Rail River Link says farewell to the Bristol VRT

Last weekend saw the final runs in regular operational service for Torbay’s long-serving Bristol VRTs and I enjoyed a last fling with them on an evening Mystery Tour.

3-vrts-brixham-harbour

Rail River Link (the bus operating division of the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company) has operated open top Bristol VRTs in the area since 2000 but now, due to the introduction next year of new regulations to bring all service buses into compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (commonly referred to as ‘DDA’), the VRTs are being phased out.

Jim O’Hara and his team of drivers delighted local transport historians and enthusiasts by putting on a weekend of extra services and Mystery Tours. The 2 remaining RRL VRTs were joined by two other vehicles, another VRT supplied by North Somerset Coaches and a Leyland Atlantean which is owned by a local collector.

I joined the party at Paignton Bus Station after returning from the afternoon Sightseeing Tour on the PD2 (FFY403). Incidentally, this was my final duty of the season as the Tours season also finished the same weekend. A good number of other people also waited near the 100 Service stop for the celebrity VRTs to arrive. A gentleman standing nearby started asking me about the buses which were due to take part and he revealed that he’d seen publicity about the weekend a few days earlier but didn’t know what a VRT was. Apparently he’d found the information he needed on a website written by a local chap who also drives for a company in Weston-super-Mare. Yes, he’d been reading this blog!

vrts-final-weekend-paignton

Before long 2 of the VRTs had joined a Volvo B7 which was also in the station on the 100 run. I decided to take a ride on VDV138S for the first part of the tour. This was especially poignant because the bus (no 4 in the RRL fleet) was originally named ‘Warspite’ and was part of a batch of convertible Bristol VRTs supplied to Western National in 1977 as its 938 for service in Torbay. These buses replaced the ageing Leyland Atlantean ‘Sea Dog’ open toppers and happily several members of both types of bus have survived. Joining the fun for the weekend was VDV134S, now in Southern National NBC livery and carrying the name ‘Thomas Hardy’. To complete the set, as it were, one of the aforementioned ‘Sea Dog’ Atlanteans joined the convoy not long after we had left the bus station. Now registered MSJ499, it was originally 925GTA in the Devon General fleet and it has been returned to DG’s reversed cream and maroon livery, complete with ‘Admiral Blake’ name.

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WHOTT Running Day at Dorchester 2016

The second annual WHOTT Vintage Bus Running Day at Dorchester has been hailed a resounding success, with plenty of visitors coming to enjoy nearly 30 buses, coaches and commercials which were on display.

DFG81-at-Frampton-Church

For my part, I brought along an open top Bristol Lodekka which was actually a last minute replacement for the bus I had intended to bring. Following on from the WHOTT Coldharbour Mill running day earlier this year, I had intended to bring the same vehicle to Dorchester, Southern National 2700. However, a couple of days before Dorchester, the 1967 Bristol RELL developed an engine fault which couldn’t be fixed in time. The kind folks at Crosville offered open top FSF6G 891VFM (Crosville DFG81) instead, which turned out to be a very popular choice!

TUO497-Dorchester

The RE had been based at Weymouth (just 8 miles away) for the early part of its service life, which would have made it a very appropriate entrant for the Dorchester event. In my view its non-appearance was a blessing in disguise because another – older – Southern National bus was able to take pride of place instead. 1956 Bristol LS5G TUO497 is most of the way through a restoration project and its appearance at Dorchester was the first time it had been seen in public since it was laid up in a barn in 1980.

I had an empty journey of 74 miles ahead of me when I arrived at the Crosville depot early last Sunday morning. As I opened up the garage and switched the lights on I wondered how many other buses I’d have to shunt out of the way before I could bring the Lodekka out. I was very pleased to see that, following a recent re-organisation of the depot, all the Crosville heritage fleet had been parked in an annexe to the main building, making it far easier than before to retrieve a heritage bus.

By the time I’d arrived at the Top ‘O Town car park in Dorchester the sun was shining and other buses were being marshalled into position. I reported to the WHOTT Control Bus and found that I’d been rostered for three trips out to Frampton Church (see top picture), the first of which departed at 12:40. This meant I had loads of time to browse among the buses and meet up with friends and colleagues.

