Number 831 to Roughmoor Farm

They say that ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd’ but I beg to differ. Sharing a wedding duty with two other colleagues brings with it much cameraderie and banter, not to mention practical assistance in tight spots.

YDL318-&-972EHW-at-Roughmoor-Farm

Last weekend’s duty called for two Lodekkas to transport a large group of wedding guests from a church near Taunton to a reception venue on the other side of town. It gave me the chance to meet up again with one of my former colleagues from ‘Exmoor Explorer’ days, Conductress Cherry Selby. Our pickup point was All Saints Church in the strangely named village of Trull, just outside Taunton and we arrived at the nearby Community Hall car park to find that there was a large section coned off for the wedding buses. How very organised!

White-wedding-car-SV9795-Trull

Two white vintage cars awaited the bridal party while the rest of the guests were grouped together beside the churchyard for photographs before boarding the buses. With Driver Wilkins leading in Bristol Omnibus LD6B LC8518 (972EHW), we drove in convoy across Taunton to Roughmoor Farm which is near the new Park & Ride site on Silk Mills Road. Both buses were almost full and the steering on Southern Vectis FS6G 573 (YDL318) was noticably heavy. Or maybe I’m still shaking off my winter lethargy…

972EHW-&-YDL318-at-Sainsburys

After our passengers had departed for the reception, we drove across town and parked up near a big Sainsburys store for 5 hours before returning to the farm. In the bright sunlight both buses looked splendid, having enjoyed the attentions of the cleaners back at the depot. 573 is still very presentable, despite being due for a repaint this year. The Bristol Omnibus Lodekka rarely gets an outing these days so we swapped buses and I drove it for the return journey.

While we waited, Driver Wilkins regaled us with scary tales of coach tours to Alpine ski resorts while Cherry and I reminisced about our adventures on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’.

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Seeing double at Minehead, WSR

Yesterday saw me on duty with Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) on a rare Crosville job that wasn’t a wedding. I joined forces with Driver Carpenter to provide free bus rides for passengers who had travelled on the West Somerset Railway (WSR).

2-Lodekkas-at-Minehead-WSR

Due to time constraints we drove our buses (the other was BOC LC8518, a 1959 LD6B) down to Minehead separately. I had no idea how long it would take to drive the 43-mile cross country route so I arrived early to prepare my bus. Being a Saturday, the Crosville depot was still quite full of green buses, some of them local service vehicles and some of them coaches.

YDL318-Elmore-Church

My rostered Lodekka was in a line-up of heritage buses and hadn’t moved since I parked it there the previous week after a long haul up a very wet M5 to Gloucester. This photo shows the bus at Elmore Church on that occasion.

Fortunately the journey down the A38 to Bridgwater and thence via the A39 to Minehead was trouble free and, after 1.5 hours, I arrived at the WSR’s northern terminus with 15 minutes to spare. Despite a fair bit of hill climbing to pass over The Quantocks, the Gardner 6LW-powered bus breezed along in 4th gear. It was very strange to be driving the very familiar section from Williton to Minehead. I had travelled that route many times on a Lodekka but always as a conductor! This goes back to my days working on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ for the erstwhile Quantock Motor Services.

The photo at the top of this post shows Driver Carpenter, ably assisted by Conductor Grant on the platform, passing my parked-up FS on one of the afternoon journeys. Not only can you see two green Bristol Lodekkas, you can also see two green ‘Hall’ class steam locomotives! Stabled on one of the Minehead shed roads are GWR 4-6-0s no 4936 ‘Kinlet Hall’ and no 6960 ‘Raveningham Hall’.

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Bristol Poly reunion with added Bristol flavour

I was treated to a rare outing with a Bristol-engined Lodekka recently. The bus had been especially requested for this particular private hire due to its local connections as it had spent most of its service life with Bristol Omnibus Company (BOC) running around the streets of the city.

972EHW-at-UWE

The event in question was a gathering of about 20 folks who used to be students at the erstwhile Bristol Polytechnic, now the University of the West of England. So it was with great delight that I prepared ex-BOC LD6B LC8518 (972EHW) at the Crosville depot. Standing nearby ready to go was sister vehicle L8515 (969EHW). This was about to head out to Kilmersdon on a private hire job with Driver Moore. It was a busy day for Lodekkas because Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) was also out and about, with Driver Carpenter in charge.

Checks done and with no issues to resolve except to take on fuel, I headed up the A370 towards Bristol where I would meet up with Conductor Kemble. It took me a little while to adjust my driving technique to suit the Bristol AVW engine. The revs fall away relatively quickly when changing up, compared with a Gardner 6LW. Probably something to do with having a lower rotating mass. Perhaps someone with a Degree in Physics can explain. Anyway, the upshot is that I could make a faster gearchange than I normally would although I still had to factor in rising or falling gradients as per usual.

As I drove along Anchor Road, opposite Brunel’s SS Great Britain, I found my conductor waiting on the pavement near the pickup point as planned. We welcomed the party of ex-students aboard. Their leader explained that they had all attended Bristol Poly (as it was then) about 30 years ago and hadn’t seen each other since graduating.

