Busman John’s Virtual Bus Rally

Of the many casualties of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, the one that I have missed most this year is the opportunity to drive at various bus rallies and running days. Some organisations have run a virtual event instead, so here’s mine!

There are many buses I have driven or have seen that I would like to invite to my Virtual Bus Rally but I’ve narrowed it down to this selection. The captions describe my reasons for inviting them to my event.

Driving the 300 heritage service to Lynmouth

There are a handful of timetabled services and tourist operations in the UK which use heritage vehicles for a certain number of days. This summer I’ve had the chance to drive for one of them in Somerset.

Earlier this year I was invited by Steve Morris at Quantock Heritage to join the driver roster for his 300 service from Minehead to Lynmouth. At the time I had very little heritage driving work lined up so I agreed and signed up for a series of Wednesdays during the summer holidays. This was of course done with the knowledge and blessing of my full time employer Bakers Dolphin, as workloads are always lighter during the school holidays.

In a nutshell, the service runs two return journeys every weekday throughout the school summer holidays. It operates from outside the WSR railway station on Minehead seafront and ends in the car/coach park next to the Lyndale Tearooms in Lynmouth. The route goes through Minehead town centre, picking up outside the Co-op by request and then continues out of town to join up with the A39 to Lynmouth. As it is a timetabled public service, the 300 picks up and sets down at any of the bus stops along the route and is used by tourists mostly, including a good number of hikers heading for the high ground of Exmoor.

Quantock Heritage is able to use non-compliant (step entrance) heritage vehicles on this route because the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act 2005) rules have an exemption allowing a non-compliant vehicle to be used on up to 20 days per vehicle in a year. There are three single deck buses available for use so the summer period is amply covered.

The bus I used on all but one of my turns was newly-restored Birmingham City Transport 2257 (JOJ257), a 1950 Leyland Tiger PS2 with a 34-seat front entrance Weymann body. An interesting history of this batch of BCT saloons is on this Classic Buses web page.

On my first turn I was accompanied by Steve so that he could show me the ropes and we met at a farm on the outskirts of Minehead where the bus is outstationed. The bus is a testament to the skills of Steve and Andrew at Quantock who, together with an experienced joiner who was brought in especially, transformed this former tow bus from a gutted wreck into the smart vehicle pictured above.

For most of its former career 2257 was a ‘One Man Operated’ bus and this continues today, with a Setright ticket machine mounted on a plinth beside the driver. The bulkhead behind the driver’s seat has been cut away to provide access to the saloon and so that the passengers can communicate with the driver.

With all checks done and opening numbers written on the waybill, we set off for Minehead seafront. I used the journey to get used to driving the bus. I found that it was very similar to most of the PD2 and PS2 buses that I’ve driven before, including the rather heavy steering (compared to a Bristol L, for instance). The 9.8 litre Leyland O.600 engine tends to ‘hunt’ noticeably, which was my only gripe. This makes it difficult to drive smoothly at low engine revs because the engine speed is not constant but rises and falls rythmically.

I had to smile when issuing the first few tickets because it was me that set up the print run for the ticket rolls when I was a conductor in about 2007! The bus was about half full when we left at 10:05. Having left Minehead, I drove along the A39 with Steve behind me giving directions. Passing through Allerford, we arrived in Porlock and waited at the stop beside Doverhay car park until departure time. I had arrived early and this tendency plagued my first journey – I had been bombing along the main road at 42mph when 35 would have been ample! After driving through the narrow streets of the pretty village we took a right turn and followed the Toll Road, which climbs through the wooded slopes towards the edge of Exmoor. This avoids climbing the infamous Porlock Hill, of which more anon.

It was here that I met my first challenge: hairpin bends. There are two of them on the Toll Road and Steve talked me through the approach (go down through the gears to 1st). The first bend can’t be done in one go, even on full left lock so I had to virtually bury the nose in the hedge and then carefully roll backwards towards the armco barrier, unwinding the steering at the same time. Then slowly forward in 1st to re-apply full left lock to complete the turn. I was pretty breathless by then!

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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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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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