At last, new nut rings for ex-Southport PD2 FFY403

Finally, after many months of searching, I have been able to fit a pair of nut guard rings to Torquay’s sightseeing bus, Leyland PD2/3 FFY403.

FFY403-nearside-nut-ring

The bus was delivered to English Riviera Sightseeing Tours in Torquay in 2013, minus her nut guard rings. These are normally fitted to the front wheels to cover the wheel nuts and were a standard fitting on most Leyland and AEC vehicles. But, sometime in the recent past, the PD2’s rings had been removed by a previous owner and not replaced.

FFY403-no-nut-guard-rings

I’ve always thought that, ever since seeing the bus parked outside Torquay railway station shortly after delivery in 2013, she looked ever so slightly ‘undressed’ without her rings. It bothered me every time I climbed into her cab too, and not just for aesthetic reasons. The ring on the offside provides a very useful stepping point for the driver as he climbs up into – or down from – the cab. I learned this the hard way several times when, in wet weather, my right foot slipped off the wheel as I tried to gain a secure foothold.

Eventually, after posting requests and emailing several friends in the heritage bus world (I even tried the Leyland Society), Dan Shears came up trumps. He runs the West of England Transport Collection at Winkleigh, Devon. His father Colin started the collection in the 1950s and always had a soft spot for Leylands. As a result, Dan has inherited a large number of Leyland vehicles along with sundry spare parts. He sent me a message one day to say that he’d found two rings and would I be interested as he already knew I was keen to acquire some. With this good news to hand, I approached the owner of the bus and happily received a favourable response. So a deal was done and a package duly arrived towards the end of the season. Like a cat with two tails, I offered up the rings to the wheels, which still had their mounting studs in place. A perfect fit!

I took them home and spent an hour or two with a wire brush to bring them back to life and the next morning fitted them to the bus before my next driving duty. I am very pleased with the result and am grateful to the owner of the bus for agreeing to buy them and of course to Dan Shears for finding them.

Going to the proms

The proms season is upon us once more but sadly, for Busman John at least, it doesn’t involve any Pomp or Circumstance.

FFY403-at-Sherwell-Valley

No, a busman’s lot is a noisy but unmusical one if he is to be sent on a school prom duty. Once called the School Leavers’ Party (or, if you went to a posh school, End of Year Ball), the general term used nowadays is Prom. An American import, I suspect.

Today I had two school prom duties in Torquay, both with the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours Leyland PD2 (FFY403). This morning’s tour was a very busy one, with 40 sightseers on board. Once we’d returned them to the harbourside at Torquay I bade farewell to my Tour Guide, who had the afternoon off. Taking his place on the platform was my son Peter, whose last duty with me was at Salisbury for the Wilts & Dorset Centenary. We like to keep it in the family!

We took the PD2 off-route past Torquay’s two Grammar Schools and into Sherwell Valley Primary School. I had to smile as we drove slowly past several classrooms, repeatedly capturing the awestruck attention of the excited pupils within. In the school playground, which this afternoon was turned into an impromptu bus station, the PD2 was decorated with balloons, streamers and class photos. Soon we had been joined by two stretched limousines and three pink minibuses. Yes, dear reader, pink. This incongrous collection of celebratory conveyances was booked, not by the school, but by the parents of the Year 6 pupils who were leaving the school to start their secondary education.

Using the on-board PA apparatus, I welcomed the ‘little darlings’ onto the bus and gave our customary warning about staying seated and the potential hazards of passing beneath low branches. Finally, a question: “Are we all going to have fun?” to which the answer was a loud cheer. With that out of the way I started up the bus and confronted the first hazard, which had the potential to be a literal showstopper. The school caretaker had opened a gate at the end of the playground to enable the vehicles easier access back to the main road. I had earlier checked this out and was concerned to find a short, sharp gradient leading up to the road. Aware of the possibility of the rear of the platform going aground as the front of the bus tilted upwards sharply, I passed through the gate very slowly listening for a grating sound. There wasn’t one, thankfully. If I had been driving a Bristol FLF we would definitely been in trouble!

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Charlie the Charabanc goes to the Seaside

So, the cat is out of the bag. English Riviera Sightseeing Tours has acquired Bristol LH replica Charabanc TR6147.

TR6147-Torquay-Station

The deal was done back in April but, until the new Sightseeing Tours livery was applied, the vehicle was effectly ‘under wraps’ and news of its arrival was embargoed as far as Busman’s Holiday was concerned!

