Back in early July I took a Bristol L5G down to Buckfastleigh to take part in the South Devon Railway’s popular 1940s Festival.
The single deck bus was very familiar to me, having been a regular allocation during my time with Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare. Ex-Crosville KG131 (1950-built KFM893) still lives in Weston and is now part of the re-launched Crosville Vintage operation so my first task was to drive it down from Weston to Buckfastleigh, a distance of about 80 miles.
The Bristol L trundles along at about 42 mph on the motorway so it took about an hour and a half to complete the journey. On the way I had to face the stiff climb up Haldon Hill which, even with an empty bus, reduced my speed to about 15 mph. It’s at times like these that I feel quite vulnerable on dual carriageways and motorways due to my slow speed, relative to other traffic so I was relieved to turn off the A38 for the final few yards to the station forecourt at the South Devon Railway‘s station at Buckfastleigh.
My first departure wasn’t until 11:00 so I had time for a 45 minute break before starting service. I used that time to wander around the station and found myself in a time warp. I was surrounded by people in 1940s outfits as well as the uniformed railway staff. Visitors and re-enactors alike had gone to extraordinary lengths to enter in to the spirit of the event.
In a field adjacent to the station forecourt there was an impressive gathering of military vehicles and paraphenalia. I lost count of the number of wartime Willys Jeeps! On the station platform I passed a policeman in authentic 1940s uniform. In fact I saw him several times during the day, which turned out to be very hot and humid. To his credit (and probably his discomfort too), he kept his full uniform on all day!
My role as a delivery driver seems to be continuing into the Spring. Not that I’m complaining of course. The cold, dark, gloom of winter is usually a bus-less time for me so I’ve been glad to have been offered some long distance driving jobs recently.
This London Transport RT has been stored in the Crosville depot for a few months, having been acquired from a group of enthusiasts in Basingstoke but never used. It was sold on recently and I was called upon to deliver it to Cambridgeshire, where it was going to have a roof repair done before being collected by its new owner.
The photo above shows RT935 (JXN325) outside the depot just after having had a ‘wash and brush up’ a few days ago.
The 1948-built bus originally carried a Park Royal body but the present (Weymann) one was fitted during an overhaul at LT’s Aldenham works in 1964. Several manufacturers built RT bodies to a standard design so that, during overhaul, chassis and body could be refurbished separately. To speed things up, the chassis would receive another RT body – not necessarily the one it had come in with! RT935 entered preservation in 1971 and, although well cared for in the years since then, remains in largely ex-service condition.
It felt rather bizarre to turn up at the depot early one morning this week for another RT turn. It was only a few weeks ago that I had driven RTW29 back from the London Bus Museum at Brooklands! Although RT935 had been moved the day before for washing and fuelling, it was reluctant to start due to its long period of inactivity. I had to get a fitter to hook up a booster pack before I could get it going. The 9.6ltr AEC diesel coughed and spluttered into life, filling the garage with acrid, bluey-white exhaust smoke. I left it running for a bit while I did my walkaround, checking the lights and so on. I didn’t realise it then, but I would later find that the engine would also be reluctant to stop!
London Transport RT-type buses are not often seen out and about in the London Country area so it was with a sense of great honour that I found myself behind the wheel of KGK529 doing just that.
RTW29 (KGK529) has been on loan to the London Bus Museum at Brooklands for several months and I was called upon to drive it back to its home garage in Weston-super-Mare. To give me plenty of daylight hours in which to drive, I stayed overnight with relatives in Surrey so that I could make an early, if rather chilly, start from the Museum.
It also gave me a chance to wander around the historic site, the home of the famous Brooklands banked racing track. The bus museum is right next to the aviation and motoring museums so, being interested in graphic styles of bygone days, I couldn’t help noticing the motorcycle workshop garage doors!
The bus had been moved out of the garage the previous day so, when I arrived, it was parked outside ready to go. The chaps at the museum were very helpful, especially Simon, who owns an RT himself so was the ideal person to help check the bus over. This became immediately apparent when I came to find the dipstick. RTW29 has the same type of engine (a Leyland O.600) as the PD2 that I drive for English Riviera Sightseeing Tours but, where I expected to find a dipstick, there was just a large hollow pipe with a sprung lid on top.
I learned that these had a tendency to go missing in the old days so it became common practice for the dipstick to be kept in a safe place in the depot where the bus was based. It wasn’t long before Simon produced the correct stick for an RTW from the museum workshop, dipped the sump and topped it up with a drop of heritage oil. I later found an identical one well hidden inside the bus. Simon went back inside and came back armed with another dipstick, this one especially designed for RT fuel tanks with a curved end and graduated markings. We soon deduced that the tank was full to the brim and I wouldn’t have to worry about refuelling on the way back.
It’s a long way off, I know. But put Sunday 11th September 2016 in your diary if you’re anywhere near the westcountry. This is the date of the Crosville Bus & Steam Fair 2016.
There wasn’t a rally or running day in 2015 – they seem to be happening on alternate years – but the event planned for 2016 is being billed as the best yet. As you may have read, the Crosville Motor Services heritage fleet has gained a steam-powered vehicle in the shape of ‘Elizabeth’, the 1931 Sentinel DG6P steam bus. This unique vehicle will take centre stage at the Fair and will be one of several buses from the heritage fleet running free bus rides during the day.
Last year’s event was based on The Lawns on Weston-super-Mare seafront but the 2016 event will be based at Weston’s old airfield, next to the the Helicopter Museum. There will be a number of free bus services running, including a shuttle to and from the Crosville depot in Winterstoke Road. For the first time, to keep ‘Elizabeth’ company no doubt, owners of other steam-powered vehicles are being invited to come along too. Traction engines and steam rollers will be adding to the atmosphere, in more ways than one!
