Felixstowe and Back!


This turned out to be a brilliant weekend but nearly didn’t happen. The event was the 47th Ipswich Felixstowe Historic Vehicle Run organised by The Ipswich Transport Museum.  I went to last year’s event for the first time and drove AJN 825, the 1939 Bristol K of Westcliff on sea Motor Services. I was hoping to drive her again this year but a week beforehand, I got the sad news from one of her owners that she was off the road with fuel problems. What to do? We already had our dog booked into the kennels, and my wife Vivianne had arranged to meet up with a cousin of hers who lived in Colchester. So we decided to go ahead and have a long weekend in Essex/Suffolk. Then on the Tuesday evening, I get another phone call from Keith Peacock, one of her owners. AJN is still off the road but she shares her home in north Essex with two Crossley buses, and they are going. Would we like to come along? And, there’s a possibility of a drive! Keith knows how to twist my arm!

So we drop the dog off at the kennels and head east. Sunday morning find us at a secret location, outside a barn containing vintage buses. AJN still looks poorly but work is in hand to rectify her. Also there are the two Crossley buses. GR9007, a 1947 bus originally with Sunderland Corporation, and VV9146   a 1946 bus originally with Northampton Corporation. Both buses have been restored by John Jackson and Tony Melia, and they are both stunning.

Someone asks me what I’m driving, but I have to say I’ve no idea which bus I’ll be travelling on let alone if I’ll be driving. Then Keith appears with the information that he’ll drive GR9007 up to Ipswich and would I like to drive her in the run to Felixstowe? Would I??!!

We all pile on and Keith drives off to the start point. He tells me afterwards that that is only the second time he’s driven her. He makes a marvelous job of it. No pressure on me then!

The start time from Christchurch Park is 11am and we arrive in time for a quick look at the other entrants, not just buses. Vintage cars and commercial vehicles are present along with motor bikes, scooters and cycles. There’s also time for a bacon roll and drink, plus a visit to the amenities!

Then it’s my turn in the hot seat. I have driven a Crossley before, but only one, once! So get to grips with the controls and various switches. The marshalls indicate that I should get going. First problem is trying to avoid the crowds. People are uncomfortably close to my wheels, on both sides. But, slowly does it then out onto the road. Full credit to the museum, the route is very well signposted. A bit like the HCVS’s London to Brighton run, people are lining the route and waving as we pass. Slowly! At times, I’m struggling to get out of 2nd gear. And when I do, it’s obvious that I’m a bit rusty! I think the last time I drove a crash box was last September. But the Crossley isn’t bad, with quicker changes possible than on Bristols. Just one hiccup, when I tried to change down from 4th to 3rd and missed it. I had a couple of attempts but soon realised I wasn’t going to find it so nothing else to do except stop, engage 2nd and try again. Embarrassing, yes, but not as embarrassing as having to tell the owner you’ve damaged his gearbox!

The finish is along Felixstowe sea front and I’m asked to park on the seaward side. Very relieved to have made it without incident. Who’s going to drive back to Essex? Keith asks me if I’d like to! What a question.

We have a few hours in Felixstowe before we head back. Plenty of time for a drink, Coke in my case! And time to wander around the town.

Just after 4, it’s time to make tracks. I have to reverse the bus to avoid a pavement jutting out but, with quite a few people watching me, I stall it! Cue, laughter from my passengers! And Keith calling out, Keep it running, Dave! Take 2. Off we go, and on the return leg, I’m finding the gearbox easier to handle. Route home is vis the A14 out of Felixstowe then the A12 south. This time, I can get up a bit more speed. All 30mph of it! And along a 70mph dual carriageway. The route goes over The Orwell Bridge and there are wonderful views from the bridge as you pass over it, so I’m assured! Keith does advise me to keep my speed below 30mph which is fine except the steering wheel hub is directly in line with the speedometer! I wonder if when the bus was in service, the drivers ever looked at the speedo.

No incidents along the way and I get her safely back to base. I’m happy to let Tony Melia reverse her back into the barn. It’s been a marvelous drive, and I didn’t want to spoil it by backing into something!

Thanks must go to John Jackson for allowing me the privilege of driving his wonderful bus.

 

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Who ordered an open top bus…….On a bank holiday weekend!


My second outing for Crosville Motor Services this year. A different destination, but with the same bus that I drove to Hestercombe. LEU 263P,  a 1976 Bristol VR originally with Bristol Omnibus Services. No problem with my bus, but where was I heading? The job ticket, in typically vague Crosville style, had said Filton Church to MShed, Bristol. So I looked up St. Peter’s Church, Filton and plotted a route into the city.

I also noticed that the job ticket said it was a two bus hire, so I enquired who else would be on the road with me. Chris Pratt. Father of Crosville’s CEO, Jon! I’d better be on my best behaviour!

