Monday 10 July 2017

Eastern Coach Works Closure 30th Anniversary Event

You must have realised by now I am not one for static displays. I like motion, I like sound. If something has been designed to move with a recognisable sound I want to see and hear it. Therefore as I set out Sunday morning to meet up with Tim in Beccles before attending the 30th Anniversary of the closure of Eastern Coach Works Event at East Anglia Transport Museum in Carlton Colville, I was not in a particularly optimistic mood. I had seen a few pictures from the previous day and honestly believed I'd be there for a couple of hours, get bored silly, and be home by mid afternoon. How wrong I was, and I'm delighted to say this post will be much, much longer than I anticipated.

I don't attend these events for the buses. I attend them to meet up with friends, to see people I only see at these events, and to have a good gossip. However, on this occasion the buses were important. I grew up with Bristols, Bristols and yet more Bristols. I have driven Bristols, ridden Bristols, been taken to school on Bristols, chatted to driver mates on Bristols, and they were as ubiquitous in my life then as Geminis or E400's are today. And all were bodied by the good folk in Lowestoft, at the Eastern Coach Works. Of course they were bodying buses long before the VR came along, but it is the Bristol VR I associate ECW with the most, and the Bristol VR I wanted to see, and more importantly ride at the event.

It seems the bus Gods were hearing me as round the corner on the free shuttle to the museum came Bristol VR OCK 985K, new to Ribble in 1972 before transferring to Eastern Counties in 1985. In 1996 it was withdrawn after 24 years in service and acquired by the Transport Museum. I actually like the fact it isn't in pristine condition - it looks like it did when it finsihed service and that's good as it is how they looked when I was catching them. It makes a change from something you are afraid to breathe too heavily on. No rattles, a lovely growly Gardner engine, and it did not feel 45 years old. In fact it felt a darn sight better than most new buses on the road today.

Bristol VR OGK 385K at Beccles
We got to the museum and just took in the atmosphere, chatting to Andy and Richard on the gate, and admiring the impressive number of  people attending the event. Many of them arrived on the Park & Ride service, operated by First, and with the most appropriate bus in the fleet. Andy Swan swears this was his idea so I'm giving him the credit. Volvo B9tl 37572 AU58 ECW was used, and I thought that was a great idea which added a nice touch to proceedings.

37572 unloading at the museum
Our next ride was on a visitor from Yorkshire. Bristol Lodekka NWU 265D. Built in 1966 it served the good public of Yorkshire before becoming a training vehicle and finally preserved in 1990. Again a really nice journey, and I began to appreciate just how good the body builders of Lowestoft were.

Bristol Lodekka NMU 265D at Lowestoft Station
We left the Lodekka there to get a spot of lunch, which proved a wise decision as sadly the Lodekka broke down on the way back to the museum. It proved to be an even better decision as something rather special came round the corner to take us back to the museum after lunch.

Bristol L5G KNG 711
KNG 711 is a 1960 Bristol L5G, new to Eastern Counties as LL 711. I'm not normally that enthusiastic over anything that predates my memories but there are exceptions to everything and this is one. You could actually feel as though you were in the 1950's on this rickety little 35 seater. Displayed at the front was a poster advertising a daily coach service to London at the price of 17 shillings and sixpence for a day return. I'm guessing you didn't get much time in London. Book early on Megabus and it doesn't cost much more than that these days!

Vintage poster on LL 711
Another trip round Lowestoft on the earlier VR in the company of Norwich Buses Blog supremo Sam Larke, and the ever pleasant Jamie Glasspoole, and things really looked up. Another long distance visitor was open top former Southern Vectis Bristol VR, FDL 681V, looking superb in its Island Breezers livery.

Add caption
This bus is in superb condition. The only noise to be heard was the iconic engine (and nearside front spring according to the pleasant young driver). Open top buses are always pretty cool anyway but when it evokes such memories too it's a double bonus. Oh - I was right - those staircases were a lot easier than modern ones. No idea why but they were! It was a very enjoyable half hour. When we got back to the museum the driver conveniently parked next to the other VR, making a fine pair of Bristols!

A fine pair of Bristols, Matron!
That was the major box ticked for the day. However a bonus that not even Brucie could have thought up was in store. A replacement was needed for the stricken Lodekka,, and what a replacement we got. New to Eastern National as D510 PPU this ECW Olympian coach has certainly done the rounds, seeing service with Sanders, Lodges of High Easter, Essex, Flagfinders of Essex where it was re-registered PLZ 2876, It then moved onto Tony Glew in Colchester before spending the last few years at Venturer Coachways in Brightwell. With Venturer's demise earlier this year this magnificent bus is now at Our Hire of Acle.

