2012 was a momentous year. I managed to pass my PCV bus driving test by the skin of my teeth and followed that with 25 vintage bus driving duties!
But one of my first jobs of 2012 was to promote the Crosville heritage bus fleet at a couple of Wedding Fairs. These were worth doing and many of the bookings I drove for later in the year started out as enquiries at these fairs. For one of these fairs I was invited to drive a Bristol Lodekka. This was before I’d taken my test but, as the bus was empty and not in service, my car licence sufficed. However, slightly soft front tyres and my general unfitness saw to it that I really struggled with the heavy steering, even with no load! I’ve since discovered that, even with properly inflated tyres, that bus is heavier to steer at low speed than some others.
With the fairs out of the way my focus turned to passing my practical test. For various reasons, much time had passed since I’d passed the Theory, Hazard Perception and Case Studies components of my PCV driving test. I had used up my allotted holiday allowance in my day job so I had to wait until new year 2012 to book a week off in February for training and the test. The test date happened to be Valentines Day but, as you will remember if you were following my progress back then, the lunch I had with my wife that day turned into a very sombre affair because I failed the test.
I very nearly gave up altogether, so crushing was the feeling of defeat. However, due to encouragement from several blog readers and family members, I booked more training sessions and a new test with just a few days of entitlement left. I had two years after passing my Theory Test in which to pass my Practical Test and most of that time had been spent waiting in vain for training with Quantock. I eventually passed my Practical Test within a few days of the end of February, which is when my time would run out.
My feelings of elation and relief knew no bounds when I eventually found myself holding that coveted blue certificate! I went on to pass the PCV Practical Demonstration test and soon received my Driver CPC card in the post which entitled me to drive professionally at last.
I wondered how soon it would be before I would find an opportunity to drive a heritage bus in service. I passed the news of my test pass to the folks at Crosville Motor Services and awaited developments. I already had a conducting date in my diary for the week after my test so I was both pleased and daunted to see that, when my Job Ticket arrived, it showed that I was the driver! The management were kind enough to provide me with a conductor for this, my first driving turn with them. It wasn’t strictly necessary as the bus had driver-operated doors and the customer hadn’t paid for a conductor. I was very glad of the support and, even though the conductor was younger than my youngest son, he knew his job very well and everything went like clockwork.
Many more driving turns followed. 25 of them, to be exact! I often had to pinch myself to check that I wasn’t dreaming. I had pursued this ambition to drive a vintage bus since I was a young boy but never in a million years thought that I would have the opportunity to learn to drive a bus, let alone drive Bristol Lodekkas (and other Bristol marques) in service. I spent many hours as a youngster standing (and then kneeling, as I grew taller) on the bench seat watching the drivers of Wilts & Dorset Lodekkas at work in the cab. I was fascinated by the skills and techniques involved in handling a crash gearbox. I’m convinced that those childhood experiences helped me enormously when I eventually came to occupy that cab seat myself and take charge of a Bristol Lodekka. The fact that so many of them survive is remarkable in itself but the fact that I’m able to drive them in the 21st century is truly amazing.