EASTER 2018


And a busy three days on the buses!

GOOD FRIDAY

Good Friday found me at The South Devon Railway’s Buckfastleigh Station. As per last time, I’d agreed to meet John Keohane at the yard where RM 1872 is stored. Also there was Ex Grey Cars No.1, a 1963 AEC Harrington coach. The railway acquired this coach last year and it’s just had a class 6 MOT. Today would be its first day in revenue earning service.

John and I carried out our respective walk round checks then headed off to Buckfastleigh Station.

RM 1872 and 1 RDV at Buckfastleigh Station

For Good Friday, the buses would be operating five trips along the route, a figure of eight that goes from the station, up to Buckfast Abbey then north along the A38 where it turns south, through Ashburton town, along what was the old A38 back to Buckfast Abbey and over the hill into Buckfastleigh village before making the return to the station. Departures are at 11:35, 13:10, 14:10, 15:10 and 16:10 with each trip taking 30 minutes, provided you don’t get held up by inconsiderate drivers parking in Buckfastleigh! The plan was for me to take the first journey in the Routemaster and John to do the 13: & 15:10 trips in the coach. No problem for me, I’d get an extended lunch break! The station cafe does an excellent selection of hot food.

View of Buckfastleigh Station

L92 pulls away with the first train to Totnes

A welcoming open fire in the ticket office

Being Easter, the railway was busy and the local cadet force had been drafted in to control the car parking. The car park is quite large but access involves a 90 degree turn under an 8′ high low bridge with a single track roadway under the rails. Thus, for busy days like today, the cadets manned the checkpoint.

And, boringly (!), there were no untoward incidents whilst I was driving the bus! Day over, I headed up to Weston-super-Mare for my next driving stint.

EASTER SATURDAY

Easter Saturday saw me doing a wedding hire for Crosville Motor Services. This was my first drive for Crosville, and my first drive of a crash-box bus, this year. The driving job was a heritage equivalent of a spread-over. Collect a party from an address in Worle, transport them to The Grand Pier, go back to the depot, return after the wedding and carry the guests back to the starting point. A relatively easy assignment but it involved travelling to the north eastern suburbs of Weston, somewhere I’d not been before. So, taking advantage of the fact that I would be in Weston fairly early on the Friday evening, I had a brief drive around the area checking out a route.

972EHW awaits her passengers in Worle

Saturday morning, and I had a bit of a lie-in! But time soon came to find my bus and get going. The bus was 972 EHW, a  Bristol Lodekka new to Bristol Omnibus in 1959. Usual walk round checks done, collect my conductor, James, then head out. First drive of a crash box this year but soon discovered that I hadn’t forgotten how to drive this type. All gear changes went smoothly, some more smooth than others!

First pick up point was a private house in Worle but on a bus route so no problem getting to it. Wedding hires rarely go to time, and this was no exception! I arrived on time but had to wait for all the guests to get themselves ready. Photographer was there of course, and I found myself being asked to pose in front of the bus. http://www.emmabatemanphotography.com/ Trust I didn’t damage her camera too much. https://www.facebook.com/EmmaBatemanPhotography

Then finally everyone was onboard and I could take them down to The Grand Pier.

No problems along the route, and an empty bus stop by the pier for me to stop and disembark my passengers. Then the spread-over. Four hours to wait back at Crosville’s depot. Chance for a bite to eat, and a book to read.

My job ticket asked me to pick up the guests after the ceremony at 16:45. I arrived just before then and waited. As I said, wedding hires rarely go to time. It was gone five before anyone came off the pier and walked towards my bus. Once all were safely onboard, I could transport them back to the house in Worle. Finally, I got the bus, and James, back to the Crosville depot. Fill out all the paperwork and head off to my next job. Back at Buckfastleigh!

Safely back at the depot!

EASTER SUNDAY

 

Again, I met John Keohane at the yard where RM 1872 is stabled. Plan was as per Friday, to take both vehicles and use in service. I kept the RM, John had the coach. Weather back at Buckfastleigh wasn’t too bad, no rain, or snow! Thus the railway was proving popular. The station has a large car park but on good days, it can fill up. Today was a good day! Operation Park & Ride kicked in. The plan for today was for me to do the 11:35 departure on the normal route then John would take over whilst I went to Park & Ride. The cadets were controlling everything, and doing a great job. If I needed to contact them, they had provided me with a radio and told me my handle was “Playtime!” They assured me that this was a military term for anything related to transport, but as it was also April Fool’s Day, I wasn’t totally convinced!

Easter Sunday Scene at Buckfastleigh Station

Oscar, the station cat

Ready for service.

So, once back from the first service journey, the bus blinds were set to Special, and I drove over to the park & ride site where a small queue of intending passengers had gathered.

Special. But aren’t all Routemasters? Ready for Park & Ride

Load up and make for the station. Shortest route would have been through Buckfastleigh village but not wanting to get stuck behind yet another badly parked car, I headed back the way I had come via Buckfast Abbey. There’s a wonderful view of The Abbey as you drive over the hill, something I miss on the regular journeys as I’m looking the other way. Two more trips on the park & ride then time for a break.

