Way back in sunny May I paid a return visit to Torbay and met up with my friends at English Riviera Sightseeing Tours. I spent the day driving their open top Leyland PD2 and also met their newest acquisition, a Dennis Toastrack Bus.
Needless to say, the folks there were delighted to have me back, if only for a day. Apparently my gentle driving style has been sorely missed! It was great to be in the driving seat of FFY403 once again and to hear the banter and gags of my tour guide ‘Wayne Champagne’ as we trundled around the tour route.
Since I last drove it, the PD2 had undergone some engine repairs, the fuel pump and injectors getting particular attention. Those with long memories will remember that my only disppointment with driving the PD2 was its excessively high idle speed. Usually a Leyland O.600 engine will tick over very slowly without doing any harm, sometimes with a little ‘hunting’ too. But on FFY the idle speed used to be so high that I had to de-clutch far sooner than normal when rolling to a stop. I seemed to have to coast for ages with my foot on the clutch before stopping.
Anyway, having refurbished the pump and replaced a split rubber diaphragm, the idle speed could be brought right down so driving it again this year brought great satisfaction. At long last I was able to hear the engine idling normally. Why couldn’t this work have been done when I was a regular driver?!
Wayne couldn’t resist bringing out one of his favourite gags in my honour as we passed through Paignton during the afternoon tour. As we approached Manor Corner on the return to Torquay, we were about to pass the Paignton Spiritualist Church. “I have some late breaking news for you, folks,” piped up Wayne. “This evening’s clairvoyance meeting at the Spiritualist Church has been cancelled,” he continued with barely suppressed giggles, “due to unforeseen circumstances!” Gales of laughter from the saloon behind me followed by “It’s not my fault, ladies and gentlemen, that one was especially for our driver John!” from Wayne. He knows that I’m a churchgoer (though not a Spiritualist) and likes to trot that one out for my benefit, although I doubt that Spiritualists can look into the future any more than I can.
After the closure of Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare it was decided to vacate the large hangar where the vehicles had been based. I was invited to help move the single deck members of the fleet, which are still owned outright by the business owner, to a new location in another part of the town.
Earlier in the day a team of volunteers had been beavering away with soapy water and a jet wash, removing dust and debris which had settled on the cherished vehicles over several months of inactivity. I had earlier arranged for Mrs Busman John to be ‘steerswoman’ (is that a word?) on 1912 MacLaren steam road locomotive ‘Gigantic’, which was also to make the same journey across town as the buses. So, while the buses were being prepared, I rode with her and shot this video:
Needless to say, she was ‘chuffed’ to bits as it had been a long-held ambition of hers to drive a traction engine! Many thanks to JJP and his steam team for making this happen.
Soon all was ready for the first of two short convoys. Each was led by a steam vehicle, the first being 1931 Sentinel DG6P steam bus ‘Elizabeth’. I was invited to drive FAE60, a 1938 Bristol L5G which had long ago been converted into a tower wagon as departmental vehicle W75 for maintaining the high level structures in Bristol Tramways (later Bristol Omnibus Company) depots. The chassis, apart from having been shortened, was unchanged so it drove just like a normal Bristol L bus. It was lovely to drive, with a very easy gear change. Crash box, of course!
The writing was on the wall for a long time but Saturday April 21st marked the end of another chapter in the long-running Crosville Motor Services story. Although this is now old news, it deserves an airing here because of my involvement with the latter-day company.
To recap, a combination of falling revenue and some difficulties with the Traffic Commissioner made it inevitable that the company would have to cease trading.
The management of the Weston-super-Mare company decided to go out with a flourish, so organised a running day on the last day of operation. Based at the Beach Lawns on Weston’s seafront, heritage vehicles were either lined up on display or used in service on the 100 route to Sand Bay. With Crosville’s Sentinel steam bus ‘Elizabeth’ joining in the action as well, that meant that the road to Sand Bay got very busy at times! (Photo copyright Paul Jones, used with permission).
