Back on home turf with a BOC Lodekka

A few days ago I was once again given the honour of driving an ex-Bristol Omnibus Lodekka through the city it served more than 50 years ago.

LC8518 (972EHW) belongs to the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection and is on hire to Crosville Motor Services at the moment. It is in immaculate condition, having completed a thorough restoration about 3 years ago.

972EHW-at-St-Aidans

After doing my walkaround checks I brought the bus out of the darkness of the garage and into the daylight. My conductor arrived shortly afterwards and, after re-fuelling the bus at the newly-commissioned bowser (hooray, no more trips to Morrisons!) we set off up the A370 for Bristol. By coincidence, the pickup point for this private hire duty was just a stone’s throw from where my parents-in-law live, so I didn’t need to research the route at all! The weather was dull, cold and wet so I wiped the condensation off the cab windows while we waited for the bridal party to board.

The trip to St Aidan’s Church, St George was very light, with only the bride, her parents and bridemaids on board. This leg of the journey was mostly new territory for me so, once again, I had studied Google Maps and carried a bullet point list of directions in the cab just in case. When we arrived, Barry my conductor commented that he was impressed that I appeared to know my way around Bristol better than he did, and he was brought up there! I had to admit my reliance on Google and some previous knowledge due to family connections. I also had to admit that, in the event of a road closure somewhere on my planned route, I would have been a bit stuck! My PCV training taught me to always have a Plan B but I’m afraid I don’t often have one up my sleeve.

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New website for Crosville Motor Services

I happen to have been involved with the development of the new website for Crosville Motor Services, which went live a few days ago. If any of you ever visited the old site you will know that it was due for a makeover. It had served the company well since its inception but it needed to better reflect the improvement and expansion that has taken place recently. I’ve written most of the text and provided some of the photographs but the design and build was carried out by IvoryRed, a creative design company based in Weston-super-Mare.

Crosville-website

This site has far more functionality and provides much more timetable information for people who use the local bus services that Crosville is now running. There are also pages for additional services, such as PCV training and bus storage as well as a special area for enthusiasts. I’m looking forward to adding to this area in particular as it focusses on the heritage activities of the company.

I would be interested to know what you think of it.

In other news, I was very pleased to hear from one of the chaps who took part in my Heritage Drivers’ Training Day recently. Apparently he drove one of the Lodekkas up to the Bristol Harbourside Rally and told me proudly that he didn’t miss any gears at all. Needless to say, I was quietly very satisfied to hear his news!

My next duty will be next Saturday, when I’m due to pick up a wedding party in Bristol and then trek southwards to a small village near Taunton.

A very wet wedding hire to end the year

Before I post my personal review of a very active and interesting year, here is a brief account of my last driving turn for 2012. It was easily the wettest wedding day I’ve ever driven for and I had great sympathy for the newly-weds and their guests. Everyone who sets a date for a wedding knows that most things can be planned for but the weather is one factor that cannot be relied upon to co-operate!

wet_weather_lodekka_rear

If you lean in close you can smell the dampness and hear the swoosh of cars passing by on the wet road. This photo was taken while I was parked up in a layby on the road into Bath as I had time in hand and took the opportunity to eat my lunch and down a couple of cups of hot coffee.

The rain had started during the night and persisted through the morning, making my journey up from Paignton a rather slow one due to the spray being kicked up by the motorway traffic. Fortunately I had allowed myself plenty of time and was prepared for traffic problems and diversions due to the excessively wet weather of late.

At the Crosville depot, three other heritage buses were being prepared for the long journey to Winchester. A Bristol LH single decker, a Bath Services Bristol LD and my old friend, a Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF. They were to take part in the annual running day organised by the Friends of King Alfred Buses (FoKAB) on New Year’s Day.

I picked up ex-Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G YDL318 from the depot and drove, at a stately maximum of 30mph, up the A38 towards Bristol. Cutting across the southern outskirts of the suburbs, I passed through Brislington and nodded towards the Lodekka’s birthplace in a tribute to the sturdily designed vehicle in which I sat, which had lasted 50 years so far.

After waiting at a convenient spot just down the road, I pulled up outside the cast iron gates of the Roman Catholic Church in Julian Road, Bath. As the wedding ended, guests boarded the bus. One of the ushers looked bemused and asked “Where’s the red bus?” I had no idea so I replied “Sorry, I don’t know. Did you have a different bus bring you here?” Apparently another operator’s bus had collected the guests from the reception venue and transported them to the church but now, with extra people having joined the party, they were expecting to see two buses. For a while it looked as though I would be making two trips but all became clear when someone else explained that the other bus would be returning soon after I had left with the first load. I was very relieved, knowing that my bus could only do 30mph and that I may have risked running out of driving hours if the weather, as well as the slow speed, had delayed my return journey to Weston.