TR6147 was previously owned by Wheels of Nuneaton but its owner Ashley Wakelin wanted to scale down his operation and put the bus up for sale. It was delivered wearing its Midland Red livery, similar to several other vehicles in the erstwhile Wheels fleet.

TR6147-old-liveryThis photo was taken during the journey up to Exeter for repainting. This was my first attempt at driving the charabanc and it was a baptism of fire, I can tell you! But first we need to do a bit of digging into the history of this rather bizarre vehicle.

TR6147 actually began life with Hants & Dorset as a standard ECW-bodied Bristol LH6L bus, registered NLJ516M, in 1973. This photo of sister bus NLJ517M shows what it would have looked like shortly after delivery. After a comparatively short service life it was taken into the H&D workshops at Barton Park, Eastleigh (near Southampton) and rebuilt with a replica charabanc body, emerging in 1982. Legend has it that several parts from a 1929-built vehicle were incorporated. Certainly the registration number TR6147 was originally carried by a 1929 all-Leyland Lion PLSC3 but this bus is recorded as having been scrapped in 1943. Here is an interesting photo of the charabanc body being built at Eastleigh. All that remains of the Bristol LH is the chassis, including the Leyland O.401 6-cylinder diesel engine and 5-speed manual gearbox. The bus can carry 25 people, accommodated on deeply padded ‘leather’ seats.

The replica charabanc was used by Hants & Dorset at rallies and for private hire and subsequently passed through several owners including Shamrock & Rambler and Arriva before joining Ashley’s well known Midland Red Coaches/Wheels of Nuneaton fleet.

The journey to Exeter didn’t require me to use 1st (crawler) gear, which is just as well because engaging 1st or reverse is something of an art. Fortunately for us, Ashley Wakelin had kindly come down from Nuneaton at his own expense the day after it was delivered to show us around the bus and had demonstrated some of its quirks for us.

The driving position took some getting used to. I’m more familiar with the forward control position found in most half cab buses but in this bus it has been set back behind the front wheels. A huge expanse of bonnet stretches out in front of the driver which makes judging one’s position when in tight spaces a bit tricky. The driver now sits directly above the engine (still in its original position under the LH’s floor) and the experience is noisy! I was curious to see how fast it would go so, while motoring along on the A38 dual carriageway towards Exeter I put my foot down. The tacho showed around 55mph! That’s an undignified speed for a charabanc (it also led to a bout of overheating) so I eased off and completed the rest of the journey at a more reasonable 35mph or so.

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English Riviera Sightseeing, rain or shine

We’re just coming to the end of our first three weeks on the sightseeing bus and the popularity of our tours has been, rather like the weather of late, mixed. But there have been some highlights, such as the one pictured below.

RM-band

This was a couple of days ago when the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines kindly turned up to provide some musical entertainment while I collected the fares. I jest, of course. They were leading a parade of Royal Navy personnel, the crew of HMS Torbay. I’m quite a fan of military band music, especially the Royal Marines, so this was a rather exciting addition to our morning. The relaxed pace of their marching music brought me back to my youth when I was a member of a Boys’ Brigade marching band. For a number of years we had an instructor who was also a member of the Royal Marines band, based at Lympstone on the banks of the River Exe. He insisted that we march at the same pace as the Marines band! Compared to other regimental bands (and indeed most other civilian bands) their marching tempo was marginally slower and hearing the band this week brought back some marching memories!

We went on to include HMS Torbay in our commentary that day. It went a bit like this: “We have HMS Torbay visiting us today, folks. But don’t bother looking across the bay to see her, HMS Torbay is a submarine!”

Wet-seats-upstairs

As I mentioned, the weather has been mixed and this affects the popularity of English Riviera Sightseeing Tours. After all, who wants to sit on a wet seat for an hour and a half? We’ve had a few days like this and sometimes we’ve had to admit defeat and park the bus up. We need eight people on board to make a tour viable and on a few occasions our tour guide, whose job it is to sell each tour to passers by, had to take shelter on the platform and shout from there. Unfortunately there were very few people at the harbourside to shout at!

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Blowing the cobwebs off the Sightseeing Bus

FFY403-cobwebs

The boss of the Dartmouth Steam Railway’s bus division (Rail River Link) looked most bemused as we drove past each other in Paignton town centre the other day. Even so, he waved enthusiastically at me from behind the wheel of his Volvo Olympian on service 100 to Totnes. I don’t think he expected to see open top Leyland PD2/3 FFY403 out and about so early in the season!

