I recently took part in the vintage bus running day to commemorate the Wilts & Dorset Centenary. It also gave me the opportunity to relive some of my childhood memories in Salisbury.
Wilts & Dorset Motor Services Ltd was incorporated in 1915 and the centenary of that event was celebrated in great style in Salisbury, with more than 50 buses operating old W&D routes or on static display. The day ended with all the surviving Wilts & Dorset buses at the event being posed together for photographs (see above).
I had originally planned to take a Hants & Dorset Bristol K6A – now owned by Crosville Motor Services – to the event but the bus is still undergoing refurbishment so that plan fell through. Knowing that I was available but had no bus to drive, the event organisers invited me to drive Wilts & Dorset 628 (1956-built Bristol LD6G OHR919) instead. Of course, I leapt at the chance, having enjoyed driving it at the Salisbury Bus Station Closure event in January 2014.
The day started at silly-o’clock, when my alarm went off. With my son Peter for company (he was also to be my conductor for the day) I set off for Salisbury, where I had arranged to meet the owners of the bus. Allan and Kevin Lewis also own Hants & Dorset 1450 (Bristol FS6G 5677EL) and were happy for me to drive their Wilts & Dorset Lodekka while they crewed their FS.
All the buses running in service began to congregate in the Millstream Approach Coach Park, along with growing numbers of photographers. Peter and I began to wonder if we’d have to join them as our bus didn’t arrive until 10 minutes before our planned departure on service. Salisbury’s one-way system was to blame!
Suitably attired in our Tilling uniforms (OK, so they’re more suited to a Hants & Dorset bus, but red-trimmed jackets are as rare as hen’s teeth), we took charge of 628 and drove round to our stop on the Blue Boar Row. The sight that greeted us was amazing. Every one of the bus stops along the busy city centre street seemed to be occupied by a heritage bus of some sort. There was only just enough room for us to tuck in at the back. As soon as we drew up hordes of people rushed to board, even crossing the road from the static display area.
Eventually Peter gave me two bells and we departed slowly on our first journey, which was the number 60 to Wilton. Slowly, because other buses were also departing and the crowds were spilling over from the pavements into the road. I’m sure I’ve never seen so many camera lenses pointing in my direction before!
January 5th 2014 dawned with a sharp frost and bright sunshine, which later turned to cloud and persistent drizzle. Perhaps this summed up the mood of those who attended a special event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station.
Wiltshire’s capital city has had a central bus station for 75 years but now, due to the ageing buildings and the changing nature of the company which has inherited them, the city has decided that it can do without the familiar starting point for most of its bus services.
Thanks to a remarkably timed contact with the owners of a surviving Wilts & Dorset Bristol Lodekka, I had the privilege of driving this bus during the running day. The photo below, taken by Dave Mant, shows me leaving the bus station with the first departure of the day to Nunton and Bodenham.
Note the similarity between this and my shot of the same location which I took in 1973. Fleet no 628, an LD6G which was new in December 1956, has been owned since it was taken out of service as a driver trainer, by two delightful brothers. They also own a Hants & Dorset FS6G. I met up with them at the bus station and before I knew it, was climbing into the cab just before departure time. Allan and Kevin were happy for me to take the bus out on the first trip because I knew my way round the route, thanks to my customary homework (and a dry run in the car the night before!)
The bus station was rapidly filling with heritage buses, most of which had a local connection. Also adding to the general busyness was a good number of enthusiasts, local residents and bus industry management. As soon as I drove the Lodekka onto the departure stand, people flocked to board our bus. I had a few moments to compose myself. It was both emotional and nerve-wracking, sitting behind the wheel of a bus I had seen and ridden on as a boy while also focussing on the task of driving as faultlessly as possible.
In what seems to be like a dream come true, I’ve been invited to drive a Wilts & Dorset Bristol Lodekka in Salisbury in a few weeks’ time.
Those who follow this blog regularly will know that my interest in old buses stems from many happy childhood holidays spent with my Grandparents in Salisbury. Back then (in the 1960s and 70s) the Wilts & Dorset fleet was mostly Bristol vehicles – of LD, FS, FLF, MW, LS and RE varieties. My favourites were the LDs. To me, the perfect British bus. My passion for driving began when, as a small boy, I used to kneel on the bench seat behind the cab and watch the driver at work. Here is a photo I took of an FS6B in Salisbury Bus Station in the summer of 1973:
I have been invited to drive Wilts & Dorset LD6G 628 (OHR919) on Sunday January 5th 2014 as part of an event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station. My Ian Allan bus spotter’s book confirms that I saw it in Salisbury at least once and probably rode on it too. So you can imagine how privileged I feel to be asked to drive it during such an historic occasion.
Salisbury Reds, the current operator of most of Salisbury’s bus routes, have arranged for up to 15 heritage buses to run free trips on four routes. The duty sheet that I’ve seen shows that I’m due to drive two of them during the course of the day, including the very last passenger carrying service from Salisbury Bus Station at 15.45. Several duplicates have also been lined up to satisfy demand for this departure!
