty of time in hand, I was able to enjoy the journey and work on my gearchange technique with the OB’s crash ‘box. Although I’m quite proficient with a Bristol Lodekka, the double de-clutch technique has to be varied to suit the Bedford’s peculiarities. Changing down had previously been a rather clumsy affair, often going into the lower gear with a noticeable crunch. I experimented with the revs and timing to ensure that the gears went in smoothly and, by the time I was driving down the country lane towards Haselbury Mill, things had improved.

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