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!

MEET AND GREET


My last outing for Crosville Motor Services, turned out to be one of the easiest, and I know this will make for a rather boring blog but nothing went wrong! Well, almost nothing!

The work ticket was famously vague. Drive to Minehead and Meet and Greet! Book on time was 8.00 Saturday morning so, as is my usual, I drove up to the depot on the Friday and spent the night in my motorhome. Breakfast over, I wandered into the depot to find my bus when I met Paul Carpenter who was on the same job. He’d been allocated YDL 318, the ex Southern Vectis Lodekka that I’ve driven several times for Crosville. Where was my bus? I found it in an unusual location, then found the reason! The horn button wasn’t working. It wasn’t even there! Where it should have been, there was only a number of wires protruding. So find the mechanic on duty and see which bus I was to drive. Turned out, he had no idea my bus was VOR (Vehicle Off Road.) so I waited whilst he disappeared towards the back of the depot. Eventually, he re appeared and told me there was a 1950 Bristol L single decker available. Would that be acceptable?

KFM 893 at Minehead Station. YDL 318 behind.

KFM 893 at Minehead Station. YDL 318 behind.

I was hoping to leave Weston by 08:15 but with the delay in finding a suiatble bus and getting it ready, It was almost 09:00 before I hit the road. Paul had left earlier and I said I’d catch him up. YDL only does 30.mph whereas the L will reach 40. So, a tad late, (nothing new here then!) I hit the road and started to familiarise myself with this bus. I have driven Ls before, but not this one. She was a delight to drive. Easy gearbox, and good handling on the road. I did catch up with Paul on the approach to Bridgwater and, as luck would have it, on one of the few stretches of dual carriageway on the A38. I passed Paul with ease, but couldn’t pull away from him as I got caught up in the traffic. It wasn’t until I left Bridgwater that I was able to put clear road between us. No problems getting to Minehead, although I sign warning of a road closure was worrying until I realised it didn’t refer to the A39!

Minehead Station. WSR

Minehead Station. WSR

I was hoping to arrive at The West Somerset railway’s Minehead station by 10:00. No such luck! 10:25. And pulling onto the forecourt, I saw a few people waiting for a ride. The event the WSR were hosting was an appearance by Scooby Doo. Don’t worry, I had to Google him! I was brought up on The Flintstones.  Not as popular an event as the visit back in July of Thomas the Tank Engine, but plenty of action going on in the station. Now my next problem! The job was the same as for Thomas. Drive a 15 minute tour of the town centre, up to Butlins and back to the railway station. The problem was that this route exits the station car park at the southern end, which is normally barred by a number of bollards. I headed towards the station looking for someone who could remove these. No joy, but I was told the code to remove the padlocks. Unfortunately, these padlocks have been exposed to the elements for some time, and the locks are a bit stiff! So much so that I couldn’t shift any of them. At this point, Paul drove up in YDL. He’d had more experience of shifting these padlocks, and eventually, managed to remove one which left just enough room for a bus to pass through. 45 minutes late, I set off with the first journey!

Problem with a loco? They're looking into it!

Problem with a loco? They’re looking into it!

The route soon came back to me. Remember to turn left at the undertakers! Through the industrial estate and over the railway crossing. Through the main street, try and remember where the turn was for the sea front, along past Butlins and the turning circle by the golf course. Tight turning circle! Then back along the front to the railway station. Paul and I took it in turns to do trips, no real timetable, just set off when we felt we had enough passengers. In between trips, the WSR very kindly provided refreshments and for lunch, we each did two consequetive trips whilst the other headed for the chippy. All healthy stuff!

Now during the afternoon, a couple got on. I didn’t take too much notice of them but the gent had a small video camera, and he videoed the entire trip I took them on! It’s on Youtube. So have a look at one of my drives around Minehead! There was a round of applause at the end, which I couldn’t hear, but I think the passengers were just relieved to have got back in one piece!

If you watch the video, you might think it was shot at the height of summer with the clear blue skies and sunshine but this was October 31st!

YDL 318 turns into Minehead Station. Yes, it is October 31st!

YDL 318 turns into Minehead Station. Yes, it is October 31st!

 

Late in the afternoon, it was obvious the visitors were leaving. I volunteered to do the last run and let Paul head for the depot but as it turned out, we both ended up leaving at the same time. Paul replaced the removed bollard and we headed for home with me in the lead. Now you would have thought that my 40mph L would have soon left the Lodekka in my wake, but the A39 out of Minehead is very hilly and the Lodekka showed how she was suited to the terrain of her home on The Isle of Wight. It wasn’t until I reached the flat plains around Bridgwater that I was able to pull away from Paul.

