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|The Last VR|
|An Island VR Returns|
|Handover of 673 to The Museum|
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AN ISLAND VR RETURNS
Highlight of the Island Buses Running Day on 10th May was the official presentation to the Museum by Alex Carter, MD of Go SouthCoast (of which Southern Vectis is of course a subsidiary) of UDL 673S, a 1978 VRT from a batch of 9 (Nos. 668-76) new to the Island in that year. The ceremony involved Alex driving 673 out of the Museum, as the heavy wooden doors were drawn back, and through a green ribbon (a commodity in seemingly short supply in Newport) to come to a stand in front of an assembled gathering of Museum members, former SVOC staff and visitors. Derek Hunt (as Chairman) then said a few words about the history of the bus and expressed our gratitude at being presented with 673 at the end of its 31 year career. Alex Carter answered with a few words about the VRs that had just come to the end of their service lives at Wilts & Dorset and how pleased he was to see this one return to its appropriate home rather than pass to the scrap yard. He knew the Museum had expressed interest in one of the SVOC open-top VRs but they had a good commercial value so had to be sold! However, remembering the origins of 673, he had selected this bus for the Museum. (UDL 671S was also still available but has a mechanical defect).
Photos were then taken – including a selection by Chris Harris, W&D’s Public Relations Manager - and introductions made to various retired busmen including member David Pennels, formerly in the W&D Traffic Office and the undisputed authority on the Company. Finally a cake was cut by Alex and this was rapidly devoured by all concerned, as was the identical back up one purchased the previous day at Morrisons during shopping for the AGM refreshments! Apologies to the few who missed out on their slice of cake - take my word, it was very good. 673 had been rostered to work the 1230 service 21 to Yarmouth, so after a whistle stop Museum tour, Alex took the wheel from the Quay to the top of Hunnyhill (or PG – Pritchett’s Garage as it was known in SVOC parlance when 673 was new). He had to return to Southampton but expressed his eagerness to return to the Museum for a longer visit on a future occasion and with a long career with various NBC companies Alex does appreciate the VR! It was fitting on an afternoon run to Yarmouth 673 and H&D 3377 (which became SV 708/506) ran together to commemorate these vehicle exchanges.
A resume of 673’s history may be appropriate here. It arrived from Lowestoft in April 1978 and was allocated to Newport, with 670-2/4-6 while 668 went to Shanklin and 669 to Ryde. At the same time, Hants & Dorset received a batch of 6 convertible VRs (UFX 855-60S) which were part of a special build of 50 by E.C.W. to allow OMO on various seasonal services worked by crewed open-toppers. Having obtained their allocation, Hants & Dorset found they no longer required open toppers after a service reorganisation saw Bournemouth Corporation taking on a route to Sandbanks. Southern Vectis still had 5 LAs and an FLF on their open top routes so saw the chance to effect an economy by swopping their 6 newest VRs for 6 convertibles, which had probably only run in open top form for Derby Day 1978. One by one, 671-6 were exchanged (in numerical order) for convertibles with 673’s nominal replacement being H&D 3376 (UFX 857S) which became SVOC 707 (and later 505). The 6 closed top VRs entered service in the Bournemouth – Poole area as H&D 3414-9 still in leaf green livery although that company had adopted poppy red when it had merged with Wilts & Dorset. The former 673 was in due course repainted red but spent the next 19 years in the same area, latterly “cascaded” to the low mileage fleet for schools and local work and renumbered as 4416. As a prelude to privatisation and the break up of the NBC Hants & Dorset had been split up in April 1983 into Hampshire Bus, Wilts & Dorset and Pilgrim Coaches/Shamrock & Rambler, so all the ex SVOC VRs, allocated to Poole, became the property of Wilts & Dorset. Withdrawal came in 1998 and UDL 673S could well have been despatched to the Barnsley scrapyards at this time. However the privatised Wilts & Dorset, who had adopted a new livery of red, white and black, had embarked upon a programme of heavy refurbishment for many of its VRs so 4416 was reinstated as a float vehicle to cover for those despatched to Hants & Dorset Trim in Southampton for attention. It was then itself sent for the £14,000 rebuild which included work on front and rear domes, replacement of rattling slider windows with plain glass, fitment of yellow DipTAC handrails and complete retrim in grey moquette for both seats and ceiling panels. It returned to the associated Damory fleet at Blandford, receiving turquoise and white livery and a new fleet number (5066). It was set to operate another 10 years in this guise combining schools work with several deeply rural services around the Dorset lanes. During that time it made a successful journey to the Johnson’s VR Running Day (where Tony Johnson would then have happily purchased it for his VR fleet), a rally in Doncaster and various more localised rallies, including an I.W. Bus Museum Running Day. Ironically it was the availability of 1989-91 Olympians from SVOC and Bluestar that hastened the demise of the last VRs from both the W&D and Damory fleets. Both UDL 671S & UDL 673S were despatched to Swanage for storage last December but, following Go SouthCoast’s generous offer, the latter was brought back to Poole from whence it was collected by Chris Squibb on March 19th.
The first priority is to recertify the bus (due 6th June) but it will need some repanelling of skirt and side panels. It would seem a shame to rip out all the features of refurbishment for a return to Spartan orange vinyl trim compatible with NBC leaf green. Damory colours are thus those appropriate to the present internal condition which illustrate what could be done to extend the vehicle’s working life. Ironically, if Wilts & Dorset had been acquired by the Southern Vectis group at privatisation (and the rejection of their bid resulted in the Badger Vectis competition), all of their VRs would have been replaced by the late’ 90s.