This was on Thursday last week when, together with the proprietor of English Riviera Sightseeing Tours, the 1947 ex-Southport Corporation Titan was awakened from its winter slumbers for pre-season servicing. The process of extracting the bus from storage was rather time consuming, due to battery issues. Not on the PD2, I hasten to add, but on the MCW Metrobus parked in front of it. The old PD2, bless her, started on the button. Mostly because I had disconnected her batteries after some work was done back in January.

FFY403-dusty

Eventually, after much swapping of batteries, we managed to start the ex-London Transport Metrobus – filling the storage shed with trademark Gardner smoke in the process. Then it was the Titan’s turn and soon she also was standing outside in the sunshine, looking very dusty.

With the Metrobus returned to the shed, I drove the PD2 back along the Totnes road and through Paignton which is where my aforementioned ex-employer and I exchanged busman’s waves. It was good to be sitting behind the wheel of the PD2 again, such a familiar place! She trundled along without any complaint, except for a bout of ‘tyre-bump’. That’s my term for the rhythmic bump-bump-bump produced by tyres that have stood in the same position for several months. Apparently the rubber deforms in that time and retains the shape until a few miles have been covered.

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2015 on the buses – hopes and dreams

With 2015 safely under way, I am now looking forward to more adventures with classic buses so I thought I’d share with you some of my hopes and dreams. Some are almost certain to happen, others may just be pipe dreams!

KFM893-first-duty-3

I will be continuing my work with Crosville Motor Services, a fairly new company which has successfully revived the old Crosville name and seems to have a very bright future. It has an enviable collection of heritage buses of mostly Bristol manufacture and I have driven many of them since joining them as a part time driver in 2012. My private hire duties for Crosville will continue in 2015, mostly weddings. The first of these isn’t until March but, as the year progresses, I hope to drive some new additions to the heritage fleet. If you’re a regular blog follower (and, if you’re a new one, welcome aboard!) you will have read that I took two buses north for refurbishment a few weeks ago. I may be offered the chance to bring them back when they’re finished but, more excitingly, they are being added to the active fleet for this year.

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Wanted: nut guard rings for a Leyland PD2

I’m sending out a plea on behalf of the operator of the Leyland PD2/3 that I’ve been driving regularly this year. It joined the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours fleet in 2013 and, ever since I first saw it, I thought it looked strangely incomplete without the customary nut guard rings on the front wheels.

FFY403-no-nut-guard-rings

To my mind, the poor old girl looks a bit undressed without her rings! As far as I can tell, she retained her nut guard rings while she was with the Cobham Bus Museum but appears to have lost them during her stay with the Blackman collection in Halifax. By the time she reached Ensign in Purfleet the rings were missing. Locating a replacement pair is one of my winter projects, although if the original pair showed up, that would be wonderful! I have already contacted Yorkshire Heritage Bus Company (the Blackman family’s business) but I’m not holding my breath.

LRV992-cropped

Those who read this blog regularly will know that Stagecoach introduced a very similar open top PD2 this summer on which the nut guard rings are present. This made me determined to get a pair refitted to our bus!

Exeter_Corporation_17_HFJ144_at_Crossmeads_after_dark

Here’s a photo of a very similar bus which I saw at the Exeter Twilight Bus Evening in 2012. This was taken by Geof Sheppard (reproduced here under Creative Commons licence) and shows the nut guard ring fitted to the nearside front wheel very well. The bus had just been restored and, being a 1948 Leyland PD2 with a Leyland body, is almost identical to our ex-Southport one. Except that it has a roof, green paint and nut rings.

So folks, it’s over to you. Do you have a pair of nut guard rings lurking at the back of your garage? No? Perhaps you know where a pair could be obtained. In which case, please leave a comment and I’ll follow it up. It would be fantastic to be able to fit a pair of rings to FFY403. Not only would it complete her ‘look’, it would make it much easier to climb into her cab as the offside ring doubles up as a useful step!

In other news, my final wedding duty for Crosville recently found me driving 1950 Bristol L5G KFM893 down through the lanes near Bridgwater to transport a wedding party from Huntstile Organic Farm to the Parish Church of St Edward in nearby Goathurst.

KFM893-at-Goathurst