1929 Maudslay relaunched at WHOTT Rally 2014

At last I can reveal the start of my next driving adventure and it involves this stunning 1929 Maudslay motorbus.

FJ6154-Westpoint-rally-1

After many years spent lying dormant and away from public gaze, FJ6154 has been painstakingly restored and made its public debut at the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) Rally at Westpoint last Sunday. Its long history is fascinating and the story of how it came within a hair’s breadth of being scrapped will have to wait for another time.

I’d had the WHOTT rally in my diary for some time and had offered my services as a driver – or indeed any task – for the day. Little did I know that, a few weeks afterwards, I would be given a job I would never have dreamed of in a million years.

Namely, I was invited to become the Maudslay’s official driver.

It seems that my experience with vintage buses of various sorts, especially those with crash gearboxes, over the past 2 years has not gone unnoticed. Two other factors came into the WHOTT Trustees’ decision; I have a current PCV licence and I’m a nimble, reasonably small person. The latter becomes an obvious benefit as soon as you open the cab door!

Maudslay-FJ6154-cab

I had been following the progress of the Maudslay’s 2-year restoration within the pages of the WHOTT newsletter, as I prepare the artwork for this publication every quarter. No expense has been spared and the bus appears exactly as it would have done when it was new.¬†Student-Prince-advert Authenticity has been paramount and, in pursuit of this, I had even prepared a period advert for the interior, based on a newspaper advert which appeared in the Express & Echo the same week that the bus was delivered to Exeter Corporation.

Although I had seen photographs, I had not seen the bus ‘in the flesh’, so to speak, until last week. I travelled up to the WHOTT restoration base to take the Maudslay on its first tentative road run just two days after work on the engine had been completed. Before that, it hadn’t moved under its own power for nearly 40 years! That first run was very momentous and the significance of it was not lost on me.Maudslay-FJ6154-first-road-run

After familiarising myself with the small and very spartan cab I shunted up and down in the yard to get a feel for the clutch and the behaviour of the engine. The bus has remarkably survived complete with its original Maudslay 4-cylinder petrol engine and coping with this alone is an adventure! Then, with the Chairman of WHOTT aboard, along with a Trustee and one of the restoration volunteers, I drove the 85 year old veteran up the farm track to the main road. Drawing heavily on my experience with crash box buses and interpreting the feedback I was getting from the bus, I managed to change successfully up to 3rd gear. After climbing uphill for a while we reached level ground and I changed up to 4th gear at which point emotion nearly got the better of me as the enormity of what I was doing hit me.

We turned the bus and stopped for a couple of photos before I brought the Maudslay back to the farm where it will continue to live for the time being. I will not forget that first journey for a very long time.

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Conducting on a Crossley

A bright and early start found me meeting in the office for a crew briefing. I was paired up with a very experienced volunteer driver on EVD 406, a Crossley/Roe DD42/7 once operated by Joseph Wood of Mirfield. We were the first bus out of the depot, running an all day shuttle service to Taunton.

A couple of visiting Royal Blue coaches had arrived just before me and were parked in the yard. Inside the depot were people setting up their stalls, selling bus models, books, magazines etc. Right at the back was a stall selling refreshments, including a range of home-made cakes. Yummy!

Our first departure from Taunton Railway Station was quite well loaded and on the next run we were almost full by the time we had picked up at the Bus Station as well. We also called at our old depot at Norton Fitzwarren (which will be demolished at the end of June) where some of our fleet was on display, along with some ‘restoration projects’. We set down and picked up there so that passengers could wander among the buses and spare parts on display.

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Drive It Day in Exeter

I had a very enjoyable day today, driving a number of buses on the Driver Training Centre network of roads at Westpoint, Exeter. Organised by the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT) for its supporters, it was an opportunity to try out a wide range of vehicles in the relative safety of a private estate.

Those taking part went out in groups of 3 or 4 for a 45 minute session in one of their chosen buses, working through the day so that we could drive up to five of the buses in WHOTT’s care. We usually managed 10-15 minutes in the driving seat.

I started off in LTA 722, an ex-Southern National¬† 1950 Bristol LWL5G. The first gentleman to have a go really struggled with the crash gearbox, making horrible noises. In all of his time in the cab, he didn’t manage to change up to 3rd gear once. The driving supervisor, shouting advice through a small porthole above the driver’s head, tried all kinds of advice but to no avail. It was my turn next and I climbed up into the cab with the supervisor’s words ringing in my ears, “You’ve driven Lodekkas before, you’ll be alright!” I hope I didn’t disappoint him as I went smoothly up the box. We chugged around the training track, negotiating traffic light junctions, mini-roundabouts and 6 other buses doing the same. I messed up one gearchange, going from 3rd to 2nd. I think I must be used to the slower change on the Lodekka’s 6-cylinder engine. All too soon I had to hand over to the next ‘victim’.

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Royal Blue meets Agatha Christie

Another photo from my archives, showing Bristol LS6G OTT 98 arriving at Torre Abbey, Torquay in 1990 on the occasion of the Agatha Christie Centenary celebrations.

OTT 98 was delivered to Southern National in 1953 for their Royal Blue fleet and, at the time this photo was taken, was owned by the Dorest Transport Circle. It attended Torre Abbey along with a number of other forms of historic transport including cars and commercial vehicles.

Not far from the spot where I took this photo stands Torquay railway station, once owned by the mighty GWR. Later that same day, a delightful Christie cameo was played out as a luxury Pullman train arrived at the station. Among the guests stepping onto the platform to attend the Christie celebrations was a certain Hercule Poirot (David Suchet). He was observed to walk up to a lady of advancing years, tip his hat and present a bouquet of flowers to none other than Miss Jane Marple (Joan Hickson) before they were both taken the short distance to Torre Abbey in a vintage Rolls Royce.

OTT 98 is now owned by the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust and can often be seen attending rallies and special events. I hope to be driving this vehicle in 2 weeks time when it, along with others from the WHOTT collection, take part in a “Drive It” day when friends of the Trust can drive a selection of historic buses from the Trust’s collection on a private network of roads. If all goes well, I hope also to drive an Exeter Corporation Leyland PD2 and a Southern National Bristol LWL.