Heritage bus roundup: Spring 2018

Early Spring 2018 brought a flurry of heritage bus activity for me. Although we’re now well into a very hot summer, here’s a sample of what I was up to earlier.

This is a very attractive Bedford OB coach which was once operated by the original Crosville Motor Services in north Wales and now resides in Weston-super-Mare. It is now up for sale but I was asked to drive it up to Bristol to have its analogue tachograph calibrated as part of preparations for sale.

I’ve have driven this delightful vehicle several times before and I savoured the sounds from the very tuneful and distinctive gearbox. However I didn’t much like the steering, which is very heavy! I don’t know if this is typical of OBs because this is the only one I’ve driven (so far).

I saw this OB in Dorset recently, during on a birthday treat visit to Ringwood Brewery. I would have volunteered myself as a driver but Ringwood is quite a trek from Weston-super-Mare! If it had a canvas tilt on the back it would have looked exactly like the Bedford OB van that my grandfather used to operate (there’s a tiny me standing next to him). That was green as well!

One of the stalwarts of the Crosville fleet in recent years has been ex-Crosville Bristol FSF6G 891VFM and this is seen here having a thorough steam clean prior to its first outing of 2018. This was a trip down to Minehead to spend the day giving free rides to people who attended the Paw Patrol special event for children put on by the West Somerset Railway. I’ve driven at several of these events before and I was happy to be rostered as the driver. I really enjoy driving this Lodekka because I find it easy to drive it smoothly. It also has a good turn of speed (45mph+ on the level) thanks to having a rear axle from a¬†coach fitted.

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BBC Antiques Roadshow Park and Ride

I spent a very long day assisting with the making of an episode of the BBC Antiques Roadshow last week, by driving a Bristol Lodekka on a Park & Ride service.

As well as having a glimpse behind the scenes as the programme was being filmed, I also had the pleasure of conveying most of the Roadshow experts on the bus. But my abiding memory of the day was that it left me completely exhausted!

I left home at 06:00 in order to pick up the bus and be in position by 08:15. As this was to be a very long duty, I had arranged for the bus (ex-BOC Bristol Lodekka LC8515) to be driven to an outstation just a couple of miles outside Minehead, which is where the programme was due to be filmed the next day. As I drove up the M5 in the pouring rain my heart sank as I knew that the cab of this bus is not watertight in any way. Walking around doing my checks left me soggy and even the Bristol AVW engine seemed reluctant to start.

My first task was to ferry the Antiques Roadshow experts from their hotel, where I also met my conductor Richard, to the West Somerset Railway station at Minehead. It was strange to see them up close and to exchange a bit of banter about the wet weather. One of them, clearly not a bus expert, asked “Is this a Routemaster?”

My instructions were to spend the rest of the day shuttling to and fro between the station and the Monday Market field, which was being used as a Park & Ride car park. I had looked it up on Google Maps previously and, while there did appear to be a tarmac track it didn’t seem to offer anywhere to turn the bus so, to avoid the risk of getting bogged down on account of the weather, I reversed the bus off the main road and down the track to the field. I was pleased to see in my mirrors as I slowly backed around a corner that a large part of the field had been recently covered with hardcore and stone chippings so, for the rest of the day, there were no problems getting in and out.

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Free bus tours with a 1952 Bristol KSW

Not long after my Birnbeck Pier duty (see previous post) I had the opportunity to run free bus tours around Minehead with a bus that’s very close to my heart.

ohy938-at-minehead-wsr

This is a duty that I’ve done many times before in support of the West Somerset Railway. This particular day was billed as a ‘Shaun the Sheep’ day, aimed at children of course, and one of the attractions on offer was the chance to have a free ride on a vintage bus.

I was thrilled to find that, for the first time on a private hire job, I’d been allocated a Bristol KSW. Crosville doesn’t own one of these in operational condition (although a genuine ex-Crosville example has just been taken north for a full restoration) so the one I was to drive was on loan from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection.

L8089 entered service with the Bath Services subsidiary of Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company in 1952 and was often in use on the long distance Bath – Salisbury route. This is where my family connection comes in. Salisbury is where my grandparents lived and L8089 would have driven past their house many times. I remember Bath Services Lodekkas (the successors to the lowbridge Bristol Ks) passing by when I stayed with my grandparents in the 1960s and 70s.

So now you can imagine my delight to be given this particular bus to drive! However, I tried not to let the mists of nostalgia cloud my vision while I prepared the bus in its compound near Minehead and drove it over to the WSR terminus to begin service.

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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.

972EHW-Thomas-Day-2016

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.

