Wedding at Maunsel House: always have a Plan B

When severe traffic delays threaten to ruin your day even before it has begun, you need to have a Plan B up your sleeve. This was one of those days.

It was while drinking my morning cup of tea that the ever-vigilant Mrs Busman John saw a social media post saying that the M5 motorway, which I was planning to use on my route down to Maunsel House near Bridgwater, had been completely closed southbound following a serious collision the previous evening. I would have checked Google Maps anyway but this gave me advanced warning and brought Plan B into play.

Maunsel House is a modest 15th century country estate just outside the village of North Newton, whose Parish Church was the location for the wedding ceremony. I was booked to arrive at 12 noon, to be in position for a 12:20 departure for the church. With the M5 shut and all other alternative routes clogging up fast, I girded my loins and arrived at the garage more than an hour earlier than originally planned.

Fortunately my allocated bus was ready to go and presented no issues so within 20 minutes I had locked up and was ready to leave. LFM320 was fleet no KA244 in the Crosville fleet when delivered in 1950. Its Leyland E181 engine drives through a 4-speed crash gearbox and, despite having a juddery clutch, provides a reasonably smooth ride.

Avoiding the M5 motorway completely, I motored southwards on the A38. Having long sections with a 50mph speed limit, my top speed of just over 40mph did not hinder following traffic too much. As I approached Highbridge I met a long queue of traffic which disappeared out of sight into the distance so I changed to Plan C, a B-road that I often use on various school routes. It did seem strange to be driving a 1950s half-cab bus instead of a school coach!

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To Priston Mill with a Leyland PS1

I spent a very enjoyable day with an ex-Crosville Leyland PS1 recently and, just like the previous outing, it involved a debate about a seriously steep hill.

It was the first time I had been allocated this bus, a 1947 Leyland PS1 formerly operated by Crosville in north Wales. It has been restored and maintained in excellent condition and was ideally suited to this wedding duty as it matched the cream colour of the day. It also blended well with the two other vehicles involved, a VW campervan and a Beauford limousine.

My walkaround check in the morning revealed nothing untoward so I set off at about 11:00 for Bath Mill Lodge Retreat, just outside the city of Bath. This is where I was to collect a group of wedding guests and transport them to the wedding venue, located deep in the countryside not far away.

I had driven this bus just once before, on a positioning trip across Weston-super-Mare. Powered by its original 6-cylinder Leyland E181 engine (which pre-dates the more common Leyland O.600 diesel engine) and driving through a 4-speed crash gearbox, I found that the ride was rather more ‘lumpy’ than the Gardner 6LW-powered Bristol FSF I had driven on my previous duty. I think this is mostly a Leyland engine characteristic, which seems to want to ‘hunt’ at low revs. It makes the task of driving smoothly a lot more challenging!

My usual double-declutch technique seemed to suit this vehicle without any modifications, except that the pause in neutral while changing up was a bit shorter. Later on I discovered that the gearbox has a decent clutch brake, which came in very handy when I needed to make an up change while going uphill. The clutch brake is operated by pressing the clutch pedal to the floor while the stick is in neutral and it stops the gear shafts in the ‘box spinning, making it possible to engage the next gear more quickly. There’s usually a bit of a clunk but no grinding of gears.

My route to the pickup point took me past Newton St Loe and down the 1-in-6 Pennyquick hill. This is the reason for the aforementioned debate, because I needed to go back up this hill with a loaded bus later, in order to reach the wedding venue. In fact I was so worried about this aspect of the job that I drove the route in my car a few days earlier while visiting a relative in Bristol. This confirmed that it would be risky to attempt this hill, especially as I had read on a news website recently that heavily-laden HGVs regularly got stuck on the hill and caused chaos. I didn’t want to add to that tally so had a Plan B up my sleeve.

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Vintage Allsorts: pre-season positioning moves

When a friend asks you if you could help move an assortment of heritage buses between two locations and you haven’t driven a half-cab bus for several months, what would you say?

Well, ‘yes’, of course! And so I did, with barely concealed excitement. A couple of days ago I spent a happy afternoon driving and shunting a variety of buses (and one coach) in preparation for what we all hope is a busy few months with private hire jobs for Crosville Vintage.

As I arrived at the location where some of the buses are stored I saw a Bristol L coach on a low-loader so I spent a few minutes inspecting it. A recent acquisition by private collector Jonathan Jones-Pratt, LTA895 (1266 in the Southern National/Royal Blue fleet) is a 1951 Bristol LL6B with a shapely Duple 37-seat body. Although complete, the brush-painted bodywork looks rather tired so it is going off for a thorough re-restoration. I was unable to view the interior but I suspect that it too will need some TLC. As the designation LL6B suggests, this elegant coach retains its Bristol 6-cylinder engine and I look forward to driving it one day. I’m rather fond of the melodious Bristol gearbox fitted to 6-cylinder engines. The ‘box fitted to Gardner 5-cylinder engines is not so tuneful, in my opinion.

