Village turns out for Stapley farmer’s wedding

Last Saturday’s wedding duty was a real pleasure to perform and shows how laid back some country folk are! The sun shone and the clock virtually stood still as the bride and groom set the pace.

Bizarrely, the pickup point was only 2.5 miles from my in-laws’ house in Bristol so Mrs Busman John and I picked up Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) from the Crosville Motor Services depot in Weston-super-Mare on Friday evening. This Lodekka is a real pleasure to drive and I enjoyed taking it through the street-lit city centre of Bristol.

This time I was joined by a conductor and we met up the next morning at the pickup point. Simon helped me reverse the bus down a narrow residential road to a space outside the bride’s house. Departure time came and went and eventually the bride, her family and her bridesmaids climbed aboard. Less than half full, we set off and headed through the morning traffic to the A38 via the Ring Road and Brislington.

In my safety speech I had warned my passengers that the journey would be a long one but assured them that my foot would be on the floor most of the way! After about an hour we joined the M5 and plodded south towards Taunton at a sedentary 30mph. Is that a safe speed for a vehicle on the motorway? I sometimes feel a bit vulnerable with traffic, including lorries, coming up fast behind me.

Skirting through the suburbs of Taunton, we were soon following signs for Corfe, a small village nestling in the Somerset countryside. As soon as we’d left that behind we started climbing Whitford Hill. It was marked on the map I’d studied a few days earlier but I hadn’t realised what a long haul it would be. Our Lodekka is relatively good at hill climbing, having a low ratio rear axle well suited to the hilly routes on its native Isle of Wight, but this hill was a bit of a challenge and I had to change down to 2nd gear for the last half mile or so. The engine was really hot by then – I could feel the heat building up beside my left leg – and, with little air passing through the radiator at such a slow speed, the coolant began to boil. I was very glad to reach the top and changed up as soon as I dared. Even so, the road speed dropped away so much that, by the time I let out the clutch in third gear, the engine was almost at stalling revs. However, the gutsy Gardner 6LW still delivered enough torque to keep us going.

As we approached the turning that would take us towards the church, somebody knocked on the window behind me. I glanced around to see Simon the conductor pointing straight ahead. I guessed that there had been a change of plan so I carried on towards the village of Churchingford. As soon as the village pub came into view Simon dinged the bell so I pulled up outside. Led by the bride, who had gathered up the voluminous folds of her wedding dress to enable a quick exit, the entire bridal party disappeared into The York Inn for a comfort break, a drink or a smoke. In some cases, all three. I presumed that someone had been in contact with those waiting at the church as we were now more than 30 minutes late…

YDL318-York-Inn

We hurried everyone aboard, reversed the bus and retraced our steps (should that be tyremarks?) back up the hill, down the lanes to the ancient parish church at Churchstanton, a community that’s mentioned in the Domesday Book. There were cars parked all over the place and I had to get Simon to come forward and watch my clearance as I inched my way between the cars. A slightly nervous moment, especially as we were within sight of the church and various guests were pointing their cameras at us! Safely through, we parked outside the church and the bridal party went into the church as the bells began to ring.

A very welcome break followed. I was glad to dispense with my dust jacket as the sunshine was by now making the cab very warm. We turned the bus at a nearby junction and waited for the ceremony to finish. We prepared ourselves for a full bus for the final trip to the reception venue.