Book on time was lunch on the bank holiday Sunday, which gave me the option of travelling up to Weston that morning, but I’m not an early bird so I travelled up on the Saturday night. The weather on that day was glorious in Cornwall and I had my fingers crossed that it would hold for tomorrow. Travelling up Saturday night gave me the opportunity to have a quick look around my bus and I was pleasantly surprised to find it already topped up with fuel, oil and water. Long may this happen! Then a moment of panic! In the driver’s room, a duty list for that day had been put up. There’s my name at the bottom along with Chris, but church is St. Teresa’s Catholic Church. I don’t have Google Streetview on my mobile so a quick bit of research and keeping fingers crossed all will right on the night.

Nice long lie in on Sunday morning! Then a spot of lunch and get my bus. I had been warned that the depot might be locked at that time of day but armed with a code to get in, I entered the eerily quiet garage. My bus is fine, so I start her up and complete my walk round checks. Problem is there’s a modern bus blocking her in. I can drive the heritage buses, or at least, think I can, but I wouldn’t know where to start on a modern bus. Help is at hand in the form of Chris, looking resplendent in his winter bus driver’s uniform. I only have a summer dust jacket. Chris gets the modern bus out of the way and we head off north west. It starts to rain!

Although I had plotted a route, I was quite happy to let Chris take the lead in Crosville’s FSF 891VFM, I bus i have driven before. As per usual, we avoided the motorway and took the A370 into Bristol. Uneventful journey until we hit the city when we encountered a number of roadworks! I think I would have managed the trip solo but I was glad I had Chris to guide me through. Then we realised Bristol Rovers football club must have had a noon kick off as hundred of people appeared on the streets. Must have been a good game as they all seemed to be happy!

LEU 263P waits in the drizzle.

We found St. Teresa’s Church with no problems and decided that we would reverse back into the car park entrance and wait there. The drizzle was getting a bit heavier!

Transport for the bride and groom

Our booked time to leave the church was 3pm but I’ve never known a wedding finish on time. Chris and I waited until people started heading towards our buses. Quite a few of them! And more than we could accommodate on both lower decks. Some would have to brave the elements. It is rather surreal to see an open top bus with passengers holding up umbrellas!

 

Chris again took the lead on the way back into the city heading for the MShed, whatever that might be! Just before we arrived, I encountered a problem. One of the supporting struts on my nearside windscreen wiper had become detached  at the bottom and consequently, the wiper blade was describing a strange course across the windscreen! After my passengers had disembarked,  a spot of running repairs. There was no where to turn our buses around at this point  so we took turns to guide each other back into a side road and then headed out of the city and onto Weston. The first part of our route took us alongside the harbour where I was somewhat surprised to see steam rising, from a steam loco! Must investigate this railway later!

Finally, back to the Crosville depot at Weston. Incident free! Time to complete the paperwork, including the defect card to the fitters to see to the windscreen wiper, then back down to Cornwall and home.

A Busy Week on the Buses


Two blogs for the price of one!

Wednesday saw my first job of the season for Crosville Motor Services, and an easy one to get me back into the cab! Hestercombe Express, although express is probably a misnomer! As is my wont, I arrived at the Crosville Depot on the Tuesday evening and spent the night in my motorhome.

My good friend and Busman’s Holiday blogger, John Dawkins, has recently been appointed Heritage Manager for Crosville, (congratulations are in order!) and he’d sent me a message on the Tuesday to say he thought I would be allocated LEU 263P, a 1976 Bristol VR new to Bristol Omnibus. Waking up on the day, I began to question the wisdom of allocating an open top bus! It was grey, overcast and cold. Nevertheless, I went into the depot to confirm this was indeed my bus for the day and begin my walk round checks. This bus is dual doored and I have had problems with this in the past. If the centre exit doors aren’t shut, you lose your accelerator. Of course, it had been left with all the doors open! Having found the battery isolator switch, I checked the oil and water levels. The latter is a problem for me as I’m only 5’4″ tall, and the filler cap is above my head height! But having sorted out everything and checked that the bus was ok to go, I set off southwards towards Bishops Lydeard Station on The West Somerset Railway line. Bristol VRs are great to drive. Semi automatic gearboxes, and this one had power steering. Didn’t take me long to feel comfortable in the cab.

LEU 263P

On the way down, just north of Bridgwater, I pulled into a service station to buy a paper. Getting back to the bus, I found a Somerset Buses‘ inspector getting his camera out and photographing my bus. I was quite happy to pose for him! By the time I’d driven out of the service station and back onto the A38, he had got back to his bus stop and was still snapping as I drove past. If anyone from Somerset Buses knows this chap, I’d appreciate a copy of his photos!

Then back on route. No incidents but plenty of roadworks. Bristol Road, Bridgwater was closed northbound but causing tailbacks for southbound traffic. Roadworks to the north of Taunton, and finally, major road works outside Bishops Lydeard Station! Took me ten minutes to cover the last 1/4 mile.

