Crosville Bus & Steam Rally 2016 update #1

Plans are coming together for the Crosville Bus & Steam Rally 2016, at which I plan to be very active! The date is Sunday September 11th.

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Back in 2014 there was a rally and running day based at the seafront at Weston-super-Mare but this year’s event is centred on the Helicopter Museum in Locking Moor Road. Since the 2014 rally Crosville has expanded further, adding fresh vehicles to its heritage fleet and many others to its modern fleet of local service buses and coaches.

For this reason Crosville has struck up a partnership with the Helicopter Museum which – like Crosville – is based on what used to be RAF Weston-super-Mare, albeit on opposite sides of the airfield site. It seems quite appropriate to team up with a museum which celebrates another form of transport history. There is ample room for static displays, indoor areas for society and trade stalls as well as the added attraction of the museum itself. I’ve never been there myself and am looking forward to seeing what’s there.

New for this year is the addition of a steam section. It was originally planned to have Crosville’s own Sentinel DG6P Steam Bus ‘Elizabeth’ in action, fresh from restoration. However, as is often the way with these projects, work is behind schedule and the steam bus won’t be ready in time for the Rally. There will still be plenty of steam power present though as several entries have already been received from traction engine and steam roller owners.

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Vintage Bus Mystery Tour

My final private hire duty of 2015 for Crosville Motor Services turned out to be a very unusual one; a 60th birthday mystery tour. Even the driver didn’t know the destination!

YDL318-at-Wells-bus-station

All I knew was that Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) had been booked for an all-day mystery tour. From the brief details I had been given it looked like a loosely-planned pub crawl. And that is how it turned out. I usually like to know precisely where I am going with a heritage bus so that I can check out the route, parking facilities and turning spaces. This time, even after a phone call the previous week and a conversation with the organiser at the depot on the day, we decided to more or less make it up as we went along. Fortunately, I knew that all the places we discussed as potential stopping points were accessible.

The occasion was the 60th birthday of a lady who lived in Weston-super-Mare. Her husband had booked the bus and had arranged for a group of family and friends to turn up but he hadn’t told his wife! With the interior of the bus decorated with balloons and banners (and of course with ’60’ on the destination blinds) I drove the short distance from the depot to a pub just up the road from the couple’s house. I used a circuitous route so that I didn’t drive past the house on the way! A group of about 40 people plus a very nervous husband boarded the bus and we stopped outside the birthday girl’s front door. The look on her face as she opened the door was priceless! I was reminded of the time when I had done something very similar for my Mum’s 80th birthday. Neither she nor my Dad knew we were all turning up in a Hants & Dorset bus!

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Diary date: Crosville Bus & Steam Fair 2016

It’s a long way off, I know. But put Sunday 11th September 2016 in your diary if you’re anywhere near the westcountry. This is the date of the Crosville Bus & Steam Fair 2016.

767-and-Lizzie

There wasn’t a rally or running day in 2015 – they seem to be happening on alternate years – but the event planned for 2016 is being billed as the best yet. As you may have read, the Crosville Motor Services heritage fleet has gained a steam-powered vehicle in the shape of ‘Elizabeth’, the 1931 Sentinel DG6P steam bus. This unique vehicle will take centre stage at the Fair and will be one of several buses from the heritage fleet running free bus rides during the day.

4-Bristol-Ls-at-Crosville-Rally-2014

Last year’s event was based on The Lawns on Weston-super-Mare seafront but the 2016 event will be based at Weston’s old airfield, next to the the Helicopter Museum. There will be a number of free bus services running, including a shuttle to and from the Crosville depot in Winterstoke Road. For the first time, to keep ‘Elizabeth’ company no doubt, owners of other steam-powered vehicles are being invited to come along too. Traction engines and steam rollers will be adding to the atmosphere, in more ways than one!

2700-@-RBW-3

Two buses which are currently away being refurbished should also be back in service by then, both of which were driven by your humble scribe upcountry for work to be carried out. TD895, a 1949 Bristol K6A, is being restored to the condition it was in when on loan from Hants & Dorset to London Transport. Southern National 2700 is a 1966 Bristol RELL and has already had some mechanical and bodywork repairs done. It is awaiting a new coat of Tilling Green and Cream before returning to Weston.

