The reason I have now all of a sudden found the time and energy for an update is largely due to the fact I am no longer a full time driver! Blimey, how those guys and girls find time to have any social life whatsoever, or indeed, achieve anything else outside work is quite beyond me! Not only is the changing of shifts and work patterns so all over the place as to have very little continuity in life (I cannot function properly without regime!), but also simply having enough energy left over from a mentally strenuous day of driving and dealing with passengers evades me. On the generally singular days you do have off, all I've wanted to do it lounge, relax and recuperate ready for more work the next day; the last thing on my mind is going out, socialising, chasing and photographing buses, or indeed even writing about goings on! Obviously, things would get better over time, but certainly for me, it was pretty much all-consuming! Tremendous fun, almost to the point where it was addictive, but very tiring!
There have been many many highlights, a smattering of which have included driving a bus, in service from Plymouth, across the Torpoint Ferry, along Whitsand Bay, and through my home village of Cawsand, something I really never thought I'd get to do in life. Late night fun in a Mercedes Citaro roaming round all sorts of nooks and crannies in Plymouth on 28Bs, 34s and 29s. Thrashing one of our 'tanking' Scanias across Dartmoor to Okehampton. Or even the more simple pleasures of one of our humble old R reg Dennis Darts, surprisingly some of the nicest vehicles in the fleet, on a 4 hour round trip on the 14 from the Plymouth Science Park at Derriford, through everywhere imaginable inbetween there and Langage in Plympton, and back again! Passengers are of course very memorable to, and they really have the power to make the journey even more memorable, both for good and bad reasons, but they really do make the job even more 'worthwhile' from a driver's point of view. From the 'standard' thank you whilst getting off, to the more heartfelt appreciation of good driving or additional help being given, this is what makes you providing that journey for them that bit more fulfilling. I've found it to be a very rewarding job indeed; by no means an easy one, indeed actually, quite the opposite. What seems like a very simple task, driving a large vehicle along a set route picking people up as you go, can in fact throw up a myriad of different challenges and problems that you need to be responsible enough to react to and take appropriate action. There's a lot of pressure on sometimes, but as afore mentioned, fantastic fun, and very rewarding!
For now though it's on to a totally new world, the engineering department! I've only been in there for 5 days so far, but am learning colossal amounts already. Despite of course working to a common cause, engineering takes on totally different challenges, with totally different ways of thinking, with alternative aims and goals to work to. The wealth of knowledge required by each and every person in there is mindboggling, to keep the fleet in good health, and looking presentable. To have the flexibility to react to developing issues, whilst also carrying out the 'day to day' frequent checking of vehicles is really a big juggling act. How anything ever manages to make it out into service after seeing the sheer amount of work and tender loving care that goes into each and every vehicle is quite amazing! It's by absolutely no means a straightforward task to produce some 150 buses for service each day!
But thanks to the efforts of Martyn Hearson, the man behind Reliance Bus Works, contact was established with the St Michael's Entertainers Dance Troupe, and they offered the vehicle to me at scrap value, a meer £1'500. How could I possibly turn down the opportunity to own the exact vehicle I'd dreamed about owning for so many years. Indeed, in fact, I wrote on this very blog in 2009 after the somewhat premature excitement as C409 HJN was offered for sale into preservation "My sights are now set on C412 HJN". Apparently, I am a man of my word!
So the deal was done, and she was moved into temporary storage with RBW, some work done on her to get her roadworthy, and then put through MOT. Thankfully, all went to plan, and on Saturday 1st November, myself, and a clan of us from the Plymouth City Transport Preservation Group journeyed to Stoke on Trent to collect her for her new life with me back home in the South West. This year has had so many brilliant moments, so many life goals have been achieved, but I think this might well just top them all! Rounding the corner into RBW, seeing her sitting their eagerly awaiting me in the mid-morning sun, 5 years after saying goodbye, and then the reality hitting me that she was now mine, was utterly incredible, I can't even begin to describe the feeling; but it's not one you get often in life! Starting her up for the first time, with the Gardner erupting into life was totally exhilarating, my first opportunity to drive a 'proper' bus, and it was mine! The one I'd fell in love with all those years ago as a school boy commuting on her to the Cremyll Ferry each morning. But now, I was at the wheel! By far and away, the best vehicle I've ever had the pleasure of driving, although I am naturally bias!
The journey back to Plymouth whilst huge fun, was actually thankfully, very uneventful! C412 drove like she'd never been out of use; just started on the button, caused no drama whatsoever an happily cruised along at 55-60mph all the way back to Plymouth, but would happily be pushed higher. In fact we became so confident with her, we dived off the M5 at Exeter and delved into the back roads all the way through to Plymouth, to really put her through her paces. She accepted the challenge with open arms, and got a proper chance to stretch her legs and do what she does best! Unfortunately, Plymouth then came into view, and the journey was at an end, so rather than head straight into Plympton, we continued son through until we ran out of Plymouth at Tamerton Foliot, where we turned round and headed to Colebrook to meet her new depot mates. Other than having developed a sticky throttle, her reliability had been truly remarkable.
As you can see though, this awful tar-based black paint is really not doing her any favours cosmetically. In contrast, mechanically, she seems better than she was whilst with FDC, and the interior, very much thankfully, having been inhabited by many teenage girls for the last 5 years of her life, for hour upon hour at a time, is also in remarkably good condition. Indeed quite frankly, I'd forgotten how sublimely comfortable the DP seating is on those Olympians! The exact details of her proposed restoration haven't yet been decided, but rest assured that she will be out and about in the very near future.