The photo below (from Flickr) shows the bus I’m due to drive a few years ago. By coincidence, one of the journeys I’m driving is the 37 from Alderbury & Whaddon to Salisbury!
With another 80th birthday to celebrate this year (my mother’s), we decided to take my side of the family for a day out at Bicton Park, East Devon. We had booked H&D Bristol FLF DEL893C for the day and my son Peter and I arrived at the Crosville depot early on Saturday to collect the bus. One of my colleagues had just very helpfully brought the bus out of the garage for us. Or perhaps he just wanted it out of the way in order to get to another one!
I also found that, although it was my responsibility to check fluid levels myself, I found that the garage staff had already done it for me. Oh well, it doesn’t hurt to check again! I used the Displacement method to check how much fuel was in the tank… a wooden pole and a Mark One Eyeball! We had one brake light go u/s so we waited while the chief mechanic brought it back to life. We took our fully fit Lodekka out to the motorway via the filling station to top up the tank and then set off southwards to collect members of my family from various places near the M5.
We left the M5 at Exeter and took the A376 to Exmouth, a road I know very well, having grown up there. My parents had no idea we were bringing a bus, we’d all kept it a secret. My Dad was speechless when he saw us – he is the one from whom I’ve inherited my interest in buses and all things heritage! Not only was the bus a Bristol, a manufacturer he is very familiar with, but also Hants & Dorset. H&D operated near to (and sometimes into) Salisbury, where he grew up.
A few months ago I inherited a photograph collection devoted to the buses and coaches of Wilts & Dorset Motor Services Ltd, whose head office and centre of operations was in Salisbury. The photographs have been collected by my father, who grew up in Salisbury and followed the development of the company and its vehicles until the early 1960s.
Here is one of the early photographs, showing a 1929 Leyland TS single decker wearing the pre-1948 livery and fleetname. The collection is spread over three volumes and contains several hundred photographs. I haven’t counted them all yet! Most are postcard-sized black and white prints, published for collectors and enthusiasts by distributors such as Haynes, Simpson and Pennels. A few of my father’s own shots are included too.
Prior to the standardisation of the state-owned Wilts & Dorset, when ECW body on Bristol chassis became the norm, W&D ran buses and coaches from all the major manufacturers such as Leyland, AEC and Daimler. Shown above is a 1931 Leyland TD1 passing the Style & Gerrish department store in Salisbury. Fleet number 97 has a Leyland body and wears the pre-war livery of red and grey.
One of the last photographs in the collection is of this 1967 Leyland Leopard PSUR1/1R, acquired in 1971/2 from Maidstone & District.
I photographed the fleetname on this bus after it had been withdrawn in 1973 and was languishing in the dump at the back of the bus station in Castle Street, Salisbury.
This reflected my interest, not only in the buses of Wilts & Dorset but also in letterforms because I began training for a career in graphic design in the same year.
These are just a few examples of the many photographs in this wonderful collection. Maybe I’ll share a few more of them later!
I’ve written before about what kindled my interest in vintage transport. That should more properly be ‘who’ because it was largely my father’s interest in anything to do with all forms of transport that rubbed off on me.
He would often sit me in the saddle of his extremely loud (to me, as a 3 year old lad) single cylinder motorcycle as it sat in the back garden. He would take me down to the railway station at Salisbury to watch the fast-disappearing steam hauled expresses.
Then there were the buses. Big, red and lumbering. I loved every journey. One day we both took a ride, just for the fun of it. We took the Wilts & Dorset number 61 from Wilton Road into town and then took the number 59 ( I think) up to the end of Devizes Road. Like most of the town services in the early 1960s, it was operated by one of many Bristol Lodekkas. There the bus would lay over until it was time to return from whence it came.
Just to pass the time (and to prove that I’m still here), I’ve delved back into my memory to bring you another snapshot in time from the half-cab era. This one involves the shady corner of a bus garage where a mechanic was ‘treading carefully’.
There was a time when bus operators were permitted to re-tread the tyres on their vehicles when they became worn down to the minimum legal tread depth. Maybe they still can – does anyone know?
Sometime in the 1960s (I was a small boy then) my Grandfather fixed it for me to have a look around the inside of the Wilts & Dorset bus garage in Salisbury. My eyes were out on stalks as we wandered round, watching MWs, KSWs and Lodekkas in various states of disassembly. I was even allowed to go into a pit, over which a bus was parked. I had no idea what I was looking at but I felt strangely privileged to be looking at the underside of a bus.
We were shown into a dark corner by the back doors where a couple of mechanics stood surrounded by wheels. Strewn around under their feet were zig-zag strips of rubber, the waste product of a handy tool one of them was wielding. As I watched, he held the tool in his gloved hand and guided it slowly along the shallow remants of the tyre’s tread. The tool, plugged into a substantial power supply, had a V-shaped cutting blade which evidently was heated by the electricity. Beneath the mechanic’s hand there appeared a brand new groove as a new zig-zag strip of rubber fell to the floor.