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Early 2016 season roundup

Now that May has come (and almost gone) my level of bus activity has returned to normal with the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours kicking off at the beginning of the month.

FFY403-with-crew-2016

One of the first photos to go on the Tours’ new Facebook page was this one, showing my Tour Guide / Conductor smartly turned out in his new busman’s jacket. I’m not sure who the other fellow is…

Loadings have been patchy, which is par for the course in May. However, unusually warm weather in our first week of operation saw up to 30 passengers on board for some tours. The route is unchanged from last year but, just through May, we’re leaving at 11:00 instead of 10:45 just to give ourselves a better chance of attracting more custom.

YDL318-polishedOther outings have included a return to Minehead to support the West Somerset Railway’s ‘Peppa Pig’ special event. My rostered bus was Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318) which appeared to have been polished to within an inch of its life!

YDL318-Blenheim-Road-Minehead

While operating free trips from Minehead station I met up with a lovely couple who used to be regular passengers on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’. It was Don who sent me this photo of the bus passing beside Blenheim Park on one of its ‘Peppa’ trips that day. Also in town on the same day was Peter and Jenny Snowden and family. They rode with me and Peter, who is one of the organisers of the Taunton Vintage Bus Running Day, couldn’t resist slipping into conductor mode!

891VFM-210516-Bath

Last Saturday saw me taking Crosville DFG81 (891VFM), an open top Bristol FSF6G, to Bath on an increasingly rainy day. The wedding party started its journey on top but I soon received the pre-arranged signal (3 bells) to pull over so that everyone could retire below! This bus was actually a last-minute replacement for the rostered bus, a Lodekka which turned out to be unserviceable with dead batteries. It was fortunate that, after some delays, I was able to make up time with the 50mph-capable FSF.

HDV626E-fuel-Stoke

Once again I acted as delivery driver for Crosville this week, travelling up to Stoke-on-Trent to collect Southern National 2700 after it had received attention at Reliance Bus Works. The photo shows the vociferous RE (its exhaust note is pleasingly throaty!) taking on fuel before the return journey.

Coming up this weekend I have another trip to Minehead, WSR. This time the visiting ‘celebrity’ is Paddington Bear! Then I’m due to drive at the WHOTT Running Day at Coldharbour Mill Museum, Uffculme. WHOTT and the Mill have teamed up and a number of buses are supporting a Steam-up Day at the Mill, when the 1910 Pollit & Wigzell engine will be operating along with much of the woollen mill’s surviving machinery.

Photo credits:

YDL318 in Minehead – Don Brain
891VFM in Bath – Richard Kemble

 

Southern National ETT946 returns to the westcountry

Another lengthy delivery journey – part of my role as ‘Crosville Odd Job Man’ – occurred recently. I was sent north to collect a 1938 Bristol L5G single deck bus and bring it back to Weston-super-Mare.

ETT946-Selby

Southern National 280 (ETT946) had been bought at auction in September 2015 but remained uncollected in Yorkshire until I was invited to go and collect it last week. I had seen photographs of this elderly vehicle before and, although its original Beadle-built body had once proudly worn Tilling Green and Cream livery, it appeared to be in a rather dilapidated condition. However, I was assured that it was mechanically in good order. Always up for a challenge, I accepted the invitation.

HDV626E-return-to-RBW

On the way up north I delivered a more recent example of the former Southern National fleet, Bristol RELL 2700 (HDV626E) to the Stoke-on-Trent premises of Reliance Bus Works for some additional work to the nearside body panels. This is a wonderful vehicle to drive, as well as being historic. It is the earliest surviving example of the RELL Series 2 body style but, from a driver’s point of view, is hard work. It has a very heavily sprung accelerator pedal which is manageable on short trips but very tiring after long stints on motorways!

From Stoke I travelled up to Selby ‘on the cushions’ (as a passenger on a train). After an overnight stay in a guest house I arrived at the premises of another historic vehicle restorer, where the old Bristol L5G stood in the chilly morning air awaiting my attentions. I had been in contact with the restorer earlier in the week but it turned out that, on the day I planned to collect the bus, he was due to be away! He had topped up the oil, fitted a fresh battery and assured me that it was ‘on the button’ and ready to go.

