Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Return to Standerwick, please…

At Standerwick Garage, 1969/1970
At Standerwick Garage, 2012

Sunday’s Warminster Running Day was pure magic. It was my first as a driver, and I spent much of it smiling to myself. Not only was our friend in fine fettle, but we were watching history repeat itself…

270 KTA’s association with Wiltshire goes back to 1968, when she was transferred from Kingsbridge to Trowbridge depot. And it’s an interesting period in her life for so many reasons.

‘Normals’ - our non-enthusiast readers – may like to look away for a minute...

Firstly, Trowbridge was a remote bit of the Western National network, and 270 KTA (like 281 KTA, which she replaced there) was the only Bristol SU in town.

Secondly, there’s a controversy. The Trowbridge operation was, on 1st January 1970, given up by Western National and absorbed into the Bristol Omnibus network – quite appropriately when you look at a map. Both legend and records show that Western National were quick to move-in all the vehicles they didn’t want – older buses like KS and LS saloons, as well as some FSFs they’d bought secondhand from Bristol only years before – and they quickly scooped up everything they wanted to keep.

All the records show that 270 KTA was scooped, to the safety of Western National’s Taunton depot, in December 1969. But was she?...

Here’s the dark secret to which I referred a few months ago. I have several photos of our friend in the snow of late-1969/early-1970, all of them in Wiltshire. One is even dated January 1970, by which time Bristol Omnibus had firmly moved in. So it could be that she stayed on, and it could be that she did work for Bristol Omnibus – the only SUL ever to have done so – if only for a few days or weeks.

It’s hard to say conclusively. The transfer of Trowbridge to Bristol Omnibus was notoriously messy. Photos show the buses carrying fleetnumbers of both fleets simultaneously. Here's 270 KTA below the depot canopy at Trowbridge with the ‘Western National’ lettering removed, but no ‘Bristol’ name yet in place...

For those with an interest in Bristol Omnibus – myself included – it’s quite a tantalising thought. Would she have become ‘309’? Would she have gained OMO livery? Would she have been transferred to another Bristol depot eventually? Overhauls at Lawrence Hill? Struggling up Park Street? See, tantalising…

If 270 KTA did stay on to help for a bit, it’s unlikely to have been official. Western National hadn’t long shelled out to have her converted to dual-purpose configuration, and they had plenty of work for the converted SUs at that time. And frankly, it would have been an undesirable thing for Bristol Omnibus to inherit, a lone SUL, an uncommon vehicle in its own right and unique in the fleet (though they did have SUSs, of course). Despite the age of the LSs and K-types they did end up with, they were at least ‘standard’.

To me, it’s fascinating.

… and ‘Normals’, back you come again.

Thirdly, it’s a really lovely part of the world. The towns and villages are distinctly west country in their feel, and the countryside is plentiful. It’s a peaceful bit of blighty that often gets forgotten.

Yep, magic. It was 270 KTA’s first passenger carrying exploit in Wiltshire for over 40 years, and we carried almost 200 people. They ranged from twenty year old Rich, having his first ride on an SU, to a former Western National driver from Totnes who used to drive the SU buses in the 60s.

“He didn’t comment on the driving once” said his pal as they jumped off at Frome. “That means you were okay.”

“Better than that - I’ll pass you”, said the driver. “I used to do the training.”

Sometimes a little pat on the back sends you to the moon. Naturally, I cocked up every gear-change on the journey home…

Also at Frome we met another of 270 KTA’s old drivers. He accused our friend of getting him a caution in June 1970 (when at Taunton), having run out of fuel in Wiveliscombe. Apparently you were supposed to check these things…

Fortunately I did. 386 miles later, averaging 21 mpg, we completed yet another successful mission, and our final rally of 2012: 270 KTA’s 50th year. Who’d have thought we’d complete the best part of 2000 miles without incident?

See - Magic…

Photos courtesy of "Beckingtonian" (Standerwick 1), Luke Farley (Standerwick 2) and Darren Harris (Warminster) - many thanks to them.

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