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!
Off to bed!
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.
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.
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.
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
is doing a good job of looking suitably hurt at this request!
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.
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 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.
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!