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.
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!
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…
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’.
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).
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com or just leave a comment here. Thank you!
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.
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 blasé 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.
But, 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!