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.
A couple of days ago I took the unique Bristol LH charabanc on a trip to Exeter for some attention to its new paint job.
Some minor work needed to be done to the paintwork to bring it back up to pristine standard in readiness for the 2016 tour season. The bus has lain idle in Torquay since the end of September but seemed eager to go again, starting on the button. As per usual it was rather smoky to start with but that soon cleared once the engine warmed up.
After completing the usual walk round checks it was time to pick up some fuel and head off to Exeter. Everything was fine except for braking, which took a while to settle down. Anything more than gentle pressure brought the brakes full on with a bang, stopping the bus with a shudder! Fortunately this eased after a few brake applications and normal performance returned.
As you can imagine, passing motorists and car passengers gawped and pointed as we passed by. The charabanc is now so familiar to me that I tend to forget how unusual it must appear to other people!
In the last few weeks of the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours season a new tour guide joined the replica charabanc crew. He has been seen at various times on this blog already – it’s my youngest son Peter!
Peter was filling in for a crew member who was off sick but, even though I’m biased, he actually made a jolly good job of it. The Bristol LH6L (TR6147) has been running regular tours from Paignton, along the seafront to Torquay and back. It runs two tours in the morning and one in the afternoon from the Strand, Torquay where the tour route is run in reverse.
Filling the seats has been hard because the charabanc started operating part way through the season and hasn’t benefitted from any marketing or promotion, apart from flyers handed out by the crew to passers by on operating days. The weather plays a part too, as it does for the open top Leyland PD2 tours. If wet weather prevents the tours from running, any momentum is lost and it’s like starting from scratch when they re-start.
Even so, on the days that Peter worked he managed reasonable loads which always makes delivering the commentary more rewarding. He’s no stranger to a microphone, fortunately. As a worship leader in our church (and at the Bible College where he is studying) he is used to addressing much larger gatherings!