Then, all too soon, Weston loomed up and I was back at The Crosville depot. The cleaners were there and asked me to park my bus in the yard outside and they would see to it.

So that was my last drive for 2015. What will 2016 bring? I’ve no idea, but looking forward to my next drive, wherever that may be, in in whichever bus I’m allocated.

So, Pub Bolonjedh Da rag an Vledhen Nowydh! or, All Good Wishes for the New Year!

 

 

 

 

A Single to Northfleet, Please.


 

 

Well, this was a straight forward job. Move a bus from Weston super Mare to Northfleet, Kent. What could go wrong?!!

 

In Crosville motor Services’ heritage fleet is RTW 29. One of the 500 strong, all Leyland members of the RT family of London Buses. These buses differed from the other 6500 buses in that they were 6” wider at 8’ 0”, and The Metropolitan Police were initially reluctant to authorise their deployment in the Capital. A number of trial routes were operated to show that the Police’s fears were unfounded. RTW 29 currently carries destination blinds for route 38, Chingford, Royal Forest Hotel to Victoria, and carries a T garage plate, signifying Leyton Garage.  Now the 38 wasn’t a route that saw many RTWs! RTs and RMs were the normal buses to run this route out of Leyton garage but some were used as part of this trial.

Saturday Night at Crosville Motor Services

Saturday Night at Crosville Motor Services

This bus was to be loaned to The London Bus Museum at Cobham, with some preparatory work to be done at The London Bus Company, Northfleet. After a couple of false starts whilst legal niceties were ironed out, I got the go ahead for Sunday October 11th.

 

The trip would be just under 200 miles long and thus, necessitated a very early start from Crosville’s depot. Before the depot would open! So I drove up on the Saturday evening in my motorhome. At the depot, I found the bus already  fuelled and near to the front door. I had asked if they could do this as I didn’t want to find it at the back and have to move dozens of buses out of the way to get it out. A quick chat with the cleaners, then I turned off the battery isolator and climbed into the cab. The bus started at once and I completed my walk round checks. Nothing untoward, so I drove the bus out into the yard and parked it next to my motorhome. Time to get my head down!

 

Early, very early, next morning and I’m up having breakfast. In contrast to last night, the depot is deserted and silent. I get the bus started up again, make sure I have all I’ll need for the journey and head off out of Weston.

 

The obvious route to London is via the M5 and M4 but this bus was designed and built well before the advent of motorways. For reasons that I’ve posted before, I avoid them as much as possible. My preferred route is the A370 to Bristol then the A4 as far as Reading. The A370 is a road I’ve travelled before with my Crosville jobs and I know it well. The bus itself is a delight to drive. So much easier then the Bristols with their crash gear boxes! However, the bus definitely didn’t like hill! More than once, I had to go down to 2nd gear to make progress, and with an empty bus! I did wonder how she fared in London in service. The 38 went over Chingford Mount!

 

But apart from the hills, the bus was fine. Into Bristol and then I found the A4 and headed east. All was fine until I came to Calne, Wiltshire, where I encountered a line of static traffic. Worryingly, several cars ahead of me were turning around and going back. Not an option open to me. Then a cyclist came by to say there had been an accident and the road was blocked. There was a side turning behind me and fortunately, the cars to my rear had already turned back leaving me with a clear path. So a very slow reverse around the corner and head west! Out came my road map. I wasn’t that far from the M4 so despite my misgivings about this option, I felt I had no choice. Before long, the bus was on the motorway, and seemingly enjoying every minute! Top speed was only about 40 mph but no problem. After a while, I suddenly realised that my indicators weren’t working. How long they’d been off for, I had no idea. There is a repeater light on the dashboard, but it’s about as bright as a glow worm on a bad day and the audible repeater behind your head is easily drowned out by the noise of the engine. So I’m wondering what to do, when they start working again! Putting this down to one of life’s mysteries, I carried on.

 

Passing Reading, I decided to take a break at the motorway service station. Into the coach area and pulled up next to a modern coach from Barnes Travel. The driver was enjoying a cup of tea by the front of his vehicle, and jokingly offered to swap with me. No chance! In hindsight, that might have been a better choice. You can’t lock these buses up so to secure it, I turned on the battery isolator. Unless you knew the location of this, you’d never be able to drive it off. Into the services and get a bite to eat and welcome cup of coffee. Then a found a message on Facebook from Jon Jones, CEO of Crosville Motors. Don’t use the motorways! Bit late, but he needn’t have worried.

