Exmoor Explorer – a shadow of its former self

This past weekend was spent conducting on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’, running two trips from Minehead seafront each day.

As regular readers will know, this service lost its County Council subsidy earlier this year and the operator, Quantock Motor Services, decided to continue with a shortened season on a commercial basis. The service has been running at weekends, Tuesdays and Thursdays during the school holidays. The adult return fare went up from £7.00 to £10.00, which is a huge increase on last year but I presume this was done in order to at least break even.

The loadings so far have been disappointingly low, by all accounts. This weekend was no exception. The weather of course is a significant factor but even so, we only carried 5 people on the first trip on Saturday and one of those got off at Exford!

VDV752 high on Exmoor with an empty lower deck

The sun came out at lunchtime and drew in a few more passing punters but even so, we only carried 26 on the afternoon trip. In previous years we would be almost full on a day like that. The round trip is still great fun, even though my driver gave us quite a rough ride. He tended to lift the clutch very sharply and banged the gears in noisily when he couldn’t be bothered to wait for the engine revs to fall away. Such a shame, when I know how much more smoothly it can be done.

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Service 124 to Torquay: 33 years on

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.

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