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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Furlough ends, back to school

During what most people in the UK hope is the last period of national lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I have done no bus or coach driving work whatsoever. But that is due to end tomorrow.

It goes without saying that all heritage bus driving work has been on hold throughout the pandemic as well, but that is due to change and more on that later.

Although I have often envied the hedgehog in my garden, who has been in hibernation during the winter, I have kept up with developments in the heritage bus and coach world by reading Bus & Coach Preservation magazine, checking in with bus groups on social media and joining other preservationists on Facebook and Zoom, courtesy of the excellent Revivist community.

All schools in England are due to re-open to all pupils tomorrow so all the Bakers Dolphin school routes will recommence with a full complement of drivers. According to my instructions, I’m due to operate a route from Weston-super-Mare to Churchill Academy, a distance of about 8 miles. However, due to the fact that the students have a staggered start to their school day, I will need to return to Weston and operate the route again for a second set of students. Once I’m back at the depot I have a driving assessment to carry out, so it’s back down to earth with a bump for me. During my period of furlough I’ve got rather used to what it feels like to be retired!

As for heritage driving, I haven’t done any since I took an RT across to Kent for its new owner (see previous post). But I have been offered a few driving dates (mostly weddings) by Crosville Vintage from May onwards, when hopefully the current restrictions will be eased. There must be a huge backlog of couples desperate to go ahead with wedding plans that have been put on hold for so long!

If you are interested in the vehicle pictured above, it is a 2006 Volvo B12M with a Van Hool Alizee T9 body. UKZ2923 (fleet no 34) was originally new as RB06JSB for Punjab Coaches, Slough. It is pictured here on one of my last school contract duties in January before the current lockdown began. Although far from new, it’s one of my favourite T9 coaches. It has a 6-speed manual gearbox, which I enjoy using but also has a larger engine than most in the fleet (12 litres I think) which gives it a very throaty exhaust note and plenty of power.

While thinking about what else to write about I did wonder if it might be entertaining to bring you a few stories of bus and coach journeys that didn’t go to plan. Although hiccups and breakdowns are not the kind of thing I would normally shout about, they do still occur – even to modern coaches. It’s something that every driver should be prepared for and once or twice that driver has been me!

 

Around Minehead with an open top Bristol VRT

In a welcome return to heritage buses, I spent two days driving around Minehead, Somerset, in an open top 1976 Bristol VRT giving free rides to people who were taking part in a West Somerset Railway event.

The West Somerset Railway has not been able to run any passenger-carrying trains this year because the coronavirus lockdown was announced before the 2020 timetable had begun. But two consecutive weekends were set aside to offer a Living Museum event, where people could pre-book tickets to enter Minehead station and see shunting and turntable demonstrations, see exhibitions and have a ride on a vintage bus. I was asked to drive for the second weekend.

The vehicle in use was 1976-built Bristol Omnibus C5055 (Bristol/ECW VRT LEU263P) and, as it had been used during the previous weekend’s event, it was still in Minehead so I didn’t need to drive it all the way from Weston-super-Mare, where it is stored. So, after a fairly leisurely drive down the A39, I arrived at about 09:45 to find the bus parked up in the coaling bay at the WSR’s Minehead shed.

In addition to my usual walk-around checks, I had to go around the bus with disinfectant and wipe down all the frequent contact areas such as handrails and seat tops. This was just the start of a very strict anti-Covid19 regime. I dipped the tank and found it about a quarter full so, knowing that the bus would be taken back to Weston at the end of the next day’s duty, I stopped off at the Morrisons filling station for fuel.

I finally arrived outside the Turntable CafĂ© beside Minehead station where I met my conductor for the day who, under normal circumstances, would have been checking tickets on one of the WSR’s popular steam train services. We introduced ourselves and ran through the various procedures – face coverings, maximum capacity (only 20 per journey), anti-bac sweeps after every journey and so on. Also in attendance was another railway volunteer who was acting as despatcher in our loading bay.

