Well, this was a straight forward job. Move a bus from Weston super Mare to Northfleet, Kent. What could go wrong?!!
In Crosville motor Services’ heritage fleet is RTW 29. One of the 500 strong, all Leyland members of the RT family of London Buses. These buses differed from the other 6500 buses in that they were 6” wider at 8’ 0”, and The Metropolitan Police were initially reluctant to authorise their deployment in the Capital. A number of trial routes were operated to show that the Police’s fears were unfounded. RTW 29 currently carries destination blinds for route 38, Chingford, Royal Forest Hotel to Victoria, and carries a T garage plate, signifying Leyton Garage. Now the 38 wasn’t a route that saw many RTWs! RTs and RMs were the normal buses to run this route out of Leyton garage but some were used as part of this trial.
Saturday Night at Crosville Motor Services
This bus was to be loaned to The London Bus Museum at Cobham, with some preparatory work to be done at The London Bus Company, Northfleet. After a couple of false starts whilst legal niceties were ironed out, I got the go ahead for Sunday October 11th.
The trip would be just under 200 miles long and thus, necessitated a very early start from Crosville’s depot. Before the depot would open! So I drove up on the Saturday evening in my motorhome. At the depot, I found the bus already fuelled and near to the front door. I had asked if they could do this as I didn’t want to find it at the back and have to move dozens of buses out of the way to get it out. A quick chat with the cleaners, then I turned off the battery isolator and climbed into the cab. The bus started at once and I completed my walk round checks. Nothing untoward, so I drove the bus out into the yard and parked it next to my motorhome. Time to get my head down!
Early, very early, next morning and I’m up having breakfast. In contrast to last night, the depot is deserted and silent. I get the bus started up again, make sure I have all I’ll need for the journey and head off out of Weston.
The obvious route to London is via the M5 and M4 but this bus was designed and built well before the advent of motorways. For reasons that I’ve posted before, I avoid them as much as possible. My preferred route is the A370 to Bristol then the A4 as far as Reading. The A370 is a road I’ve travelled before with my Crosville jobs and I know it well. The bus itself is a delight to drive. So much easier then the Bristols with their crash gear boxes! However, the bus definitely didn’t like hill! More than once, I had to go down to 2nd gear to make progress, and with an empty bus! I did wonder how she fared in London in service. The 38 went over Chingford Mount!
But apart from the hills, the bus was fine. Into Bristol and then I found the A4 and headed east. All was fine until I came to Calne, Wiltshire, where I encountered a line of static traffic. Worryingly, several cars ahead of me were turning around and going back. Not an option open to me. Then a cyclist came by to say there had been an accident and the road was blocked. There was a side turning behind me and fortunately, the cars to my rear had already turned back leaving me with a clear path. So a very slow reverse around the corner and head west! Out came my road map. I wasn’t that far from the M4 so despite my misgivings about this option, I felt I had no choice. Before long, the bus was on the motorway, and seemingly enjoying every minute! Top speed was only about 40 mph but no problem. After a while, I suddenly realised that my indicators weren’t working. How long they’d been off for, I had no idea. There is a repeater light on the dashboard, but it’s about as bright as a glow worm on a bad day and the audible repeater behind your head is easily drowned out by the noise of the engine. So I’m wondering what to do, when they start working again! Putting this down to one of life’s mysteries, I carried on.
Passing Reading, I decided to take a break at the motorway service station. Into the coach area and pulled up next to a modern coach from Barnes Travel. The driver was enjoying a cup of tea by the front of his vehicle, and jokingly offered to swap with me. No chance! In hindsight, that might have been a better choice. You can’t lock these buses up so to secure it, I turned on the battery isolator. Unless you knew the location of this, you’d never be able to drive it off. Into the services and get a bite to eat and welcome cup of coffee. Then a found a message on Facebook from Jon Jones, CEO of Crosville Motors. Don’t use the motorways! Bit late, but he needn’t have worried.
At Reading Services
Then, refreshed, back into the bus. Turn off the battery isolator, into the cab and press the starter. Clunk! ? The engine didn’t turn over and start! What was wrong. Well, firstly, I went through my mental check list of daft things I’d forgotten to do. Everything was ok. Bus was in neutral. Had the starter motor jammed. I tried releasing the handbrake to see if the bus would roll forward, well it did, by about an inch! No joy there. On the phone! I’m closer to Cobham Bus Museum than Weston but they have no mechanics available on a Sunday. Doing a diagnostic check, we decide the problem is a flat battery. Odd, as I’ve been driving for almost four hours, and the battery isolator was definitely switched on whilst I took my break so if I had left the bus lights on, they would have gone out and not drained the battery. So back into the services to report that I will be there for more than my permitted two hours, and buy a Sunday paper! Plenty of time for a read. Then, in a nod to LT practice, I prop a seat up against the rear of the vehicle to signify a stricken bus. Very sad sight.
