Save wear and tear on your clutch: don’t use it!

In an effort to avoid ‘Greenway overload’, here’s a brief account of a wedding hire I did a few weeks ago for Crosville Motor Services. It wasn’t a particularly complicated duty so it afforded me the chance to experiment a little with my driving technique.

Sometime ago a couple of my regular readers commented that in the old days (they were obviously ‘old hands’) they used to be so proficient at changing gear with the Bristol constant mesh gearboxes that they could do it without using the clutch. Judging by comments made by other drivers from the same era, they were not alone in the habit of clutchless changes. Anyway, one of them challenged me to try it one day.


I decided to pick up the gauntlet, so to speak, and try this for myself. But first I had to deal with a bit of stress at the depot. While doing my walk around checks on the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF, I found that the nearside indicators weren’t working. I’ve had this once before and the fact that neither front nor rear indicators worked pointed to a failed bulb. Unfortunately, both duty mechanics were out on an emergency recovery so I had to wait until they returned before my bus could be fixed. To their credit, they both set to work straight away as they knew I had a deadline to meet. With one up a ladder at the front and the other crouching at the rear, they quickly replaced both bulbs and normal service was resumed.

Not wanting to cause any further delay, I postponed my clutch experiment until the empty return journey so I took the long-legged Lodekka from Weston to Bristol using the textbook double de-clutch technique I’ve always used. I picked up a bus load of passengers from the Arnos Vale Cemetery (strange place to have a wedding…) and took them the short distance into the city where they were due to eat and party the night away at the Rummer Hotel, which is close to the Bristol Registry Office in Corn Street/Broad Street (pictured above).

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Heritage bus drivers’ training day


Those of you who drive heritage buses may remember having that word yelled in your ear as you learned to use a crash gearbox. It’s all to do with judging how long to wait while the engine revs die away before selecting the next gear.

Yesterday it was my turn to do the yelling. I spent the day training four guys from Crosville Motor Services how to drive a Lodekka and it turned out to be more successful than I expected.


I was given an ex-Bristol Omnibus FLF to use as a training bus. This isn’t used in public service but shares the garage with the active fleet. It carries NBC Leaf Green livery and has a Bristol BVW engine driving through a 4-speed crash gearbox. It also has the glass missing from the little window in the corner of the cab, all of which made it an ideal vehicle to use.

I was interested to see that it displayed ‘Staple Hill’ as this was where my wife would have got off the bus on her way home from school in Bristol. It was odd to think that she might have ridden on this very bus!

My first two candidates observed me as I drove out to a nearby roundabout and back before we sat down and discussed the major differences between driving a modern coach or bus and driving a Lodekka. I had prepared some diagramatic visual aids to help explain the double-declutch technique, which is something of a dark art to most people.

Fortunately the Crosville garage is located on a sprawling trading estate which was once part of the Westland helicopter manufacturing base. We used an empty road at the far end of the site to begin our practice sessions, partly to avoid causing a hazard to other road users and partly to lessen the noise of gear teeth being torn off!

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The day I nearly died at the wheel

Although this story is all about driving, it doesn’t involve a bus.


This photo shows a Ford 6600 tractor when fairly new. In fact I was the one that collected it from the dealer. At the time I was working at Moortown Farm near Chulmleigh, mid-Devon during the summer holidays when I was a student at Art College. That summer’s exploits could be the subject of several blog posts!

Anyway, the farm had four tractors at the time and my duties included spraying pig slurry on the fields (which was what I was doing when I took this picture), taking grain down the road to the corn mill and, later on, ploughing and cultivating the fields once the crops had been harvested.

One of the tractors, another Ford with four-wheel-drive, was still in use but was due to be replaced by the one shown above. It had a reputation for being a gutless wonder and the farmer for whom I worked often used to say that “it couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding!” and I can say from experience that he was right! However, it got the job done eventually. You just had to take your time.

Theoretically it had brakes too, but they were nearly as ineffective at making the machine stop as the engine was at making it go. The brakes only worked on the rear wheels and were purely mechanical, no power assistance. I had to press really hard with my booted feet to arrest its progress!

Using the gears, on all the tractors, was not easy. As an 18 year old student who had only recently learned to drive, I found that I could change up reasonably well but not down. He didn’t explain it very well, but the farmer told me that tractors don’t have gearboxes like cars and that, if you wanted a lower gear, you had to stop to select it. If I had known then what I know now, I would have realised that double de-clutching would have been the key to downchanges on the move.

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