In the end, all was well and I delivered my load safely to the Guyers House Hotel on the outskirts of Corsham, Wiltshire. There were only two hairy moments and they both involved tight turns. The first of these came soon after I had left the church and I had seen it on the map earlier. It was a light-controlled junction so I deliberately held back at the lights to give myself room to swing wide and avoid the traffic island at the end of the turn. I had to really heave on the wheel to reach full lock as quickly as possible and I was glad to do it in one ‘take’. The other tight turn was at the end of the journey, just before the hotel. The entrance is down a narrow lane and, having been there once before in a Bristol FLF, I knew I had to pull over into the middle of the main road and turn sharply before sticking the nose down the lane. Once again, we just squeezed in with a few inches to spare.

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Another trade fair with heritage buses

This weekend I am due to attend another wedding fair, this time representing Crosville Motor Services at the Cadbury House Hotel. It’s a sumptous country hotel near Weston-super-mare owned by the Hilton group and the wedding fair is organised by the South West Wedding Guild.

As there is a large parking area available for exhibitors, we are planning to take three buses. Each one represents a different decade of bus history. Assuming all are fit to run, we will take KFM767 (ex-Crosville, 1950), YDL318 (ex-Southern Vectis, 1962) and LEU263P (ex-Bristol Omnibus, 1975). I’ve put my name down to travel with the Southern Vectis Lodekka and, if I play my cards right, I might even get to drive it too!

It promises to be a very busy day and I’m hoping that our new promotional slideshow will draw potential customers to our stand.

PSV driver training with Devon General on 5675EL

It’s about time I mentioned my first attempt at driving a bus. This occurred 25 years ago, in April 1985. I was at that time working for the Express & Echo, the evening newspaper for the Exeter area. Their offices and printing plant were then in Sidwell Street and my office was at the back of the building. As I was shown to my new graphic design studio I was rather pleased to see that it provided an excellent view of the bus station. However, I was careful to conceal my pleasure at this discovery because I was being paid to design advertisements, not watch buses!

Not long after I started work there Harry Blundred, who was Managing Director of Devon General then, began to introduce his revolutionary fleet of minibuses. These were to replace the remaining Bristol VRs, Leyland Atlanteans, Olympians and other assorted remnants from the erstwhile Exeter Corporation, Devon General and Western National fleets he had inherited.

However, I was much more interested in his driver training vehicle. This was a yellow ex-Hants & Dorset Bristol FS6G 5675EL, fleet number TV2. After seeing most other rear entrance half cab buses ousted by front entrance, rear engined vehicles, I was pleased to see (and hear) this survivor plodding up the hill into the bus station. The fact that it was an ex-H&D bus made it significant because it was possible that I’d seen it in service in former years in either Salisbury or Southampton. I fancied having a go in the old Lodekka before it too was consigned to the scrap heap.

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Bus driving – a childhood ambition

I’ve written before about what kindled my interest in vintage transport. That should more properly be ‘who’ because it was largely my father’s interest in anything to do with all forms of transport that rubbed off on me.

He would often sit me in the saddle of his extremely loud (to me, as a 3 year old lad) single cylinder motorcycle as it sat in the back garden. He would take me down to the railway station at Salisbury to watch the fast-disappearing steam hauled expresses.

Then there were the buses. Big, red and lumbering. I loved every journey. One day we both took a ride, just for the fun of it. We took the Wilts & Dorset number 61 from Wilton Road into town and then took the number 59 ( I think) up to the end of Devizes Road. Like most of the town services in the early 1960s, it was operated by one of many Bristol Lodekkas. There the bus would lay over until it was time to return from whence it came.

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Private Hire to Podshavers Barn

The next day dawned bright and sunny in marked contrast to the gloomy weather of the previous day. I was due to conduct on a private hire job with VDV 752, one of our ex-Western National open top Bristol LDL6Gs. With steam from a nearby BR Standard 9F locomotive billowing over the yard, I helped my driver shunt buses around to release our 53 year old relic of the road.

We were to pick up a party of people in Minehead and take them to a restaurant just outside Bishops Lydeard, just a couple of miles from where I stood! I decided to set some appropriate numbers on my Setright ticket machine. The family group were celebrating a 60th birthday so I set the fare at 60p and the fare stage to 60. I wondered if they would notice my little tribute?

We set off up the road to Minehead, about an hour’s drive away. It was to be a surprise party for the lady in question so we parked a little way down the road where she lived, beside a park. While we waited, I set the rear destination numbers to 60.

Before long, members of the family party began to arrive, laden with presents, champagne and pink balloons. As the lucky lady emerged from her house she was greeted by a cacophony of shouts and a chorus of kazoos. She appeared to be almost speechless as I welcomed her aboard! Moments later we were all set to leave so I gave my customary warning about overhanging branches and low bridges.

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