The date is already in my diary and I’m sure to be driving one of the heritage buses so come and join us for a day of vintage fun!

Wilts & Dorset Centenary Running Day, Salisbury

I recently took part in the vintage bus running day to commemorate the Wilts & Dorset Centenary. It also gave me the opportunity to relive some of my childhood memories in Salisbury.

Wilts-&-Dorset-lineup

Wilts & Dorset Motor Services Ltd was incorporated in 1915 and the centenary of that event was celebrated in great style in Salisbury, with more than 50 buses operating old W&D routes or on static display. The day ended with all the surviving Wilts & Dorset buses at the event being posed together for photographs (see above).

I had originally planned to take a Hants & Dorset Bristol K6A – now owned by Crosville Motor Services – to the event but the bus is still undergoing refurbishment so that plan fell through. Knowing that I was available but had no bus to drive, the event organisers invited me to drive Wilts & Dorset 628 (1956-built Bristol LD6G OHR919) instead. Of course, I leapt at the chance, having enjoyed driving it at the Salisbury Bus Station Closure event in January 2014.

The day started at silly-o’clock, when my alarm went off. With my son Peter for company (he was also to be my conductor for the day) I set off for Salisbury, where I had arranged to meet the owners of the bus. Allan and Kevin Lewis also own Hants & Dorset 1450 (Bristol FS6G 5677EL) and were happy for me to drive their Wilts & Dorset Lodekka while they crewed their FS.

All the buses running in service began to congregate in the Millstream Approach Coach Park, along with growing numbers of photographers. Peter and I began to wonder if we’d have to join them as our bus didn’t arrive until 10 minutes before our planned departure on service. Salisbury’s one-way system was to blame!

W&D-crew-on-platformSuitably attired in our Tilling uniforms (OK, so they’re more suited to a Hants & Dorset bus, but red-trimmed jackets are as rare as hen’s teeth), we took charge of 628 and drove round to our stop on the Blue Boar Row. The sight that greeted us was amazing. Every one of the bus stops along the busy city centre street seemed to be occupied by a heritage bus of some sort. There was only just enough room for us to tuck in at the back. As soon as we drew up hordes of people rushed to board, even crossing the road from the static display area.

Eventually Peter gave me two bells and we departed slowly on our first journey, which was the number 60 to Wilton. Slowly, because other buses were also departing and the crowds were spilling over from the pavements into the road. I’m sure I’ve never seen so many camera lenses pointing in my direction before!

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Charlie the Charabanc goes to the Seaside

So, the cat is out of the bag. English Riviera Sightseeing Tours has acquired Bristol LH replica Charabanc TR6147.

TR6147-Torquay-Station

The deal was done back in April but, until the new Sightseeing Tours livery was applied, the vehicle was effectly ‘under wraps’ and news of its arrival was embargoed as far as Busman’s Holiday was concerned!

TR6147 was previously owned by Wheels of Nuneaton but its owner Ashley Wakelin wanted to scale down his operation and put the bus up for sale. It was delivered wearing its Midland Red livery, similar to several other vehicles in the erstwhile Wheels fleet.

TR6147-old-liveryThis photo was taken during the journey up to Exeter for repainting. This was my first attempt at driving the charabanc and it was a baptism of fire, I can tell you! But first we need to do a bit of digging into the history of this rather bizarre vehicle.

TR6147 actually began life with Hants & Dorset as a standard ECW-bodied Bristol LH6L bus, registered NLJ516M, in 1973. This photo of sister bus NLJ517M shows what it would have looked like shortly after delivery. After a comparatively short service life it was taken into the H&D workshops at Barton Park, Eastleigh (near Southampton) and rebuilt with a replica charabanc body, emerging in 1982. Legend has it that several parts from a 1929-built vehicle were incorporated. Certainly the registration number TR6147 was originally carried by a 1929 all-Leyland Lion PLSC3 but this bus is recorded as having been scrapped in 1943. Here is an interesting photo of the charabanc body being built at Eastleigh. All that remains of the Bristol LH is the chassis, including the Leyland O.401 6-cylinder diesel engine and 5-speed manual gearbox. The bus can carry 25 people, accommodated on deeply padded ‘leather’ seats.