Olympian coach PLZ 2876
This is one of only three full length, low height Olympian coaches built for the UK market with this body, and is strikingly different to the Olympian coaches I knew on Maidstone & District. What isn't different, though, is the quality. The seats are sumptuous and comfortable, and even now it has the feeling of something special about it. It's quiet, non rattly and powerful. Tyson Dundas, of Our Hire, who was driving told me when I asked him if he was going to preserve the coach, that he's intending to use it! So the working life carries on 31 years on! Tyson has also agreed to let me do a special feature on this bus, so look out for that in the coming weeks. It was just a joy to ride it, not, I sincerely hope, for the last time. It's completely wasted on kids, and how ironic that when First are struggling to find a new bus for the X1 we have here a vehicle that would have suited it to the ground 30 years ago.

The Ollie coach on Gunton Cliffs
 And that was about it. A return to Beccles on the adorable Bristol L5G, which cruised along the A146 at 45mph, and a highly enjoyable day was completed, with just one little blot on the landscape.

Where are the other buses that attended I hear you ask. They were on the back field, behind the museum and there were about 15 of them I'm told, although at least 5 of them made an appearance doing runs. It would have cost 9 quid to see them. EATM's brains decided they would be an added extra to their normal tram/trolleybus attractions. I've done them. Great for kids, not fantastic for 51yo's. Why on earth wasn't there a "ground" ticket for the day? I am not going to pay 9 quid to see 15 buses when it only costs a tenner to get into Showbus and around 600 buses! That was a bad move by the committee and I hope they review this for future events. I've heard insurance issues mooted but don't believe that for a second. Many attractions have different price scales depending what you want to do and I'd have happily paid 3 or 4 pound to get access to the buses, cafe, loos etc.

That excepted it was a great day, well attended, vehicles I wasn't expecting to see (and some I was which had nothing whatsoever to do with ECW) and some great chats. My thanks to Tim, Sam, Jamie, Andy, Richard, Thomas, Colin and anyone I may have missed. See you all at Norwich in August.

The Bristol L5G at Beccles


  1. Andrew Kleissner11 July 2017 at 16:00

    Steve - I'm puzzled by your comments on the EATM pricing policy. According to their website, the Museum costs £9 to enter. So were they asking a further £9 on top of that to see the buses? - which would indeed seem steep. Or was it simply that the buses weren't displayed freely for all to see in the car park, and that an admission had to be paid to see them? - which seems reasonable.

  2. No iit was £9, but the publicity stated that it included all the museum's attractions, which, as I stated in te post, not all wanted (or could afford) to do. therefore those only interested in the buses attending the event - which was the focus of the eent, after all, had to pay £9 to see 15 buses, which is why I suggested a ground pass for £3 or £4. When Showbus was at Duxford, for example, you didn't have to pay for entrance to the air museum in order to see the buses. I just think if you aren't interested in riding te trams etc £9 was a lot to pay to see 15 buses.

  3. I quite happily pay the £9 entry fee does not seem at all steep to me after all they were not just on the field, they were round near the railway track. There were also many stalls around the museum.

  4. I think the point is that it was a transport museum with additional attractions for the day, it was not a bus rally as such. As an exhibitor (parked in the field), I didn't have to pay but I don't think £9 is unreasonable given that there were trains, trolleybuses and trams to ride on.
    Museums like the EATM survive by attracting the general public, there aren't enough enthusiasts to pay for it all. My cousin came with us, he had never previously seen or ridden on a trolleybus because he isn't an enthusiast but is generally interested in "heritage".

  5. I've attended a few heritage events in my time and £9 is a pretty normal charge (even below it in these days of self-imposed inflation). Perhaps sadly the "good idea" of having a reduced taster charge whilst it sounds good, doesn't attract any more custom, not least enough to outweigh the financial loss. Often it adds to it, since who paying £9 could resist paying a lower charge? And bang goes your business. Not good. I'm amazed the EATM is still with us, so very well done and keep it up! It has to keep itself going all year, not just for a few days in the summer. Sadly we all have opinions on what other people should/could do in our ideal world. But back in the real world . . .

    In the real world I too miss the comfort and sturdiness of the Bristols and the like compared to the modern paper mache. But that's a comment from a luckily fit and physically able (though the rest might be arguable) aging idiot. The DDA has been a godsend to those people we all tend to forget. What puzzles me though is why the transport industry (in all its guises) seems totally incapable of creativity and innovation unless someone else (Government - often ham-fisted) forces it? (I don't mean the slap-on, by the way). Wouldn't it be better to be ahead of the game? (Think, the tech industry by comparison). Like some spoilt child, I suppose, it never has had to think for itself.

