Early 2016 season roundup

Now that May has come (and almost gone) my level of bus activity has returned to normal with the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours kicking off at the beginning of the month.

FFY403-with-crew-2016

One of the first photos to go on the Tours’ new Facebook page was this one, showing my Tour Guide / Conductor smartly turned out in his new busman’s jacket. I’m not sure who the other fellow is…

Loadings have been patchy, which is par for the course in May. However, unusually warm weather in our first week of operation saw up to 30 passengers on board for some tours. The route is unchanged from last year but, just through May, we’re leaving at 11:00 instead of 10:45 just to give ourselves a better chance of attracting more custom.

YDL318-polishedOther outings have included a return to Minehead to support the West Somerset Railway’s ‘Peppa Pig’ special event. My rostered bus was Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) which appeared to have been polished to within an inch of its life!

YDL318-Blenheim-Road-Minehead

While operating free trips from Minehead station I met up with a lovely couple who used to be regular passengers on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’. It was Don who sent me this photo of the bus passing beside Blenheim Park on one of its ‘Peppa’ trips that day. Also in town on the same day was Peter and Jenny Snowden and family. They rode with me and Peter, who is one of the organisers of the Taunton Vintage Bus Running Day, couldn’t resist slipping into conductor mode!

891VFM-210516-Bath

Last Saturday saw me taking Crosville DFG81 (891VFM), an open top Bristol FSF6G, to Bath on an increasingly rainy day. The wedding party started its journey on top but I soon received the pre-arranged signal (3 bells) to pull over so that everyone could retire below! This bus was actually a last-minute replacement for the rostered bus, a Lodekka which turned out to be unserviceable with dead batteries. It was fortunate that, after some delays, I was able to make up time with the 50mph-capable FSF.

HDV626E-fuel-Stoke

Once again I acted as delivery driver for Crosville this week, travelling up to Stoke-on-Trent to collect Southern National 2700 after it had received attention at Reliance Bus Works. The photo shows the vociferous RE (its exhaust note is pleasingly throaty!) taking on fuel before the return journey.

Coming up this weekend I have another trip to Minehead, WSR. This time the visiting ‘celebrity’ is Paddington Bear! Then I’m due to drive at the WHOTT Running Day at Coldharbour Mill Museum, Uffculme. WHOTT and the Mill have teamed up and a number of buses are supporting a Steam-up Day at the Mill, when the 1910 Pollit & Wigzell engine will be operating along with much of the woollen mill’s surviving machinery.

Photo credits:

YDL318 in Minehead – Don Brain
891VFM in Bath – Richard Kemble

 

Brand new Yutong coach receives Crosville livery (part 1)

I had the opportunity to drive a brand new coach last week. Always on the lookout for odd jobs to keep me busy during the winter, I accepted this one with with a mixture of tredipation and curiosity.

Yutong-coach-at-Reading-Services

It proved to be a very long day, thanks to the rail network. The driving sector went like clockwork, fortunately! I can’t tell you much about the coach in question, except that it’s a TC12 made by Yutong in China with a DAF 10.8 litre engine. It was delivered to Crosville last autumn, wearing the livery you see above, after attending a trade show. Before entering service it needed to carry the more usual all-over-green Crosville coaching livery and that’s where I came in. It was my job to drive the coach – as yet unregistered – over to Marden Commercials in South Benfleet, Essex.

After a full hour of preparation, during which trade plates were attached, I was ready to set off. It was a voyage of discovery, even before leaving the yard as I had to find out where all the relevant switches were located. Headlights, wipers/washers, door controls and so on were laid out in front of me on a dashboard that wouldn’t look out of place on the flightdeck of a bizjet! The final task was to take on a full tank of fuel. The provision of a fuel gauge on the central digital display was a luxury for me. None of the heritage buses I drive normally have one at all. I have to rely on a makeshift dipstick and a Mark One Eyeball!

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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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