Crosville Bus & Steam Rally 2016

Taking part in Crosville’s Bus & Steam Rally this year gave me a variety of jobs, including possibly my last chance to drive a vintage bus on a regular bus route.

hlj44-at-crosville-rally

During the run-up to the rally I found myself more involved in the planning stages than I had envisaged so it was quite a relief to watch the day unfold successfully. In a new – but possibly one-off – joint venture with the Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare, Crosville sited its Bus & Steam Rally at the Museum. The company’s bus depot was also open, of which more later.

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I travelled up on the Friday before the rally, bringing a coach with me. This was Western National 3307 (Bristol LH6L AFJ727T) which belongs to WHOTT. The LH was parked up inside the Crosville Motor Services garage until it was required for the rally.

My main concern, having planned the layout of the static exhibits, was whether we would be able to fit all the resident and visiting buses along two sides of the rectangular site. Thankfully, due to the fact that a certain number of vehicles were always out in service, there was just about enough room.

I helped with setting up early on the previous day and began by touring the site with the Crosville Safety Officer, who also acted as Chief Marshal. The rest of the morning was spent ferrying various buses over from the Crosville garage to the Museum site, with Southern National 2700 (HDV626E) acting as shuttle bus for the drivers.

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The Museum staff did a great job setting up tables for the Trade Stalls within the Museum buildings. We’d had so many stall entries that several more were allocated spaces outside with the buses. Thank goodness we had dry weather!

The day of the rally itself brought ideal weather – mild, mostly sunny. I began by helping in the garage where, a few days previously, the mortal remains of GWR 4-6-0 ‘Thornbury Castle’ had been placed on display. Some of the modern bus and coach fleet were also tastefully arranged nearby.

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Vintage buses, Birnbeck Pier and MV Balmoral

Local residents in Weston-super-Mare may have been surprised to see a convoy of 5 Crosville buses a few weeks ago but they were all needed to support Birnbeck Pier.

But the Pier is supported by cast iron pillars, I hear you say. Structurally, you’d be right but just now the Pier needs all the extra support it can get if it is to survive in the future. The historic Pier is in a perilous state, having fallen into disrepair many years ago. Part of the structure fell into the sea after a ferocious storm last year which galvanised local support for saving what’s left. This is where Crosville became involved when the Birnbeck Pier Regeneration Trust chartered the historic vessel MV Balmoral.

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A fleet of buses was hired to transport supporters to Clevedon Pier where they boarded MV Balmoral for a cruise up the Bristol Channel. This photo shows my allocated bus, Crosville KG131 (KFM893) a 1950 Bristol L5G, loading at Birnbeck Pier. Behind it is Southern Vectis 573 (YDL318), a 1962 Bristol FS6G with a 1925 Chevrolet Model K Roadster keeping it company.

Members of the Trust had planned the transfer to Clevedon in minute detail, each bus having its own load list so that everyone had an allocated seat. Our little convoy must have looked rather incongruous as we got under way because a 21st century version of a Crosville single decker followed right behind – a 2016-built Yutong coach. This is one of several purchased by the modern Crosville for use on the commuter service to Bristol.

As always, the Bristol L behaved impeccably on its fully loaded run to Clevedon. I always enjoy driving this bus which, despite its 66 years, still feels tight and rattle-free.5-buses-clevedon-pier

Unfortunately, due to a speedboat festival taking place on the closed seafront road, we were unable to unload our passengers near to the pier so we parked as close as we could and the Birnbeck Pier supporters had to walk down the road and along the pier to board the Balmoral.

It would be several hours before they returned after their cruise so all the buses returned the short distance back to the Crosville depot to lay over.

When we returned later we were dismayed to see the Balmoral glide past the pier and on down the Bristol Channel because there was a speedboat race taking place right next to the pier, perventing the boat from approaching the pierhead. About an hour and a half later than planned, our passengers boarded their buses and we returned to Birnbeck Pier. On the way I took advantage of the ‘overdrive’ 5-speed gearbox on the L to overtake the slower Bristol FS on the motorway!

thornbury-castle-in-crosville-depotAfter parking up in the garage I wandered over to have a look round the remains of GWR 4-6-0 7027 ‘Thornbury Castle’ which had been delivered a few days earlier. This locomotive will eventually be restored to working order. It looks very forlorn in this picture but now, a few weeks later, it has been joined by its tender, front bogie and lots of dismantled parts.

Well, that’s all for now. Life has been so busy recently that I’ve fallen behind in posting here! Next will be news of a West Somerset Railway duty with a Bristol KSW and after that a report on the recent Crosville Bus & Steam Rally.

Thomas the Tank Engine revisits the WSR

I’ve just enjoyed (is that the right word?) a couple of busy days at the West Somerset Railway, supporting its ‘Days Out with Thomas’ event 2016.

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This year for the first time the event was held over three days instead of two weekends and two buses per day were provided by Crosville Motor Services to operate free vintage bus rides from Minehead station.

I was rostered for the Friday and Saturday so I was looking forward to a couple of days of fun. I always enjoy these turns as the format and route have become very familiar but they are quite tiring! One thing I didn’t have to do was to collect my bus from Weston-super-Mare first. Once again, another driver had kindly offered to bring it down the day before and park it on a farm outside Minehead.

