Since getting acquainted with Maud I’ve developed an interest in very early motorbuses. Maud of course is Exeter Corporation No 5, a 1929 motorbus which I had the honour of driving back to Exeter a couple of years ago.
Today I came across some photographs of an early Great Western Railway motorbus with very local connections, having been photographed in my home town of Paignton. They are in fact postcards and the images were posted in a Facebook group called ‘Paignton in Pictures’. I have permission from the group’s administrator to reproduce the images here.
The postcard shown above, dated 1906, was originally a black and white photograph which has been hand coloured by an artist, a common practice in the early days of photography which was intended to produce a more life-like product. It also made the image more saleable of course! The image shows passengers alighting from a GWR motorbus which has parked outside the Gerston Hotel, Paignton. The photographer would have been standing right outside the GWR’s Paignton railway station and the passengers were likely to be boarding a train there.
It’s a bit unfortunate that a local horse-drawn hansom cab is obscuring part of the bus but happily there is another postcard that features a photograph that seems to have been taken on the same occasion but from a different angle. This one clearly shows that the bus was No T-390 and I contacted my friend Robert Crawley to see if he could tell me more about it. Robert is Chairman of the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT), which has an extensive archive of information and images relating to all aspects of transport in this area.
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.
When you’re used to driving a desk all week it tends to drain all your energy when you drive a vintage bus for two days in a row. But I’m not complaining. I love what I do and see it as a great privilege to sit in a hot cab and work my arms to a jelly in someone else’s historic bus!
I drove Bristol FLF DEL893C, ex-Hants & Dorset, built 1965, on a wedding duty in Bristol on Saturday and, after a suitable break, drove the bus straight down to Torquay. I had arranged with the kind people at Stagecoach to park the FLF in their Torquay depot overnight and I’m very grateful to Area Manager Gary and Depot Manager Steve for their help – it caused quite a stir!
The following morning, under the envious gaze of several fitters and older drivers, I did my checks and topped up with water before driving the short distance to the rally site at Shedden Hill, Torquay. I joined a line of other buses which were operating free services around the bay and then, as I wasn’t due out until 12:00, browsed among the stalls and visiting buses. Many of these (buses AND stalls!) I’d seen before, some of them only last weekend!
The rally organisers had given me 2 short routes, the 136 to Paignton Town Centre and the 28A to Hesketh Crescent (for Meadfoot). They had also given me a conductor for the morning’s trips, an older chap who had once conducted for real on Devon General buses. There was a long queue at our stop near the entrance to the rally site and as we pulled up to board passengers, more arrived as they saw the FLF arrive with 136 on the blinds.