bride-&-groom-churchstanton

The 8-note peal of bells rang out again from the tower and the churchyard soon filled with guests. A photographer, who seemed content to just snap some candid shots instead of the usual formal poses, followed the bridal couple around as they chatted and slowly made their way towards the bus. Surprisingly, only the bride and groom boarded the bus, went upstairs and started canoodling in the front seats. Everyone else piled into cars or onto a community minibus that had just arrived. I was wondering what our next move would be or indeed whether we were needed at all. My Work Ticket stated that we were to convey the wedding party to the reception but there didn’t appear to be anyone left to take! I was reluctant to disturb the happy couple in their private moment but in the end, after the vicar and bellringers had left, I climbed the stairs shouting “I’m coming up!” as a warning. The bride shouted back “It’s OK, we’re fully clothed!” so I continued up. Apparently they wanted to wait until all the guests had left and then, to allow them time to get parked and seated, wanted to trundle round the lanes for a bit before arriving at the venue. I was happy with that but asked that one of them should direct me as I didn’t know the locality at all. So it was back to The York first. I was amazed at their laid-back attitude to time but I guessed that they just wanted to enjoy being alone for a while before an afternoon/evening of jollity began. They disappeared inside the pub and reappeared a little later with a Guinness and a lager in hand.

The community minibus came by and the driver confirmed that everyone had been safely delivered so the bride and groom climbed aboard and we set off down the narrow lanes for Stapley Farm, which was owned and run by the groom, who had a large dairy herd. I dreaded meeting any other traffic because there didn’t seem to be many passing places but the locality seemed to be strangely devoid of traffic. I found out why when we arrived at the farm. It was set beside the road which runs through the hamlet of Stapley, which consisted of a motley collection of houses, cottages and a telephone box. The groom and his family had set up a large marquee inside one of his barns and proudly offered to show it to us.

stapley

I said that was very kind of him but that I couldn’t leave the bus in the middle of the road unattended. He insisted, saying that nobody would be coming up the lane anyway, because everyone in the area was inside the marquee! I shrugged and said “OK, thanks!” The bus was parked on a hill so I rolled forward a little, turned the wheels towards the verge, stopped the engine, pulled the handbrake on hard and left the bus in 1st gear. Simon and I made our way up into the farmyard and into the huge barn, which had been transformed into a well decorated reception venue. It was humming with broad Somerset chatter so we left them to it and made our way back to the bus. We passed a very salubrious mobile toilet, ‘The Silver Street Loos’ which even had its own piped music. I paid a visit and had to chuckle at the rather cheeky farming songs that played discreetly inside!

silver-street-loos

Sure enough there were no cars waiting to pass the bus so we bade farewell and, watching for low branches, continued down the lane in search of somewhere to turn the bus. I missed a turn going back so we didn’t return via Corfe but carried on through Blagdon Hill before we reached Taunton. Not part of my plan but very pleasant all the same. The trees were finally bursting forth with late spring greenery and the sunshine continued to light up the beautiful scenery. I drove through Taunton, a town I hadn’t visited since I finished working for Quantock Motor Services a few years ago.

As we toiled up the M5 towards the depot I glanced back and saw my conductor was asleep, slumped in one of the front seats. Lucky fellow! Back at the garage there was a line of service buses awaiting their turn to be cleaned so I parked alongside another Lodekka and did my paperwork. The other bus in the photo is a City of Exeter Guy Arab IV, which is on loan from the West of England Transport Collection at Winkleigh. I hope to be allocated this bus for one of my forthcoming duties.

lodekkas-&-guy

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Heritage bus repairs and restorations at Crosville

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Back in December I took a couple of quick pictures inside the depot at Crosville while awaiting departure time on a wedding duty. There were, at that time, five heritage vehicles under (or awaiting) repair. With a varied fleet of modern buses and coaches to keep roadworthy and compliant as well, there is always some repair work going on but I was particularly interested in the older ones!

The first to greet me as I came in the door was this 1949 Bedford OB, originally fleet no 207 with Bristol Tramways. It was the first Bedford OB to be delivered to the Tramways, later to become Bristol Omnibus Company, after the war. This bus, which is one of two very similar OBs owned by the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection, has only just been restored but was in the Crosville garage for some attention to the 6-cylinder petrol engine and possibly the brakes too, as the front nearside wheel is missing. The BOVC has close links with Crosville and one day I’d love to drive this OB. The sound of these old Bedfords is very distinctive and takes me right back to my childhood when Tom Phillips, our local coal merchant, had a fleet of very run down OBs and SBs (I think) which operated from a ramshackle yard just round the corner from where I lived in Exmouth. They all wore a very dusty maroon livery.

