I had another trip to Minehead recently, this time with an open top Bristol Lodekka. There were quite a few similarities with my regular trips with a Leyland PD2 along Torquay seafront!
Once again this duty was in conjunction with the West Somerset Railway, which was holding a special event at Minehead. Crosville Motor Services has been contracted to provide heritage buses for a number of special events throughout the 2015 season.
Following our experience on the first Minehead duty we did at Easter, we decided that the two buses would arrive and depart the WSR an hour apart. This is because of the low passenger numbers at the beginning and end of the day, which a single bus can easily cover. Not only that, but a day of urban driving plus 1.5 hours of driving to and from the depot makes for quite a tiring day, especially in a Lodekka!
My rostered bus this time was Crosville DFG81 (891VFM), a 1961 Bristol FSF6G which was converted by the original Crosville company in the 1970s. I hadn’t driven this bus since 2012, mostly because it had suffered with some engine problems and has spent a long time having major surgery in the garage. A dropped valve caused damage and this has meant that the engine required stripping right down with a lot of parts being replaced. The workshop staff also took the opportunity to overhaul the fuel pump and injectors.
The result of all this attention is that the bus now has a super-reliable, very gutsy Gardner 6LW engine. Having driven it over the Quantock Hills to get to Minehead and back, I can safely say that this FSF has the strongest 6LW I’ve encountered! Not only that, but it also benefits from having a high ratio diff, meaning that a top speed of just over 50mph is possible. When most of my most recent empty journeys have been done at 30mph max, this is heritage drivers’ heaven!
The second bus, an ex-BOC Bristol VRT (also open top) with Driver Price at the wheel, arrived about an hour after I did. By then I had already done one ‘tour’ around the town and along the seafront to Butlins and back. Just like last time, it took a while for potential passengers to materialise and I waited about 30 minutes after arriving before I had a handful of people on the top deck wanting a ride. This time we had more contact with WSR staff (last time there was none) and our free rides were regularly promoted during platform announcements.
The railway’s special guest was Postman Pat and his black and white cat Jess. He appeared at regular intervals on the station platform and goggle-eyed children shook his great podgy hand or posed for photos. Beneath Pat’s fixed grin, I wonder if the person inside the costume kept smiling throughout the day? It must have been warm inside – I certainly was and that was after taking my jacket off!