Two buses which are currently away being refurbished should also be back in service by then, both of which were driven by your humble scribe upcountry for work to be carried out. TD895, a 1949 Bristol K6A, is being restored to the condition it was in when on loan from Hants & Dorset to London Transport. Southern National 2700 is a 1966 Bristol RELL and has already had some mechanical and bodywork repairs done. It is awaiting a new coat of Tilling Green and Cream before returning to Weston.
The date is already in my diary and I’m sure to be driving one of the heritage buses so come and join us for a day of vintage fun!
One of my blog readers sent me a couple of photos of a mystery bus, now operating in New Zealand.
Ray Bounsall emigrated to Australia many years ago but originally hailed from Somerset. He and his wife were on holiday in New Zealand recently and were amazed to see this RML in Christchurch. Ray managed to fire off a couple of photos as the bus passed by and has given me permission to post them here. The bus retains its London blinds but has lost its UK registration number. Any fleet number it may have carried is also missing so, which bus is it?
Some quick net research reveals that the mystery bus is in fact 1967-built RML2724 (originally registered SMK724F) and was exported to New Zealand in 2005. It is now operated by Hassle-Free Tours in Christchurch and is one of three ex-London Transport Routemasters in their fleet.
During their visit to Christchurch, Mr & Mrs Bounsall saw much evidence of the terrible earthquake that rocked the city a few years ago. “By the way, whatever you may have seen on the telly when Christchurch was hit by the massive earthquake in 2011 is only a shadow of the real damage done. The centre of this beautiful city has had its heart ripped out and 4 years on, there is still a lot of rebuilding to be undertaken. If the LT AEC had been driving around 4 years earlier it could have been mistaken for a post WW2 war era. It was like it had been blitzed.”
Ray also says that he thought he recognised the driver of the Routemaster. “Looks like you driving, were you having a busman’s holiday?”
With 2015 safely under way, I am now looking forward to more adventures with classic buses so I thought I’d share with you some of my hopes and dreams. Some are almost certain to happen, others may just be pipe dreams!
I will be continuing my work with Crosville Motor Services, a fairly new company which has successfully revived the old Crosville name and seems to have a very bright future. It has an enviable collection of heritage buses of mostly Bristol manufacture and I have driven many of them since joining them as a part time driver in 2012. My private hire duties for Crosville will continue in 2015, mostly weddings. The first of these isn’t until March but, as the year progresses, I hope to drive some new additions to the heritage fleet. If you’re a regular blog follower (and, if you’re a new one, welcome aboard!) you will have read that I took two buses north for refurbishment a few weeks ago. I may be offered the chance to bring them back when they’re finished but, more excitingly, they are being added to the active fleet for this year.
Last week I undertook another marathon journey to Yorkshire with a bus from the Crosville Motor Services heritage fleet. TD895 (HLJ44) is a 1949 Bristol K6A and she joined Crosville in 2013 but has not been used since then as it was felt she needed some considerable work done to bring her up to the standards required for regular use on private hire work.
So I turned up bright and early on Monday last week to take the K up to Cobus, the bus and coach restorers in Yorkshire where I took Bedford OB MFM39 last year. In the days preceding my journey, Crosville staff had been busy preparing the bus for the long trek north. The interior had been gutted some time before so all the seat frames, poles and panels had been stowed carefully inside. The 6-cylinder AEC engine had been partially rebuilt some months previously so a new set of batteries were fitted and some road tests completed.
The fuel tank had been topped up to the brim so all I needed to do was to carry out my walkaround checks. One curious aspect to this bus is that it has been kept in original condition, even down to the exterior lighting arrangements. While checking the brake lights I saw that there is a single, separate light near the offside tail lamp. When the indicator was checked I saw that there are no separate indicator lights – the tail lamp flashes and there are none at the front at all! Apparently, according to the Construction and Use Regulations, the bus is permitted to carry the lighting arrangements it was built with so it looks like I shall have to brush up on my hand signals just to be safe! Another aspect to this situation was to surface later in the journey but more on that later.
Apart from a short journey from Weston seafront back to the depot last summer, I haven’t driven a Bristol K before so I was looking forward to this journey very much. It soon became clear that it’s very much like a Bristol L to drive. Not surprising, as they have much in common. However, the AEC engine sounds very different and is probably the same unit as fitted to London Transport RT buses. I’m sure someone more knowledgeable than me will be along shortly to correct me! I soon felt right at home in the cab as I drove out of Weston and towards the M5 motorway. Despite its age, I found everything to be remarkably tight and rattle-free. Someone has done quite a lot of mechanical work I suspect. I found myself comparing the experience with Hants & Dorset 1220 (Bristol FLF DEL893C) which rattled and shook much more than this K which is 16 years older.
Owing to the partial engine rebuild I mentioned earlier I kept my speed under 35mph so that the engine could run-in adequately. I’m sure that, if opened up fully, she could probably do 40+. My progress, as you can imagine, felt painfully slow but I got used to it. I prepared myself to move into the hard shoulder if any artics left it late to pull out from behind me! As well as watching my mirrors like a hawk, I also watched the radiator filler cap in case she started to boil. I had no idea about the condition of the cooling system and how the bus would behave on a long journey but all was well. Apart from a few dribbles at the beginning (it had been filled to the brim) everything settled down nicely.
The miles passed by slowly until lunchtime, when I stopped at Tamworth Services for a break.