Guy Arab IV and Leyland PS2 return to Winkleigh

A few days ago I was able to add 2 more buses to my list of those driven. City of Exeter Guy Arab IV TFJ808 and Bournemouth Corporation Leyland PS2/3 JLJ403 had been on loan to Crosville Motor Services from a private collection and I was given the chance to help drive them back to their home depot.

My driving partner for the day was a chap called Paul, a regular visitor to this blog and at one time a driver for Hants & Dorset.  We decided that, as we wanted to experience driving both vehicles, we would swap over part way to Devon. These 2 buses come from the West of England Transport Collection at Winkleigh, so we had quite a long drive ahead of us. This shot of the Guy at the depot might appear to show repairs in progress but actually shows the ever resourceful workshop manager estimating how full the cylindrical fuel tank was before we set out!

TFJ808-at-depot

I elected to drive the Leyland single decker first so, after all checks had been done, we set off for the filling station. The PS2 is a relatively easy bus to drive, having a gearbox with synchromesh on all but first gear. While at Crosville it had never been used in service as quite a number of restoration and repair jobs needed to be done to bring it up to service standards so it appeared to be rather ‘tired’ in places. On this very hot day, I might have benefitted from more ventilation in the cab but the front window hinges were seized solid! The full-front body not only seals the driver into the same confined space as the engine, it also gives him the full aural benefit of it too! I would not have liked to have been cooped up in that cab all day when the coach (as it was configured then) was operating the Town Circular Tour for Bournemouth Corporation.

JLJ403-at-depot

We had decided that, as neither bus was suited to motorway driving, we would stick to A-roads as much as we could. So, having topped up the fuel tanks, we set off southwards in stately convoy. We paused on the outskirts of Highbridge to check that we hadn’t sprung any leaks or lost any wheels. Despite its rather run-down appearance, the PS2 drove beautifully. The steering is light (for a bus of this era), with no wobble or play. The synchromesh works as advertised, meaning that I didn’t need to double-declutch as I would do in a Bristol Lodekka. In fact the experience was very similar to driving the Southport PD2 in Torquay recently (see previous post). And so it should, they were built within 2 years of each other and feature the same engine/gearbox combination.

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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

City of Exeter buses at night

As I mentioned in my last post, my driver at the Exeter event took many photographs between journeys. He has sent me one of the best, taken outside Exeter St Davids Station during a layover. Our bus, Guy Arab IV TFJ808, is almost full with passengers wanting to return to the bus station and a similar Guy Arab (although with Park Royal bodywork) has just drawn up behind.

The lighting conditions outside the station were particularly helpful, providing a nice white light as opposed to the orange hue normally cast by the sodium street lights in most other places. Photographer Ken Jones has an excellent set of photos on the Focus Transport website.

I heard yesterday that a total of £380 was raised for the NSPCC during Sunday night’s event. If you were there and popped a donation into one of the collecting boxes, thank you!

Photo © Jonathan Pye

An unexpected conducting turn in Exeter

Some people say “don’t volunteer for anything” but I’ve learned that life is full of give and take, so I’ve volunteered to do a conducting turn this weekend.

It’s 40 years since Exeter Corporation ran buses. Their familiar green and cream fleet was absorbed into the National Bus Company and wore (briefly) Devon General colours followed by NBC Poppy Red. Earlier this year WHOTT organised a commemorative get together of some preserved Exeter Corporation buses at Exeter Coach Station and this Sunday there will be a Night Running Event. The organisers hope to gather as many former Exeter buses together as possible to offer free rides around familiar city routes. Starting at 4pm and running through the evening until about 9.30pm, Leylands of several varieties, Guy Arabs and maybe a Daimler or two will operate from Exeter Bus Station for a nostalgic evening of bygone bus travel, lit by tungsten bulbs.

I’ve offered my services as a conductor and have been rostered on Guy Arab IV TFJ 808. I always remember these buses from the 1960s and 70s as being the most ‘musical’ of the Exeter buses (not including the Devon General AEC Regents that shared some of the city routes) with their crash gearboxes. I lived in Exmouth back then and these buses would sometimes turn up on the Exeter-Exmouth service or sometimes on school services outside the comprehensive school in Green Close.

By the look of the weather forecast I will have to be dressed in my winter uniform and thermal long-johns!