Heritage bus roundup: Spring 2018

Early Spring 2018 brought a flurry of heritage bus activity for me. Although we’re now well into a very hot summer, here’s a sample of what I was up to earlier.

This is a very attractive Bedford OB coach which was once operated by the original Crosville Motor Services in north Wales and now resides in Weston-super-Mare. It is now up for sale but I was asked to drive it up to Bristol to have its analogue tachograph calibrated as part of preparations for sale.

I’ve have driven this delightful vehicle several times before and I savoured the sounds from the very tuneful and distinctive gearbox. However I didn’t much like the steering, which is very heavy! I don’t know if this is typical of OBs because this is the only one I’ve driven (so far).

I saw this OB in Dorset recently, during on a birthday treat visit to Ringwood Brewery. I would have volunteered myself as a driver but Ringwood is quite a trek from Weston-super-Mare! If it had a canvas tilt on the back it would have looked exactly like the Bedford OB van that my grandfather used to operate (there’s a tiny me standing next to him). That was green as well!

One of the stalwarts of the Crosville fleet in recent years has been ex-Crosville Bristol FSF6G 891VFM and this is seen here having a thorough steam clean prior to its first outing of 2018. This was a trip down to Minehead to spend the day giving free rides to people who attended the Paw Patrol special event for children put on by the West Somerset Railway. I’ve driven at several of these events before and I was happy to be rostered as the driver. I really enjoy driving this Lodekka because I find it easy to drive it smoothly. It also has a good turn of speed (45mph+ on the level) thanks to having a rear axle from a coach fitted.

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Pre-season bus movements

Alongside occasional design work recently, I have also been tasked with delivering and collecting some of the Crosville fleet in preparation for the 2017 season.

This has meant a lot of solo mileage but fortunately the destinations have been familiar, so not too stressful. The first of these movements, a few weeks ago, saw me taking one of the Crosville hybrid deckers up to the Yorkshire premises of Cobus, the bus restorers. Last week I took another of the Wrightbus hybrid buses up to Cobus and, the following day, brought the first one back to Weston-super-Mare as its conversion to open top had been completed.

As before, the journey was slow and tedious. Don’t get me wrong, the bus is dead easy to drive around town as it was originally used on the (mostly flat) streets of London. But put a gradient in front of it and, just like a tired donkey, it gets all moody and unresponsive. Normally, power comes from a Cummins diesel engine which charges the propulsion batteries but in Direct Energy  mode (used for these long journeys) these batteries are switched out and the bus relies solely on the relatively small diesel engine. Propulsion still comes from the Siemens electric traction motor but it can only deliver the energy provided by the diesel engine. Which isn’t nearly enough on hills. Even on motorways, where gradients are usually gentle, our speed dropped away alarmingly. At times we were down to about 30mph!

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Early Bristol RE returns to Crosville

After being away from base for almost exactly a year, I had the honour of bringing a refurbished Bristol RE back to Weston-super-Mare.

HDV626E-at-RBW

1967-built Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) has been receiving the attentions of restorers at Reliance Bus Works in Stoke-on-Trent since January 2015 and I was happy to be offered the chance to bring it back to the Crosville Motor Services depot again.

This particular vehicle is very significant as it is the earliest surviving Bristol RELL3 chassis. In fact, it was only the 12th example off the production line at Brislington.

I arrived by train and the proprietor kindly offered to pick me up from the station. The only trouble was, my train was diverted to Crewe at the last minute due to a faulty set of points just south of Stoke. After a hasty phone call, I jumped on a train again and we finally met up at Kidsgrove.

2700 had been parked facing the road, ready for my departure. She looked magnificent inside and out. Maybe not ‘concours’ condition but that doesn’t matter. The folks at Crosville just wanted her to be brought up to spec for private hire mechanically and to have some bodywork issues sorted out. A fresh application of Tilling Green and Cream was the finishing touch, together with some repainting inside.

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Southern National Bristol RELL goes north

Following on swiftly from my long trek north with a Bristol K6A I delivered another bus to be repainted last week.

HDV626E-at-depot

This was not such an arduous journey, for two reasons. This 1967-built Bristol RELL is a faster bus and, secondly, my destination was not so far away from the Crosville depot. Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) is reasonably presentable but, as the plan is for it to join the heritage fleet for private hire at some point, it really needs some tidying up and a new paint job.

2700 has had a succession of private owners since it left Western National service (it was transferred from Southern National in 1969) and has been seen frequently at running days and rallies. In fact she was at the Crosville depot in 2012, when her most recent owner brought her along to the Crosville Running Day.

My task was to deliver the bus to Reliance Bus Works, who are to carry out work to the brakes and chassis before re-applying her Tilling Green and Cream livery. After shunting a Bristol KSW out of the way, I checked the oil and started her up. The Gardner 6HLX engine filled the garage with its throaty sound, along with a haze of blue smoke which soon cleared as the engine warmed up. As before, much of the preparation had been done beforehand but I drove the bus outside and completed my walkaround checks as usual just for my own peace of mind. A full tank of fuel was required for the journey up to Stoke-on-Trent and, once this was done, I set off.

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