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One of the three Crosville Bristol L single deck buses was undergoing some substantial bodywork restoration. Shown here parked next to a fully restored sister vehicle, L5G KFM893 had spent many years with Quantock Motor Services before joining the Crosville fleet last year and a winter repaint has turned into a much larger project. Quite a lot of the wooden framework has been replaced and will also be fitted with new aluminium panels before the promised repaint. It will then be fit for use on private hire duties again.

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Bristol Lodekka versus Santas On A Bike

My most recent outing with Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF DEL893C was surely the most bizarre yet. The weather was fairly chilly but I didn’t expect to meet Santa and a Polar Bear!

To start with, I had a nice surprise waiting for me. My boss had sent me a cryptic text telling me that the FLF was all ready and I was to let him know what I thought. As I drove up the motorway towards the depot I wondered what had been done to it, that I should let the boss know what I thought. Had it been fitted with antlers and a big red nose? Had it been repainted into my favourite Tilling livery, red and cream? Had a Gardner 6LXB been shoe-horned into the engine bay? No, none of the above. I found the FLF waiting for me outside the garage and, as I opened the cab door, I was greeted by the unmistakeable aroma of fresh paint. The cab had been given a coat of Tilling Green paint, with silver and black adornments to match.

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This was, apparently, a parting shot from the engineering apprentice who had now moved on to pastures new. It looked fantastic! It looked so good that I was reluctant to climb up inside for fear of spoiling the shiny silver floor! Needless to say, I had to make my mark with my muddy size sevens as I made my preparations and checks before setting off. I had plenty of time in hand so I wandered round the garage and took some pictures of some of the heritage buses under restoration and repair. I’ll share these in another post.

The trusty Gardner 6LW gradually came up to working temperature as I drove out on the A370 towards the M5 motorway junction. I was amused to see a handful of high-powered motorbikes burble past me, the riders clad in Santa suits. Across the other side of the motorway junction there is a large layby with a snack bar parked within. I had to do a double-take as I drew closer because the entire layby was full of Santas on Bikes! I idly wondered what event they were taking part in – I was to find out later because they featured heavily in my entire day!

My Job Ticket indicated that I was to pick up a bridal party from a narrow street in Westbury-on-Trym so I arranged with the customer that I would park up on nearby Falcondale Road and await a text message when they were ready, to save causing an obstruction in the street. As I waited, yet more Santas passed by in dribs and drabs, heading into Bristol from ‘oop north.

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Gardner 6LW engine transplant

While preparing Crosville’s ex-Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF for a wedding job last Saturday I took the picture below. Parked just beyond my bus was another Bristol FLF and, behind that, an ex-Bath Services Bristol KSW.

It reminded me that the ex-Bristol Omnibus FLF (the one wearing the rather faded NBC Leaf Green livery) has survived into preservation complete with its original Bristol BVW engine. The KSW also retains it’s Bristol engine, in this case an AVW.

The H&D FLF was itself delivered with a Bristol engine but lost it in the 1970s when numerous strikes caused the supply of spare parts to dry up. Desperate to keep it’s fleet of Lodekkas going, Hants & Dorset (in common with many other operators faced with the same problem) cannibalised older Bristol Ks and transplanted their sturdy Gardner 6LW engines into the newer buses.

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Preparing for Crosville Running Day

Yesterday I spent some time at the Crosville Motor Services depot preparing vehicles for the forthcoming Running Day and Depot Open Day. I also had a meeting with a graphic designer in the town who may be able to take on some of the design and artwork I’ve been doing in my spare time. The volume of work required by Crosville has increased massively as the company has grown and matured, far beyond my capacity to keep up in my spare time!

It was very interesting to see Crosville during a typical working day. As I arrived, the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF was up on jacks having its chassis cleaned in preparation for being silvered.