Oh Dear! Not a welcome sight!
Two hours later, a Crosville van appears. A very welcome sight! Out gets Tony, the mechanic and we start to sort out the bus. Assuming it is the battery, he goes under the stairs and in the gloom, attaches a battery booster. Back in the cab, I press the starter, and the bus fires into life! I get a message from Jon saying “Don’t stall the engine!”. Luckily, pre-select buses with fluid flywheels are actually quite hard to stall. I am over two hours late, a record, I think for me(!) but get going again. Tony follows me along the motorway until the next junction to check all is well then heads back to Weston.
I’m now back on my planned route, so just east of Reading, I leave the motorway and turn south east to get to the M3. Just one junction on this then onto the M25 and one more junction before I leave and look for the bus museum. I do have a map, in my head! But no problems. I have been warned about the 9’9” bridge and find my way around it. Soon Weybridge Station looms up and I know Cobham isn’t too far away. Sure enough, on my right, I see an entrance and there is someone waving to me. Either Peter Osborne from Cobham Bus Museum, or a very optimistic would be traveller! Now the original plan was for me to have a break here and be shown around the museum but I’m so far behind schedule, and daren’t turn the engine off(!), so it’s a case of have a quick chat with Peter, hand over some important paperwork, then turn the bus around and head off. During my chat, I had assured Peter that the bus had light steering for an RTW. This didn’t apply when trying to do a three point turn in the access road!
Peter had given me directions to get back onto the M25 but around the first turn, I encountered a long line of slow moving traffic. Not what I wanted to see! Turned out to be two cars that had broken down about a hundred yards apart on opposite sides of the road! Once past this hold-up, the M25 soon appeared. Again, the bus seemed to be quite happy to trundle along the motorway. Speed was about 40 mph with a feeling that she could go a bit faster if necessary. The M25 isn’t known as the World’s biggest car park for nothing, but this Sunday afternoon, traffic flowed easily. It was about fifty miles from Cobham to Northfleet but junction 2 came sooner than I was expecting and then making sure I didn’t miss the exit and incur a toll for the Dartford Tunnel, I drove towards The London Bus Company’s depot. Again, surprisingly easy to find. The gate was closed but a security guard saw me approaching and correctly guessed that I need admittance. Inside, well, I think I’ve died and gone to Heaven! RMs everywhere!
Plus an RT
RT 3238. A bus I’ve driven before.
and a Swift. My RTW did not look out of place! But I was soon brought back to earth. Behind me, a tow truck has turned up with a stricken open top RM behind. My bus is causing an obstruction so I get back into the cab and move it out of the way.
RTW 29 safely delivered to Northfleet
Where to leave the bus? Over there, please. Once the tow truck has got out of the way! Then, I don’t know if Jon Jones has had a tracker device fitted to the bus but I get a text message asking if I’ve arrived! I assure him his bus has been safely delivered to her destination. I then ask, “How do I get back?” Joking of course, but makes him think for a second!
So how did I get home? By train. Northfleet Station is a short walk away. Nearby is Ebbfleet International Station where trains to and from the continent stop. It’s new and state of the art. Northfleet can only be described as state of the ark! It has seen better days. However, that complaint can’t be held against the trains. This might only be a suburban stopping service but the train is clean, comfortable and fast. One hour later and I’m getting out at Cannon Street. I’m pleasantly surprised to find the tube station is open, sure it used to be closed on Sundays, and the first train to arrive is a Circle Line going via Paddington. Time at Paddington to get a bite to eat, then wait for my train. Now one reason I was getting a bit worried by delays in getting to Northfleet was that I had booked early online. The standard fare from Northfleet to Weston super Mare is £73 but by booking in advance, I found I could get a first class ticket or £42! Missing that train could have been expensive!
One final twist to this tale. My train gets into Weston at 22:30, on time. The station is two miles from the Crosville Depot and no bus service. I’ll need a taxi. There’s only one in the station yard, and someone beats me to it! I’m wondering how long I’ll have to wait for the next one when a Crosville coach pulls in, driven by my friend Gazza Wilkins. Lift to the depot? No problem.
What’s next for RTW 29? Not sure. I’m not privy to the plans but I think she’s to be used in service in London at some future date. Would I like to drive her then? What do you think!!