Vintage Bus Running Days in 2015

2015 looks like being a vintage year for bus running days, which seems to be the preferred format for what used to be the traditional ‘bus rally’. The chance to ride on buses that we remember from our youth is of course far more appealing than walking around them at a largely static display as in former years.

Looking through the pages of my Bus & Coach Preservation magazine (others are available from your local newsagent) I can see that there are events up and down the country virtually all through the year. Naturally I can attend only a handful of these because they are mostly on Sundays, when I’m normally busy in church. So, for your interest, here is a list of the few events (not just running days) that I plan to be at. Plus one or two in my local area which I’d love to attend, but can’t.

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Lord Mayor of Exeter ~ May 2
On Saturday May 2nd Councillor ‘Percy’ Prowse is due to attend the final public engagement of his year as Lord Mayor of Exeter. He has asked the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) to provide a suitable vehicle for the occasion, specifically Exeter Corporation No 5 (FJ6154). This 1929 Maudslay ML3 was one of the first motor buses ordered by the Corporation to replace the trams which operated the city’s public transport. It was officially launched after restoration at last year’s WHOTT rally, with yours truly behind the wheel. I’m due to take the bus out for a proving run this week, prior to driving it from its base in mid-Devon down to Exeter under its own power.

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Taunton Bus Running Day ~ May 10
This is one event that I’m not able to attend, but am happy to list it here for westcountry folk who don’t yet know about it. Normally run under the auspices of Quantock Motor Services, the Taunton Bus Running Day will feature most of the Quantock Heritage fleet plus a good number of visiting vehicles (photo © Ken Jones). More details on this poster.

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Warminster Vintage Bus Running Day 2014

So I finally made it to the Warminster Vintage Bus Running Day! It was a long but satisfying day as I drove a shiny Bristol L bus around the country lanes in the county of my birth and also carried a Very Discerning Passenger.

I’ve known about this high profile event for some time but have not managed to attend until this year. As some of you will know, on most Sundays you will find me in church but I like to make one or two exceptions during the year and this time it was Warminster’s turn to make it onto the calendar! I didn’t manage to take many photographs (too busy driving) but the best of the bunch are here, starting with this peaceful scene outside the Parish Church at Sutton Veny.

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My day started early, arriving at the Crosville depot at 08:15 to prepare Crosville KG131, a 1950 Bristol L5G. The management had very kindly agreed to let me take this fine looking bus to Warminster. They had cleaned and polished it especially – even the tyres were shiny! Paul, a fellow driver with whom I’ve been teamed up before, was already busy preparing Southern National 2700, an early Bristol RELL. He too was going to Warminster but left ahead of me (as did a Bath Services KSW6B in the hands of a former owner) as his first duty on the extensive programme of free services was earlier than mine.

Everything on the bus was ticketty-boo so, after topping up the fuel tank, I set off. My route took me through Cheddar, Wells, Shepton Mallet and Frome, and the long journey provided a useful opportunity to brush up my driving technique. These events are fun but I do find them a bit daunting because of the high percentage of enthusiast and bus-owning fratenity that they attract. These guys flock to the older vehicles to ‘sample the ride’ but really they’re dying to see the driver make a pig’s ear of the constant-mesh gearbox! But having driven this particular gem several times this year on private hire duties for Crosville I was quite confident I could give my passengers a good ride.

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With at least 40 vehicles attending, including this charming 1930 Albion lorry, the small-ish car park which served as the centre of operations was run with military precision. Full marks to the organisers and marshals, who knew just where every bus (each one carried a running number) was supposed to be, just by checking it on a list.

I was directed to a parking space near the exit, which gave me a chance to freshen up and meet up with my conductor. He’d been for a ride on a Silver Star Atlantean and got to our bus in the nick of time! Fortunately I’d sent him all the route and timetable details previously so our briefing was, well… brief! I noticed another Bristol L lurking in the car park with the same destination and route number as ours and discovered that we were to run together. Just as well, because the queue at the departure stand was huge!

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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:

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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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