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.
I attended the Exeter Twilight Event a couple of times and I’m shown here having just arrived at Crossmead with Bristol Omnibus LC8518 (LD6B 972EHW). I would invite this bus to my event as it is powered by the relatively rare Bristol AVW engine. And because it’s a Lodekka of course.
I’d like to invite this 1947 ex-Bullock of Featherstone Leyland PS1, mostly because it carries one of only two surviving Barnaby bodies. Also partly because I would love to see it restored and fit to attend a rally. When I used to drive it in Torbay it was desperately in need of attention. By the way, the gentleman waving to me is Richard Wilson (AKA Victor Meldrew), who was just about to board the bus.
Bournemouth Corporation received three Burlingham-bodied Leyland PS2s for circular tours of the resort and remarkably all of them survive. I drove this one when it was in service with English Riviera Sightseeing Tours in Torbay where it was performing a similar function to when it was new. It retains its sumptuous 1930s-style coach interior and that helps to ensure its presence at my Virtual Bus Rally.
I would include this venerable 1930 Dennis GL, fitted with a Roberts toastrack body. It’s a bit quirky to drive, having the accelerator pedal in the middle and the footbrake pedal on the right. It messes with your brain! It is shown acting in a promotional role for the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours operator that I used to drive for until I moved to Somerset.
Although this ex-Southdown Bristol VRT was built in 1977, I would still class it as rather modern. However, it deserves its place on my invitation list because it is now a classic design in its own right, being one of many preserved examples of a sucessful first generation rear engined bus. This particular bus was my regular allocation when I drove for Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company in 2013.
This is one of a very few AECs that I have driven. Its owner Steve Goss kindly offered me the chance to drive it when we both attended the WHOTT bus rally in Dorchester. I had driven an open top Bristol Lodekka to the event but was keen to get up close and personal with this Devon General 1965 AEC Regent V because I remember it in service in Exmouth, where I grew up.
Another vehicle that deserves to be included is this 1965 Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF6G. It became my regular bus at Crosville Motor Services on wedding duties. I’m pictured here driving it along Torquay seafront during the Torbay Bus Running Day just a month after I had passed my PCV driving test.
Pictured at the final WHOTT rally to be held at Westpoint Showground, Exeter, is Exeter Corporation No 5, Maudslay ML3 (FJ9424). The superb livery is the brush-painted handiwork of Ashley Blackman (The Revivist). I was chosen (allegedly because of my skill with a crash ‘box and my slim stature) to drive the bus at its debut event, after a long and costly restoration. I later went on to drive the old girl down to Exeter from mid-Devon to transport the Mayor of Exeter and his entourage to the historic Guildhall for a civic event.
Pictured with me at the same WHOTT event is Nick Muir who is wearing the Exeter Corporation uniform he wore as a conductor on the Maudslay’s successors. Photo by Robert Crawley.
Any bus with an exposed radiator gets my attention. If it’s a Bristol, so much the better. And if it’s wearing a Tilling Red and Cream livery that’s better still! Ex-Crosville (and later Thames Valley) Bristol L6A GFM882 is pictured at a wedding in Crowcombe, Somerset in 2019 on a duty I did for Quantock Heritage. It qualifies for entry because it is very similar to the Wilts & Dorset Bristol Ls I remember seeing in Salisbury, although by then they had a modified full front.
Although not a half cab, this early Southern National Bristol RELL (HDV626E) gets an invite mostly because of its aural effects. I’m pictured here arriving back at Coldharbour Mill, Uffculme, Devon, after a trip through nearby Cullumpton. The throaty roar from the exhaust threatened to shatter the shop windows as we passed through the narrow streets! Photo by Paul Carpenter.
My late father would have seen this bus many times as it passed his house in Wilton Road, Salisbury on the Bath Services route shown on the blind. Any Bristol K would be welcome at my virtual bus rally but this one gets an invitation because it retains its Bristol AVW engine as well as having a family connection. On the occasion shown I was driving it around Minehead in association with a West Somerset Railway special event.
This Bristol K6A (Hants & Dorset TD895 – HLJ44, retaining its AEC engine) earns its place because of the stunning restoration carried out by The Revivist (Ashley Blackman). I remember driving it up to Yorkshire from Somerset – that was a long 35mph slog! It is presented in the livery it wore when new – delivered initially to London Transport in 1949 to cover for RT losses and late deliveries due to the war.
Following many years in storage and several more under meticulous restoration by Roger Burdett, this Wilts & Dorset Bristol K made its debut at the 2014 Warminster Bus Running Day. Roger had replaced the original Gardner 5LW with a larger 6LW but it gets an invitation to my virtual event because it completes the hat-trick of engine options and (of course) because it’s a Wilts & Dorset bus!
