Monday, 6 November 2017

A Little Taste Of Heaven Part One

I wonder how many of you remember the gentle qame show "Call My Bluff". It involved two teams of 3 well known people giving alternative definitions to obscure words, and the aim was to decipher which was the correct definition. More often than not the definitions would start with the phrase "Imagine, if you will..." before the viewer was transported to a world where the word was relevant.

Well if the word I had to describe was "Heaven", my definition would probably go something like this: Imagine, if you will, a Mecca of all things bus. A huge site, crammed with vehicles. It is a working bus depot, a bus dealership and a bus museum. There are happy, friendly staff, a boss who is clearly extremely popular, a couple of young women busy stripping a bus engine down, a mini open top bus the boss takes his kids to school in, and just to put the icing on the cake a high speed rail line running alongside. My guess is not many would believe that definition, but that is precisely what I experienced when I visited Ensignbus last week.

After reading my reviews of the two BCI buses that were loaned to First and Borderbus I was invited by Ross Newman, one of the owners of Ensignbus, to take a look round. Many notable names in the bus industry had told me it would be an experience I'd never forget, and they were right.

A mix of Ensignbus's working fleet.
The place is huge. Two storage yards for sold and purchased vehicles lie either side of the main complex, which apart from housing all the working fleet has two big workshops including one where body conversions take place, and a truly mouth watering warehouse full of heritage vehicles.

Ross met me in the impressively airy and relaxed office section, all the more surprising as the QE2 bridge had been closed all day and Ensign's services were in utter chaos. yet there was no sense of panic, just quiet competence in getting as much running as possible whilst fielding a barrage of phone calls. Hi-viz vest on it was time for the tour to start. Ross explained the basic organisation of the depot, including a dedicated place for drivers to park vehicles with reported defects, so engineering staff could sort them out asap without having to hunt for them. All the time staff were greeting us and smiling. We entered the main warehouse and the first thing I saw was a freshly converted ex Tower Transit Volvo B7tl Gemini still rather pleasingly showing what I presume to be the last route it operated.

Now an open topper former Tower Transit VNW32410 LK04 HXW
I'm pretty sure Ross told me it was going abroad, but I can't for the life of me remember where! That's possibly because I had spied what is known as MCW corner. My good friend at Stagecoach, Matthew Arnold, had told me what to expect and I'll admit I did rather swoon. A couple of posts ago I said if I could go on just one bus again it would be the Metropolitan Scania. Decades ahead of its time it gave an astonishingly smooth ride, and as Ross accurately said; "two gears - fast and very fast!" Just a shame the bodies corroded as quick as they drove! And there, in front of me was the country's only preserved Metropolitan Scania with a Class 6 licence - ie it can be used for anything anytime. Indeed last year it was in public service during the Tube strikes.

The 1976 Metropolitan Scania.
But that wasn't the only icon in MCW corner. A couple of Metrobuses, and another rare beast I remember well, a former Kentish Bus and Northumbria MCW Metroliner, that at one time was the bastion of National Express. Now an open topper, still in Northumbria livey I got the impression this was one of Ross's favourites - he spoke with pride about it as one would a child who has achieved something special.

MCW corner, with the Metroliner standing out proud
Next to the Metroliner was an absolute beast of an American bus. YYR 832 is an MCI MC9 Greyhound coach, like everything else in the warehouse in full working order. It has the most incredible door mechanism - total overkill - and apparently not a rattle on it! I should think not - it's built like a tank!

Not to be argued with - the MCI MC9 Greyhound coach
Next to that is an ex Southend Transport Astromega, again a familiar sight from my commuter coach days. It's wonderful to see these memories preserved for others to enjoy, and the fact they are all kept in full working order makes it even more special.

The ex Southend Transport Astromega
I will freely admit that I don't have much affection for vehicles I have no memory of. There are, of course, exceptions, one of which will be coming up in the next post, but as a rule not. I do know, though, that some of you will be swooning over these RT's as I was the Metropolitan, so just for you here is a rather handsome trio!

I believe these are pre war, so again very rare.
Of course no bus museum is complete without an Ollie, and this ex Bristol In Sight Olympian did the trick nicely.

Ex Bristol In Sight Olympian P757 SWC
I'm reliably informed the Newmans like to buy each other odd presents, and I'm pretty sure this is one of them - a 6 wheel drive, erm, thing! Not completely sure the orange light is totally necessary! I think you'd notice it coming..

A proper boy's toy!
And of course there were Routemasters. Lots of Routemasters of all shapes and sizes.

Just some of the RM's (and 1 RT) in the museum.
I should point out that I took all these photos on my own after I had finished the tour and Ross had given me total freedom of the depot to photograph what I wanted. "We have no secrets here", he said, which compared to some places I've been to down South knocked me for six a bit. The reason I didn't take any while being shown around was because we were talking. And then some. Ross is one of those instantly likeable blokes, extremely interesting and easy to talk to, and the passion for what he does shines through. Far too much for one post, but coming up in Part Two we'll see a bus once temporarily owned by Hitler, a mini Routemaster and an office view to die for!


  1. Andrew Kleissner7 November 2017 at 17:25

    Presumably though they don't have the Harry Potter Night Bus:

  2. Thomas Browne) Do you know what engine that MCI had Steve? My guess it had a Detroit diesel 8v92 or 71. They sound really nice. Bet its thirsty though.

    1. Sorry Thomas absolutely no idea! I'll try and find out for you - try googling the number plate.

  3. Both "original" Harry Potter Night Buses are at Leavesden Studios - one is part of the Studio Tour, and the other is in store . . . . they wouldn't fit in a normal warehouse, as they're triple-deckers, so around 20 feet tall!!
    The one in Florida is actually an RML, but VERY well rebuilt - it's pretty much only the half-window that gives it away!