LEU 263P at Bishops Lydeard Station

But, I still managed to arrive in plenty of time. On the other hand, the gremlins had struck on the railway! the 11:05 to Minehead should have been steam hauled but a three car diesel unit was at the platform, at 11:15! Seems she wasn’t too happy about being pressed into service and wasn’t moving. Eventually the railway staff got her going but this meant the train I was meeting, due in at 11:38 would be late. Nothing else for it but to head for the cafe and get a cuppa!

My train arrived, and I stood by the gate wondering how many (any!) passengers I would have. No one asked if I was going to Hestercombe, but I did see several intending passengers getting onboard. So, quick briefing to them, and congratulations to those brave (foolhardy?) souls on the top deck. Because of the road works, I told them that I would be leaving the car park slightly earlier than normal at 3:40, or twenty to four, whichever came sooner! Sometimes, the corniest gags get the biggest laughs!

An uneventful journey up to Hestercombe. Yes, I know this makes for boring reading but I do prefer that! Hestercombe itself was unusually busy with a rather full car park. Some cars had decided to reclassify themselves as coaches! Luckily, I did have space to park and unload my passengers. Back to Bishops Lydeard!

The station cafe has a limited hot food menu but it’s good. Jumbo sausage roll or pasty, plus a cup of coffee and cake. Nothing healthy, you’ll notice!

After my lunch break, time to head back to Hestercombe and retrieve my passengers. I did note that the weather had brightened up considerably since the morning and it’s now a very nice day, albeit with a cold breeze. On Cheddon Road, leading north from Taunton to Hestercombe, I noticed two cars parked opposite each other on a narrow section of the road, leaving just enough space for me to squeeze through. One car had a rear view mirror dangling limply below the driver’s mirror. One could hope this was a case of Karma, and he was the thoughtless parker but I know Sod’s law also applies!

At the estate, I didn’t have to wait too long for my passengers to appear and just after 3:30, I started back to the station. The two badly parked cars were still there but if I could get through one way, I should be able to get through the other! Back at the railway, their train was waiting at the platform and I bid them farewell. They all seemed to have enjoyed their day out.

Only thing left for me now was to negotiate the roadworks on the way back to Weston super Mare!

 

Two days later and on Good Friday, I found myself at The South Devon Railway. John Keohane, the volunteers co-ordinator, had asked me to be at Buckfastleigh Station by 9:30 to meet him and then he’d drive me up to Newton Abbot where RM 1872 is stabled. In a rather tight space!

Once again, it’s walk round checks. And the coolant is much easier, being chest height for me, and in any case, I can see the level in the translucent header. All is ok and I set out for Buckfastleigh Station, back along the A38 which is surprisingly quiet for a bank holiday weekend. Again, this gives me time to settle down in the cab. The bus is superb to drive. Excellent visibility from the cab and she purrs along. Back at the station and I’m introduced to John Harris, my conductor. Then a moment of panic! A change of plan. When I last drove this route, the town centre of Ashburton was closed by (more!) roadworks but for the Easter weekend, they’ve been lifted and we can go through the town, a route I don’t know. I’m reassured to hear that John K will sit behind me and give direction!

RM 1872

There are four trips on this duty, leaving the station at 11:35, 1:10, 2:10 and 3:10 with a 4:10 if there’s a demand. The route leaves Buckfastleigh Station, heads to Buckfast Abbey and then up the A38 to Ashburton where it turns back and heads along the old A38, passing Buckfast Abbey and going over the (steep hill!) to Buckfastleigh Town and returning to the station.

How did it go? On the early trips, I did notice that a disconcertingly high number of passengers got off at Buckfast Abbey, only a mile into the journey. Had they planned to get off there, or did they think the monks were a safer option than continuing with me?

The route is challenging for any driver, mostly due to thoughtless parking but on the first loop, I encountered several cars in West Street, Ashburton. Luckily, they all moved over or backed up. Second trip, it was a badly parked car in Station road, Buckfastleigh that left me with a narrow gap. Car one side, low stone wall the other. Slowly does it. Back at Buckfastleigh Station, a woman passenger got off and told me, she didn’t think I was going to get through.  I told her, she wasn’t the only one thinking that! Third journey and I’m held up by a car with a trailer trying to reverse into a narrow entrance In West Street, Ashburton. Just had to be patient and wait. Last trip, same spot, I encounter the service bus! Fortunately, we saw each other in time and he pulled into the hedgerow whilst I mounted the pavement. Does any driver on this route ever have an incident free run?

Buckfastleigh Station

John Keohane told me that when they went to the auction to buy a Routemaster, they had RM 1872 in mind. There were only two RMs in the auction, the rest being RMls. At 2’6″ longer, I don’t think they would negotiate the narrows here. Good choice, John!

No demand for a 4:10 service so I drove up to the yard with John. Still a very tight parking space, so I asked John to park the bus up for the night. I’d had a great day driving her, I didn’t want to spoil it by putting a gouge down one side!

 

Joys of a Routemaster!


