To Crowcombe with a Thames Valley Bristol L6A

A recent outing with a vintage bus saw me doing a solo duty for a wedding in West Somerset.

This was one of a handful of private hire duties I’m doing for Quantock Heritage as I’m keen to keep my crash-box skills finely honed!

The duty was solo in more ways than one, because there was nobody around at the depot either so I had to prepare the bus on my own. Fortunately, having done a duty here back in February, I knew the drill and the bus had already been checked, washed and fuelled.

My allocated bus was Thames Valley S302 (GFM882), formerly Crosville KB73/SLA73. It is a 1948 Bristol L6A, the ‘A’ signifying that it was fitted with a 6-cylinder 7.7 litre AEC diesel engine, rather than the more usual Gardner 5LW or Bristol AVW unit. This bus was converted by Crosville to OMO format comparatively early in its career in 1958 and has remained this way ever since. The bulkhead behind the driver has been removed, the side window set at an angle and a mounting for a Setright ticket machine provided. You can see the layout in this view, facing forwards.

GFM882 was parked beside an even older bus, W. Alexander & Sons P721 (VD3433), a 1934-built Leyland Lion.

Eventually my preparations were all done and I could put the moment off no longer. Yes, I was a little hesitant having not driven a crash ‘box bus since September 2018 and had never driven this particular example before. Fearing that there would be ‘Much Grinding in the (Langley) Marsh’* I set off gingerly down the hill and round the corner into Wiveliscombe, managing to find all the gears successfully. Downchanging was a different matter however and I made a right hash of several changes as the bus wound its way through the narrow streets of the town. Thankfully I had the empty journey to the pickup point to brush the cobwebs off my technique.

I soon discovered that this L6A has a well set-up clutch brake which enabled me to make quicker up-changes than usual, which is very useful when changing up a gear on uphill gradients!

I had researched the route and locality previously, as is my custom, but I could easily have come unstuck at the venue had it not been for the timely presence of the bride’s mother. I was just about to turn into the drive of the big house where the bridal party was gathering when the aforementioned lady jumped out of a car that had been following me and told me that marquees and gazebos had been set up beside the house, leaving nowhere to turn the bus. Thanking her profusely, I re-positioned, let her drive up to the house and then reversed up the drive. That could have been awkward! In fact it was still tricky because of the limited space available in the lane in which to manoever through the narrow gate.

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Two Leyland PD2s to Priston Mill

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.

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Bournemouth Corporation PS2 joins English Riviera Sightseeing Tours fleet

A new addition to the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours fleet is Bournemouth Corporation Transport No 44, JLJ401.

This adds a much needed wet weather option to the existing open top Leyland PD2/3, which has suffered quite a lot in the last few years by being out and about in the rain. Thankfully, some of the upper deck floor has recently been replaced but the Bournemouth Leyland PS2/2, acquired recently from previous operator Quantock Heritage, has already proven its worth by operating successfully during the early part of the 2017 season when the weather can be damp and chilly up top on the PD2!

JLJ401, a 1949 Leyland PS2/2, was one of a batch of three with luxurious and shapely Burlingham bodywork supplied to Bournemouth for local tours. I’m delighted to be driving it in Torbay, where it again operates on tours and we can legitimately display the original destination ‘Circular Tour’!

The distinctive yellow Bournemouth livery has been refreshed but the wheels and side flash have been repainted maroon to match that carried by the existing sightseeing fleet. The sumptuous interior has proved to be a great hit with local passengers, offering probably the most comfortable seats to be found on any bus operating in Torbay. This can be verified by our Tour Guide ‘Champers’ and Singing Kettle Tea Rooms owner Marlene!

Thankfully all three of the JLJ single decks have survived and the rear view of JLJ401 shows off the very stylish Burlingham bodywork beautifully.

Since these photos were taken the coach has had Sightseeing Tours lettering applied to the sides and rear. Although I prefer it without, I think the balance is good.

The Leyland O.600 engine and 4-speed manual gearbox are theoretically identical to those fitted to the Tours’ open top bus, FFY403. But I prefer the PS2 because it has a lower ratio rear axle with makes pootling around the bay and climbing its hills much more suitable. Although both ‘boxes have synchromesh on all except 1st gear, the ‘box on JLJ401 takes much less effort when changing gear. If you compare trying to stir a cup of tea and a then tin of treacle you’ll get a good idea!

A some point in its history, Bournemouth Corporation converted the coach for One Man Operation (as it was then known) and the base plate for the Setright ticket machine that the driver would use is still present. In typical fashion, I couldn’t resist fitting my Setright machine to it and dispensing tickets to my passengers as souvenirs!

In other news, I’ve done quite a few private hire jobs for Crosville. Some of them have been quite unusual and merit their own blog post, when time allows. Speaking of which, my new responsibilities as Heritage Operation Manager are taking up most of my time when I’m not driving sightseeing tours and trying to sell my house in Paignton.