At Reading Services

At Reading Services

Then, refreshed, back into the bus. Turn off the battery isolator, into the cab and press the starter. Clunk! ? The engine didn’t turn over and start! What was wrong. Well, firstly, I went through my mental check list of daft things I’d forgotten to do. Everything was ok. Bus was in neutral. Had the starter motor jammed. I tried releasing the handbrake to see if the bus would roll forward, well it did, by about an inch! No joy there. On the phone! I’m closer to Cobham Bus Museum than Weston but they have no mechanics available on a Sunday. Doing a diagnostic check, we decide the problem is a flat battery. Odd, as I’ve been driving for almost four hours, and the battery isolator was definitely switched on whilst I took my break so if I had left the bus lights on, they would have gone out and not drained the battery. So back into the services to report that I will be there for more than my permitted two hours, and buy a Sunday paper! Plenty of time for a read. Then, in a nod to LT practice, I prop a seat up against the rear of the vehicle to signify a stricken bus. Very sad sight.

Oh Dear! Not a welcome sight!

Oh Dear! Not a welcome sight!

Two hours later, a Crosville van appears. A very welcome sight!  Out gets Tony, the mechanic and we start to sort out the bus. Assuming it is the battery, he goes under the stairs and in the gloom, attaches a battery booster. Back in the cab, I press the starter, and the bus fires into life! I get a message from Jon saying “Don’t stall the engine!”. Luckily, pre-select buses with fluid flywheels are actually quite hard to stall. I am over two hours late, a record, I think for me(!) but get going again. Tony follows me along the motorway until the next junction to check all is well then heads back to Weston.

 

I’m now back on my planned route, so just east of Reading, I leave the motorway and turn south east to get to the M3. Just one junction on this then onto the M25 and one more junction before I leave and look for the bus museum. I do have a map, in my head! But no problems. I have been warned about the 9’9” bridge and find my way around it. Soon Weybridge Station looms up and I know Cobham isn’t too far away. Sure enough, on my right, I see an entrance and there is someone waving to me. Either Peter Osborne from Cobham Bus Museum, or a very optimistic would be traveller! Now the original plan was for me to have a break here and be shown around the museum but I’m so far behind schedule, and daren’t turn the engine off(!), so it’s a case of have a quick chat with Peter, hand over some important paperwork, then turn the bus around and head off. During my chat, I had assured Peter that the bus had light steering for an RTW. This didn’t apply when trying to do a three point turn in the access road!

 

Peter had given me directions to get back onto the M25 but around the first turn, I encountered a long line of slow moving traffic. Not what I wanted to see! Turned out to be two cars that had broken down about a hundred yards apart on opposite sides of the road! Once past this hold-up, the M25 soon appeared. Again, the bus seemed to be quite happy to trundle along the motorway. Speed was about 40 mph with a feeling that she could go a bit faster if necessary. The M25 isn’t known as the World’s biggest car park for nothing, but this Sunday afternoon, traffic flowed easily. It was about fifty miles from Cobham to Northfleet but junction 2 came sooner than I was expecting and then making sure I didn’t miss the exit and incur a toll for the Dartford Tunnel, I drove towards The London Bus Company’s depot. Again, surprisingly easy to find. The gate was closed but a security guard saw me approaching and correctly guessed that I need admittance. Inside, well, I think I’ve died and gone to Heaven! RMs everywhere!

RM Heaven!

RM Heaven!

Plus an RT

RT 3238. A bus I've driven before.

RT 3238. A bus I’ve driven before.

and a Swift. My RTW did not look out of place! But I was soon brought back to earth. Behind me, a tow truck has turned up with a stricken open top RM behind. My bus is causing an obstruction so I get back into the cab and move it out of the way.

RTW 29 safely delivered to Northfleet

RTW 29 safely delivered to Northfleet

Where to leave the bus? Over there, please. Once the tow truck has got out of the way! Then, I don’t know if Jon Jones has had a tracker device fitted to the bus but I get a text message asking if I’ve arrived! I assure him his bus has been safely delivered to her destination. I then ask, “How do I get back?” Joking of course, but makes him think for a second!

 

So how did I get home? By train. Northfleet Station is a short walk away. Nearby is Ebbfleet International Station where trains to and from the continent stop. It’s new and state of the art. Northfleet can only be described as state of the ark! It has seen better days. However, that complaint can’t be held against the trains. This might only be a suburban stopping service but the train is clean, comfortable and fast. One hour later and I’m getting out at Cannon Street. I’m pleasantly surprised to find the tube station is open, sure it used to be closed on Sundays, and the first train to arrive is a Circle Line going via Paddington. Time at Paddington to get a bite to eat, then wait for my train. Now one reason I was getting a bit worried by delays in getting to Northfleet was that I had booked early online. The standard fare from Northfleet to Weston super Mare is £73 but by booking in advance, I found I could get a first class ticket or £42! Missing that train could have been expensive!

