I spent a very enjoyable day with an ex-Crosville Leyland PS1 recently and, just like the previous outing, it involved a debate about a seriously steep hill.
It was the first time I had been allocated this bus, a 1947 Leyland PS1 formerly operated by Crosville in north Wales. It has been restored and maintained in excellent condition and was ideally suited to this wedding duty as it matched the cream colour of the day. It also blended well with the two other vehicles involved, a VW campervan and a Beauford limousine.
My walkaround check in the morning revealed nothing untoward so I set off at about 11:00 for Bath Mill Lodge Retreat, just outside the city of Bath. This is where I was to collect a group of wedding guests and transport them to the wedding venue, located deep in the countryside not far away.
I had driven this bus just once before, on a positioning trip across Weston-super-Mare. Powered by its original 6-cylinder Leyland E181 engine (which pre-dates the more common Leyland O.600 diesel engine) and driving through a 4-speed crash gearbox, I found that the ride was rather more ‘lumpy’ than the Gardner 6LW-powered Bristol FSF I had driven on my previous duty. I think this is mostly a Leyland engine characteristic, which seems to want to ‘hunt’ at low revs. It makes the task of driving smoothly a lot more challenging!
My usual double-declutch technique seemed to suit this vehicle without any modifications, except that the pause in neutral while changing up was a bit shorter. Later on I discovered that the gearbox has a decent clutch brake, which came in very handy when I needed to make an up change while going uphill. The clutch brake is operated by pressing the clutch pedal to the floor while the stick is in neutral and it stops the gear shafts in the ‘box spinning, making it possible to engage the next gear more quickly. There’s usually a bit of a clunk but no grinding of gears.
My route to the pickup point took me past Newton St Loe and down the 1-in-6 Pennyquick hill. This is the reason for the aforementioned debate, because I needed to go back up this hill with a loaded bus later, in order to reach the wedding venue. In fact I was so worried about this aspect of the job that I drove the route in my car a few days earlier while visiting a relative in Bristol. This confirmed that it would be risky to attempt this hill, especially as I had read on a news website recently that heavily-laden HGVs regularly got stuck on the hill and caused chaos. I didn’t want to add to that tally so had a Plan B up my sleeve.
After several months without seeing a heritage bus I thought it was about time I climbed into the cab again. Although I’m still hoping that the ex-Crosville fleet will become operational again, I was asked recently to do a wedding duty for Quantock Heritage.
Those of you who have been with me from the beginning will know that I’ve worked for this company before, then trading as Quantock Motor Services Ltd, so it was good to meet up again with old friends. The duty I was asked to cover was a 2-vehicle job, picking up in Bath and ending up at Priston Mill which is a few miles outside the city.
The two vehicles were both Leyland PD2 double deck buses and the one allocated to me was Rawtenstall No 18 (RTC822). This is a 1953 Leyland PD2/12 with an all-metal Leyland body. New to Rawtenstall Corporation, it is now presented in the livery of Scout Motor Services, Preston although it never ran for that operator in service. The other vehicle was Stockport No 65 (HJA965E), a 1967 Leyland PD2/40 with a Neepsend body.
I arrived at the small bus garage at Langley Marsh in plenty of time so that I could do a thorough walkaround check and become familiar with my new surroundings. As I mentioned above, I worked for this operator before but back then it was based next to the railway station at Bishops Lydeard. The driver of the other bus was already there, doing his checks. The boss, Steve Morris, was to be conductor on the Stockport PD2 and we were to collect Bill Ricketts, my conductor, on our way through Wiveliscombe.
Our first hazard was roadworks. BT Openreach contractors had chosen this day to dig the road up right outside the garage so the workmen had to move barriers and vehicles to allow our two buses to leave. As we began our journey I quickly became attuned to driving a half cab bus again. It didn’t take long and No 18 reminded me of the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours open top PD2/3 that I used to drive until I moved away from Torbay. However, No 18 still has its roof and is in much better condition, having had a more recent restoration in Quantock ownership.
We’ve been having a lot of weather lately, in case you hadn’t noticed. Vast amounts of the wet stuff have been falling from the sky and this has led to very muddy conditions in the country lanes.
On Saturday I took Hants & Dorset 1220 on a Private Hire job to Priston Mill, near Bath. The bus was ready and waiting for me when I arrived (thanks Andrew!) so all I had to do was complete my walk round checks and jump in! The A370 was fairly busy so it was quite easy for the FLF to keep pace with the traffic. I’d forgotten about the diversion at Long Ashton, due to roadworks on the overbridge but fortunately the traffic kept moving and we rejoined the main road just before the Cumberland Basin. Annoyingly, I took the Bedminster exit instead of carrying on over the Avon and on towards Clifton. This resulted in a rather roundabout route through the city. However, all was not lost as I had plenty of time in hand. In fact, I had too much. The first pick up was at a bus stop near Clifton Downs but I was about 20 minutes early to I parked up in a handy layby, especially provided for buses on layover!
I had the benefit of a run-up to Park Street. In other words, I could attack the steep hill at 30mph without being hindered by the pedestrian crossing at the bottom. However, even with an empty bus, I was down to 2nd gear by about halfway up and I chuckled to myself as the noise of the Lodekka climbing the hill in time-honoured fashion turned many heads!
I’m struggling to hold my arms above the keyboard as I write this, having had two strenous days at the wheel. On Saturday I took Bristol FLF DEL893C to Priston Mill, near Keynsham, on a private hire trip.
Priston Mill is at the end of a long, single track lane and I had visions of having to manoever around oncoming traffic in the confined space. As it happened, I only met a handful of cars coming the other way and only had to reverse once. Several people at the venue showed great interest in the bus and I gave out details to potential hirers.
After a break in Bristol I had another private hire job in the evening, collecting a wedding party from the Merchants Hall, Clifton, Bristol and taking them to their evening venue, a restaurant in the centre of Bristol. It was dark by that time so I didn’t take photographs, although the wedding photographer did. With a virtually full load, we took the road down to the Avon Gorge and turned up into Park Street. In the old days Bristol’s buses would often be down to 1st gear by the time they got to the top of this hill and, as my heavily-laden bus struggled up on Saturday I was soon down to 2nd gear. The revs continued to fall away and I was just reaching for the gear stick when Goldbrick House, the party venue, hove into view. I decided to plod on in 2nd and, by the time we drew level with the restaurant, the engine was down to idling speed and I quickly de-clutched and hauled on the handbrake. Just made it!
Now empty, the FLF almost flew up the remainder of the hill. Well, not really. Having to start off in 1st gear I had to wait until I got to the top before changing up and gaining speed. I’m not confident enough with my snatch changes to attempt one at anything above walking pace. The journey back to the depot in Weston-super-Mare was easy. The only hard bit was parking in the dimly-lit yard next to a Bristol Tramways L5G. With nobody about I had to get out and check in case I reversed into the garage wall!