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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Summer miscellany

Now that I’m working on the sightseeing tours 5 days a week and also some Saturdays for Crosville, life has become rather hectic of late. Hence the lack of new posts. So, to bring you up to date, here are some recent happenings in Busman John’s world.

VDV138S-Strand-Torquay

A significant sighting this morning was ‘Illustrious’, a Bristol VRT acquired by Rail River Link (the bus operation run by the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company) in 2013 from East Yorkshire Motor Services. Originally 938 (‘Warspite’) with Western National in 1977, it finally entered service last week on the 100 service from Torquay to Totnes via Paignton. It has spent much of the last 2 years in storage awaiting and undergoing an engine transplant. It arrived from EYMS under tow, having suffered an engine seizure before withdrawal. Now, wearing RRL branding over the existing EYMS livery, 938 is active once more in Torbay where it once operated (wearing Devon General fleetnames) when new. When I was working for RRL in 2013 I had a slim chance of driving 938 in service but, as it turned out, its return to active service has been rather protracted.

FD54FGG-Torquay-NT5

If you hadn’t already heard, the Leyland Tiger PS1 which was operated by Greenway Ferry to the National Trust’s Greenway House (Agatha Christie’s former summer home), has not run at all this year and rumour has it that the ferry and bus operations are up for sale. To fill the void, Rail River Link has acquired a 2004 Dennis Dart and is now operating it to Greenway House. NT1 runs to Greenway from the railway’s Churston Station and the early morning NT5 runs from Torquay. This is where I managed a quick passing shot of it a couple of days ago. FD54FGG is especially branded for the Greenway service and carries the name ‘Miss Jane Marple’.

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Busman John on the TV

If any of you happened to be watching ITV yesterday evening you might have spotted me in action with the Agatha Christie vintage bus. It was one of several segments in the ‘Richard Wilson on the Road’ programme in which he has been touring Great Britain using 1930s Shell Guides as reference.

AHL694 still from ITV trailer

As you may have read before, Richard and his TV crew spent a day about 9 months ago riding on the Leyland PS1 (AHL694) and visiting Greenway House. As per usual with these things, they shot much more footage than was actually used in the programme. In some ways I’m quite happy about that, particularly as some of the footage would have come from a camera mounted in the cab, focussed on me! Oo-er, a bit too close for comfort!

You can read the post I wrote at the time here and you can watch the episode again here (until March 4th 2015).

My review of 2014: another vintage year!

A few days ago I posted a review of 2014 which was in fact generated by WordPress. It served up a number of stats relating to the performance of my ‘Busman’s Holiday’ blog but takes no account of my personal highlights of the year. So here they are.

OHR919-leaving-Salisbury-Bus-StationFirst of all, in early January, was the special running day to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station. I had the pleasure of driving Wilts & Dorset 628 (Bristol LD6G OHR919) during the day and, on the first journey of the day, called at Salisbury General Hospital where I was born umpty-something years ago. At the end of the day there was the unforgettable moment when I led a convoy of four Wilts & Dorset buses out of the bus station on the last departure ever. Such an honour.

AC1-last-day

I did several months work with a 1947 Leyland PS1, taking visitors from Torquay, Paignton and Brixham to Greenway House, the summer residence of the late Dame Agatha Christie. One highlight was a day of filming with Richard Wilson, who rode on the bus to Greenway as part of a new travel documentary.

Richard-Wilson-&-Busman-John

With a cameraman in the saloon behind me with Richard, a fixed camera in the cab and a camera car in front of the bus, I was filmed driving from Torquay to Greenway. On the way there Richard interviewed me, which was the most difficult part of the journey. Mostly because I was still driving at the time! The series is being screened on ITV at the moment – it’s on Monday evenings at 8pm. Look out for the Greenway episode! Although driving to Greenway was mostly good fun, the condition of the bus and the operation of the service left a lot to be desired and so I bade farewell in June.