 

One final twist to this tale. My train gets into Weston at 22:30, on time. The station is two miles from the Crosville Depot and no bus service. I’ll need a taxi. There’s only one in the station yard, and someone beats me to it! I’m wondering how long I’ll have to wait for the next one when a Crosville coach pulls in, driven by my friend Gazza Wilkins. Lift to the depot? No problem.

 

What’s next for RTW 29? Not sure. I’m not privy to the plans but I think she’s to be used in service in London at some future date. Would I like to drive her then? What do you think!!

 

 

 

 

ONCE MORE INTO THE BREECH


In 1996, The North Norfolk Railway staged a war themed event. I’ve no idea how successful it was, but nineteen years later, it has grown into a major event involving not only the railway, but also the towns of Sheringham and Holt.

 

It’s 400 miles from my Cornish home to Holt, so after finishing work on the Thursday, I headed north with my wife, Vivianne, in our motorhome. Thursday night was spent in a lay by close, too close(!) to the M5 and thus we made an early start on the Friday. After a short detour to visit my sister in law in Woolaston, we arrived at Holt Station by teatime. Awaiting us were the owners of AJN 825, the 1939 Bristol K bus from Westcliff on sea Motor Services, who had very kindly invited me to drive their bus during the weekend.

An Hour Later!

First problem was the weather! It wasn’t actually raining at the time but had during the previous week meaning the camping field was a tad soft. Especially so in the corner we had been allocated! However, eventually, I managed to park the motorhome half on the field, half on the pavement, and we settled down. Tea that evening was courtesy of Debbie and Barry. A very nice paella with chicken and prawn.

 

Next morning and I’m down to drive this bus on the 10:00 departure from Holt Station to Sheringham via Holt Town Centre. With the owners on the back I climbed into the cab and started her up. Complete the walk round checks and drive off.

 

The bus is wonderful and a delight to drive. A real credit to her owners. Unfortunately, it’s also the most unforgiving crash box bus I drive! However, I am getting better and now can sense whether (or not) the gear will go in when I push the gear stick and if not, I can correct this without stopping the bus or grinding the gears, too much!

Half an hour later and I pull into Sheringham Station. The roads around here are closed for the event with marshals to move the barriers and allow me access. The passengers disembark, and there’s an hour layover before the return so I take the chance to wander through the town with Viv. Although relatively early, the town is full of people in 1940’s outfits, or military uniform and the Yanks are definitely in Town! Next to the local Tesco is a church hall, and they are doing teas and refreshments, with the staff dressed up in 1940’s waitresses gear. Table service, of course, no ordering at the counter. Fare is excellent, if a little pricey. 15/- for a cup of tea! I know there’s a war on, and prices have gone up but I didn’t expect the Church to be profiteering!

Crowds at Sheringham Station

Crowds at Sheringham Station

Sheringham Street Scene

Sheringham Street Scene

All too soon, I have to return to the bus, and I find it’s just about full up. The owners have saved a seat for Viv and I climb back into the cab. Now people will say Norfolk’s flat. That doesn’t apply to North Norfolk! I pull away to three bells and almost immediately I have to negotiate a T junction, on a hill, and turn left to go over the railway line. Not much further and I turn into Holway Road which leads to the A148, Cromer to Holt road. It’s only a mile long but uphill! With a full load, I’m down to second gear for much of the way! At the top, there’s another T junction. Not much of an incline here, but I use first gear to get the bus moving onto the Holt road. Perhaps I was showing off by snatching into second gear, but it worked a treat! Something the bus was not used to in her days around Westcliff on Sea.

 

My next drive is with OVF 229, an Eastern Counties Lodekka.

SONY DSC

Same route, out of Holt Station, by pass to Holt town centre and then on to Sheringham. The bus has a much easier gear box although still a crash. The only problem I encountered with her was when I tried to get her into 5th gear. Difficult in a bus with a four speed box! But once I’d worked out the number of gears, I had no difficulties on this run.

