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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Another trainee bus conductor

I’ve started training yet another young bus conductor to join the roster at Quantock. We were out on the Service 400 “Exmoor Explorer” on Saturday and, after shadowing me on the morning trip, he donned my Setright machine and cash bag and conducted on the afternoon trip.

He did quite well for his first outing so it won’t be long before he can go solo. In fact I was quite proud of him. And so I should be, he’s my youngest son!

Eventually, once I’ve passed my PCV practical test, we’ll make a good driver/conductor team.

I was out both days this weekend and the rostered drivers were both new to me as they’re both relative newcomers to the company and have only done the 400 route a few times. One of them really struggled with the crash gearbox, mostly due to the fact that he was still unfamiliar with the route and couldn’t judge the best places to change gear. Several times he tried to change up but the bus almost rolled to a standstill on the uphill gradient while the engine revs died away. The other driver seemed to have less trouble and we had a smoother ride.

We met and passed some unusual traffic this weekend. A 1950s motorbike (one lung, put-put-put), Quantock’s brand new Dart bus on the Service 39, two enormous green tractors hauling balers, an old Alvis car on it’s way back from the WSR Steam Fayre, several cyclists and two horses.

I’ve got an interesting trip coming up in a few weeks time. It involves a 1957 Bristol Lodekka, a seaside town and an old photograph. See my next post for more details!

This is where it all started

This photo brings back so many memories for me. All through my childhood, while staying with my grandparents in the summer holidays, I travelled into town on Lodekkas, including this one. Consequently it represents my favourite half-cab bus of all time. It belonged to Wilts & Dorset and is pictured (by me, in 1973) approaching the bus stop outside the West End pub in Wilton Road, Salisbury. My grandparents’ house is just out of shot on the right and just at this moment, my pulse would be racing as I anticipated another journey, albeit ever so familiar. I can still hear my grandmother saying to the conductor after we’d found a seat, “two and one half to the Blue Boar Row, please”. And then that characteristic, metallic whirr as the conductor’s Setright machine spat out the requested tickets. I could never have guessed then that I would be doing his job 40 years later, on a Lodekka in service!

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