I recently had the unexpected pleasure of sampling a recent arrival in Torbay, a Leyland Titan PD2/3. This 1947-built bus carries Leyland bodywork (open top since 1962) and has been acquired by English Riviera Sightseeing Tours.
Calling in by chance on my way home from Teignmouth, I got into a long conversation with Anthony, the proprietor. He is looking for a suitable driver to take the bus on tours around the three towns of the Bay – I wondered if I might be the chap he was looking for? It would have been very opportune, as I had been made redundant from my job as a designer that same day.
The PD2 looked very eye-catching, wearing its freshly-applied custom livery. I had a guided tour of the newly-refurbished inside and top deck as well, the fine handiwork of the chaps at Mardens of Benfleet I believe. We talked about the history of the vehicle and about my experiences driving heritage buses for weddings. This led to a further opportunity a few days later.
I was invited to take the PD2 out for a multi-purpose test drive. I say that because I would be assessed as to my suitability, I would be assessing the capabilities of the bus and Anthony would be looking to see whether the bus could cope with the route. So I turned up at the stabling point next to Torquay’s Railway Station and became acquainted with the spartan cab. I could almost number its components on the fingers of one hand. Steering wheel, gearstick, pedals, handbrake and 3 dials (speedo, vacuum and oil pressure).
On starting the 0.600 diesel engine the first thing I noticed was that the idle speed was unusally fast. I asked about this when we were under way (there’s a sliding window in the bulkhead behind the driver so I was able to have a conversation with Anthony while we were en route) and apparently the tickover speed had been raised to eliminate the tendency of the engine to ‘hunt’ when idling. This rising and falling of the revs at idle is a characteristic of Leyland diesels and I thought it was a shame that it had been adjusted out. All Leylands of that era do it, don’t they? While it made for even running when stationary, it did have an impact on driving technique. Whenever we came to a halt I had to dip the clutch earlier than I would normally, otherwise the engine would carry the bus forward by itself. Although we didn’t discuss it further, I later thought of 2 more disadvantages: it could cause more wear to the brake shoes due to being unable to use engine braking at low revs and it could affect the fuel consumption too.
When you’re used to driving a desk all week it tends to drain all your energy when you drive a vintage bus for two days in a row. But I’m not complaining. I love what I do and see it as a great privilege to sit in a hot cab and work my arms to a jelly in someone else’s historic bus!
I drove Bristol FLF DEL893C, ex-Hants & Dorset, built 1965, on a wedding duty in Bristol on Saturday and, after a suitable break, drove the bus straight down to Torquay. I had arranged with the kind people at Stagecoach to park the FLF in their Torquay depot overnight and I’m very grateful to Area Manager Gary and Depot Manager Steve for their help – it caused quite a stir!
The following morning, under the envious gaze of several fitters and older drivers, I did my checks and topped up with water before driving the short distance to the rally site at Shedden Hill, Torquay. I joined a line of other buses which were operating free services around the bay and then, as I wasn’t due out until 12:00, browsed among the stalls and visiting buses. Many of these (buses AND stalls!) I’d seen before, some of them only last weekend!
The rally organisers had given me 2 short routes, the 136 to Paignton Town Centre and the 28A to Hesketh Crescent (for Meadfoot). They had also given me a conductor for the morning’s trips, an older chap who had once conducted for real on Devon General buses. There was a long queue at our stop near the entrance to the rally site and as we pulled up to board passengers, more arrived as they saw the FLF arrive with 136 on the blinds.
Just a quick post to say that I’m bringing a bus down to the Torbay Vintage Bus Running Day this weekend. It will be my old friend, the Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF DEL893C.
But first I have to take it out on a wedding job in Bristol, so it’s going to be a long day tomorrow! On Sunday, after stabling the bus overnight in Torquay, I will be running on a couple of free services as part of the Running Day and in company with several other historic vehicles.
So if you’re in the area, come and sample the aural delights of a Bristol crash ‘box! My big green friend and I will be heading either to Paignton or to Meadfoot and you can catch us on Torquay sea front.
The day I’d been hoping and planning for dawned at last, dull and wet. I debated with myself the wisdom of getting up at stupid o’clock to drive up to Bishops Lydeard to pick up an open top bus and drive it in the rain all the way back to Torquay for the Torbay Vintage Bus Running Day. Only the weather forecast, which promised brighter spells later, persuaded me to carry on. I’m so glad I did.
Together with my youngest son, who was to be my conductor, we arrived at the garage to find that two of my colleagues were already at work shunting buses in order to release ex-Western National Bristol Lodekka LDL6G VDV752 from deep in the garage. After welcoming a guest traveller aboard (more from him later) we fitted a temporary destination blind that I’d prepared earlier, especially for the event.
I climbed into the cab with a certain amount of trepidation, not only because I hadn’t driven a bus since May, but because I hadn’t driven this particular bus before on the open road. It is fitted with a 5-speed constant mesh (‘crash’) gearbox which can rear up and bite the unwary. Some people refer to the fifth gear as ‘overdrive’ or ‘super top’ because strictly speaking it only gives you four and a half gears. In other words, the ratio between 4th and 5th is much closer than that between all the other gears. That has an impact on the gear change technique.
The rain had eased off as we set off past the West Somerset Railway station, where staff were busy getting ready for the ‘Late Summer Weekend‘ event. Once out on the main road I soon had the chance to try out 5th gear. It might have been beginner’s luck or perhaps my observations of other drivers (some good, some who struggled) helped, but I didn’t have any trouble with the quicker change between 4th and 5th. I still had to double-declutch but it seemed to go in smoothly.