To Burtle and back

It’s always the same with buses. You wait ages for one and then several turn up all at once. And so it is with these blog posts. Here come two vintage posts but, so that I don’t tax your little grey cells too much, the next one will be along shortly.

I recently had the pleasure of driving another Leyland PD2 belonging to Quantock Heritage, for a wedding duty on my own patch.

It’s one of a handful of wedding hire duties I’ve agreed to do for the company just to stay current with vintage buses, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. It came during a spell of very wet and squally weather we’d been enduring in June 2019, supposedly the height of summer! It also gave me a chance to work again with my conductress friend Cherry Selby.

My allocated bus was Stockport Corporation No 65 (HJA965E), a 1967 Leyland PD2/40 with East Lancs double deck bodywork. Although a late model (rear engined buses had already been around for about 6 years by the time No 65 entered service), the Corporation still favoured the traditional layout with an open rear platform. I’ve worked with this bus before, notably in 2007 when I was a conductor during the Quantock ‘Taunton Christmas Park and Ride’ operation, when I nearly froze to the platform in the bitterly cold weather!

I prepared the bus outside the small depot near Wiveliscombe with a little help from Steve, the boss. He was due to go out later with newly-restored Birmingham City Transport Leyland PS2 No.2257 (JOJ 257). If I play my cards right, I might get a turn later in the year!

When I started the Leyland O.600 engine it idled so slowly that I had to keep my foot on the gas a little for fear of it stopping altogether. It didn’t, and even when warmed up, it still ticked over slowly. In a funny sort of way it was quite pleasing because the injector pump had been set up so well (Steve favours Leylands and knows how to look after them) that there was no trace of hunting either. A very far cry from the similar Leyland PD2/3 that I used to drive in Torbay, which idled very fast due to a split diaphragm in the pump. This was only cured after I’d moved away!

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Two Leyland PD2s to Priston Mill

After several months without seeing a heritage bus I thought it was about time I climbed into the cab again. Although I’m still hoping that the ex-Crosville fleet will become operational again, I was asked recently to do a wedding duty for Quantock Heritage.

Those of you who have been with me from the beginning will know that I’ve worked for this company before, then trading as Quantock Motor Services Ltd, so it was good to meet up again with old friends. The duty I was asked to cover was a 2-vehicle job, picking up in Bath and ending up at Priston Mill which is a few miles outside the city.

The two vehicles were both Leyland PD2 double deck buses and the one allocated to me was Rawtenstall No 18 (RTC822). This is a 1953 Leyland PD2/12 with an all-metal Leyland body. New to Rawtenstall Corporation, it is now presented in the livery of Scout Motor Services, Preston although it never ran for that operator in service. The other vehicle was Stockport No 65 (HJA965E), a 1967 Leyland PD2/40 with a Neepsend body.

I arrived at the small bus garage at Langley Marsh in plenty of time so that I could do a thorough walkaround check and become familiar with my new surroundings. As I mentioned above, I worked for this operator before but back then it was based next to the railway station at Bishops Lydeard. The driver of the other bus was already there, doing his checks. The boss, Steve Morris, was to be conductor on the Stockport PD2 and we were to collect Bill Ricketts, my conductor, on our way through Wiveliscombe.

Our first hazard was roadworks. BT Openreach contractors had chosen this day to dig the road up right outside the garage so the workmen had to move barriers and vehicles to allow our two buses to leave. As we began our journey I quickly became attuned to driving a half cab bus again. It didn’t take long and No 18 reminded me of the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours open top PD2/3 that I used to drive until I moved away from Torbay. However, No 18 still has its roof and is in much better condition, having had a more recent restoration in Quantock ownership.

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Dennis toastrack bus in Torquay

Way back in sunny May I paid a return visit to Torbay and met up with my friends at English Riviera Sightseeing Tours. I spent the day driving their open top Leyland PD2 and also met their newest acquisition, a Dennis Toastrack Bus.

Needless to say, the folks there were delighted to have me back, if only for a day. Apparently my gentle driving style has been sorely missed! It was great to be in the driving seat of FFY403 once again and to hear the banter and gags of my tour guide ‘Wayne Champagne’ as we trundled around the tour route.