It’s been a long while since I last sat in the cab of a bus, far too long! But, steam railways always interest me, and The South Devon Railway running between Buckfastleigh and Totnes is only 75 minutes from my home. They also own RM 1872! So, having joined up as a member of the railway, I enquired about the possibility of driving their bus. Today, I had a driving assessment for them. I think I passed!

Day started off with me meeting John Keohane, their volunteers co-ordinator, and bus driver, at Buckfastleigh Station.

Buckfastleigh Station

The bus service only runs on certain days, with departures at 11:35, 13:10, 14:10, and 15:10 with a  16:10 trip if there is a demand. The route runs from Buckfastleigh Station up to Buckfast Abbey, then along the A38 to Ashburton returning via Buckfastleigh town. As I had only once ridden on this route, the plan was for me to ride as a passenger for the first trip, then drive the empty bus before the second journey.

RM 1872 at Buckfastleigh Station

No problem remembering the route, although today we couldn’t go through Ashburton as a gas main was being relaid along the main street. Then my turn! Somewhat apprehensively, I climbed into the cab. It has been four months since I last sat in a bus cab. RM 1872 has a few security arrangements I wasn’t familiar with, including a rather neat trick of putting a padlock on the handbrake. If you can’t squeeze the rachet, you can’t take it off!

Two bells, and I’m on my way. Routemasters are great buses to drive, and so easy. Power steering, sadly lacking on other vintage buses I drive.  Advice from John was to use the semi auto facility on the gearbox because of the hills along the route, but it’s my preferred option in any case. The railway had a half price offer on today and it was proving very popular. Cue, lots of cars parked on the access road! I took it slowly, getting used to the bus, but you do have very good all round visibility from the cab. The window behind the driver had been removed and a sliding window put in its place so John could sit behind me and point out pitfalls en route.

Back at Buckfastleigh Station, and relieved to find John is happy with my driving! Would I like to take out the 13:10 duty? What a question! So, after a drink and bite to eat in the railway’s tearooms, I climbed back into the cab. Quite a few passengers already onboard which is gratifying, although I did notice all of them were upstairs. Better not go too fast around the corners! No problems along the way, which I know, doesn’t make for an interesting blog! I do actually prefer to be boring.

However! John also asked me to take out the 14:10 journey, which I was more than happy to do. Uneventful trip, until I reach Buckfastleigh town. Chapel Street is narrow on a good day, and today wasn’t a good day! https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@50.4812957,-3.7786363,3a,90y,104.68h,90.55t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sB6bQrYzxjyupzP2dEyF16g!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

I turned into Chapel Street to find a Transit type van ahead of me parked half on the road and half on the pavement. John had told me drivers there not so much, park their cars as abandon them! I remember thinking that looked tight! So, two things from my bus learning days came into my head. The narrower the gap, the slower the speed. This was going to be slow! And, if you think you’re going to hit something, stop! If you have a look at Google Street view, you’ll notice that there’s no pavement on my offside. The roadway goes right up to the houses. No option to mount a pavement to get around a badly parked vehicle. At this point, it’s useful to have eyes that can rotate independently of each other. Mine can’t. I’m looking in my nearside mirror to check the clearance between me and the van and at the same time, watching I don’t hit the house walls to my right. Tightest spot was getting past a drainpipe without removing it. I also noticed Gordon, my conductor, leaning out from the platform, ready to push the van’s wing mirror in if necessary. Luckily, it wasn’t and I cleared the obstruction, to a huge cheer from my passengers!  I was also very relieved, not to have put any scratches in the newly painted bus sides!

John Keohane driving the 15:10 departure from Buckfastleigh Station.

No more problems to report for the remainder of the trip. And happy to say that the railway would like me to drive for them again. Watch this blog!

AN ESSEX LAD RETURNS TO HIS ROUTES


Well, not quite but Epping is close enough. My home town is Leyton, a few stops south of Epping on The Central Line. Late May bank holiday, I was lucky enough to be driving for Epping Ongar Railway.http://www.eorailway.co.uk  London Underground closed the line beyond Epping to Ongar in 1994 but it has now reopened as a heritage railway. Trains can’t run into Epping Station, so a heritage bus service is used to link up.

Now this weekend wasn’t without incident! But, you’ll be disappointed to hear, none were down to me! If it please the Court, M’lud, my client pleads not guilty to all the charges!

First incident was on the Friday night before I’d even started! I had been, very kindly, given permission by Roger Wright, who owns the railway, to stay at North Weald Station over night during the weekend. I arrived at North Weald and found a security guard called Chris who was expecting me.  He showed me where to park my motorhome and even offered an electric hook up. Most unexpected, and very welcome. Chris then went off and left me to it. I’m outside the van, sorting out a tangled cable when I get a visit from The Essex Constabulary! A policeman comes up to me and asks,  “Do you have permission to stay here, sir?” I have, but there’s no one around to confirm this. Fingers crossed, I explain that I’m driving the heritage buses tomorrow. Then he asks, “Do you have any ID sir?” I produce my driving licence, with its catagory D entitlement to drive buses. This seems to satisfy him, and he speaks into his radio, “Just a misunderstanding. Tell the other units to stand down.”