The replica charabanc was used by Hants & Dorset at rallies and for private hire and subsequently passed through several owners including Shamrock & Rambler and Arriva before joining Ashley’s well known Midland Red Coaches/Wheels of Nuneaton fleet.

The journey to Exeter didn’t require me to use 1st (crawler) gear, which is just as well because engaging 1st or reverse is something of an art. Fortunately for us, Ashley Wakelin had kindly come down from Nuneaton at his own expense the day after it was delivered to show us around the bus and had demonstrated some of its quirks for us.

The driving position took some getting used to. I’m more familiar with the forward control position found in most half cab buses but in this bus it has been set back behind the front wheels. A huge expanse of bonnet stretches out in front of the driver which makes judging one’s position when in tight spaces a bit tricky. The driver now sits directly above the engine (still in its original position under the LH’s floor) and the experience is noisy! I was curious to see how fast it would go so, while motoring along on the A38 dual carriageway towards Exeter I put my foot down. The tacho showed around 55mph! That’s an undignified speed for a charabanc (it also led to a bout of overheating) so I eased off and completed the rest of the journey at a more reasonable 35mph or so.

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Vintage Bus Running Days in 2015

2015 looks like being a vintage year for bus running days, which seems to be the preferred format for what used to be the traditional ‘bus rally’. The chance to ride on buses that we remember from our youth is of course far more appealing than walking around them at a largely static display as in former years.

Looking through the pages of my Bus & Coach Preservation magazine (others are available from your local newsagent) I can see that there are events up and down the country virtually all through the year. Naturally I can attend only a handful of these because they are mostly on Sundays, when I’m normally busy in church. So, for your interest, here is a list of the few events (not just running days) that I plan to be at. Plus one or two in my local area which I’d love to attend, but can’t.

FJ6154-Westpoint-rally-1

Lord Mayor of Exeter ~ May 2
On Saturday May 2nd Councillor ‘Percy’ Prowse is due to attend the final public engagement of his year as Lord Mayor of Exeter. He has asked the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) to provide a suitable vehicle for the occasion, specifically Exeter Corporation No 5 (FJ6154). This 1929 Maudslay ML3 was one of the first motor buses ordered by the Corporation to replace the trams which operated the city’s public transport. It was officially launched after restoration at last year’s WHOTT rally, with yours truly behind the wheel. I’m due to take the bus out for a proving run this week, prior to driving it from its base in mid-Devon down to Exeter under its own power.

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Taunton Bus Running Day ~ May 10
This is one event that I’m not able to attend, but am happy to list it here for westcountry folk who don’t yet know about it. Normally run under the auspices of Quantock Motor Services, the Taunton Bus Running Day will feature most of the Quantock Heritage fleet plus a good number of visiting vehicles (photo © Ken Jones). More details on this poster.

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Bristol FLF DEL893C with Double Two Shirts, 1990…

…but where is it now?

Many of the classic buses and coaches which we enjoy today owe their survival to non-PSV use after withdrawal. One such bus is a Bristol FLF which has featured heavily on these pages in the past.

The photo above shows Hants & Dorset’s 1220 (FLF6G DEL893C) in gleaming H&D livery a couple of years ago but long before that it entered service, still wearing faded Poppy Red, with Double Two Shirts in about 1981. This large Wakefield-based manufacturer used to run quite an extensive fleet of ex-service vehicles, mostly Bristol FLFs and VRTs, to convey staff to and from the factory. I recently came across a YouTube clip of some of these vehicles in action:

Staff Bus (Double Two, Wakefield)

DEL893-in-Porlock

After passing through the hands of several owners, including Quantock Motor Services (left, seen entering Porlock), it reached Weston-super-Mare in the ownership of the fledgling Crosville Motor Services. It became a mainstay of the heritage hire fleet and was the first bus I drove in service after passing my PCV test in 2012.

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