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Vintage bus wars in Torbay

A few weeks ago I heard a rumour that a Leyland PD2, similar to the one operated by the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours, was being prepared by Stagecoach to run in Torbay. Well that turned out to be true because former Portsmouth Corporation PD2/12 LRV992 has started running on the 22 route around the Bay.

LRV992-TQ-Strand

Stagecoach (and its predecessors) has run open top buses on its seafront routes before but their choice of vehicle this time can only be an attempt to steal our thunder, or so it seems. In practice though it doesn’t seem to have affected our loadings in fact yesterday afternoon we carried our highest loading ever since our PD2 came to Torbay, with 51 passengers onboard.

Actually the Stagecoach PD2 is not in direct competition as theirs runs in normal service, following the timetable and route normally operated by modern deckers. It stops frequently to pick up and set down passengers and is probably being thrashed to keep to time whereas ours is a much more leisurely journey. We also have an informative commentary, delivered by an entertaining Tour Guide, which Stagecoach passengers won’t get.

So we’ve concluded that the PD2’s appearance has merely added to the appeal of Torbay as a tourist destination. It seems that ‘retro’ is cool these days! It’s quite bizarre at times, especially in Belgrave Road at about 10 in the morning when we park the sightseeing bus to promote our tours. A Bristol VRT from Rail River Link will pull up behind us and then the Greenway House Leyland PS1 trundles by as well! One day the 3 Leylands were joined by the old Carmel Coaches Dennis coach, in town on a private hire job.

Just a short post today. I’m off on my hols tomorrow so no more new posts until later in the month. Oh, and greetings to the gentleman from Somerset who rode on the sightseeing bus yesterday. He reads this blog and stepped onto the platform saying “How’s your back, Busman John?!”

Last day on the Agatha Christie bus

I have reluctantly decided to give up driving the Agatha Christie bus to Greenway House. My last day was a few days ago and it coincided with a local village fair, which made life interesting because I had to drive the bus right through it!

AC1-last-day

The annual Gooseberry Pie Fair at Galmpton virtually takes over the centre of the village but they do try to keep the main road through the village clear. Apart from the Fair, my last day was pretty much like any other day on the Greenway House bus. Loadings were rather light for a summer Sunday. My heaviest load of the day was the final run into Torquay at just after five when 11 extra passengers joined the handful that I’d brought in at lunchtime. The extras had arrived on the Fairmile boat from Torquay but were travelling back on the bus.

Unfortunately my day was marred by a faulty governor on the Leyland PS1’s engine, which surged and hunted uncontrollably every time I touched the accelerator. This behaviour made it impossible to give my passengers a smooth ride which was very irritating! I had to apologise for the resulting rough ride otherwise my passengers may have thought it was the driver revving the engine unneccessarily!

Of the 14 times I had to pass through the village about half were affected by the Fair. There were cars parked on both sides of the road which leads into the village. After a couple of journeys, accompanied downhill by squealing brakes and uphill by a surging engine and massive clutch judder, I resorted to using another road which emerged on the Brixham side of the village.

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Heritage bus driver vacancy on Agatha Christie bus

Do you fancy driving this 1947 Leyland Tiger PS1 regularly? There’s a vacancy for a fully qualified driver coming up. (See the previous post for an overview of the job.)

AHL694-Paignton-seafront

For the right person, this is a dream job. You’ll be driving an historic vehicle (the only bus with a Barnaby body running in service in the UK), carrying very appreciative visitors to Greenway House, the former summer home of crime writer Agatha Christie. Not only that but you’ll also be driving through stunning scenery too, taking in the iconic English Riviera and the lush countryside around the River Dart.

You’d need to be available for the rest of the season (until October) and be free to drive 2 or 3 days a week, sharing the duties with another driver. The bus runs every day except Mondays and Tuesdays normally but, during the school summer holiday, also runs on a few extra Tuesdays. You’ll also need to deliver an entertaining commentary as part of the journey but this is secondary to giving the passengers a safe and comfortable ride!

If you’re interested (or know someone who might be), please leave a comment and I’ll put you in touch with the operator.