After my meeting with the designer I took myself off in the car to drive around the Service 152 route (Weston-super-Mare to Uphill) which is my rostered duty for this Sunday, the day of the Running Day. I’ve only ever seen the route on a map, not in the flesh, as I haven’t actually been any further into Weston than the depot!

In the afternoon I joined a team which was cleaning the heritage buses in preparation for the Running Day. These included several buses belonging to the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection which are garaged alongside Crosville’s own heritage fleet. Already outside the garage door was a Bristol Omnibus Company (BOC) Bristol KSW. I donned a borrowed dayglo-orange overall and used a jetwash to rinse down the bus after one of the team had been around with a soapy brush. We also checked oil, water and fuel levels.

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Grandma’s Grand Day Out

A few days ago I took a bus load of very special people on a day trip to Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire.

They were special because they were my family! Mrs Busman John’s Mum is 80 this year and we’d decided to take her and all the family out for the day so we hired YDL318, a Southern Vectis FS6G from Crosville Motor Services.

The weather promised to be fine and in fact it turned out to be a scorcher. My wife and I arrived at the depot early in the morning to find that our bus was hidden behind a Bristol VR, which was kindly moved by a colleague while I started up the Lodekka’s Gardner 6LW engine and built up air. While I did my checks my wife got busy with the ribbons, balloons and bunting. There was a definite red, white and blue theme not only in honour of the Queen’s recent Diamond Jubilee but also because we had relatives visiting from the USA. They’re still very proud of being British so I made sure they were able ride in a proper British bus with the engine at the front and the platform at the back!

After fuelling up at Morrisons we headed up the A370 to Bristol and threaded our way through the city traffic which, thankfully, was light. As we arrived to pick up the family party, most of them were already outside with tables, chairs, boxes of food, drinks and even a fridge!

My youngest son Peter did a great job on the platform and eagerly issued souvenir tickets to all his relatives once we were under way.

As always, I had researched my route thoroughly and had decided not to bother with Tog Hill, even though it lay on the most direct route. Our bus only had a top speed of 30mph and a long drag up through Wick would add further time to the journey. So I stuck to the A4 Keynsham Bypass and on through Bath.

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Cheltenham & Gloucester

No, not the building society of the same name. These two Gloucestershire towns were my twin destinations last weekend.

Once again I was allocated DEL893C (seems to be my regular bus) for the wedding duty which took me to Hucclecote Parish Church. Pickup time was 09:50 in Cheltenham which would have meant leaving the garage in Weston-super-Mare at about 07:15 so Mrs Busman John and I picked up the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF on Friday evening so that I could set off for Cheltenham at a more reasonable hour!

I had decided to take the direct route through Bristol as I’d discovered that it would take 8 miles off the total distance, compared with going all round the city on the M5/M4. It was a pleasant drive at that time in the evening. Rush hour had been and gone, leaving the streets nice and empty for me and my lumbering leviathan! Passing along streets that used to see many Bristol FLFs in the 1960s and 70s brought an inner sense of satisfaction, particularly when I passed what used to be the bus depot in Staple Hill.

My pickup point the next morning was a hotel in Cheltenham, not far from the motorway. The drive up from Bristol, starting at a much more reasonable 08:15, was as uneventful as the terrain was flat. Gloucestershire is relatively FLF-friendly compared with Devon, which is positively mountainous in places! The FLF I had today is only powered by a Gardner 6LW which, when fully laden, feels quite underpowered if there are any gradients on the route. Thankfully there were none today and, once loaded at the hotel, I found I had seats to spare so we flew along the A40 to Gloucester at 50mph!

There was only one glitch today and that was self-inflicted. For the first time since I started driving professionally, I took a wrong turn. I left one roundabout in Gloucester too early and found myself doing a tour of a singularly unattractive industrial estate. Having looked at Google Maps very intently the day before, I was hoping that if I kept going, I would eventually come out onto the road which took me to the church. As my hunch turned out to be correct you would have heard an enormous sigh of relief, if it wasn’t for the engine noise in the cab!

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