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 Bus Evening 2013

972EHW-at-Crossmead

It was one of those times when a day spent driving a halfcab bus is like a session at the gym. By the time I had parked the bus back at the depot in the late evening of Sunday November 10th, my arms felt like jelly. But it was so worth it!

I met my Simon, my conductor for the day, at the garage and we prepared the bus together. We had ex-Bristol Omnibus LC8518 (972EHW), the same vehicle that I’d driven on a wedding duty the previous day. Also being prepared was London Transport RTW29, a rare 8ft-wide Leyland-engined RT. Its bright red livery was being buffed to a shine by Jon, the MD of Crosville Motor Services, who was joining us at the Exeter Twilight event.

We set off as soon as we were ready and took the Lympsham road out of Weston-super-Mare. As I coaxed the bus up to a breathtaking maximum speed of 35mph, my conductor donned my conductor gear and settled down for the long journey to Exeter. I always feel rather vulnerable on the motorway with such a slow vehicle and kept checking my rearview mirror for traffic approaching from behind. Plan B: hit the hard shoulder!

Just before Taunton a familiar shape loomed up behind the bus, that of a green Bristol L. It passed us and slowly disappeared into the distance, probably doing 45mph or more. Taking a comfort break at Taunton Services, I was surprised to see the same single deck bus already in the coach park. I parked nearby and got chatting to the driver. The bus was in fact not a Bristol L but an earlier Bristol J (built 1934) but received a new body in 1955 along with a more up to date PV2 radiator. This made it look like a Bristol L.

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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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Return to Priston-Mill-in-the-Mud

We’ve been having a lot of weather lately, in case you hadn’t noticed. Vast amounts of the wet stuff have been falling from the sky and this has led to very muddy conditions in the country lanes.

On Saturday I took Hants & Dorset 1220 on a Private Hire job to Priston Mill, near Bath. The bus was ready and waiting for me when I arrived (thanks Andrew!) so all I had to do was complete my walk round checks and jump in! The A370 was fairly busy so it was quite easy for the FLF to keep pace with the traffic. I’d forgotten about the diversion at Long Ashton, due to roadworks on the overbridge but fortunately the traffic kept moving and we rejoined the main road just before the Cumberland Basin. Annoyingly, I took the Bedminster exit instead of carrying on over the Avon and on towards Clifton. This resulted in a rather roundabout route through the city. However, all was not lost as I had plenty of time in hand. In fact, I had too much. The first pick up was at a bus stop near Clifton Downs but I was about 20 minutes early to I parked up in a handy layby, especially provided for buses on layover!

I had the benefit of a run-up to Park Street. In other words, I could attack the steep hill at 30mph without being hindered by the pedestrian crossing at the bottom. However, even with an empty bus, I was down to 2nd gear by about halfway up and I chuckled to myself as the noise of the Lodekka climbing the hill in time-honoured fashion turned many heads!

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