Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kingsbridge 2014: The Human Dimension

Bus travel forms an important part of our social history, and our running days offer the chance to learn, first hand, about a way of life in days gone by.

At our annual running day in Kingsbridge on Saturday, over 5,200 journeys were made by the public on thirty-one buses and coaches, ranging from a 1933 Bristol H saloon to a 1998 Mercedes Vario minibus. Every journey across the rural coast and countryside of the South Hams was, for our visitors and our volunteer crews alike, its own authentic account of the adventures afforded by bygone bus travel.

Photo (c) Graham Richardson,
Lots of excellent photos of the buses are appearing online as we speak, so we thought we'd concentrate here on the humans: the people who volunteered to help in all sorts of ways, and those who turned up in their thousands to enjoy and learn from the buses. We hope the photos go some way towards capturing the unique spirit of our running day, as well as giving an insight into some of the less visible efforts that are essential to staging an event such as this.

Our running days are preceded by many months of preparation, the culmination of which involves an intensive programme of cleaning and preparing vehicles for service. Here, our volunteer cleaners wash Bristol LS 1376, one of fourteen buses and coaches scrubbed by hand, inside and out, in the days running up to Kingsbridge 2014.

Mechanical testing of the buses is an important part of the preparation. In the interest of safety, all participating vehicles are required to show a valid MOT certificate (or evidence of a road worthiness inspection in the case of vehicles exempt from MOT, by virtue of their age); but the vehicles must also be practically capable of withstanding the challenges of carrying passengers on often difficult terrain. Here, Dennis Mace 668 returns triumphant from its test under load - and is admired by some of its volunteer weights!

Wherever possible, period destination blinds (mostly from the Trust's archive) are loaned and fitted to the participating vehicles. Depending on age, condition and type of vehicle, installing a blind can be totally straightforward or an awkward, time consuming process. Here, a volunteer has apparently been driven mad by the challenges of installing blinds on Bristol FLF 1969....

Kingsbridge running day is noted for its beautiful scenery, and there's much opportunity to stand back and admire the surroundings. Instead, volunteer Driver Tancock chooses to admire his favourite vehicle... but is it really Bristol SUL 420, or the Dennis Mace, which is turning his head?
Demands on drivers and conductors are many, and Kingsbridge is known for being one of the more taxing running days. Here, an anonymous volunteer conductor enjoys the last few moments of a good night's sleep in the confines of our museum, ready to face the delights and challenges of a day helping the public.
All vehicles are crewed by suitably qualified volunteers, such as those above, dressed for action. Left to right: Conductor Farley; Conductor Silvester; Driver Sheppard (sr.); Conductor Page; Driver Sheppard (jr.); Driver Williams.
Months of logistics, weeks of washing buses, nights without sleep and hours of ironing uniforms - all become worthwhile when the passengers arrive for their rides. At Kingsbridge, the buses are as much an attraction for local people - keen to sample a part of their heritage and learn about a bygone way of life - as they are for the enthusiasts who travel the country to attend. Bristol SUL 420 re-loads at the picturesque East Portlemouth terminus after a dramatic trip through narrow, winding lanes that are unserved by bus services today.
Many hundreds of thousands of photographs are taken at Kingsbridge running day each year, and even our depot for the day - kindly provided by Tally Ho! Coaches - goes well chronicled. Bristol VRs 1056 and 1157, L 333, K 994, LH 1560 and SULs 1234, 425 and 420 catch the photographers' attention in the early morning sunshine.

The smiles and waves through the day are many...
Driving, conducting, marshalling, selling programmes and volunteering in general, all work up quite an appetite. As soon as the buses are safely locked away, the volunteers' dinner at The California Inn begins, offering a chance to swap stories from the day and to learn from each others' experience.
If you volunteered in any way, we'd like to thank you for helping to make this year's Kingsbridge Running Day another record breaker in terms of the number of people who came along to enjoy a ride on the vehicles. If you were among them, thank you for coming; we hope you learned a great deal about the adventures of rural bus travel in days gone by, and had a great time whilst doing so.
Next year's Kingsbridge Running Day will take place on 19th September 2015, but there will be plenty of chances to see and ride on our vehicles between now and then. Our next event will be on October 18th/19th, when we'll be operating free bus services in the Thames Valley in conjunction with the Great Western Heritage Weekend. More details will appear in due course on our website.

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