ETT946-rear-windowI wandered round the vehicle several times, checking it over. At some time in its long life it had been converted into a mobile home and, while it now stood devoid of any living accommodation, a couple of clues remained. The most bizarre of these was the back end of the bus which had been remodelled to resemble a pine-clad cottage, complete with bay window! In the offside roof there was evidence of a chimney which would have been part of a solid fuel stove inside.

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Southern National 1938 Bristol L5G acquired by Crosville

Crosville Motor Services in Weston-super-Mare has recently acquired a 1938 Bristol L5G, originally Southern National 280 (ETT946).

ETT946-at-Winkleigh

Although it originally had a Mumford body, Crosville’s example now has a Beadle 36-seat body similar to one I’ve featured here before. Wilts & Dorset  504, a 1938 Bristol J (pictured below), also had a Beadle body and was transferred from Hants & Dorset in 1952, according to the notes in my Dad’s photo album.

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As you will see from the photo of ETT946, it has managed to retain its original high-mounted radiator in common with only a handful of surviving Bristol L buses. Usually these were replaced by the later PV2 radiator when re-bodied. This example has been in private ownership for many years, spending most of the last decade at Winkleigh with the West of England Transport Collection. I’m grateful to Les Eddy for his permission to use the photograph at the top of this post.

The bus has seen better days and, although restored many years ago, will need a thorough re-restoration before it can join the active Heritage Fleet at Crosville. It will have to wait its turn in the queue! One day it should look a bit like this fine example, a 1940 Beadle-bodied Bristol L5G from the Western National fleet.

Apparently the bus is still driveable and it may make the journey to Somerset under its own power. I’ve volunteered for that job but a fair amount of preparation will need to be done before it is fit for the road. Watch this space!

Crosville-Merc-Sprinter-minibus

I seem to have done a fair bit of delivery driving recently. I wrote a while ago about taking the Sightseeing Tours Bristol LH charabanc to Exeter and back for some attention to the paintwork. I also drove an open top Leyland PD2/3 to Plymouth and back for the same operator for some mechanical repairs and servicing. Probably my last driving duty for 2015 will be to return a 2009 Mercedes Sprinter minibus from Stoke-on-Trent after some attention by Reliance Bus Works. I drove it up last week and the trip was comfortable and trouble-free, which contrasts starkly with some of the delivery journeys I’ve done with more elderly vehicles!

 

Diary date: Crosville Bus & Steam Fair 2016

It’s a long way off, I know. But put Sunday 11th September 2016 in your diary if you’re anywhere near the westcountry. This is the date of the Crosville Bus & Steam Fair 2016.

767-and-Lizzie

There wasn’t a rally or running day in 2015 – they seem to be happening on alternate years – but the event planned for 2016 is being billed as the best yet. As you may have read, the Crosville Motor Services heritage fleet has gained a steam-powered vehicle in the shape of ‘Elizabeth’, the 1931 Sentinel DG6P steam bus. This unique vehicle will take centre stage at the Fair and will be one of several buses from the heritage fleet running free bus rides during the day.

4-Bristol-Ls-at-Crosville-Rally-2014

Last year’s event was based on The Lawns on Weston-super-Mare seafront but the 2016 event will be based at Weston’s old airfield, next to the the Helicopter Museum. There will be a number of free bus services running, including a shuttle to and from the Crosville depot in Winterstoke Road. For the first time, to keep ‘Elizabeth’ company no doubt, owners of other steam-powered vehicles are being invited to come along too. Traction engines and steam rollers will be adding to the atmosphere, in more ways than one!

2700-@-RBW-3

Two buses which are currently away being refurbished should also be back in service by then, both of which were driven by your humble scribe upcountry for work to be carried out. TD895, a 1949 Bristol K6A, is being restored to the condition it was in when on loan from Hants & Dorset to London Transport. Southern National 2700 is a 1966 Bristol RELL and has already had some mechanical and bodywork repairs done. It is awaiting a new coat of Tilling Green and Cream before returning to Weston.

The date is already in my diary and I’m sure to be driving one of the heritage buses so come and join us for a day of vintage fun!

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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