Bristol LD6B 972EHW was delivered to Bristol Omnibus in 1959 as its LC8518 and was restored by the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection in 2010. It has been in the custody of Crosville at Weston for much of the time since then and it has been well cared for. Several passengers commented on its superb condition during the 2 days. Outwardly it is indeed a fine specimen but I have to admit it is sometimes tricky to drive. The gearbox has seen a lot of use over the years, as you would expect. But, of all the Lodekkas of similar vintage I have driven, this one has the most awkward ‘box. There are offsets and ‘notches’ which sometimes prevent the driver from engaging a gear smoothly, notably 1st and 2nd gears. This adds a level of difficulty to a duty which is already full of challenges. Low branches, tight corners, narrow streets… you get the picture I’m sure.

Compared with a normal private hire job, where there is quite a bit of open road running, these Minehead trips are full of cornering and gearbox work. That means that the workload for the driver is quite high – must be a bit like the old days! Of course, the bus feels a lot heavier when fully loaded and this was very evident on Saturday when, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, there were long queues for the bus.

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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.

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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!

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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

 

The Weston-Keynsham Shuttle with YDL318

Some private hire duties with heritage buses involve driving many miles to reach a far-distant destination. On others, the destination is just around the corner. For this job, it was both.

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According to my Work Ticket, the destination was about a mile from the Crosville garage – Weston-super-Mare seafront. The only snag was, I had to drive to Keynsham first!

The occasion was a birthday bash for a chap who was celebrating his big Five-O and that of a little girl of seven. They and a party of folk including friends and family had booked the bus for a trip to the seaside and so I drove the 26 miles to Keynsham at the stately speed of 30mph to pick them up. Apparently many of them were members of a local VW Campervan (often referred to as a ‘bus’) club, so were delighted to see the Bristol Lodekka turn into the car park to meet them.

Prior to this I had no idea what kind of event they were going to so, as soon as I learned that birthdays were involved, I set the destination blinds appropriately! On the way there with the empty bus I nearly had a panicky moment when I was confronted by ‘Road Closed’ signs on one of the main roads through the Bristol suburbs. Fortunately I had driven along a parallel residential road on a previous private hire job so I was able to continue my journey with a hastily chosen Plan B.

By the time everyone had boarded we had half a bus-load. Understandably they all decided to travel on the top deck and, as we picked our way through the busy centre of Keynsham, I wondered whether this would affect the handling of the bus. I needn’t have worried. Lodekkas, in common with most double deck bus designs, have a low centre of gravity so I barely noticed that everyone was up top. I had warned them about the detour around the byways of Hartcliffe but discovered as we rejoined the main road that I needn’t have bothered because the closure only affected east-bound traffic!

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Vintage Bus Mystery Tour

My final private hire duty of 2015 for Crosville Motor Services turned out to be a very unusual one; a 60th birthday mystery tour. Even the driver didn’t know the destination!

YDL318-at-Wells-bus-station

All I knew was that Southern Vectis 573 (Bristol FS6G YDL318) had been booked for an all-day mystery tour. From the brief details I had been given it looked like a loosely-planned pub crawl. And that is how it turned out. I usually like to know precisely where I am going with a heritage bus so that I can check out the route, parking facilities and turning spaces. This time, even after a phone call the previous week and a conversation with the organiser at the depot on the day, we decided to more or less make it up as we went along. Fortunately, I knew that all the places we discussed as potential stopping points were accessible.

The occasion was the 60th birthday of a lady who lived in Weston-super-Mare. Her husband had booked the bus and had arranged for a group of family and friends to turn up but he hadn’t told his wife! With the interior of the bus decorated with balloons and banners (and of course with ’60’ on the destination blinds) I drove the short distance from the depot to a pub just up the road from the couple’s house. I used a circuitous route so that I didn’t drive past the house on the way! A group of about 40 people plus a very nervous husband boarded the bus and we stopped outside the birthday girl’s front door. The look on her face as she opened the door was priceless! I was reminded of the time when I had done something very similar for my Mum’s 80th birthday. Neither she nor my Dad knew we were all turning up in a Hants & Dorset bus!

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Number 831 to Roughmoor Farm

They say that ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd’ but I beg to differ. Sharing a wedding duty with two other colleagues brings with it much cameraderie and banter, not to mention practical assistance in tight spots.

YDL318-&-972EHW-at-Roughmoor-Farm

Last weekend’s duty called for two Lodekkas to transport a large group of wedding guests from a church near Taunton to a reception venue on the other side of town. It gave me the chance to meet up again with one of my former colleagues from ‘Exmoor Explorer’ days, Conductress Cherry Selby. Our pickup point was All Saints Church in the strangely named village of Trull, just outside Taunton and we arrived at the nearby Community Hall car park to find that there was a large section coned off for the wedding buses. How very organised!

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Two white vintage cars awaited the bridal party while the rest of the guests were grouped together beside the churchyard for photographs before boarding the buses. With Driver Wilkins leading in Bristol Omnibus LD6B LC8518 (972EHW), we drove in convoy across Taunton to Roughmoor Farm which is near the new Park & Ride site on Silk Mills Road. Both buses were almost full and the steering on Southern Vectis FS6G 573 (YDL318) was noticably heavy. Or maybe I’m still shaking off my winter lethargy…

972EHW-&-YDL318-at-Sainsburys

After our passengers had departed for the reception, we drove across town and parked up near a big Sainsburys store for 5 hours before returning to the farm. In the bright sunlight both buses looked splendid, having enjoyed the attentions of the cleaners back at the depot. 573 is still very presentable, despite being due for a repaint this year. The Bristol Omnibus Lodekka rarely gets an outing these days so we swapped buses and I drove it for the return journey.

While we waited, Driver Wilkins regaled us with scary tales of coach tours to Alpine ski resorts while Cherry and I reminisced about our adventures on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’.

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