The Railway Connection

Many of you will have followed my driving adventures since I was a lowly conductor and will know that the subject of railways has cropped up more than once. In fact it’s curious how often the buses I’ve conducted on – or have driven – have crossed paths with trains of one sort or another. Naturally, those hauled by steam locomotives grab my attention more than any others!

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This was the scene a couple of weeks ago when the Sightseeing Tours bus was parked at Preston Sands halfway through the afternoon tour. The coastal road passes over the railway line by Hollicombe Beach and I’d spotted a plume of steam rising from the stationary loco as it waited for a path into Paignton station. Fortunately I had plenty of time to position myself for a photo before the train passed by. The loco was GWR 4-6-0 No 5029 ‘Nunney Castle’ which was hauling the Cathedrals Express into Paignton from Westbury.

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Several years ago I was a conductor for Quantock Motor Services (sadly no longer trading) which had its depot right next to Bishop’s Lydeard station on the West Somerset Railway. I was able to see, hear and smell many steam-hauled trains while preparing buses.

Quantock used to provide a fleet of buses for a Christmas Park and Ride service into Taunton town centre and it was while conducting on one of these services that the bus I was on passed over the new Silk Mills bridge just as Gresley Pacific ‘Sir Nigel Gresley‘ passed directly underneath!

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Crosville Bedford OB returns from Cobus

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog post about a long trip up to Yorkshire to deliver a Bedford OB coach to a restoration centre. I was also given the chance to bring the same vehicle back to Somerset again after it had been tidied up. Despite the distance, I decided to accept. Not least because if I start a job, I like to finish it!

Unlike last time I decided to do the return trip in one day, having been assured that the misfiring which had plagued the outward journey had been fixed. So, after travelling up to Hunmanby on the train the day before, I turned up bright and early at Cobus. Steve Waggitt, the proprietor, was there to meet me and was grinning like a Cheshire cat! And here’s why:

MFM39-freshly-painted

I followed Steve round to the garage where ‘Bosworth’ the Bedford stood, ready to go. The Cobus team had worked a miracle on the Duple Vista-bodied coach, which had externally looked a bit tired when I delivered it three weeks earlier. Now it stood looking for all the world as if it had just been built! The patchwork-effect Tilling livery, previously several shades of cream and green, was gone and in its place was a showroom-finish paint job that left me awestruck.

Steve proudly showed me the aluminium trim which had been polished and mounted on rubber strips. New glazing rubbers had been fitted around the back windows and all the dinks in the panels had been levelled and filled. They had done a top job, right down to the finely signwritten legal lettering.

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Bosworth and Busman John visit Cobus, Yorkshire

I’m not known for running marathons but this week’s epic trip up to Yorkshire with ‘Bosworth’ the Bedford certainly felt like one.

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I was offered the chance to drive Crosville SL71 (MFM39) from the present day Crosville garage in Weston-super-Mare up to Cobus, whose restoration premises are near Bridlington, Yorkshire. How could I refuse? The round trip would take 2 days so I packed a toothbrush and set off early on Monday.

I found the Bedford OB, which I had driven on wedding duties a couple of times before, parked up in the garage along with the rest of the heritage fleet. Unfortunately one of them, a Hants & Dorset FLF, was blocking the OB in so I climbed into the FLF’s cab to move it. Even more unfortunately it wouldn’t start. In fact there was no electrical power at all, the batteries having been run flat. Anyway, it took three of us leaning heavily on the front cowl to move it out of the way.

With a clear exit now, I drove the OB out of the garage where I completed my checks. The first stop of course was the filling station for petrol. I didn’t know how far I would get before needing to top up again but it was essential to leave with a full tank. I had taken the precaution of putting a handy piece of metal in the OB’s boot with which to dip the tank on the journey so I could see how much fuel was being used.

It was good to be driving the old girl (or is ‘Bosworth’ a boy?) again. I suppose it’s a bit like getting re-acquainted with an aged maiden aunt. The OB is a lot older than me and needs to be treated with plenty of respect! Together we headed out of town and onto the northbound M5.

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Bristol AVW engine wanted

Before anyone comments, I know they’re about as rare as hen’s teeth. In terms of surviving half cab buses, those retaining their Bristol AVW engines are comparatively few.

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This sad looking Bristol KSW joined the Crosville heritage fleet in 2012, fitted with its original Bristol AVW engine. Sadly, it would not turn over and after stripping it down, the restorers decided that the damaged block could not be economically repaired.

If you know of the whereabouts of a redundant Bristol AVW engine, or indeed have one yourself, please let me know. It doesn’t have to be a runner or even be complete just as long as it can sacrifice a few components to allow this fine ex-Crosville bus to return to action powered by an AVW. It would be so sad (and would ironically reflect the situation in the 1960s/70s) if a Gardner 6LW unit had to be fitted just to get the bus on the road. The folks at Crosville are determined to make this restoration as thorough and authentic as possible so that means retaining the Bristol AVW if at all possible. A sensible price will be paid for a suitable item.