HJA965EBut my first drive was a Leyland PD2, added to the Crosville fleet last year along with a PS1, of which more later. I’m quite familiar with the PD2 marque, having driven one regularly on sightseeing tours for several seasons in Torbay. This one, a 1967-built PD2/40 with Neepsend bodywork, was originally No 65 in the Stockport Corporation fleet in whose livery it remains today.

For many years it was a mainstay of the Quantock Motor Services heritage fleet but has now moved to Weston-super-Mare and is now one of four heritage vehicles in the active private hire fleet of Crosville Vintage.

Once in the cab, it felt a very familiar place and the slow tickover sound of the Leyland O.600 diesel engine next to me was very comforting. The 7-mile drive to the Crosville operating base, just outside Weston-super-Mare, was long enough for me to reacquaint myself with the 50/50 gearbox. By that I mean that it’s a manual 4-speed ‘box with synchromesh on 3rd and 4th gears but not on 1st and 2nd. So, to move between 1st and second, as well as down from 3rd, I had to use my trusty-but-rusty double-declutch technique.

Manoevering into the industrial unit which serves as an operational base for the private hire fleet was tiring. The steering on a PD2 is normally heavier than its Bristol counterparts but this was compounded by the fact that my arms are not as fit as they used to be. Several years of power-assisted coach driving has spoiled me!

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Bringing a 1947 Leyland PD1 from Yorkshire to Somerset

Due to the unfortunate collapse of a company in Yorkshire, I had the chance to collect a Leyland PD1 and drive it all the way to Weston-super-Mare following its purchase by a local collector.

But first, an apology. If you are reading this, you are either subscribed to my blog or you are a very patient watcher! I’m aware that I haven’t posted much recently but this is due to a lack of time to write more material rather than a lack of any bus-related activity. I have several more posts up my sleeve and I’ll do my best to bring them to you as soon as I can.

The subject of this post is Wigan Corporation 34 (JP6032), a 1947 Leyland PD1 with a Leyland 53-seat lowbridge body. For many years it had been a stalwart of the Yorkshire Heritage Bus Co fleet until financial difficulties led eventually to the entire fleet being put into the hands of a receiver. As ever in these situations, there was the possibility that some of these might be sold abroad or worse, broken up for spares. Jonathan Jones-Pratt bought five of the vehicles and my friend Dave Moore and I were approached to act as ‘ferry drivers’.

We were assured that both our buses had been checked over by someone at the secure yard where they were being stored so all seemed OK for the long journey south. As per usual, I did quite a bit of route research and found that there was a low railway bridge on the most obvious route from the yard to the south-bound M1, so I planned a route that would take me via Tankersley on more suitable roads.

Armed with the address where the buses were stored, Dave and I set off early in the morning by train and arrived at Penistone station about midday. A short taxi ride took us to a remote location where the Yorkshire Heritage fleet was parked in a secure compound. A couple of staff from the facility met us and showed us the two buses we were to bring back. My first impression of the PD1 was that it was OK if a little tatty. Dust and cobwebs indicated that this bus had not been used for a while!

Dave was to bring back a smart looking London Transport RT so he began his walkaround checks while I took stock of the Wigan PD1. I had a look around the RT too, (RT2591, a 1951 AEC Regent III RT3 with Park Royal body) and although the exterior is very presentable, the interior looked a bit tired, with several seats having damage. In its favour though were several original interior adverts dating from the decimal currency change-over in February 1971.

The Wigan PD1 really was an unknown quantity as nobody there had any experience of the vehicle so I poked around for quite a while before starting it up and checking all the usual daily check items. The engine started first time and ticked over slowly with a characteristic Leyland ‘hunting’ rhythm. Apparently new batteries had been fitted in readiness for the journey. I took the bus out of the compound and drove it up and down the nearby yard, just to get a feel of the vehicle and check that I could make it stop as well as make it go!

My checks revealed that the nearside front indicator wasn’t working so, while I waited for a chap to fit a new bulb, I took the above photo. I also noticed that the charge lamp on the control box in the cab wasn’t going out, even when I revved the engine so I highlighted this as well. The two chaps spent a while fiddling about and proclaimed, after watching the headlights while the engine was revved, that the dynamo was charging, despite the red lamp not going out. I was not convinced and decided not to stop the engine until I’d reached Weston-super-Mare, just in case!

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