  6. I wasn't against the fee as such.Just feel there should have been a lower rate for those who purely wanted to see the buses/ coaches that were there as part of the Weekender. I've done the trolley buses and trams twice already so that part of the museum wasn't something I wanted to do. Going by the people standing outside,I would say there were a good number who also didn't pay. Asking people for a donation would probably not have worked (Lowestoft airshow anyone?),but maybe we have been spoilt a bit with both Ipswich and Norwich bus rallies being free? Keeping these vehicles on the road is obviously a huge expense,as well as time consuming but there must be an enormous sense of pride for those exhibitors when they see people young and old showing such interest. Would it be so bad if in future,Bus rallies charged a small fee to help with costs? Just a thought..

  7. Slight correction – D510-512PPU were the only long/low height Olympian coaches with that style of ECW coach body. B688-697BPU were also long/lowheight but with the earlier, more angular coach body.

    1. Excellent, which clears up the confusion. Thanks so much for the clarification. I have amended the post accordingly.

  8. There was no additional fee to see the buses! The normal entrance fee to the Museum is £9 (event or no event). By the way, I think Andy Swan is pulling your leg about it being his idea to use 37572!

    1. Oh dear God what is so hard to understand? I didn't say there was an additional fee to see the buses. What I said, and my view hasn't changed, was that as someone on a tight budget I did not feel prepared to pay £9 just to see 15 buses as I was not interested in the rest of the museum as I have already done it all. The ONLY reason I was there was to see the buses. I have ridden the trams and trolley buses That is all. I realise I'm in a minority and take on board what others have said, and they all have a point. I'm just expressing mine. Not spending that £9 meant I had enough petrol to get to Borderbus on Wednesday to see the new arrivals. Those are the sort of decisions I have to make. Maybe I'll apply for a Press Pass in future :))

      At least Andy Swan was prepared to put his name to the idea!


    2. Reading your post where you say that it would have cost you £9 to see 15 buses, it made be believe that for some bizarre reason, you can see 90% for free and then 10% for £9.

      Nowhere does it say that it's £9 for the museum too, which it would usually cost to see the museum without the buses....In fact, the £9 fee would be there even if there was 1 optare tempo on display, just because it's the museum entrance fee.

      It's like going to a museum which costs £20, and it has 1000 attractions, but as it only has 1 bus on display and that's all you're interested in, you complain?

      Thank you to the other anonymous poster for explaining, as I now understand why it was £9 to see 15 buses.......

    3. "Many attractions have different price scales depending what you want to do and I'd have happily paid 3 or 4 pound to get access to the buses, cafe, loos etc."

      How would that work? You'd then need to walk into the museum which people have spent £9 on.

      "Let me pay £3 to use the cafe, loos and see the buses, but when I walk through the museum, I promise to keep my eyes shut."

    4. So how do you think the buses got to the back field - via the tram shed!

  9. But why should people have to pay £9 just to walk across the museum site to get to to where the display area was? I've done the museum twice, and wasn't interested in doing it again. Hence why I said I would gladly have paid £5 to see the ECW display. Plenty of people felt the same as me so the organisers must have felt a bit aggrieved to see people standing outside the entrance. I'm sure in hindsight they could have come up with a plan of some sorts.

  10. I was unable to attend the Dereham bus event held at Mid Norfolk Railway so this is a genuine question - did you have to get a day ticket on MNR to see the buses?

  11. Of course,what EATM could have done was charge people at the main gates. Everyone would have known and I could have saved the train fare. This will rumble on...

  12. The last time I visited the EATM the entrance fee included a pass valid for a year, so repeat visits would be at no cost. As I live some distance away, I've never managed to make that second visit, but I'm sure some visitors manage it. And given the way that the museum is laid out - note that there is no secondary charge for riding on anything - I agree with others that it is not practical to offer different levels of admission to the site.

  13. Andrew Kleissner16 July 2017 at 07:45

    Yes, but the "free return visit" doesn't apply on special event days.

  14. The Mid Norfolk Railway Bus day was a free event and offered the standard £10 day rover ticket including all trains between Hoe and Wymondham Junction. It was an excellent day we travelled from Cambridgeshire and couldn't fit everything in .

  15. I think the people not wanting to pay £9 are missing the point. Museums need special event days to break even, and £9 to access the full museum and the field isn't unreasonable. If you don't want to pay don't go but then expect such events to dwindle as the fuel costs don't get covered. Ipswich is different as there is no annual building overheads etc but the team who organise it and the willing bus owners pay for the event out of their own pocket, only recouping some of the money through sales of programmes - again something most enthusiasts don't seem to realise.

    More and more unfortunately there are far too many enthusiasts who turn up to these events for a free day out at someone else's expense. I can think of no other hobby where you can have a free day out - try doing that with watching sport!

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