John seemed to be having good loads on his coach but I was concentrating on park & ride. By the middle of the afternoon, I thought I might chance a return from the park & ride site to the station via Buckfastleigh village. I thought I was in a parallel universe! No badly parked cars in the village, in fact, no parked cars at all! I never had such an easy run through the village.

The normal last service run from Buckfastleigh Station is 16:10 but on park & ride, we wait for the last train to come in from Totnes at 18:10 unless the car park has emptied. Today, we had to wait for the last train. But not a problem, just told my wife that I’d be a bit late home!

Easter Monday? Back home and some time with my long suffering wife! Not a bus in sight.

 

 

Advertisements

The Polar Express!


It’s been a long time since I sat down behind the wheel of a bus, and even longer since I updated this blog! But March 17th saw me up at Buckfastleigh Station on The South Devon Railway driving their Routemaster, RM 1872.

I’d arranged to meet the railway’s volunteer co-ordinator, John Keohane, at the yard where the bus is stored, and set about doing the walk round checks. Nothing untoward, so I headed out of the yard and on to Buckfastleigh. As I said, it’s been a little while since I last drove a bus, this was in fact, my first trip of 2018. But Routemasters are fantastic buses to drive, and I very quickly felt happy with her.

RM 1872

I arrived at Buckfastleigh Station by 10:30, and hour before the first journey. Time to pop into the station master’s office for a quick cuppa!

Then out in service. If you recall, in the week preceding, temperatures had reach 14c. By the weekend, they were down to zero! I normally try to dress the part of a vintage bus driver, white shirt, black trousers, dust jacket and tie advertising The Isle of Wight Bus Museum. (http://iwbusmuseum.org.uk) If it gets cold, I can add a green jumper. This day, I had all that plus a large overcoat and gloves! Despite the cold, I found that I had some passengers, wanting a ride around the area. Gordon Hall was my conductor and once he’d given me two bells, I set off.

The route we follow is out of the station and up to Buckfast Abbey.

Buckfast Abbey Coach Park

Then onto the A38 up to Ashburton, through the town and back towards Buckfast Abbey following the old A38, past the Abbey gates and over the hill into Buckfastleigh village, then into the station. First journey passed without incident. Then there’s a break of about an hour before the next trip, so set the tacho to rest, and had a bite to eat in the station cafe.

Refreshed, time for the second trip. Again without incident but on my return, I was about to leave the cab when I saw Pete Legg standing by there. Pete owns RM 2116. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1542472159323319/)    If I had have known Pete was on my bus beforehand, I might have been a tad nervous! But we chatted about the buses, and it would appear that Pete enjoyed the ride.

14:10 and the third trip of the day. Third time unlucky? Everything went well until I reached Buckfastleigh village. Notorious for its narrow streets, and inconsiderate parkers! Turning into Chapel Street, and someone has left his car on the pavement and jutting out onto the road. One glance at the gap he’s left told me that I was never going to get through! Nothing for it but to sit and wait for his return. He  wasn’t long coming back, and looked suitably embarrassed at the hold up he’d caused. Then turning into Station Road, where there is a designated parking area, I encountered another car that didn’t think there was any need to fit within the marked space! A tight squeeze but I managed to get by. so, slightly late back to the station. Snow was starting to fall by this time but nothing serious, or laying on the ground.

A Bit of Snow!

No further incidents fortunately on the last trip then I took the bus back to its base and returned to Buckfastleigh Station where I found I was in time for the last trip on the railway to Totnes and back. Something I normally never manage to achieve. Pleasant change to let someone else do the driving.

Then into my motorhome where I had permission to spend the night in the station yard.

Start of the day.

Sunday Morning at Buckfastleigh Station Yard

The weather forecast for Sunday wasn’t good! I woke up to find that it had snowed overnight but although the hills and fields around me were white, the roads looked ok. At 9:30, John and I drove over the route to check the conditions. As at the station, all the roads were fine so we agreed to run the bus as per the timetable with John telling me that if I felt the weather had deteriorated later on, pull the bus off the road. Well by 10:15, nothing had changed. Still a few snow flurries but the roads were clear, So I set off to the yard to collect the bus. Usual walk round checks. Everything was fine and I got going back to Buckfastleigh. However, the snow started to fall heavier just as I left, and got progressively worse the closer I got to Buckfastleigh. I’m driving on the A38 and I can see the snow is now beginning to lay on the carriageway itself. Not good. I made it to the station where I found John waiting for me. After another fifteen minutes, it was obvious the snow wasn’t going to let up so we cancelled the service and I made tracks, (literally!) back up the A38. By the time I arrived, the visibility from the cab was becoming dangerous limited. Any doubts I had as whether I’d made the right decision evaporated by the time I reached the yard. The drive back to Buckfastleigh Station in my motorhome was bad enough, and I couldn’t get into the yard because of the lying snow. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Td2W0BgpSk8&feature=youtu.be  I had to leave the van on the road and walk to the station buildings to hand the bus keys over.

Back at Base

L92 comes in to Buckfastleigh Station

I’m down to drive for the railway again over Easter, but worryingly, the papers are reporting that The Beast from The East might return then!!

 

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.

 

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!