Sadly I was committed elsewhere on that day so missed most of the action but did have a couple of hours to spare in the morning so I was able to help ferry some of the heritage buses out to the seafront site, including recently restored Bristol K6A HLJ44 and Bristol FS6G YDL318.
Then it was time to put all the toys away in the box and go home. With local bus routes and private hire bookings unable to run due to the lack of an Operators Licence, the next few weeks were rather sad as the once-busy depot was gradually cleared out. Most of the service buses and coaches were sold off, either for further use or for scrap. I drove two ex-school contract vehicles, Leyland Tiger CRZ9853 and a yellow Dennis Javelin coach (whose number I have already forgotten), up to a coach trimmer near Banbury. In a final twist, each had only been bought for its seats. With most of the ‘modern’ vehicles sold, the vast hangar which served as the Crosville depot looked forlorn.
There was a plan to continue running the heritage fleet, which had a healthy order book for 2018, under the auspices of Southern National (another JJP Holdings company) but this failed to materialise due to licencing issues. All bookings were cancelled and refunded. This had a direct impact on me because I had been, up to this point, managing the bookings and crew rosters for the heritage fleet.
A change of plan – the 2017 Crosville Bus & Steam Rally is returning to the Helicopter Museum venue.
The last time I mentioned the rally it was going to be held on the Beach Lawns, Weston-super-Mare but, since then, there have been changes behind the scenes. After a lot of negotiation the good news is that admission will be 100% free for visitors to the rally, which will again be sited within a self-contained ‘paddock’. The Control Tower, which is in the centre of the field and was undergoing renovation last year, is now complete and may be open for visitors. For those who wish to go round the Helicopter Museum itself there will be a separate charge.
Many people will have been disappointed that ‘Elizabeth’ the Sentinel DG6P Steam Bus didn’t show up as planned at last year’s rally. I was one of them – I’ve never seen her in steam, although I’ve walked past her in the garage many times on my way to pick up a bus. During the refurbishment a lot of worn parts and rot were discovered and so much more work was required than anticipated. As I write, the bus is being re-assembled and a boiler test should have been completed successfully. There is still some confusion as to which colour she will wear when she returns. An early suggestion was that she would be outshopped in Tilling Green and Cream to match the other members of the Crosville heritage fleet. But then I heard that she would retain her maroon colour to complement Crosville’s Clayton & Shuttleworth road locomotive ‘Sonsie Quine’. Which will it be? You’ll have to wait and see. Ooh, I do love a good livery debate!
Some readers may remember that I’m also a proud owner of a Morris Minor convertible. To top it all, the Avon Branch of the Morris Minor Owners Club is having a day out at the Helicopter Museum at the same time as the Crosville Rally, but not on the same field. It’s going to be a busy day!
Following a reasonably successful Bus & Steam Rally in September, the team at Crosville Motor Services has pledged to run a similar event next year and the date will be Sunday September 10th, 2017 from 10:00 until 16:30.
Once again, I’m looking forward to taking part in this rally. Not only does it give me the chance to browse among the many visiting vehicles, it also allows me to drive several of Crosville’s own heritage buses as well as those belonging to the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection. Those who know me well will probably know that the Bristol marque is my favourite!
This time the rally will return to the seafront at Weston-super-Mare, the static displays and vintage bus rides all being based at the Beach Lawns. The biggest benefit for everyone of course is that now the whole event will be free to enter. Understandably, there were moans this year that “…we shouldn’t have to pay!” as entry to the Helicopter Museum rally site this year was £10 per adult. Although admission tickets were sold by the Museum, Crosville received a proportion of the gate takings. Most (but not all) vintage bus running days and rallies don’t levy an entry charge and enthusiasts have been used to this format for years. Also, and this is neither new nor even confined to the bus world, enthusiasts are notoriously ‘thrifty’ and many resent having to part with cash in order to enjoy a rally. What they perhaps fail to realise is that rallies and running days don’t just happen by themselves. Much time, effort and expense is needed to put these events on and operators like Crosville like to cover their costs if at all possible. As I mentioned, the 2017 event will be free so, if you attend and see a programme for sale, please buy one as this will help to offset costs.