Tell the other units to what???? I can’t see the road from where I’m parked so have no idea if a lone patrol car is heading towards me, or whether there’s a full blown armed SWAT team outside with the force helicopter about to be launched! Never realised bus driving was so risky!

North Weald Station

North Weald Station

Off to bed!

Sunset at North Weald Station

Sunset at North Weald Station

Saturday morning, I have breakfast then head off to Blake Hall Station where the buses are stabled. There are three buses in service and I’m on duty 3. I’m a tad early to book on but I did want to clear North Weald Station before the staff there started work. Not a problem arriving early, more time for toast and coffee! Roger is there, with the toast, also Trevor, my conductor for the day, whom I’ve never met before, and also Mike Kay, whom I do know. Roger tells me I’ve got RT 3238 for the first half of the day. This is an ex Green Line bus, with a high ratio rear axle to cope with the higher speed expected on that service.

I do my walk round checks, the bus is fine and I set off for North Weald Station. I haven’t gone far, Blake Hall Station gates(!) when I realise I’m not alone in the cab! I have a large wasp for company. Not my favourite travelling companion.  Now if anyone is compiling a list of 101 uses for a duty card, feel free to borrow this! The unwelcome guest is persuaded to leave via my emergency window. Back on the road. I’m sure I can hear laughter from behind me.

It’s been a day or two since I last drove a preselective but it soon comes back to me. No problems and we arrive at North Weald Station on time, short break then onto Epping Station. Again we’re on time arriving but Peppa Pig is visiting the railway this weekend.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Cue, lots of children. Cue, lots of buggies! Now the odd one doesn’t hold you up but several are a problem. I notice Trevor has removed a couple of seats and using the frames as temporary buggy storage. We’re eight minutes down leaving. Still down when we get to North Weald and of course, those buggies have to be unloaded. We’re fifteen minutes down by the time we leave for Shenfield. It’s a long run down to Shenfield but very few stops on the way. I can’t make up lost time, and arguably you shouldn’t try. My hope is not to lose any more. The route takes me through part of Brentwood, a town not noted for its free flowing traffic on a Saturday. Not too bad today but I’m twenty minutes down by the time I leave. No more problems on the way back which gives me time to reflect on the qualities of this RT. Very easy to drive in stop start traffic and a good turn of speed on an open road, as long as it’s not too hilly! Ideal characteristics for a Green Line bus.

RT 3238 at5 North Weald Station with me at the wheel.

RT 3238 at5 North Weald Station with me at the wheel.

After a break at North Weald, it’s time for a change of bus. Three buses are used to provide the service which, in the main, follows the old London Country bus route 339. For my afternoon stint, I’ve got RM 1993 which has a Leyland engine and consequently rather loud! I get one more trip to Shenfield in this bus and she’s a delight to drive. So easy.  Power steering, excellent all round vision from the cab and an automatic gearbox with a semi auto overide, which is my preference.  For fully auto, you just move the gearstick into 4th and leave it there, the bus does the rest.

RM 1993 at Shenfield Station.

RM 1993 at Shenfield Station.

 

Sunday, and I make my way to Blake Hall Station to book on. As I turn into Blake Hall Road, I notice several blue lights flashing in the distance. It turns out that a couple of cars have collided and the road to Ongar is blocked. At Blake Hall I meet Mike Kay, and discover he’s asked for a change of driver. Me! No accounting for taste. Roger Wright, who was rostered to drive with Mike SONY DSC

RM 1993 at Epping Station

RM 1993 at Epping Station

is doing a good job of looking suitably hurt at this request!SONY DSC

My buses today are the reverse of yesterday. RM 1993 in the morning and RT 3238 in the afternoon. Before we leave, Mike very kindly hands me a lunch pack. With enough food to last me a week! So off we go. Straight to Epping this time, missing out North Weald Station. This is the first bus to Epping and there’s nowhere near the number of children that we had on Saturday. Back to North Weald, on time and I’m enjoying driving this wonderful RM. Now back at North Weald, we should have a short break but I get two bells from Mike and set off back to Epping, only to stop in The High Street. Mike’s at the cab window. Tea/coffee, sausage or bacon? Five minutes later, he’s back with my order! Then on to the station where I eat this impromptue snack. That, and my lunch pack, the catering coach isn’t going to do much trade with us today!

At 15:30 I’m back at North Weald after our final run of the day, only to be told there’s yet another accident on the A414, at just about the same spot! We arrive at the turn for Blake Hall to find a short queue of traffic and a police car blocking the road. I’m wondering about driving on the right side of the road and taking the turn to Blake Hall when the police re-open the road.

Firing up a steam locomotive

Firing up a steam locomotive

Monday is a quieter day.  Peppa Pig has departed and it’s a normal bank holiday on the railway. I’m back on RM 1993 which pleases me and Roger informs us that he’s off to a fair in Enfield leaving us to it. What can go wrong? Well nothing that I was guilty of!