I had been supplied with a ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ route beforehand, which I had studied thoroughly. My knowledge of Bristol was going to be tested today, mostly because they changed the route as soon as they’d boarded! Fortunately my Conductor lives in Bristol and we agreed that he would use bell codes to remind me of significant junctions. A last resort would be to bang on the glass behind me and gesticulate wildly.

First stop was the Bristol Poly campus in Frenchay, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. The bus drew many admiring glances, especially from a group of Wessex Bristol drivers who were standing beside one of the bus shelters. Our passengers alighted and disappeared inside the UWE buildings for lunch, a presentation by UWE staff and a guided tour of the campus. They were to be collected about 3 hours later so I took the bus (literally) to have lunch with relatives who live nearby.

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Bristol AVW engine wanted

Before anyone comments, I know they’re about as rare as hen’s teeth. In terms of surviving half cab buses, those retaining their Bristol AVW engines are comparatively few.

NFM67-aug-rally

This sad looking Bristol KSW joined the Crosville heritage fleet in 2012, fitted with its original Bristol AVW engine. Sadly, it would not turn over and after stripping it down, the restorers decided that the damaged block could not be economically repaired.

If you know of the whereabouts of a redundant Bristol AVW engine, or indeed have one yourself, please let me know. It doesn’t have to be a runner or even be complete just as long as it can sacrifice a few components to allow this fine ex-Crosville bus to return to action powered by an AVW. It would be so sad (and would ironically reflect the situation in the 1960s/70s) if a Gardner 6LW unit had to be fitted just to get the bus on the road. The folks at Crosville are determined to make this restoration as thorough and authentic as possible so that means retaining the Bristol AVW if at all possible. A sensible price will be paid for a suitable item.

Please contact Crosville on 01934 635259, email them at contact@crosvillemotorservices.co.uk or just leave a comment here. Thank you!

Welcome return for Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF

You’ve no doubt heard the old phrase “You wait ages for a bus and then two come along together” (or similar). Well, in an odd way, the same has happened with my most recent Crosville duties. I’ve now had two consecutive wedding jobs when I’ve been allocated a bus fresh from restoration/refurbishment.

Atworth-1

After nearly a year off the road, Hants & Dorset 1220 has made a very welcome return to service. I almost regarded this 1965-built Bristol FLF6G as my regular bus in 2012, my first season with Crosville. There were times when I was rostered with it so often that I used to envy some of the other drivers when they were allocated different buses. Just a minute, how blas√© can you get? We’re talking about 50-year-old buses here – I’m lucky to be driving one at all!

While filling in the vehicle’s running sheet on Saturday morning, I discovered that I was the last driver to use this FLF on a job before it was taken out of service. Since then it has had all its seats re-trimmed, ceiling painted and the interior generally tidied up. You may have read in some of my posts last year that the interior of this bus was looking very tired, with many of its leather seats showing plenty of wear and tear, so this refurbishment makes the FLF very presentable again.

FLF-top-interiorBut, appearance aside, the biggest benefit for me is the FLF’s top speed. I had a reasonably long empty journey to make so it was very pleasing to be bowling along the motorway at 50mph!

My destination, for an 11:15 pickup, was the Guyers House Hotel in Corsham, Wiltshire. This was my third visit to this venue so the only route research I needed to do was the bit from the hotel to the church in Atworth.

It didn’t take me long to become re-acquainted with driving the FLF, it really is easy compared to the Bristol L I had last time. However, the 30ft length caught me out as a turned into Guyer’s Lane on the approach to the hotel. I didn’t make a wide enough sweep and couldn’t quite make the turn. Fortunately the following traffic had seen me shaping up for the turn and had slowed to a virtual halt so there was room behind me for a quick shunt to get me round. How embarrassing!

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On duty in Bristol with a Bristol Omnibus Lodekka

A particularly satisfying wedding duty came my way the other week when I was rostered to transport a wedding party to a reception venue in Bristol. Satisfying, because I was allocated a bus which ran in the city throughout most of its service life.

972EHW-Clifton-Down-2

I had driven this bus only once before, on my assessment session back in 2011. It was unavailable for service for most of this season due to fuel system repairs and has only recently been declared fit again. I was looking forward to experiencing this bus on a ‘live’ duty and especially as I would be able to drive through the city streets where it was once a familiar sight.

LC8518 was built in 1959 for the Bristol Omnibus city services and has a Bristol AVW 6-cylinder engine driving through a 4-speed gearbox. Top speed is about 33mph so the empty journey from Weston to Bristol gave me plenty of time to become accustomed to the bus. In most respects it was similar to drive to the other Lodekkas I have driven, the most significant difference lay in the AVW engine. This sounds quite different to a Gardner 6LW, more throaty I suppose. It delivers its power differently, too. When I press the loud pedal to accelerate there is a noticeable delay while the engine develops more power. It’s as if it’s girding up its loins for the task ahead! With a 6LW you get what you ask for almost instantly. Once I had allowed for this, driving LC8518 was a real pleasure.

