1929 Maudslay relaunched at WHOTT Rally 2014

At last I can reveal the start of my next driving adventure and it involves this stunning 1929 Maudslay motorbus.

FJ6154-Westpoint-rally-1

After many years spent lying dormant and away from public gaze, FJ6154 has been painstakingly restored and made its public debut at the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) Rally at Westpoint last Sunday. Its long history is fascinating and the story of how it came within a hair’s breadth of being scrapped will have to wait for another time.

I’d had the WHOTT rally in my diary for some time and had offered my services as a driver – or indeed any task – for the day. Little did I know that, a few weeks afterwards, I would be given a job I would never have dreamed of in a million years.

Namely, I was invited to become the Maudslay’s official driver.

It seems that my experience with vintage buses of various sorts, especially those with crash gearboxes, over the past 2 years has not gone unnoticed. Two other factors came into the WHOTT Trustees’ decision; I have a current PCV licence and I’m a nimble, reasonably small person. The latter becomes an obvious benefit as soon as you open the cab door!

Maudslay-FJ6154-cab

I had been following the progress of the Maudslay’s 2-year restoration within the pages of the WHOTT newsletter, as I prepare the artwork for this publication every quarter. No expense has been spared and the bus appears exactly as it would have done when it was new. Student-Prince-advert Authenticity has been paramount and, in pursuit of this, I had even prepared a period advert for the interior, based on a newspaper advert which appeared in the Express & Echo the same week that the bus was delivered to Exeter Corporation.

Although I had seen photographs, I had not seen the bus ‘in the flesh’, so to speak, until last week. I travelled up to the WHOTT restoration base to take the Maudslay on its first tentative road run just two days after work on the engine had been completed. Before that, it hadn’t moved under its own power for nearly 40 years! That first run was very momentous and the significance of it was not lost on me.Maudslay-FJ6154-first-road-run

After familiarising myself with the small and very spartan cab I shunted up and down in the yard to get a feel for the clutch and the behaviour of the engine. The bus has remarkably survived complete with its original Maudslay 4-cylinder petrol engine and coping with this alone is an adventure! Then, with the Chairman of WHOTT aboard, along with a Trustee and one of the restoration volunteers, I drove the 85 year old veteran up the farm track to the main road. Drawing heavily on my experience with crash box buses and interpreting the feedback I was getting from the bus, I managed to change successfully up to 3rd gear. After climbing uphill for a while we reached level ground and I changed up to 4th gear at which point emotion nearly got the better of me as the enormity of what I was doing hit me.

We turned the bus and stopped for a couple of photos before I brought the Maudslay back to the farm where it will continue to live for the time being. I will not forget that first journey for a very long time.

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Exeter Twilight Run: back to the platform

It was a good opportunity to dust off my Setright Speed ticket machine and reacquaint myself with the duties of a bus conductor. Yes, dear reader, I was relegated to the back end of a bus last weekend. I’d had my name down to take part in the Exeter Twilight Running Day for some time, expecting to drive one of the Exeter Corporation Leylands. The bus in question, a PD2 of 1956 vintage, has been undergoing some restoration work and a repaint this year and wasn’t ready in time.

My friends at Crosville Motor Services brought Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF 1220 (DEL893C) down from Weston-super-Mare for the event and I offered to be conductor for them. The driver was my old colleague from Quantock days, Stuart Andrews. He and I worked together on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ and I was happy to note that he remains one of the most skilful heritage bus drivers I ever had the privilege to ride with.

This event now runs in the afternoon as well as after dark so the first free service departed from Exeter’s Bus Station at 15:15. For the rest of the afternoon and evening there was a constant stream of heritage buses coming into and out of the bus station. This shot shows a City of Exeter Guy Arab V, a Bristol LL6B coach and the H&D Bristol FLF mentioned earlier.

I think there were about 10 different vehicles operating the various routes and destinations included Redhills, Pennsylvania, Broadclyst, Crossmead and the Quay. Our first duty was the 15:40 to Crossmead, which took us along Exeter’s High Street, over the River Exe and up Dunsford Hill to a turning point near the Crossmead estate. Unfortunately a couple of cars had parked in the turning circle so Stuart had to reverse into a nearby side turning before returning to the bus station.

Also present were these two historic Leylands. The yellow Bournemouth Corporation bus carries the same MCW bodywork as some of the many trolleybuses for which Bournemouth was famous. Many ex-Bournemouth buses and trolleybuses have taken refuge at the West of England Transport Collection at Winkleigh, following the dispersal of a private collection in Bournemouth.

The green-liveried 1947 Exeter Corporation Leyland Titan PD2 has returned to service after many years off the road and is looking superb. As you can imagine, it was very popular!

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Torbay Classic Bus Rally 2001

A few weeks ago Torbay was once again treated to the sights and sounds of heritage buses as they provided free trips around the area as part of the Torbay Vintage Bus Running Day. Sadly I was not able to go along this year but the photographs shown here are from a previous event, held in the attractive surroundings of Oldway Mansion, Paignton in 2001.