  4. It appears Anglian Bus have finally decided to put the 61 out of its misery. It is being officially axed on January 2nd, though the final day of it will probably be December 30th because bank holidays. The 85 is also going.

    I'm wondering whether Go Ahead will now move the Poringland/Bungay/Halesworth corridor over to Konectbus, hand the 83 and 84 over to Simonds, and the 90 to BorderBus. I reckon Anglian's PVR will almost be in single figures once the 61 goes.

  5. Rumour has it the Anglian name will go with the 61s ! Some months ago I wrote a comment and ended it with RIP Anglian I might have been a bit early with that but it looks like the final nail has been hammered home.for the last few years there have been a series of managers put in there all with the same mantra " we are going to turn it around"and all that has happened is the fleet has been cut the dutys have been cut and the drivers have been cut ,it has been like the captain of the Titanic saying we are not going to sink when 2years ago they were up to their ankles.julian Patterson wrote in an interview in a bus magazine some years ago that they were going to turn a coach firm onto a proper bus company when referring to Anglian,well all I can say to that is you made a bloody good job of that.

    1. I would just like to write something as I have the utmost respect for Julian.

      I remember in 2009 when a driver on the 3 missed me and an elderly lady at st stephens. We were going to watton and at the time, the 6 didn't exist and the bus was every hour. Julian kept calling the driver to go back to pick us up. The driver checked his phone at the five ways (10 minutes away) and went back to pick us up. I cannot say the other passengers were happy with the decision, but that's the service he gave.

      In the same year, my friend missed the 11 dereham to watton as the driver had the wrong destination on the bus. Julian personally drove to dereham in the van and took her to watton!

      2010 came and go ahead took over. It was small changes to begin with, and Julian and co believed they would help the company. I.e. same service but lower fuel costs, lower costs for parts, discounts on buses etc. This was great for the first 18 months, but then the company changed. Go ahead had a different view of what they wanted for konect. They wanted to build an empire in Anglia! Profits over service.

      Julian hated all of the paperwork which went with being part of a plc and classed it as a "waste of time". Julian often went against the wishes of go ahead and went for customer service over profits each time.

      Who remembers the green bendy buses? A 54 plate one came back in the wrong shade of green. "Get it on the road" said go ahead. This went out 3 times in the whole time it was available and only as a last resort. Even this fine detail Julian didn't want.

      A tempo had a dent on the front and go ahead objected to having a corner bumper replaced for 2 months and was told to gaff tape it up. Again, this bus was on the road only a handful of times in this time.

      Julian actually had blue, yellow and grey permanent markers - if a bus got a scratch, he would be there to touch it up!

      Of course some of these things cannot happen with a large fleet, but it was due to go ahead that Julian left to create lynx.

      Konect profits are down much more than pre 2010, even with the fleet being nearly twice as large now. Anglian on the other hand needed scailing down...1 bus per driver? When the company isn't turning a profit, having a bus idol for half the day isn't great. No offence to anglian drivers at the time, but they didn't have the same level of service which konect customers expected. Julian would have scaled the business down, but go ahead did not give him the power he needed.

      Fast forward to 2022 and I believe konect will not be here either.

    2. Julian left Konect because of Go Ahead to form Lynx, who are doing very well. Andrew Pursey and Dave Marshall left Anglian because of Go Ahead and formed BorderBus who are doing very well. Ensignbus are still run by the Newmans and have never been touched by a national operator. Coincidence?

      I will be doing a post on Anglian's final demise but I will say this in defence of 1 driver 1 bus. In most cases it wouldn't work, but when you have such a widespread rural network as Anglian did at its peak with termini in extremely remote locations it's not so daft. After all it works in the coach industry. Talk to Dave Marshall and he'll say with steely determination that it's not just the drivers who need a break - the buses do too, and before Go Ahead took over the Anglian fleet was in far, far, far better condition.

      The fleet was scaled down not by getting rid of one man one bus but by getting rid of routes. The 164/5 were summarily scrapped, and most of the Rackheath routes transferred to Konect. Far too many vehicles were retired thus not leaving enough spares available to ensure the fleet received its previous level of care. As you rightly say gaffer tape replaced repair. Ride qualities declined, and eventually their star vehicles were taken off them. While Konect's fleet expanded and was updated Anglian's wasn't. Go Ahead were only interested in work involving Norwich as they plain didn't understand, or indeed show any inclination in wanting to understand how to operate a rural network. I'll save the rest for the post but you do make several good points. As for 2022? I suspect you maybe right, at least in its current guise.

  6. I've said it before and will probably say it again . . . . . horses for courses.
    The plc's operate well enough in urban areas, because in these places it's substance over style . . . a small family operator won't survive because they'll try the friendly approach, and will get drowned. The exception is Stagecoach, who have been sensible enough to realise that urban and rural need different management styles . . . . they're not always perfect, but they do try.
    The smaller, generally family, operators have the time to monitor the business closely, to listen to drivers and passengers and to "tweak" services where necessary to meet local needs.
    That seems to be why GoAhead in East Anglia haven't done well . . . don't try to run a rural bus firm with the HR; IT overheads and the reams of paperwork required of a big operator; as Steve says above, the manager doesn't have time if he's really keeping his finger on the pulse of his routes.
    I write as someone who has seen life from both sides; sometimes the impersonal approach is necessary; sometimes the fatherly approach is better . . . . it all depends.