Seen after I had driven it to the same event as the previous photo, this 1950 Bristol L5G was another of my regular allocations for weddings at Crosville Motor Services and is a delight to drive. It also sports the attractive dual purpose livery and would contrast fittingly with the Thames Valley bus-spec Bristol L6A pictured earlier.
The aural symphony produced by the 4-speed crash gearbox of a Bedford OB would be most welcome at my Virtual Bus Rally. I’m pictured here driving Duple A-bodied Crosville SL71 (MFM39) along Weston-super-Mare seafront during a 2019 bus rally. Photo by Paul Jones.
I remember seeing and riding on this bus and its stable-mates in Salisbury, where I often went to stay with my grandparents as a child. The current owners of Wilts & Dorset Bristol LD6G OHR919 kindly let me drive it at the W&D Centenary event in 2015. I’m seen here with my son on layover at Wilton Market Place. Because of my personal connections to this bus it is guaranteed a place in my virtual event!
A year earlier I had the privilege of driving OHR919 during an event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station. Here I’m leading a convoy of Wilts & Dorset buses on the last ever timetabled departure on a suitably dismal afternoon in January 2014.
Whenever I get the chance, I love to create a ‘then and now’ photo. In 2010, even before passing my bus driver’s test, I was allowed by owner Steve Morris to bring ex-Western National no 1935 (Bristol LDL6G VDV752 of 1957) down for the Torbay Vintage Bus Running Day with a few friends. I have in my collection a photograph of the same bus taking a break while in service in the 1970s with Devon General so I couldn’t resist the chance to recreate that shot with the same bus in the same location. I would love to have this bus at my event because I spent many happy hours conducting on it while in service on the ‘Exmoor Explorer’.
Here’s another ‘then and now’ shot. WHOTT has a photograph in its extensive archive which showed Conductor Wooldridge climbing into the cab of Exeter Corporation’s Maudslay ML3 (FJ6154) while learning to be a driver. The photo on the right is me with the same bus about 80 years later. Photo (right) by Robert Crawley.
Last weekend saw the final runs in regular operational service for Torbay’s long-serving Bristol VRTs and I enjoyed a last fling with them on an evening Mystery Tour.
Rail River Link (the bus operating division of the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company) has operated open top Bristol VRTs in the area since 2000 but now, due to the introduction next year of new regulations to bring all service buses into compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (commonly referred to as ‘DDA’), the VRTs are being phased out.
Jim O’Hara and his team of drivers delighted local transport historians and enthusiasts by putting on a weekend of extra services and Mystery Tours. The 2 remaining RRL VRTs were joined by two other vehicles, another VRT supplied by North Somerset Coaches and a Leyland Atlantean which is owned by a local collector.
I joined the party at Paignton Bus Station after returning from the afternoon Sightseeing Tour on the PD2 (FFY403). Incidentally, this was my final duty of the season as the Tours season also finished the same weekend. A good number of other people also waited near the 100 Service stop for the celebrity VRTs to arrive. A gentleman standing nearby started asking me about the buses which were due to take part and he revealed that he’d seen publicity about the weekend a few days earlier but didn’t know what a VRT was. Apparently he’d found the information he needed on a website written by a local chap who also drives for a company in Weston-super-Mare. Yes, he’d been reading this blog!
Before long 2 of the VRTs had joined a Volvo B7 which was also in the station on the 100 run. I decided to take a ride on VDV138S for the first part of the tour. This was especially poignant because the bus (no 4 in the RRL fleet) was originally named ‘Warspite’ and was part of a batch of convertible Bristol VRTs supplied to Western National in 1977 as its 938 for service in Torbay. These buses replaced the ageing Leyland Atlantean ‘Sea Dog’ open toppers and happily several members of both types of bus have survived. Joining the fun for the weekend was VDV134S, now in Southern National NBC livery and carrying the name ‘Thomas Hardy’. To complete the set, as it were, one of the aforementioned ‘Sea Dog’ Atlanteans joined the convoy not long after we had left the bus station. Now registered MSJ499, it was originally 925GTA in the Devon General fleet and it has been returned to DG’s reversed cream and maroon livery, complete with ‘Admiral Blake’ name.
With the school summer holidays having kicked off, now is a good time to review the Sightseeing Bus season so far.
This my main occupation during the summer months and, with two buses in operation now, I’m doing tours Monday to Friday. The operating season started in May, with the majority of passengers at the senior end of the age spectrum.