Since I last drove it, the PD2 had undergone some engine repairs, the fuel pump and injectors getting particular attention. Those with long memories will remember that my only disppointment with driving the PD2 was its excessively high idle speed. Usually a Leyland O.600 engine will tick over very slowly without doing any harm, sometimes with a little ‘hunting’ too. But on FFY the idle speed used to be so high that I had to de-clutch far sooner than normal when rolling to a stop. I seemed to have to coast for ages with my foot on the clutch before stopping.

Anyway, having refurbished the pump and replaced a split rubber diaphragm, the idle speed could be brought right down so driving it again this year brought great satisfaction. At long last I was able to hear the engine idling normally. Why couldn’t this work have been done when I was a regular driver?!

Wayne couldn’t resist bringing out one of his favourite gags in my honour as we passed through Paignton during the afternoon tour. As we approached Manor Corner on the return to Torquay, we were about to pass the Paignton Spiritualist Church. “I have some late breaking news for you, folks,” piped up Wayne. “This evening’s clairvoyance meeting at the Spiritualist Church has been cancelled,” he continued with barely suppressed giggles, “due to unforeseen circumstances!” Gales of laughter from the saloon behind me followed by “It’s not my fault, ladies and gentlemen, that one was especially for our driver John!” from Wayne. He knows that I’m a churchgoer (though not a Spiritualist) and likes to trot that one out for my benefit, although I doubt that Spiritualists can look into the future any more than I can.

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WNO480 goes to Torquay

1953 Eastern National Bristol KSW5G WNO480 is now enjoying a new career down on the sunny English Riviera. Or is it?

After its sale by the owner of Crosville Motor Services I recently drove this bus down to Torquay which, until last year, was my home patch. In many ways WNO is more suited to English Riviera Sightseeing Tours than it was to its former Weston-super-Mare owner, where it never really found any proper work to do.

The bus arrived needing work done to its dynamo and this was duly carried out last year. Accident damage to the front nearside mudguard was also fettled but, after a brief appearance at the Crosville bus rally in September, it remained idle in the garage. Crosville already has two other active open top buses (both visible in the photo above) and there just wasn’t enough work to sustain yet another, albeit more historic, open top bus. Hence the decision to sell.

In the photo above WNO480 is seen being prepared for the journey south with trade plates displayed and carrying a generous supply of water under the stairs! To the left of the KSW is ex-Bristol Omnibus VRT LEU263P. It was also being prepared for a long journey, this time northwards for MOT work. Unusually, the KSW has a 12 volt electrical system with just one enormous 12 volt battery under the floor instead of the usual two. The battery had been on charge the previous day as months of idleness had taken their toll.

Mrs Busman John had decided to follow me on this occasion, not only to transport me home to Weston later but also to visit some friends before we left. True to form, she had to hold back as we drove out of the estate. WNO, in common with most Gardner-powered vehicles, was emitting clouds of blue/white smoke from the exhaust but this cleared as the 5-cylinder engine warmed up. This particular 5LW engine sounds rather nasal and raucous due to having large mesh gauze covering the ports where an air filter would normally be fitted. I don’t know why this was done – a previous owner is responsible for this modification!

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Bournemouth Corporation PS2 joins English Riviera Sightseeing Tours fleet

A new addition to the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours fleet is Bournemouth Corporation Transport No 44, JLJ401.

This adds a much needed wet weather option to the existing open top Leyland PD2/3, which has suffered quite a lot in the last few years by being out and about in the rain. Thankfully, some of the upper deck floor has recently been replaced but the Bournemouth Leyland PS2/2, acquired recently from previous operator Quantock Heritage, has already proven its worth by operating successfully during the early part of the 2017 season when the weather can be damp and chilly up top on the PD2!

JLJ401, a 1949 Leyland PS2/2, was one of a batch of three with luxurious and shapely Burlingham bodywork supplied to Bournemouth for local tours. I’m delighted to be driving it in Torbay, where it again operates on tours and we can legitimately display the original destination ‘Circular Tour’!

The distinctive yellow Bournemouth livery has been refreshed but the wheels and side flash have been repainted maroon to match that carried by the existing sightseeing fleet. The sumptuous interior has proved to be a great hit with local passengers, offering probably the most comfortable seats to be found on any bus operating in Torbay. This can be verified by our Tour Guide ‘Champers’ and Singing Kettle Tea Rooms owner Marlene!

Thankfully all three of the JLJ single decks have survived and the rear view of JLJ401 shows off the very stylish Burlingham bodywork beautifully.