Same duty as Sunday but this time my conductor is Geoffery. We keep much closer to the timetable! But on our second run to Epping, Geoff takes a phone call from Roger. RM1966, the other RM in use today, has broken down by The Talbot pub, Ongar side of North Weald. Preceed to North Weald and await instructions! We do so, and after unloading our passengers, we’re due a half hour break. We feel it prudent to head for the catering coach straight away!  Mid way through a very nice bacon roll, (turns out I got the last crusty roll!) along comes a chap called Paul who’s clearly been given the Inspector Blake role today. He has a copy of the timetable, with lots of items ringed! Seems the decision is to use the RF to sub for the failed RM. Walking back to the station yard, I know where I’m going just no idea of which bus I’ll be taking. With what seems like seconds to spare, I’m told to use RT 3238. No problem for me.

Now which bus will I be allocated?

Now which bus will I be allocated?

Now again, I’m back at North Weald by 15:30 when I should run off service to Blake Hall and book off, but my bus is being commandeered and I’m asked if I’d get a lift to The Talbot and take the RF back to Blake Hall. Does a one-legged duck swim in circles? Not a problem. At The Talbot, I find the RM lying stricken in the bus stop, looking forlorn with her bonnet up and to the rear, in best LT tradition, a seat propped up against the back. Behind her is RF 180, facing the wrong way, towards North Weald Station. I’m gutted to realise that I’ll have to drive her to the station in order to turn her around! This will be the first time I’ve driven an RF! So into the cab. The controls are very similar to an RT, with a larger steering wheel. I’m told RT and RF steering wheels have identical fittings so you can drive an RT with an RF wheel fitted, but the reverse could be tricky! . Perhaps I’ve moved the driver’s seat too far forward as the steering wheel is touching my stomach, or perhaps I’ve had too many bacon rolls!  Once underway, I’m surprised at how easy she is to drive, just like an RT albeit with a poorer turning circle. I had noticed the previous day that other drivers were struggling to turn her around the turning circle at Epping Station.

Safely back at Blake Hall, I drive her in then have to reverse her up a drive to the garage. That involves quite a few shunts and my arms are starting to ache! One breather comes when the low air pressure flag drops. But eventually, with Geoff’s guidance, I get the bus back to the garage.

RF 180 at Blake Hall

RF 180 at Blake Hall

RF 180 at Blake Hall

RF 180 at Blake Hall

Once again, the long weekend has passed far too quickly. I’ll be back next year, all being well, and would return again this if I lived closer!

HESTERCOMBE EXPRESS Pt 2


My first heritage drive this year for Crosville Motor Services, http://www.crosvillemotorservices.co.uk and the wettest drive I’ve had, by far!

The trip was one I’d done a couple of times last year. Drive to Bishops Lydeard Station, on The West Somerset Railway, collect a party from the first train from Minehead and transport them to Hestercombe House, near Taunton. This is a regular Wednesday special for the railway. I’d checked the 5 day weather forecast on the BBC on the Saturday before and it didn’t look too bad. As per my usual style, I drove up to Crosville’s depot on the Tuesday night in my motorhome and slept in it overnight. Not exactly undisturbed sleep, a couple of times, I was woken up by heavy rain on the roof! It didn’t bode well for the morning.

My worst fears were confirmed when I woke up. A series of mini lakes surrounded me!

I got ready and ventured into the depot, where I was greeted by one of the cleaners. “Are you David Moore?” Fame at last! Or more likely, she knew there was only one heritage bus out that day and recognised me from that. She told me where to find my bus, but also said it was blocked by another modern heritage bus. Modern heritage? She meant a VR! Sure enough, there was my bus for the day YDL 318, the 1962 Bristol Lodekka originally new to Southern Vectis on The Isle of Wight. I have driven her several times in the past and she’s a wonderful bus, albeit with a top speed of 30mph! A quick word with the mechanics,           and the VR obstructing me was moved. Onto the walk round checks. For some reason, I checked the windscreen wipers first!  Rest of the bus was fine, except I had to find an operator’s licence disc to display, and, more unusally, I had to find a first aid kit. The one on the bus having been “borrowed” at some point. Plenty of fuel, so off I went.

YDL 318 outside a very damp Crosville Depot.

YDL 318 outside a very damp Crosville Depot.

Although I had driven YDL 318 before, this was the first time I’d driven her this year, and only the second bus I’d driven this year! Take it easy and get used to her again. Fortunately, there were no problems as I drove south down the A370 and A38 heading towards  Bishops Lydeard Station. Problem came at the station! There’s an entrance reserved for buses, and diabled drivers, with other vehicles being directed to the east of the station. This time my road is closed! So I ventured around to the main car park, wondering what I’d find. Once there, one of the station staff told me a large diesel locomotive was being unloaded off of a low loader lorry, and that lorry was taking up most of the disabled car park. But, if I went back to the buis entrance, he’d move the signs. I’d then have to turn the bus around in the station yard, not too difficult, and leave via the entrance.