For several years the rally was organised at this location by the Devon General Society and it brought together an impressive number of local buses. Devon General, Grey Cars, Exeter Corporation and Western National were all represented. I wasn’t actively involved in the world of heritage buses at that time but just went along with my family. I couldn’t miss the opportunity, as it was right on my doorstep! Seen on the far left of the picture is 932GTA, one of the famous Devon General ‘Sea Dogs’. This Leyland Atlantean is now owned by Bob Follwell and visited Torbay in early May this year along with 3 others for a special running day.

FTT704 was one of several buses offering free rides. I can’t remember if we rode on it or not but we probably did, owing to my fondness for the products of a certain factory in Brislington! This is a Bristol K6A, the ‘A’ unusually denoting that it was fitted with (and presumably still runs with) an AEC engine as opposed to the more usual 5 or 6 cylinder Gardner unit. It is currently in the care of the Bristol Vintage Bus Group and regularly attends rallies and running days in the Westcountry.

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Nocturnal bus event in Exeter

If you had been at the departure end of Exeter Bus Station yesterday evening you would have thought you’d slipped through a time warp. Lined up in the departure bays was a selection of buses from the 1950s and 60s. Nearly all had run on city services and had been gathered to mark 40 years since the disppearance of the green and cream ‘City of Exeter’ buses from the streets.

The event was run by a team headed up by Daniel Shears, whose illustrious father Colin has built up a large collection of buses with a westcountry connection on the old airfield at Winkleigh. I was conducting on one of Dan’s own buses, a 1956 Guy Arab IV with Massey bodywork.

Unfortunately the weather was not kind for much of the late afternoon and evening and those who gathered at the bus station waiting for the first departures at 16:30 had to shelter under cover. My first turn wasn’t until 17:50 so I stood and watched proceedings from the sidelines. Fortunately I was well dressed for the weather, having thermals underneath my full winter uniform and heavy overcoat!

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An unexpected conducting turn in Exeter

Some people say “don’t volunteer for anything” but I’ve learned that life is full of give and take, so I’ve volunteered to do a conducting turn this weekend.

It’s 40 years since Exeter Corporation ran buses. Their familiar green and cream fleet was absorbed into the National Bus Company and wore (briefly) Devon General colours followed by NBC Poppy Red. Earlier this year WHOTT organised a commemorative get together of some preserved Exeter Corporation buses at Exeter Coach Station and this Sunday there will be a Night Running Event. The organisers hope to gather as many former Exeter buses together as possible to offer free rides around familiar city routes. Starting at 4pm and running through the evening until about 9.30pm, Leylands of several varieties, Guy Arabs and maybe a Daimler or two will operate from Exeter Bus Station for a nostalgic evening of bygone bus travel, lit by tungsten bulbs.

I’ve offered my services as a conductor and have been rostered on Guy Arab IV TFJ 808. I always remember these buses from the 1960s and 70s as being the most ‘musical’ of the Exeter buses (not including the Devon General AEC Regents that shared some of the city routes) with their crash gearboxes. I lived in Exmouth back then and these buses would sometimes turn up on the Exeter-Exmouth service or sometimes on school services outside the comprehensive school in Green Close.

By the look of the weather forecast I will have to be dressed in my winter uniform and thermal long-johns!

Exeter Corporation buses in Devon General livery

This photograph brings back sad memories of the demise of Exeter Corporation as an independent municipal operator. The familiar green and magnolia livery of the ‘City of Exeter’ buses disappeared, to be obliterated by the all-encompassing and singularly ugly NBC Poppy Red.

Exeter City Council lost control of its bus fleet and routes when the National Bus Company took over in 1970. The equally distinctive Devon General fleet was merged with Exeter Corporation and Western National at the same time and this gave rise to some interesting liveries during the changeover period. I took the photograph above at Exeter Bus Station at this time and it shows one of the Exeter Leyland PD2s wearing the Devon General maroon and cream livery with NBC fleetnames. A most bizarre sight, as I was more used to seeing this livery on the AEC single and double deckers of the ‘real’ Devon General!

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Royal Blue meets Agatha Christie

Another photo from my archives, showing Bristol LS6G OTT 98 arriving at Torre Abbey, Torquay in 1990 on the occasion of the Agatha Christie Centenary celebrations.

OTT 98 was delivered to Southern National in 1953 for their Royal Blue fleet and, at the time this photo was taken, was owned by the Dorest Transport Circle. It attended Torre Abbey along with a number of other forms of historic transport including cars and commercial vehicles.

Not far from the spot where I took this photo stands Torquay railway station, once owned by the mighty GWR. Later that same day, a delightful Christie cameo was played out as a luxury Pullman train arrived at the station. Among the guests stepping onto the platform to attend the Christie celebrations was a certain Hercule Poirot (David Suchet). He was observed to walk up to a lady of advancing years, tip his hat and present a bouquet of flowers to none other than Miss Jane Marple (Joan Hickson) before they were both taken the short distance to Torre Abbey in a vintage Rolls Royce.

OTT 98 is now owned by the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust and can often be seen attending rallies and special events. I hope to be driving this vehicle in 2 weeks time when it, along with others from the WHOTT collection, take part in a “Drive It” day when friends of the Trust can drive a selection of historic buses from the Trust’s collection on a private network of roads. If all goes well, I hope also to drive an Exeter Corporation Leyland PD2 and a Southern National Bristol LWL.