 

My last drive of the day was back on AJN again. 16:00 from Holt Station  to Sheringham and return. And another full load! No real problems with the gears, a couple of times I had two attempts to find a gear but I kept going. Apparently, at the least hint of a grinding sound, cheers went up from the passengers when I found it! In the cab, it’s too noisy to hear anything from the passengers. But run wasn’t without its problems! The stop at Holt war memorial is immediately before a T junction and I have to turn left. Not normally difficult but this weekend, the pavement opposite has been dug up and a barrier has been set up to protect pedestrians as they walk in the road. Now to prove my theory that in these elf & safety conscious times, the  hazard warnings are more of a hazard than the hazard itself. A double decker bus has come from my left and because the bus stop is no longer accessible, being in the stretch of dug up pavement, the driver has parked between the hazard warning sign and the hazard. Thus although the front of the bus is by the kerb, his rear is sticking out into the road. I decide I can’t squeeze through the gap and sit tight until he moves off. Then a single deck bus appears from behind me, also wanting to go left. The narrow gap doesn’t deter him! I watch with trepidation as the nearside of his bus comes uncomfortably close to the front corner of mine. I do have my hand brake on. Useful defence if we make contact. But fortunately,(miraculously?) he gets around me. Then has to mount the pavement in order to clear the rear of the decker. I can only assume he was running late. Eventually, the decker moves off and I have a clear run out of town. Not the only incident on this run! On the straight A148 heading for Sheringham, I see in my rear view mirrors, (yes, I do use them, occasionally!) two cars following me. The second one pulls out to overtake the first car and me, just as the first car has the same idea! Luckily for both, he realises his error in time.

 

For an evening meal, Viv and I had been invited to join the owners of AJN at a restaurant in Sheringham. The railway were running a diesel train set during the evening between Holt and Sheringham so we took advantage of this rather than, as we did last year, drive one of the buses into town. The trains seemed to be running late and we all wandered onto the platform as a steam train pulled away. A meal had been booked for 19:30, plenty of time had our diesel been on time but in the event, we only just made it!

 

Next morning was a repeat of the Saturday. I drove AJN out of Holt at 10:00 to Sheringham where we had an hours layover before returning. My next drive should have been RM 2151 from Holt Station at 12:30 but there’s been an incident. An enemy air raid has seen the train service suspended between Holt and Weybourne with Holt Station being out of action!

A Spitfire circling Holt looking for the enemy raider!

A Spitfire circling Holt looking for the enemy raider!

Well, not quite! Loco 8572 pulled into Holt Station, uncoupled from its train and was trying to run around the train for the return when it failed to stop and ran into the buffers at the end of the platform, derailing the front bogie and causing some damage to the platform end.

North Norfolk Railway Loco 8572 at Holt Station, having run into the buffer end stop.

North Norfolk Railway Loco 8572 at Holt Station, having run into the buffer end stop.

Fortunately no one was hurt although the shocked driver was taken to hospital as a precaution. There is a video of this loco leaving Holt on the Saturday at https://www.facebook.com/612027493/videos/vob.612027493/10153779674427494/?type=2&theater  Thus when I arrive to take over my bus, it’s not there and the inspector, John Stewart, points me towards a very full MW and asks me to take it direct to Sheringham, and bring back as many passengers as I can. SONY DSC

 

Well, all hands to the pumps as they say, and I take this bus with its full load to Sheringham. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told them that this was the first time I’d driven that bus! The bus has a 5 cylinder Gardner engine, as opposed to the 6 cylinder version I’m more used to, but all was fine except when I turned off the main road and headed down to Sheringham Station, I couldn’t find a gear! This bus does have a Bristol 5 speed box and I think that in coming out of 4th, looking for 3rd, I must have  wandered into the neutral zone between 4th and 5th. Drivers of these buses will understand the problem. But The Gods were with me and I eventually found third.

At Sheringham Station, more than usual scenes of chaos with people stranded and needing to get back to Holt. One of AJN 825’s crew has started to marshall the queue and soon they’re pouring aboard.  Again, I head straight to Holt Station.  I’m supposed to be on a break but that’s gone out of the window. I would have liked to take a train into Sheringham but that’s not possible so I stay on the buses. The MW fills up again and I’m off, but back to original route via Holt town centre where there’s quite a queue! Diverting buses direct to Sheringham has meant a big gap in the timetable. I pick up as many passengers as I can, offering to stop on the main road near Holt Station for anyone trying to get there.

When I finally make it back to Holt Station on the return, I find that John is getting worried about me as I haven’t been seen for some time!

By mid afternoon, the railway have managed to get diesel trains running along the whole line and things are starting to return to normal. 16:30 and my routemaster comes into Holt Station for me to take the last return trip to Sheringham. He’s only ten minutes late so once the driver has unloaded his passengers and turned around, I climb into the cab.

RM 2151

RM 2151

Now compared to the earlier buses I’d driven this weekend, this bus is so easy! Power steering, and a semi-automatic  gear box. No crunching of gears, and no aching arms!

All too soon, the weekend is over. Wonderful time in north Norfolk, with some great people. Next year should be their 20th anniversary, so I’m looking forward to returning then, and hopefully driving these brilliant buses again.