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Frontline Fenlander

Twenty days after being collected and painted into Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport's orange and white livery dating from 1987 to 1993, GCT 113 attended her first rally as a true GCT vehicle.

Fenland BusFest takes place annually at Whittlesey near Peterborough and has grown to incorporate additional events that are taking place in the area or that have been designed to run concurrently. For the past few years, BusFest has been organised to tie-in with a classic car show, initially located at Thorney, though since last year based at Ramsey.

This has an effect on the schedule for the various free bus journeys that take place each year. I'd been told my services would be required for a return trip from Whittlesey to Ramsey, followed by a return trip to Turves followed by a final return to Ramsey.

Organised by the Eastern Bus Enthusiasts (EBE), the event has grown exponentially since the early days when a fledgling event was held during 2012 to commemorate what would have been the 90th anniversary of Whittlesey-based independent bus and coach operator Morley's. The company ceased trading during 2005, but their legacy would live on with routes radiating from Whittlsey to Thorney and Turves being operated by a small contingent of enthusiasts and with a little help from local operators Stagecoach and Delaine Buses, who each donated a bus and driver.

Today's event would be the seventh of its kind to be based in Whittlesey and as with previous years, special mention of local businesses in the rally programme has ensured sufficient goodwill as one of the town's main central roads is closed to accommodate visiting vehicles. In previous years, local pubs have actually commissioned a special 'BusFest' ale for purchase on the day.

GCT 113's first departure was at 1115, operating Service 341 to Ramsey via Pondesbridge and Ramsey St. Mary. The pick-up point was Whittlesey Market Place, as ever, and the queue was similar to that seen on occasions at Sea Road in Cleethorpes with holidaymakers waiting for the bus to the holiday parks. Wow. My conductor ensured everyone was seated and we departed on time with a full load.

I'm not quite sure when the last time GCT 113 operated with a full, seated load! With 74 on board, she handles noticeably differently, especially the steering! Despite this, we headed off to Ramsey along the B1040, which is no different to most Fenland B-roads - very bumpy. Fortunately, GCT 113's full load helped iron out the severe undulation.

We arrived in Ramsey on time and all but 4 passengers alighted. The small market town was heaving. There were 104 classic car entries at the rally there (which, similar to BusFest, had humble beginnings being based at Thorney until last year and having previously had just 30 entrants).

The photo below showed another full load waiting to board this Grimsby stalwart. Again, with similarities to Cleethorpes, Sea Road on a Saturday after the train from Sheffield had arrived, demand exceeded capacity and I had to leave people behind. Luckily, the BusFest organisers were running Service 341 every 15 minutes so those unable to travel on GCT 113 only had a quarter of an hour to wait for another bus (though almost certainly with a roof).

The weather was superb. Coming the day after the union of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at Windsor, rally-goers were also afforded a little special treatment with exceptional weather. It was classic open-top bus weather.

Back at Whittlesey, the drop-off point is the town's small bus station. Here all passengers need to leave and head back to the Market Place while vehicles head to the lay-over area, taking the first space they see until five minutes before their next departure time when they need to head to the Market Place to load.

I was next scheduled to work the 1255 Service 350 to Turves - a former Morley's route - and as I arrived at the Market Place at 1250, I was asked if I'd mind heading to Ramsey again as the driver for the 1245 departure hadn't turned up. Again, there was a massive queue that would have overwhelmed the 1300 departure (which I'd been told was a single-decker), so I agreed, loaded up and departed 11 minutes late bound once again for Ramsey.

This second trip operating the route of Service 341 was remarkably similar to the first. Again, huge crowds were seen at Ramsey and the six marshals were ensuring the buses using the main bus stop here were prioritised and that passengers were queued ready to board. Yet another full load later, I signalled my intention to leave and the marshals stopped the traffic to allow me to pull away. There was a very professional set-up at Ramsey.

Back to Whittlesey GCT 113 headed. While heading between Ramsey Forty Foot and Ramsey St. Mary, I spotted something very strange - my speedometer needle was accurately showing the speed travelled! Ever since it was reconnected when the analogue tachometer was removed, the needle works and the odometer records accurate mileage, but the actual speed travelled is wrong. Yet now, for some reason, it was right!

Again, passengers alighted at Whittlesey Bus Station. As one lady left, she thanked me for 'saving' the bus. She (I think) said she worked at Stagecoach's Chesterfield depot and said she always felt it wrong that the bus was parked there 'having birds sh*t on the top deck seats' all the time. Quite.

Time for a break now and I was pleased to see another Lincolnshire stalwart park alongside GCT 113 - ex RoadCar Leyland Olympian/ECW 603 (B503 FFW), new to Lincolnshire Road Car in 1985 and had previously worked through Grimsby on the then-branded HumberLink Service X21, operated by Louth depot. The bus was painted in a commemorative livery by RoadCar in 2003, celebrating 75 years of the company. The bus has lost the commemorative branding now in private ownership, but has retained the colour proportions of this special, historic LRCC livery.

My final journey was at 1530, again bound for Ramsey. This was the quietest trip of the day. The journey also coincided with a friend whose wife was Cleethorpes born and bred and both travelled aboard GCT 113 passing comment how well the bus looked. His wife was particularly happy to be reminded just how Grimsby and Cleethorpes buses used to look inside. GCT 113's original interior clearly brought it all back.

We made good time to Ramsey and had over 10 minutes stand time here before departing at 1600. With the assistance of my friend Dave, who'd driven a GCT Fleetline before - along Scarborough seafront for Shoreline Suncruisers (it was GCT 108, a Daimler Fleetline/Roe, part of the batch previous to that in which GCT 113 featured) the upper deck was fully seated and we had around 10 spare seats in the lower saloon.

A few more photos later at Whittlesey Bus Station, it was now time to head back to northern Lincolnshire.

130 miles and around 430 passengers later, the day finally drew to a close for GCT 113. It was quite easily the perfect first outing in GCT colours. Fantastic, open-top-friendly weather, good organisation and happy passengers. Here's to the rest during 2018.

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