COACHED THE BERE REGIS WAY

Colin Hallett remembers his days at Sherborne depot in the 1980s

 
 


I have always had an interest in most modes of transport, mainly railways and fairground transport, but it was only coaches after I joined Bere Regis at Sherborne depot at the age of 15, and it was the start of a long and ongoing interest in the firm.


Sherborne depot was situated at the bottom of the B3145 junction with the A30.  Mr Jack Toop was the depot manager and after asking his permission to take some photos off I went and the interest was set.


Bedford was the staple diet, either with Duple or Plaxton bodies, and just after a few visits I was getting to know the differences between them and getting to know the drivers. I used to go to the depot on a Wednesday as Mr Toop was always playing golf and the fearsome Mrs Toop was at Dorchester market, so I could go about my new hobby in peace.  The depot office clerk was Mr Jeff Collins, who let me come and go as I pleased. One of the drivers Mike Alford was washing down his coach, one of the smokey, bouncy Leyland Panthers SXD476F. After a brief chat and a few photos later he asked me if I wanted the job of coach cleaner. So needless to say I jumped at the chance!


So the following day I collected my equipment (a brush and a cut oil can for rubbish collection and mop and bucket) and off I went. Many of us at school bunked off because we fancied loitering around town. I did because I could go to work.


I was employed as a cleaner but I had a go at everything, I was keen to learn so I listened to the experts. Sherborne depot was great: Fred Roberts, Dave Hyde, Jack Grosvenor and Mike Alford were the long term drivers, straight away they treated me as one of them. The coaches were old but kept in top condition, so when it came to washing them I tried to do a good job.


One day in November 1980 came the first problem. On the Dorchester run Ken Williams used a 1964 registered Bedford TSN612, a Duple Northern example, and whilst he was out  on the Stourton Caundle school run it decided to ditch its radiator water. The first we knew about it was when he pulled up into our yard and straight into the pits where the little Bedford was switched off and left to simmer away, it was decided to send Ken off in fellow Bedford MPR705, and it was left to sulk all night. So the following day I decided they needed me more than school did, do we found that a hose had split and the only way was to get to it was to take the front off.


The Duple Fireflys were not the best design to access the engine, you had to undo about 20 small bolts while two of us held on to the front. We took two off and gave up, Jack Toop told Mike to 'get that bloody thing out of my yard and back to Dorchester', so we managed to duck tape it up and it was filled with water and dispatched back that day.


On another occasion LVS442P, a Bedford 53-seater Plaxton, whilst being reversed into the garage decided it was going to part company with its air pressure right across the forecourt taking three cars as hostage. A bit of TLC and we managed to get enough air in the tanks to release the brakes.


In January 1981 I was given a crash course in how to start a frozen Bedford. In those days we did get proper winters and stubborn Bedfords. PFX4 was the worst offender I seem to remember, one evening it was parked on the slope down to the back outside parking. The following morning it was given a bath of hot water thrown over the windscreen, ignition on, handbrake off, second gear and hope that it would jump start before it reached the bottom of the yard otherwise it would have to be hauled back up for another go. Once we left fellow team mate PFX2 running all night.


In the summer it was the opposite, trying to cool them down. One of my jobs once I was there full time legally was to be there for 7am, wait at the top of the yard by the fuel forecourt for the radiators to be filled with neat water before they went off on the school runs and be ready at the bottom of the yard with the hosepipe to refill them when and if they made it back!


On one hot day in 1981 MTK328 came onto the wash bay steaming like nothing on earth. I damped a cloth and with Mike Alford's guidance was given training how to remove a Bedford 's radiator cap just in case it may blow up. It was that hot that I could just manage to push the cap down to unscrew it a bit of the way, so we used the handle of my broom to unscrew it by knocking it off, I remember him saying to me 'it may pop off quickly so keep your eye on it'. After a few more arms length taps we looked at each other and made the executive decision to give one last firm tap. To say it popped off was a bit of an understatement, it was more like a gunshot as this cap launched itself into space, we never saw it fly, we never heard it land, and we never saw it again. I always wondered where it landed, we simply laughed about it,  filled up the radiator with cold water (imagine doing that today with a Volvo) and parked her up, we didn't even replace the cap. we ran it all summer without one - and it kept going.



A line-up at Sherborne depot

A line up in May 1980 with 4725 WW, 4506 UB, SAK 32 POT 507G, 901 CDU at the bottom of the yard 

brush and hose ready

BFP 235C with Colin's trusty hose and brush in September 1980

refuelling

LVS 442P on the refueling bay in June 1981 shortly after a repaint

On another occasion we were visited by a Blandford coach and driver. DTO16C was called in to assist a school run, when it came back the driver tracked me down and asked if I could give the inside a mop over as he was going out on a private hire. So not a problem, I thought a brush out first then a mop out while he had a coffee, as I opend the door the smell hit me, one of the school kids had been sick, and I had to find it. The only way to shift this was a few bucketfuls of water and disinfectant thrown on the floor (no carpets in those days), open one of the centre inspection floor panels and send it on its way. As I was doing this Mrs Toop walked past armed with washing, she noticed this stranger in the camp, and asked me what I was doing cleaning a Blandford coach. When I told her she went back into her house and summoned Mr Toop, with his red face and tweed suit he stomped down the yard and demanded to know who told me to clean one of Blandford's coaches. When I said the driver did because someone was sick in it and it was going out on a private hire, he marched back up the yard shouting. I finished off and went up to the office to tell him it was ready. But Jack Toop was tearing a strip off the driver and told him 'don't ever come here telling my cleaner to do your job', apparently there was no private hire and it was down to his depot to clean it, he just didn't want to drive 20 miles with someone's breakfast smelling him out. I was thanked for doing the job by Mr Toop anyway.


The Toops lived on the premises, their house was the booking office and attached to their house was a wood built conservatory which Jack would grow his tomatoes in, outside was the diesel pump for the coaches. It was always a little tight to fill up as the hose wasn't very long, but if you parked correctly it would fit. But one day one of our new drivers Mr Phil Church with Bedford MMD688C decided to get a bit closer and as the trees by the pumps obscure the rear view he decided to reverse onto the pumps a little too far, and backed into the Toop's conservatory. Although there was little damage the fact that it had been hit by this then little upstart driver was enough for Phil to bear the wrath of Mrs Toop, to which we all had a good laugh about.


There are many other tales I could tell, my countless trips to Dorchester depot, that's a story in itself. The day the yard was resurfaced and the entire fleet had to be parked on the A30 outside. When we painted the depot and we painted the fuel log pencil a minute before Fred Roberts picked it up and got covered in brown paint. The day when I went with Mike on the pm Holwell stage run in YLM937 and it poured with rain but I was getting just as wet inside the old Bedford as it had a split in the roof. I could go on for forever in fact I could probably write my own book. I wished I had stayed long enough to drive for them, but I never thought one day it would all be gone.


I think over the years 1980 - 1994 I must have taken 300 photos of the fleet, unfortunately I lost a whole batch by mistake several years ago, but thanks to Ray Cuff, Colin Caddy and Ian Grainger plus a few others I have now a collection of nearly 500 prints. If anyone has photos of the firm please let me know through Countrybus.


So that was a brief selection of a lot of memories. Yes the wages were low and some of the vehicles were old, but I enjoyed every minute.


Colin Hallett
June 2008

                                                                                                                          All photos on this page by Colin Hallett

 

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