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

 

Another long day at the WSR S&D Gala

My second ‘appearance’ at the West Somerset Railway in support of its celebration of the Somerset & Dorset Railway was just as exhausting as the first one but equally, just as rewarding.

Bishops-Lydeard-signalbox-interior

Leaving home at 04:30 is unusual for me – I’m not normally called upon to work such long shifts. Plus, living so far from the Crosville Motor Services bus depot in Weston-super-Mare is a burden worth carrying when it comes to Gala days like this one. Once again I prepared my bus, ex-Crosville Bristol VRT DVG260 (HTU159N), for its long duty.

HTU159N-at-Taunton-station

I arrived at Taunton Railway Station with plenty of time in hand so I had a chance to eat a late breakfast. Sadly, it came out of a Tupperware box* rather than the kitchen of the Quantock Belle which I would have preferred! I wore my traditional 1960s bus uniform, including a matching heavy overcoat. I was glad to have this because the weather, although forecasted to be bright and reasonably warm later, was decidedly chilly at this time in the morning and there are no heaters fitted to this bus! Moving up to the bus stop next to Platform 2 I loaded a handful of passengers for Bishops Lydeard, most of whom were carrying rucksacks and camera equipment.

The journey to the WSR’s southern terminus only takes about 20 minutes and the first departure of the day was waiting in the station as we arrived at the coach stop. Even at that time, the car parking spaces at the station were filling quickly and I made a mental note to use the service bus stop (which has a clear run to the station exit) on the other side of the bus shelter next time.

My next run from Taunton was far busier, with an almost full load. It took me several attempts to leave because, as soon as I pulled away, more people would emerge from the station and clamber breathlessly aboard. Even after circumnavigating the station car park I was flagged down by three more passengers, including one in a wheelchair. Getting him and his chair onto the bus was a bit of an ordeal because there was no raised pavement nearby. The VR made light work of the heavy load, thanks to the powerful Gardner 6LX engine and power-steering! I heard one of the passengers, who obviously also had an interest in buses, say to his friend as they boarded “Great – a bit of Crosville VR thrash”. The Bristol VR has a pleasingly raucous engine note and I love to hear it when it’s working hard. But I’m not one for thrashing buses so my usual, smooth driving technique prevailed. Although I may have been quite firm with the ‘loud pedal’ once or twice…

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West Somerset Railway celebrates S&DJR 50th anniversary

Some people called it the ‘Slow & Dirty’. To others it was the ‘Serene & Delightful‘ but, however you wish to recall it, the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway has become one of Great Britain’s most celebrated railway lines and, 50 years after closure, it still remains as popular as ever.

53808-Minehead

I had the chance a few days ago to be involved in the West Somerset Railway’s excellent Spring Gala, which took the 50th anniversary of the S&D’s closure as its theme. For my part, I provided a bus link between Taunton railway station and the WSR’s southern terminus at Bishops Lydeard.

It was a very enjoyable day but there was a price to pay – I had to leave my house at 04:30 to be in position with my allocated bus by 07:35! Good grief, why do I accept these duties?!

Once again the staff at Crosville Motor Services had done their bit. My bus, a 1975 Bristol VRT originally supplied to Crosville in Chester, had been cleaned and fuelled the previous day before being parked at the front of the garage. Dawn was just breaking as I drove out of the depot, heading for Taunton.

It always takes a while to become really familiar with a bus that’s ‘new’ to me. I hadn’t driven this VR before but I quickly found that it’s in great shape, remarkably free from the creaks, groans and rattles that usually accompany a ride in a bus of this type and age. The semi-automatic gearchange was a delight, too. Some semi-auto ‘boxes seem to hang on to the previous gear too long when changing, making for a rather jerky ride but I found it easy to make changes that were silky smooth. The trick, of course, is to pause in neutral as you would with a manual box while the revs die away, otherwise the bus will lurch forward in the new gear. Not only that but it’s not good for the transmission either!HTU159N-Bishops-Lydeard

My first departure was 07:45, as advertised in the Railway’s publicity. Only four hardy souls boarded! The journey to Bishops Lydeard only took about 20 minutes and on our arrival a member of the platform staff came and introduced himself. He was keen to know how long my journey had taken because the next arrival would connect with the 09:05 train to Minehead.

There was no problem meeting this train and enthusiasts in greater numbers formed a queue at the ticket office window. After two more trips, my morning’s work was done so I parked the bus in a coach bay and walked up to the ticket office myself. I had been in contact with the WSR’s Commercial Department a couple of weeks earlier on a marketing matter and the fruit of this was that I found myself on the platform holding a free Day Rover ticket!

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