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A challenge and a chuckle in deepest Dorset

A recent wedding duty with a Bristol Lodekka brought me one of my toughest challenges yet. I’m pretty good at judging the width of any bus I’m driving (well, I haven’t hit anything yet…) but this tested my driving skills to the max.

YDL318-beaminster

Even before I arrived at the pickup point, I thought we were doomed. I had met Simon, my trusty conductor at the Crosville depot and had prepared FS6G YDL318 for its long trip to Beaminster and back. Now armed with my own Crosville fuel card, I topped up the tank with diesel. I had allowed plenty of time to do the 51 mile journey, or so I thought. As we headed down the M5 in our 30mph bus all went well until we met our first traffic jam. Not long after passing Bridgwater, red brake lights lit up ahead. I’m not sure why, but all three lanes slowed to walking pace for a mile or so, very frustrating.

The route I had planned took us off the motorway at Taunton and down to meet the A303 via the A368, which is a single carriageway road. I was glad that it wasn’t too hilly because I was having to endure some very lengthy gearchanges. This particular bus has a Gardner 6LW engine, very common in Lodekkas. But, of all the ones I’ve driven, this one needs the longest pause in neutral in the history of crash gearboxes. Gardners are well known for having a lot of inertia and it takes quite a while for the revs to die away between gears when changing up. But the one in YDL, when the engine and transmission are hot, takes AGES to spin down and, if changing up on an uphill gradient, you can easily run out of road speed while waiting and you have to abandon the change and start again. Either that or force it into gear before it’s ready and suffer the inevitable grinding noise. Embarrassing!

Pretty soon though worries about changing gear were overtaken by worries about arriving late. We met nose to tail traffic on the A368, as far as the eye could see. I nervously glanced at my old wind-up watch from time to time as my generous time allowance was gradually eroded. Eventually we reached the A303, crossed over it and continued south through Ilminster on traffic-free roads. I love the summer but I’m not too keen on the traffic delays it brings!

I don’t know how we managed it but we arrived in the village square in Beaminster (pronounced ‘beh-minster’, apparently) just in time to hear church bells ringing. Phew!wedding-car-beaminster I was annoyed that I couldn’t park straight, though. As you see in the photo at the top of the page, we stuck out at an angle but my excuse is that this was the only place on the square we could use and, hidden behind the bus, there was a pile of Co-op delivery cages standing in the road so I had to do a reverse parking manoever. My arms ached a bit after that!

After the wedding car had left, the guests boarded the bus and we drove out of Beaminster and headed for the village of Waytown. I had checked the route on Google Street View and knew full well that some of it was very narrow. It was very nearly our undoing. We almost got stuck in one particular street in Netherbury, where there were parked cars on one side and a very solid looking stone wall on the other. To make matters worse, there was a telegraph pole planted beside the wall at the narrowest point! I was very glad to have a conductor right then as Simon stepped down from the platform and waved me forward as I inched my way through a gap that was only a few centimeters wider than the bus. Although I was relieved to get through unscathed, I knew we’d have to do it all again coming back!

The passengers left the bus to go into a reception venue which had been set up on the wedding couple’s property while we took the bus a bit further down the lane and reversed it into the car park of the Hare & Hounds pub.¬†YDL318-hare-&-hounds The landlord and his wife were very kind to us, offering food and drink, as well as their ‘facilities’ while we waited for about an hour and a half to pick up the guests again. As they boarded the bus we could tell that they had been well ‘wined and dined’ as some of the erm, ‘young ladies’ were decidedly unsteady on their high heels. One be-suited young chap had just finished off a can of beer as he stepped onto the bus and was at the ‘loud’ stage of inebriation.

After navigating ‘the narrows’ again, HMS Southern Vectis set sail for The Acorn Inn at Evershot, another village about 8 miles away in the Yeovil direction. Again, I had memorised the route beforehand but many of the other guests (who were travelling by car) obviously had not. They all waited for us to depart so that they could follow the big green bus!

As we descended the hill into Evershot, the bell rang in the cab. I stopped the bus beside the verge. Looking at my nearside mirror, I could see my conductor standing on the platform, having already opened the platform doors. Standing beside him, looking very agitated, was Mr Loud. He leapt off the bus and darted behind some bushes. Simon came up to the front of the bus, laughing. A round of applause could be heard from inside the bus. Apparently Mr Loud had been asking “are we there yet?” and “how much further is it?” while at the same time doing a little pee-dance on the platform. In the end it got too much for him, the beer won the battle and he demanded that we stop the bus for relief! The convoy of cars streamed past, their occupants grinning at the escapade they’d all just witnessed. Included in the convoy was the white wedding car containing the bride and groom. I suspect that Mr Loud was teased merciliessly once everyone had disappeared into the pub!

The journey back was uneventful in comparison. We joined the A37 just before Yeovil and stuck to ‘proper’ roads – now mostly free of holiday traffic – all the way back.