Just to recap, this post continues my account of some free driving lessons I managed to wangle out of Devon General in 1985.
The purpose of driving down to a quiet part of the Marsh Barton trading estate of course was so that my first attempts at driving would not pose too much of a hazard to other drivers. Bill Porter, DG’s Senior Instructor, climbed down into the saloon through the space behind the driver’s cab that was once a window. “There you are, it’s all yours!” he said cheerily.
Once in the driving seat I immediately felt two emotions. First, elation at finally being allowed behind the wheel of one of my favourite buses. Second, a feeling of dread at what I was about to attempt. The second one was soon to eclipse the first as I pulled gingerly away from the kerb. I was struck by the enormous width of the vehicle compared to the cars I had been used to driving. Then there was the heavy steering. I began to regret not doing some bicep exercises previously! As the first morning’s lesson wore on, I began to appreciate Bill’s advice “…everything happens slowly in a Lodekka”.
I was quietly confident that I would be able to master the double declutch technique needed for the crash gearbox, having spent hours and hours in my childhood kneeling on the bench seat at the front of Wilts & Dorset Lodekkas in Salisbury. I was fascinated by the drivers’ skills, some greater than others it has to be said, with the unforgiving gearbox.
By the end of my first lesson I was indeed fairly proficient and my gearchanges were getting quieter. Hardest of course, was changing down. I struggled to rev the heavy Gardner 6LW engine enough to allow the gears to mesh neatly, but I was improving all the time.
We ended the morning back at Exeter Coach Station a couple of hours later. Bill was very encouraging in his remarks and we agreed to meet again the following Saturday. Before leaving, I asked him why Devon General used such an ancient vehicle to train its drivers, particularly as most of them would only be driving minibuses. “I look at it this way,” he replied, “if they can drive this old thing, they can drive anything!”