A question I get regularly asked when taking my preserved buses, Dennis Loline lll 503 and AEC Reliance 543, to rallies around the country is "Why do you do it".
I must admit that sometimes, when things are going wrong, i.e. a burst tyre in the middle of nowhere with fifty bus enthusiasts on board, a main fuse blowing miles away from home on a cold wet January 1st evening, or an unexpected bill for hundreds of pounds, I have to ask myself this same question, but generally the immense pleasure I get from driving around in my buses boils down to one thing - Nostalgia! Looking back it seems impossible that it is almost forty years since 1st Jan 1965 when I drove Dennis Loline, AAA503C, in service on her first revenue-earning journey for Aldershot & District.
At that time I was twenty-two years old and on the top of the world. I had been working at Woking Garage for nearly four years, three as a conductor and then as a driver, getting paid what I considered to be good wages, doing a job that I loved. The spectre of National Service had just been finally lifted from me after several years of being on the reserve register, I was basking in minor local fame as the youngest ever PSV driver at Woking Garage, I had just bought a Ford five cwt van with some of my new found wealth and I just met a young lady who was later destined to be my wife. What more could I wish for - Life seemed wonderful!
Shortly before Christmas 1964 there was much excitement when four brand new Dennis Lolines, 503, 504, 505 and 506 arrived at Woking Garage from the Weymann factory just down the road at Addlestone. These buses were the first vehicles ever seen in Surrey and Hampshire with the new style registration plate showing a suffix, i.e. AAA 503C. Their Weymann bodies were perceived to be far superior to the earlier batch of Loline lll's fitted with Alexander bodies already in service at Woking and there was much speculation as to what routes these new buses would be working.
However, the more observant members of staff noted that whilst 505 and 506 had Firestone tyres, 503 and 504 were fitted with Michelins. At that time every A&D garage used different makes of tyres, with Firestones tyres being fitted to Woking based buses and Michelins being fitted to Guildford vehicles. It was therefore obvious that 503 and 504 were destined for Guildford, whilst 505 and 506 would be remaining at Woking Garage where, for many years, they were to exclusively operate on Service 34B.
In those days January 1st was a normal working day and I had been asked to come in at 6.00 a.m. on overtime as a spare driver. As you can imagine many staff had been up late the previous evening celebrating the New Year and it was not long before I was detailed to take out the 06:20 Service 34 journey to Yorktown Duke of York, with "One Bell" Nell Tuck as my conductress. Every day the bus allocated to this working was always the "change-over bus" which did a swap with a Guildford crew later in the day. Normally this bus was either Loline 453 from Woking or 463 from Guildford, so you can imagine my delight when I looked at the bus allocation board and found that I would be taking 503 out on her very first journey. There was plenty of running time allowed on this journey and I can still vividly remember trundling along the road to Camberley with the almost over-powering smell of hot paint and oil filtering through from the engine compartment as the brand new Gardner engine purred away beside me. I was in heaven!
During the next forty or so years of my working life in the bus industry 503 was never far away from me. Initially when I drove her as a driver at Woking and then Guildford Garage, much later when she was selected as a show bus allocated to Guildford Garage where I was by then the Manager, and latterly as her owner when I purchased the bus from the Official Receiver following the demise of the Len Wright empire.
Today 503 lives in retirement. Every time I jump in the cab, press the button to fire up her engine, put her in gear and trundle off down the road the bus still sounds, smells and handles just as she did all those years ago and I am immediately transported back forty years to that magical time when I had no worries or cares, just the whole of my life in front of me and a Dennis Loline to drive.