The cause of the holdup, and not to be argued with!

The cause of the holdup, and not to be argued with!

I was due to meet passengers off the 10:15 train from Minehead, due in at 11:35. It was late! Must be the weather. Eventually, she rolled into the station with a good number of passengers and I was pleasantly surprised at the number making for my bus. More than half full, by the time I drove off. I did hope no one noticed the No Entry sign I passed on the way out! Then on to Hestercombe estate. This takes about 20-25 minutes, depending on traffic and makes a very nice ride through the countryside for my passengers. I head into Taunton, but soon turn off for the Heastercombe road, one which starts off quite wide but narrows, the further you go!

I dropped off my passengers in the estate car park, and got rather wet seeing them off! I wished them well, and hoped they wouldn’t get too wet during their tour. Previously, I’d stayed on and gone around the house and grounds but this time I headed back to Bishops Lydeard Station.

YDL 318 back at Bishops Lydeard Station.

YDL 318 back at Bishops Lydeard Station.

Down platform at Bishops Lydeard

Down platform at Bishops Lydeard

SONY DSC

Departing for Minehead

Departing for Minehead

At the station, I found the loco had been delivered and the normal transit route was open. Time for a break, spot of food, and look at the trains! The cafe at this station doesn’t have an extensive menu, but a giant sausage roll and a cup of coffee was very welcome. Time also to have a read of the paper before a train came in. Out came my camera and I set off down the platform to await its arrival. Obviously, the early problems with timekeeping hadn’t been resolved and the train came in 15 minutes late.

Having watched the train arrive,  the loco run around and then steam out of the station, it was time for me to make my way back to Hestercombe and retrieve my passengers.

I had told them I would leave at 3:25, meaning I didn’t want to leave after 3:30! The return trip has to meet the 4:10 departure from Bishops Lydeard, and that’s the last train. A long walk for everyone if we miss it. To further complicate matters, the return from Hestercombe encounters the school run traffic in Taunton! In the event, and not surprisingly given the weather, all my passengers were back by 3:20. Off to the railway. Slow progress to start with, narrow roads and mum’s collecting their children from school, but I made it back in plenty of time. Train was already waiting in the station, so no hanging about on the platform for any of them.

All I had to do then was return my bus to the depot. A run of about 90 minutes but surprising how time flies when you’re enjoying yourself. Back at the depot, I found a line of service buses waiting to be cleaned before going inside. I’m told that the cleaner has a shunter’s licence and I can leave my bus in the queue. So different from my early days at Crosville when we had to park up the buses ourselves.

That just left the journey back home, with a stop for a bite to eat on the way.

 

 

MAYDAY!


It’s been a slow start to 2016 for me. May 1st, and I haven’t sat behind the wheel of a bus! Until today. For the past four years, I’ve driven a variety of buses for The Isle of Wight Bus Museum in the HCVS’s London to Brighton run but this year, I had a very kind invitation to drive AJN 825, the marvelous 1939 Bristol K of Westcliff Motor Services, in the Ipswich to Felixstowe run organised by The Ipswich Transport Museum.http://www.ipswichtransportmuseum.co.uk/

An Hour Later!

AJN 825 seen at Calbourne, Isle of Wight.

This run was on Sunday, May 1st and my original plan was to travel up to Essex in my motorhome and spend Saturday night at the top-secret base where the bus is stabled. But a spanner was thrown in the works when my motorhome’s gearbox failed! So  my long-suffering wife, Viv and I travelled up in a hire car and stayed in a Premier Inn near Colchester.

Early that Sunday morning, we travelled to the barn, after scraping the ice off the windscreen! No sign of life when we arrived but someone had already opened the barn doors and AJN was sitting inside ready to go.

Waiting patiently inside her home, with an ex Eastern National Bristol K and an ex Sunderalnd Crossley for company

Waiting patiently inside her home, with an ex Eastern National Bristol K and an ex Sunderland Crossley for company.

Martin Farmer then turned up and asked me, “Would I like to get her out?” I didn’t need asking twice! Martin had already checked the oil, fuel and water so I started her up. Despite it being only just above freezing, the Gardner engine fired up almost immediately. A check around of the lights etc, then into first gear and I slowly brought her out into the sunshine.

Ready to depart

Ready to depart

Soon , the rest of my passengers arrived and it was time to go. Should I have reminded Martin and Keith Peacock that I hadn’t driven a bus for six months? Perhaps not, but they still wanted me to drive. The first part of the drive was along a farm track. Concrete but narrow. I pulled away in second and accelerated along this track until I needed 3rd. Well, the Gods were with me and she went into gear with no problem. At the junction with the public road, I had a very tight right turn. Not easy without power steering but take it slowly and it was fine. Then I had a journey of about five miles to the A12 at Eight Ash Green. Time to get acquainted with the bus. For a bus with a notoriously unpredictable gearbox, she must have been in a good mood that day. Up and down through the gears without mishap! Once on the A12, driving was much easier. 4th gear and foot down all the way, travelling at about 35 mph. You do feel slightly vulnerable on a 70mph dual carriageway!

