The boss of the Dartmouth Steam Railway’s bus division (Rail River Link) looked most bemused as we drove past each other in Paignton town centre the other day. Even so, he waved enthusiastically at me from behind the wheel of his Volvo Olympian on service 100 to Totnes. I don’t think he expected to see open top Leyland PD2/3 FFY403 out and about so early in the season!
This was on Thursday last week when, together with the proprietor of English Riviera Sightseeing Tours, the 1947 ex-Southport Corporation Titan was awakened from its winter slumbers for pre-season servicing. The process of extracting the bus from storage was rather time consuming, due to battery issues. Not on the PD2, I hasten to add, but on the MCW Metrobus parked in front of it. The old PD2, bless her, started on the button. Mostly because I had disconnected her batteries after some work was done back in January.
Eventually, after much swapping of batteries, we managed to start the ex-London Transport Metrobus – filling the storage shed with trademark Gardner smoke in the process. Then it was the Titan’s turn and soon she also was standing outside in the sunshine, looking very dusty.
With the Metrobus returned to the shed, I drove the PD2 back along the Totnes road and through Paignton which is where my aforementioned ex-employer and I exchanged busman’s waves. It was good to be sitting behind the wheel of the PD2 again, such a familiar place! She trundled along without any complaint, except for a bout of ‘tyre-bump’. That’s my term for the rhythmic bump-bump-bump produced by tyres that have stood in the same position for several months. Apparently the rubber deforms in that time and retains the shape until a few miles have been covered.
I got back from my holiday yesterday to find that two of the Sightseeing buses had been sold and this replacement MCW Metrobus was already in service! The open top Metrobus known as ‘Big Bertha’ (BYX304V) and a closed top Volvo Olympian (P915RYO) have moved on to pastures new.
The 1947 Leyland PD2/3 will remain for the forseeable future but was unserviceable yesterday morning so I had to jump straight into this machine and take it on the two tours of the day. Fortunately the cab layout is very similar to the previous Metrobus so it all felt very familiar.
Previously used by Harrods in London for a City Sightseeing Tour, this bus is fitted with tables and comes complete with a kitchen at the back of the lower saloon!
Our tour route takes us ‘off piste’, away from normal bus routes, including the pretty Ilsham Green and Meadfoot Beach. Having a full height roof at the front means that we have to pass under low branches very carefully. Behind the bus in the photo is a low railway bridge at Preston Sands and clearance is down to the proverbial ‘fag paper’! Only joking, it’s a few inches but still quite tight.
In other news, I’ve been invited to drive a VERY historic bus soon. It dates from between the wars and is just coming to the end of a thorough restoration. Watch this space!
For the time being, as my back injury seems to be improving, I am continuing to drive the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours bus. This occupies me for a few days each week and has given me some interesting adventures over the months since I started.
The weather plays a big part in determining how many people travel as the vast majority of travellers make their decision on the day and pay on the bus. A handful buy their tickets from the Tourist Information Centre but they too are bought on the same day as travel. As you know, if you’re a UK resident, our weather is not always best suited for an open top bus ride so we’ve had some very poor days. If it’s very dull, cold and wet we are likely not to run the tour at all as so few people (if any) want to pay to travel in these conditions.
However, there have also been some superb days which means we’ve had some good loads as well. One day last week on the PD2 we had a full load on the top deck and a dozen downstairs as well and, as the school holidays are now upon us, this can only improve.
Although I drive the same tour route every day, there are still some interesting variations. These are mostly prompted by roadworks. For quite a while one of the roads near Babbacombe Downs was being dug up in several places which meant we could only just squeeze past the coned off bits. Add to that some contractors’ vehicles and oncoming traffic and progress was often slow. My spacial awareness skills went into overdrive! Only yesterday I was confronted by an unexpected set of roadworks in Wellswood. There’s a very tight, full-lock left turn at a junction near Kents Cavern and, to make it round in one go, I have to take it very wide, borrowing a bit of the opposite carriageway to give myself a chance.
But yesterday I found roadworks in the middle of the main road which only came into view after I’d started the turn. I hauled on the wheel faster still to make the turn as tight as possible and I began to think I’d have to reverse and give it another go. But I crept forward on full lefthand lock and, with the offside front tyre about an inch from the road cones, just made it round. On the afternoon tour there were parked cars which made it more difficult and I did have to do it in two bites. Grrrr.
I recently had the unexpected pleasure of sampling a recent arrival in Torbay, a Leyland Titan PD2/3. This 1947-built bus carries Leyland bodywork (open top since 1962) and has been acquired by English Riviera Sightseeing Tours.
Calling in by chance on my way home from Teignmouth, I got into a long conversation with Anthony, the proprietor. He is looking for a suitable driver to take the bus on tours around the three towns of the Bay – I wondered if I might be the chap he was looking for? It would have been very opportune, as I had been made redundant from my job as a designer that same day.
The PD2 looked very eye-catching, wearing its freshly-applied custom livery. I had a guided tour of the newly-refurbished inside and top deck as well, the fine handiwork of the chaps at Mardens of Benfleet I believe. We talked about the history of the vehicle and about my experiences driving heritage buses for weddings. This led to a further opportunity a few days later.
I was invited to take the PD2 out for a multi-purpose test drive. I say that because I would be assessed as to my suitability, I would be assessing the capabilities of the bus and Anthony would be looking to see whether the bus could cope with the route. So I turned up at the stabling point next to Torquay’s Railway Station and became acquainted with the spartan cab. I could almost number its components on the fingers of one hand. Steering wheel, gearstick, pedals, handbrake and 3 dials (speedo, vacuum and oil pressure).
On starting the 0.600 diesel engine the first thing I noticed was that the idle speed was unusally fast. I asked about this when we were under way (there’s a sliding window in the bulkhead behind the driver so I was able to have a conversation with Anthony while we were en route) and apparently the tickover speed had been raised to eliminate the tendency of the engine to ‘hunt’ when idling. This rising and falling of the revs at idle is a characteristic of Leyland diesels and I thought it was a shame that it had been adjusted out. All Leylands of that era do it, don’t they? While it made for even running when stationary, it did have an impact on driving technique. Whenever we came to a halt I had to dip the clutch earlier than I would normally, otherwise the engine would carry the bus forward by itself. Although we didn’t discuss it further, I later thought of 2 more disadvantages: it could cause more wear to the brake shoes due to being unable to use engine braking at low revs and it could affect the fuel consumption too.