If you live in the UK you’ll know all about the cold snap we’ve endured recently (March 2018). Spare a thought for the busman who drew the short straw.
Now and then I take on private hire jobs for Crosville with relatively modern vehicles, especially in the winter months when there are very few duties for the heritage fleet. This past weekend saw me driving a busload of party-goers through a snowstorm in the wee small hours. Deep joy!
The duty involved driving mostly after dark so opportunities for photography were few so, for you dear reader, I will paint a word picture.
We knew it was coming, thanks to the weather reports. An amber warning for Devon, Cornwall and Somerset for snow and ice, together with advice from the Police not to travel on the roads unless absolutely necessary. Some weeks ago I had taken a booking for Crosville to take a group of people from Cheddar to the Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare and return. With heavy snow forecast for Sunday March 18th I was hoping that I would be able to complete my duty before the snow made the roads treacherous. I suppose I just about made it!
We’d been asked to transport 70 people so we allocated one of our double deck buses from the service fleet. I took the bus straight out of service on the 106 to Worlebury Woods, leaving the driver to return to the depot in the works van. After popping my tacho chart into the bus I high-tailed it across to Cheddar via Congresbury and Langford – the quickest way I knew. I only had about 35 minutes before I was due to pick up my passengers in the middle of Cheddar.
On Saturday my conductor and I were given the honour of conveying a bus load of Dragons and other well-heeled celebrities to the Axentis Michael Memorial Ball. Yes, dear reader, the Dragons from the TV show.
But first, let me tell you about another outing earlier in the day. This was a wedding which required the use of a heritage single decker due to a low bridge en-route to the church. I was given a 1950 Bristol L5G, ex-Crosville. This is very similar to the Crosville Bristol L that I drove to Shepton Mallet earlier in the year.
The one I had last weekend is in immaculate condition, having undergone a very thorough and costly from-the-wheels-up restoration in recent years. It has been lovingly cared for ever since and looks as good as the day it was delivered to Chester depot when new.
Several months have passed since I drove the other Bristol L so I needed the empty journey to Cadbury House Hotel to familiarise myself with the vehicle. It was broadly similar to driving a Lodekka except that the gearbox layout is slightly different. The positions of the 4 forward gears are subtly different – 2nd and 4th being slightly closer to neutral than 1st and 3rd. Or is it the other way around? Well, I did say it was subtle…
The other difference to note is that the 5-cylinder Gardner diesel engine, once warmed up, takes a LONG time to spool down when changing up a gear. The gear ratios seem to be more spaced out than on a Lodekka as well, meaning that I had to use most of the rev range to achieve a satisfactory up-change otherwise I found that the engine was almost at stalling speed when the next gear was engaged. But my biggest impression was that everything was beautifully adjusted and tight. There were virtually no rattles in the cab, unlike a certain Bristol FLF I could mention.
I arrived at the hotel, owned and run by the Hilton Group, in plenty of time. Departure time came and so too did the passengers, thankfully. We made leisurely progress along the A370, turning off to pass under the railway bridge at Nailsea and Backwell station. The Parish Church at Wraxall isn’t far beyond the town of Nailsea so it wasn’t long before I pulled into a convenient bus layby just past the church. While waiting for the ceremony to finish I chatted with the owner/driver of a superb Austin Six which had conveyed the bride to the church. The driver and I had met before at a Wedding Fayre last year.
You wait ages for a bus and then 12 come along all at once!
That could well sum up the cherry on the top of the Crosville cake, but more of that later.
After taking part in the preparations for the Crosville Running Day a few days earlier I was amazed at the transformation that had taken place at the depot when I arrived on the day itself. I was directed to park in the large compound at the end of the site. It was enormous and easily contained ample parking for the day’s visitors as well as static displays of heritage and modern vehicles.
Returning to the depot I found a smart display of ex-Crosville vehicles either side of the depot’s main entrance. Among them was my steed for the day, a Bristol FSF6G open top bus. This has recently returned from an extensive restoration in the North of England and looked superb.
I wasn’t due to leave the depot with the bus until 10:30 so I browsed among the many society and trade stalls that had been lined up around the largely empty garage. Apparently the staff had spent many hours cleaning the floor until it was fit to accept visitors.