Since these photos were taken the coach has had Sightseeing Tours lettering applied to the sides and rear. Although I prefer it without, I think the balance is good.

The Leyland O.600 engine and 4-speed manual gearbox are theoretically identical to those fitted to the Tours’ open top bus, FFY403. But I prefer the PS2 because it has a lower ratio rear axle with makes pootling around the bay and climbing its hills much more suitable. Although both ‘boxes have synchromesh on all except 1st gear, the ‘box on JLJ401 takes much less effort when changing gear. If you compare trying to stir a cup of tea and a then tin of treacle you’ll get a good idea!

A some point in its history, Bournemouth Corporation converted the coach for One Man Operation (as it was then known) and the base plate for the Setright ticket machine that the driver would use is still present. In typical fashion, I couldn’t resist fitting my Setright machine to it and dispensing tickets to my passengers as souvenirs!

In other news, I’ve done quite a few private hire jobs for Crosville. Some of them have been quite unusual and merit their own blog post, when time allows. Speaking of which, my new responsibilities as Heritage Operation Manager are taking up most of my time when I’m not driving sightseeing tours and trying to sell my house in Paignton.

Crosville has a new Heritage Operations Manager

If it all seems to have gone rather quiet recently for Busman John, that’s because the opposite is true. Life has been extremely busy with bus movements, private hire duties and new responsibilities.

LEU263P-Royal-Avenue-Bath-BBC

One of the more unusual private hire duties is pictured above – a day spent with a film crew from BBC Bristol ‘Points West’. This was another ‘get up at silly o’clock’ day, when I had to travel up from Paignton, prepare my rostered bus and get myself in position at BBC Bristol in Whiteladies Road by 08:30.

The people from Points West, the local BBC News programme, were interviewing the six candidates for Mayor and I spent the day with the Bristol VRT open top bus taking the film crew to six locations in the Bristol area to meet and interview the candidates.

Our first stop was the duck pond in Winterbourne, just to the north of the city, then on to Kingswood where we drove along the busy shopping streets while the filming took place on the top deck.

LEU263P-Chew-Valley-Lake

From there we went south to Chew Valley Lake for another interview and a lunch break. Getting there however was a bit fraught because I had only been rostered for the job the day before and hadn’t had a chance to do my normal route research. Planning our route was a bit of a team effort – not ideal. The inevitable happened, we chose a route that included a narrow, weight restricted bridge! I had to turn the bus around in a very small space and go back the way we’d come. How embarrassing!

The other stops included the very elegant Royal Avenue in Bath (pictured at the top of this post), just below the famous Royal Crescent. The footage was aired during the local news programme a few days later and was also published on the BBC Points West Facebook page in six short segments.

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Sightseeing Bus Summer Snippets

With the school summer holidays having kicked off, now is a good time to review the Sightseeing Bus season so far.

This my main occupation during the summer months and, with two buses in operation now, I’m doing tours Monday to Friday. The operating season started in May, with the majority of passengers at the senior end of the age spectrum.

Weather is always a major factor in passenger numbers and indeed whether we run at all. There was one day in May when foul weather – wall to wall heavy rain – was forecast so we elected to leave the open top Leyland PD2 covered up until the next day. June was much better, with improving loads as the month progressed. The last week in July brought the best day of the year so far, with 52 people on one tour. The bus has seating for 56 so we were virtually full. I’ll come back to that particular run later.

FFY403-Babbacombe-Inn

One very pleasing development this year has been the decision of the operator to invest in some more busman’s dust jackets. Normally uniform is optional, with some crews opting to wear the more informal printed sweatshirts. Ever since I started, I’ve worn a traditional bus crew uniform and last year bought myself a burgundy and tan dust jacket that matches the bus livery. I’m glad to say that my regular tour guide has decided to wear a jacket and cap so we both look as if we belong! People do appreciate it and I’m sure it helps to draw in some of our older clientele, with whom the tradtitional style of uniform resonates.

FFY403-with-crew-2016In the main photo above, the open topper has just stopped on Babbacombe Downs with a full load of primary school pupils. The bus had been hired as a Year 6 ‘Prom’ treat and we paused here to allow the children on the lower deck to swap places with those on top.

FFY403-front-adverts

You may have noticed that the bus now wears two front corner adverts. These promote two of our local attractions and have been produced in the same style as those which adorned our local Devon General buses years ago.

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