Weather is always a major factor in passenger numbers and indeed whether we run at all. There was one day in May when foul weather – wall to wall heavy rain – was forecast so we elected to leave the open top Leyland PD2 covered up until the next day. June was much better, with improving loads as the month progressed. The last week in July brought the best day of the year so far, with 52 people on one tour. The bus has seating for 56 so we were virtually full. I’ll come back to that particular run later.
One very pleasing development this year has been the decision of the operator to invest in some more busman’s dust jackets. Normally uniform is optional, with some crews opting to wear the more informal printed sweatshirts. Ever since I started, I’ve worn a traditional bus crew uniform and last year bought myself a burgundy and tan dust jacket that matches the bus livery. I’m glad to say that my regular tour guide has decided to wear a jacket and cap so we both look as if we belong! People do appreciate it and I’m sure it helps to draw in some of our older clientele, with whom the tradtitional style of uniform resonates.
In the main photo above, the open topper has just stopped on Babbacombe Downs with a full load of primary school pupils. The bus had been hired as a Year 6 ‘Prom’ treat and we paused here to allow the children on the lower deck to swap places with those on top.
You may have noticed that the bus now wears two front corner adverts. These promote two of our local attractions and have been produced in the same style as those which adorned our local Devon General buses years ago.
Sunday August 16th was the date of the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) Running Day. Set in the ancient market town of Dorchester, this new format proved to be much more successful than the traditional static bus rallies of previous years.
Although I’d had the date in my diary for some time, no particular task had been assigned to me so I was pretty much free to help out on the day whenever the need arose. As it turned out, I ended up with a couple of very interesting driving turns.
The venue was the Top o’ Town car park in Dorchester, chosen because the erstwhile Dorset bus and coach operator Bere Regis Motor Services once had its offices on the site. The day also saw the launch of a new book by Stuart Shelton, a comprehensive fleet history documenting every vehicle that Bere Regis ever owned. The book runs to 96 pages and I had the privilege of preparing the artwork for this WHOTT publication. This complements a similar book on the history of the company by Andrew Waller.
My first task was to help move some vehicles which had been stabled overnight in the Damory yard just round the corner from the event venue. I elected to drive Bristol LHS coach CLJ413Y, which is the sole surviving ex-Bere Regis coach still wearing its original livery. It also happens to be the very last LH chassis built by Bristol Commercial Vehicles. As some of you might know, the Bristol LH is not my favourite vehicle of all time but I was happy to drive this particularly historic coach the short distance to the static display area.
I pottered about after that, watching other vehicles arriving and society stalls being laid out. Of particular interest was a scale model of a Harrington-bodied Commer Avenger coach. This had for many years been on display above the doorway of the old Bere Regis offices that used to stand just a few yards away. In the static display area was an immaculate pair of Bedford OBs in the livery of Lewis Coaches, as seen in the photo at the top of this post.
Exeter Corporation No 5 (FJ6154) was already obsolete when Conductor Wooldridge climbed into its cab to take a driving lesson. The year was 1938 and within 12 months the bus would be withdrawn from service and sold to a local scrap merchant.
We can only wonder what Conductor Wooldridge thought of the primitive controls in the cab. Fortunately I can tell you what they’re like because the bus survived its visit to the scrapyard and is still with us today, thanks to the efforts of Mr Arden (a local farmer), the late Colin Shears, York’s Coaches (Northampton) and the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT).
I mentioned in my last post that this 1929-built Maudslay ML3 bus is due to convey the Lord Mayor of Exeter to one of his final public engagements on Saturday May 2nd and, in preparation for this, we took the bus out for the first of two shakedown runs. She had not moved from the spot where I had parked her last September at the conclusion of her debut appearance at the WHOTT Rally at Westpoint. By the time I arrived on Tuesday last week the Maudslay’s battery had been charged. WHOTT’s chairman Robert Crawley prepared to start the engine by turning on the fuel supply tap beneath the autovac and setting the choke. This is done by pulling a rod which is sited underneath the radiator. After ‘tickling’ the carburretor to make sure the float chamber was full, he climbed into the tiny cab and turned the electric starter switch. Amazingly, the original 4-cylinder Maudslay petrol engine sprang into life after only a couple of revolutions. Nick, a WHOTT member who was to share the driving with me, closed the choke once the engine was running normally.
The bus was gently eased out into the April sunshine and driven around the side of the storage shed. There was a pause in proceedings at this point because a van and two Devon General AEC Regents were partly blocking our exit. It was while we waited that the Maudslay’s clutch decided to seize. Although our exit was now clear the octogenarian No 5 couldn’t be moved because none of the gears could be engaged. There followed some strenuous efforts involving blocks of wood, a crowbar and a hydraulic jack.