It took about an hour to get to Ipswich, a town I’m not familiar with in the least. Fortunately, the bulkhead window behind the driver’s seat has an opening and Keith was able to direct me through the streets to Christchurch Park where entrants for the run were gathering. Once parked up, there was time to grab a bacon roll from a stall, then have a look at the variety of vehicles taking part. Unlike the HCVS’s Brighton run which is only commercial vehicles, the ITM run has vintage cars as well. I say vintage, but some were contemporary with me. That does make you feel old!

The vintage cars at Ipswich

The vintage cars at Ipswich

A visitor from the other side of the pond!

A visitor from the other side of the pond!

One unusual entry was this Ford, with a petrol engine! Mr Bloomfield didn't like diesels

One unusual entry was this Ford, with a petrol engine! Mr Bloomfield didn’t like diesels

And a slightly smaller, and rarer, home grown example.

And a slightly smaller, and rarer, home grown example.

Then we started the run. I’m not sure the marshall trying to send us off was completely up to speed, but eventually, I started moving, gingerly as ever, through the crowds, then onto the roads. Now being in foreign parts, I’m an Essex man and don’t normally venture over to Suffolk, I had no real idea of where I was going. However, full marks to ITM! At every junction and roundabout, there was a sign telling me which way to go. Not that I would have needed one, for most of the route was lined by people waving, cheering, and taking photos! Viv did comment the next day that her arm was aching from waving back. She says she now knows why The Queen waves back in the way she does!

An electric milk float. Look to the right of the G7 running number. A sat nav??

An electric milk float. Look to the right of the G7 running number. A sat nav??

One section of the route runs over what I suspect was an old military road, single track with passing places. Ahead of me was a Bedford OB with a couple of cars in between us. I saw the Bedford pull into a passing space, then the cars overtook him. I thought he had stopped to let this happen so I proceeded on past the passing space I was next to. Then I saw the real reason for him stopping. There was a service bus coming the other way. Plan A, back up to the passing space. I could see cars behind me, and one of my passengers got off to ask these motorists to reverse. Then plan B! I saw the service bus had stopped next to a passing space and was flashing to let me come through. Move forward, then pause to let my passenger re-join the bus. I could hear laughter from behind me!

Then into Felixstowe. The buses and military vehicles were being parked along the Promenade. Instructions from the marshall were to proceed to the end roundabout, come back and park on the seaward side. I didn’t think the roundabout was that tight, I mad it in one, but I noticed RF 326 which was following me, had to shunt back to get round.

Once parked up, time to enjoy Felixstowe. The photos might look sunny, but there was a cold wind blowing. Still, it could have been worse. Even a good looking bus struggles to appear good in a photo taken on a grey day.

AJN at Felixstowe Promenade, with RF 326 hiding behind.

AJN at Felixstowe Promenade, with RF 326 hiding behind.

On The Santa Monica Boulevard?

On The Santa Monica Boulevard?

By half past four, it was time to think about returning. Not having done this run before, I’m not sure, but I think the original plan was for us, and the other buses behind , to return along the Promenade, but the way forward was blocked by military vehicles double parked.

Probably best not to argue with this one!

Probably best not to argue with this one!

To my right, there was a road leading away from the sea front and a couple of buses had already disappeared that way, although a coach parked right on the corner was making it a very tight turn for them. Luckily, the Gods were smiling on me, for when it came to my time to depart, the coach had moved! I had a quick look at the map to work out a way back to the A14 but then discovered I had a native guide on the bus, who gave me directions through the town.

For the return to Ipswich, we took the A14 which made for a much easier journey. One refuelling stop then over The Orwell Bridge. Quite an impressive structure, and I believe the views from the top are breathtaking. I kept my eyes down on the road!Orwell Bridge

 

Just before 6pm, I drove up to The Essex Lady’s top secret home and parked her outside. I had had a wonderful day driving her, and didn’t want to chance spoiling everything by reversing her back into her barn and hitting something along the way. I left that to her owners. Everyone dispersed and Viv and I drove over to a nearby pub for dinner. Very nice! Then off to our hotel for the night before setting out Monday morning for the long haul back to Cornwall.

All in all, a great weekend, enjoyed by everyone.

 

Next up, I have a driving job for Crosville Motor Services (http://www.crosvillemotorservices.co.uk) where I’m taking a party from The West Somerset Railway (http://westsomersetrailway.vticket.co.uk/?jssCart=ec754c8447ae1baa45a30b5438f612e8index.php) to Hestercombe House, near Taunton. It’s a trip I did a couple of time last year so shouldn’t  be a problem but you mustn’t get complacent in this game!