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Bristol Lodekka outing to Clevedon

My first heritage bus duty of 2020 was a wedding in Clevedon using ex-Southern Vectis 573, a Bristol Lodekka I have driven many times before.

It was also my first duty from Crosville Vintage’s recently established storage unit just outside Weston-super-Mare which is best suited to the double deck members of the fleet. There had been a vehicle change during the previous week because a London Transport RT had originally been allocated but this vehicle was still under repair elsewhere in the UK. I didn’t mind using YDL318 instead as I am very familiar with it. Besides, I have a Tilling winter uniform but not a London Transport one!

Also during the previous week I had used a couple of spare hours between school contract runs to carry out a recce by car in Clevedon because I was not sure about access for the bus into Clevedon Hall. This is a large hotel near the sea, formerly a private residence, which is a popular wedding venue. There is a driveway up to the original main entrance but there isn’t enough room to turn a bus around so I went into the hotel reception and found out that, when they have coach parties arrive, the vehicle reverses up the drive. I walked down and visualised a Lodekka doing a reversing manoever. Satisfied that it was all do-able, I went on to St Andrew’s Church which is only about 10 minutes drive down the road. There is a narrow one-way system serving the church where low hanging branches also posed a problem but I decided that there were alternatives!

Having earlier had a guided tour of the storage unit I arrived on the Saturday morning to prepare and do my walk round checks. Since having an engine overhaul last year, the Gardner 6LW seems to be reluctant to burst into life when cold so there were a few anxious moments while I coaxed the old girl into life. In previous years I remember she would fire up after a couple of turns. The storage unit soon filled with pungent exhaust smoke so I quickly brought the FS outside into the open.

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Out and about with Bakers Dolphin

It’s about time I posted something new so here’s Part One of a brief look at some of the outings I had last year with Bakers Dolphin.

I always look forward to the summer months because this is when most of the work is private hire jobs or Bakers Dolphin ‘Great Days Out’. Writing in February about summer outings reminds me how little I’ve posted about my current full time work with what is now Weston-super-Mare’s only remaining coach operator, so I apologise for that!

I try to take photos at most of the destinations to remind me where I’ve been and, of course, for your benefit dear reader. So, in roughly chronological order, here are some photos from some of my more memorable trips. I’ll aim to post some more later.

I’ve taken school groups to Cadbury World twice so far but have yet to go around the factory on the official tour. Maybe next time. Anyway, outside the complex in Bourneville looking rather forlorn, is Cadbury No.14 – a Hudswell-Clarke diesel locomotive which formerly hauled chocolatey goodness around the Cadbury factory at Moreton.

Back in June I had the pleasure of taking a coach load of primary school children from Cheddar to the West Somerset Railway. I’ve been there often with Bakers Dolphin – I’m sure that somebody in the Operations Department knows that I like heritage railways! Anyway, I delivered the children to Bishops Lydeard station where they caught the first steam-hauled train of the day to Minehead. While the train steamed 20 miles down the line to Minehead, I drove to meet them and donned a period bus conductor’s uniform in which to welcome them back on the coach. This, as you might guess, went down very well!

If you have ever been to The Making of Harry Potter you will know how popular the tour is, and with good reason too. Based around the film sets at Warner Bros’ Elstree Studios, the tour takes you on a magical journey through many scenes from the films featuring the actual sets and props created for the films. One of the more recent additions has been the Gringotts Bank set which is breathtakingly elaborate.

Standing outside is The Knight Bus, which appeared in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This bizarre triple-deck vehicle was created by Warner Bros using the chassis of a Dennis Javelin bus and body parts from three AEC Regent III RT buses. I feel rather sad that these were sacrificed for the film but I have to admit that it looks convincing!

If I play my cards right, I might get the chance to drive a proper RT later in the year on a local private hire job for Crosville Vintage.

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