Please contact Crosville on 01934 635259, email them at contact@crosvillemotorservices.co.uk or just leave a comment here. Thank you!

Sunshine and symmetry at Brympton House, Yeovil

For my private hire duty to Brympton House, Yeovil I decided that I would use my Tilling summer dust jacket, it being early May. I believe this was usually the time when bus crews would hang up their heavy winter uniforms in favour of the lighter jackets. With bright, warm weather having been forecast, this turned out to be a good decision.

I was up with the lark (or alarm clock, due to the unreliability of larks in South Devon) for the journey up to Weston-super-Mare. My allocated bus was Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) which, as regular readers will know, has a top speed of 30mph. With a 50 mile empty journey to make before the pickup, an early start was essential. However, stress levels began to rise when my bus, together with the one my fellow driver was to take, were nowhere to be found. We soon learned that Crosville had run out of space in their main garage and had begun renting space in a huge industrial unit (once an aircraft hangar) nearby. Our buses were stored there, along with several others from the Crosville heritage fleet. With checks done I was keen to be on my way but we had to make a detour to top up with fuel. This meant that I would be watching the time anxiously all the way to Yeovil.

There’s a saying that goes “A watched kettle never boils” and I told myself, as the miles slowly passed by, that it was pointless checking the time as I would get there when I got there. In other words, checking my watch wouldn’t get me there any quicker!

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After travelling south via the M5, A358 and A3088, I arrived on the outskirts of Yeovil and soon found Brympton House. I was a few minutes late but guests were still assembling on the gravel drive in front of the beautiful old house. It made a change to have plenty of room to turn and park the bus!

Soon we were on our way. This bus is a delight to drive in comparison with the Bath Services LD6G with which I had my last trip. Despite having endured several years’ use as a driver training bus, this one drives like it was brand new. Not that I’ve ever driven a brand new Lodekka, of course. It just seems to slip into gear with a minimum of fuss and feels quite well mannered.

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Heritage bus repairs and restorations at Crosville

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Back in December I took a couple of quick pictures inside the depot at Crosville while awaiting departure time on a wedding duty. There were, at that time, five heritage vehicles under (or awaiting) repair. With a varied fleet of modern buses and coaches to keep roadworthy and compliant as well, there is always some repair work going on but I was particularly interested in the older ones!

The first to greet me as I came in the door was this 1949 Bedford OB, originally fleet no 207 with Bristol Tramways. It was the first Bedford OB to be delivered to the Tramways, later to become Bristol Omnibus Company, after the war. This bus, which is one of two very similar OBs owned by the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection, has only just been restored but was in the Crosville garage for some attention to the 6-cylinder petrol engine and possibly the brakes too, as the front nearside wheel is missing. The BOVC has close links with Crosville and one day I’d love to drive this OB. The sound of these old Bedfords is very distinctive and takes me right back to my childhood when Tom Phillips, our local coal merchant, had a fleet of very run down OBs and SBs (I think) which operated from a ramshackle yard just round the corner from where I lived in Exmouth. They all wore a very dusty maroon livery.

KFM893_under_repair

One of the three Crosville Bristol L single deck buses was undergoing some substantial bodywork restoration. Shown here parked next to a fully restored sister vehicle, L5G KFM893 had spent many years with Quantock Motor Services before joining the Crosville fleet last year and a winter repaint has turned into a much larger project. Quite a lot of the wooden framework has been replaced and will also be fitted with new aluminium panels before the promised repaint. It will then be fit for use on private hire duties again.

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Exploring Somerset with a Bristol L5G

So, at last I can write about a bus that isn’t a Lodekka. Well OK, so it’s still a Bristol but I’m sure I’ll find a Leyland or an AEC to drive one day!

Bristol L5G KFM893

My first driving duty with a Bristol L went reasonably well, considering that I hadn’t received any ‘type training’ or practise beforehand. The job involved taking a recently-acquired Crosville Bristol L5G to East Somerset for a private hire job. I had thought it was to be a wedding but it turned out to be a ‘civil partnership’ ceremony. I arrived from Paignton in time to chat to a gentleman who is restoring an ex-Crosville AEC Matador recovery vehicle. I may write about this fascinating machine another time.

My first impression, on climbing into the cab of the Bristol L, was that it was rather cramped. Compared to some of the Lodekkas I’ve driven, the driver’s seat is very close to the pedals even though it is as far back as it can go. I’m a small bloke with short legs – I wondered how long-legged chaps get on!

A friendly colleague in the garage showed me how to operate the ‘cold start’ button which, on a Bristol L with a narrow bonnet, is easy. You just reach through one of the two large holes in the bonnet side sheet and lift up a button under the injection rack! With the button duly pressed and my exterior checks completed, the engine started first time.

This time I brought Mrs Busman-John with me. She had volunteered to decorate the bus with gold and burgundy ribbons, which were the colours chosen by the customer. We added some flowers and balloons of our own just for good measure.

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