First wedding duty for refurbished Bristol FSF

Not only was I very glad to be offered this duty but the sunshine also turned up and bathed the day with warmth and brightness. The wedding couple had chosen Crosville DFG81 (891VFM), built in 1962 as a closed top double deck bus, as their transport for the day.

891VFM Boulevard

This vehicle is no stranger to these pages but it has benefitted recently from a mechanical overhaul, some bodywork repairs and a repaint into Tilling Cream. The icing on the cake, as I’m sure you will agree from the photos, is the application of period advertising. As a former graphic designer I was very pleased to see this, as I think it adds a touch of authenticity to an already stunning bus.

Unlike some heritage buses and coaches I’ve driven, this FSF started readily as it has always done. Others seem very reluctant and many’s the time I’ve listened with a sinking feeling as the batteries run out of puff, requiring booster pack assistance to get the engine started.

Once all my checks had been done I drove out of town and across what was once the main runway of RAF Locking. Most of the former airfield is now being developed for housing and many of the new roads on the estate have been given names relating to its former life as an airfield such as Gypsy Moth Road, Leonides Avenue and Rapide Way*.

The pickup point was in a fairly narrow residential road in Locking village and I had earlier flagged up the possibility of difficulties with gaining access, if parked cars became an issue. Thankfully I was able to weave my way between them successfully and arrived in good time. The bride and groom plus others in the wedding party were delighted with the bus and, although there were less than a dozen of them, they boarded noisily in the morning sunshine.

An extra pickup point was requested on the way for more family members so, once they were on board, we trundled onwards. By now I had settled into Lodekka mode and did my best to give my passengers a pleasant ride with no grinding or crashing of gears. Thankfully the only noises from the gearbox were musical ones!

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Vintage Allsorts: pre-season positioning moves

When a friend asks you if you could help move an assortment of heritage buses between two locations and you haven’t driven a half-cab bus for several months, what would you say?

Well, ‘yes’, of course! And so I did, with barely concealed excitement. A couple of days ago I spent a happy afternoon driving and shunting a variety of buses (and one coach) in preparation for what we all hope is a busy few months with private hire jobs for Crosville Vintage.

As I arrived at the location where some of the buses are stored I saw a Bristol L coach on a low-loader so I spent a few minutes inspecting it. A recent acquisition by private collector Jonathan Jones-Pratt, LTA895 (1266 in the Southern National/Royal Blue fleet) is a 1951 Bristol LL6B with a shapely Duple 37-seat body. Although complete, the brush-painted bodywork looks rather tired so it is going off for a thorough re-restoration. I was unable to view the interior but I suspect that it too will need some TLC. As the designation LL6B suggests, this elegant coach retains its Bristol 6-cylinder engine and I look forward to driving it one day. I’m rather fond of the melodious Bristol gearbox fitted to 6-cylinder engines. The ‘box fitted to Gardner 5-cylinder engines is not so tuneful, in my opinion.

HJA965EBut my first drive was a Leyland PD2, added to the Crosville fleet last year along with a PS1, of which more later. I’m quite familiar with the PD2 marque, having driven one regularly on sightseeing tours for several seasons in Torbay. This one, a 1967-built PD2/40 with Neepsend bodywork, was originally No 65 in the Stockport Corporation fleet in whose livery it remains today.

For many years it was a mainstay of the Quantock Motor Services heritage fleet but has now moved to Weston-super-Mare and is now one of four heritage vehicles in the active private hire fleet of Crosville Vintage.

Once in the cab, it felt a very familiar place and the slow tickover sound of the Leyland O.600 diesel engine next to me was very comforting. The 7-mile drive to the Crosville operating base, just outside Weston-super-Mare, was long enough for me to reacquaint myself with the 50/50 gearbox. By that I mean that it’s a manual 4-speed ‘box with synchromesh on 3rd and 4th gears but not on 1st and 2nd. So, to move between 1st and second, as well as down from 3rd, I had to use my trusty-but-rusty double-declutch technique.

Manoevering into the industrial unit which serves as an operational base for the private hire fleet was tiring. The steering on a PD2 is normally heavier than its Bristol counterparts but this was compounded by the fact that my arms are not as fit as they used to be. Several years of power-assisted coach driving has spoiled me!

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Busman John’s Virtual Bus Rally

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.

1940s Festival on the South Devon Railway

Back in early July I took a Bristol L5G down to Buckfastleigh to take part in the South Devon Railway’s popular 1940s Festival.

The single deck bus was very familiar to me, having been a regular allocation during my time with Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare. Ex-Crosville KG131 (1950-built KFM893) still lives in Weston and is now part of the re-launched Crosville Vintage operation so my first task was to drive it down from Weston to Buckfastleigh, a distance of about 80 miles.

The Bristol L trundles along at about 42 mph on the motorway so it took about an hour and a half to complete the journey. On the way I had to face the stiff climb up Haldon Hill which, even with an empty bus, reduced my speed to about 15 mph. It’s at times like these that I feel quite vulnerable on dual carriageways and motorways due to my slow speed, relative to other traffic so I was relieved to turn off the A38 for the final few yards to the station forecourt at the South Devon Railway‘s station at Buckfastleigh.

My first departure wasn’t until 11:00 so I had time for a 45 minute break before starting service. I used that time to wander around the station and found myself in a time warp. I was surrounded by people in 1940s outfits as well as the uniformed railway staff. Visitors and re-enactors alike had gone to extraordinary lengths to enter in to the spirit of the event.

In a field adjacent to the station forecourt there was an impressive gathering of military vehicles and paraphenalia. I lost count of the number of wartime Willys Jeeps! On the station platform I passed a policeman in authentic 1940s uniform. In fact I saw him several times during the day, which turned out to be very hot and humid. To his credit (and probably his discomfort too), he kept his full uniform on all day!

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Another Bristol L for Weston-super-Mare collector

Following a lengthy re-restoration, a 1950 Bristol L has joined four others at a private location in Weston-super-Mare.

I haven’t yet been to see it but here’s a quick overview. The bus is a single deck Bristol LL6B, originally fleet no KW175 (LFM756) in the Crosville Motor Services fleet when new. It operated from the Chester depot until 1968 when it entered private hands and passed through a number of owners before being purchased by Jonathan Jones-Pratt in 2016. It went straight from its previous owner to the premises of ace restorer Ashley Blackman (also on Facebook) where it has been undergoing a complete external overhaul. The green and cream livery was applied by hand using traditional coach painting methods. I’m always amazed at the mirror finish that Ashley manages to get with his brush work!

The icing on the cake for me is the application of period advertising panels, each one carefully signwritten in the traditional way.

I’m looking forward to seeing this smart Bristol LL6B up close and perhaps have a drive. The 5-speed crash gearbox mated to the 6-cylinder Bristol AVW engine is particularly musical so it should be a treat for the ears as well as a sight for the eyes.

In other news…

Another Bristol bus to receive an external makeover (although now resident in West Yorkshire with Yesteryear Cars) is former Eastern National Bristol KSW5G WNO480. I became acquainted with this open top bus when it was purchased by Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare. However, in all the time it was in Weston, it only carried passengers in the town on one occasion and that was the Crosville Rally in 2017. While at Crosville it received a repair to the nearside wing and the dynamo was overhauled but, despite being made operational, no work was found for it as the company already had two open toppers active.

WNO480 was acquired by English Riviera Sightseeing Tours and I delivered it to Torquay last April. Once again, it was never used (there being a lack of suitable drivers for the crash box) and has now moved north. The photo shows the new Crosville-esque livery nearing completion after receiving repairs to some wooden framing and panels. It is likely to be used for wedding transport in Yorkshire this season.

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