It is almost fifty years since ‘Dekkabus’ flagship classic double-decker first arrived in Dorset.
On the 23rd of May 1967, new bus chassis 236149, routinely set off from Bristol’s Motor Constructional Works for the two hundred and seventy mile journey to Lowestoft. There it would receive a seventy seat double deck body. A little over two months later on the 31st July, the completed Tilling Green-painted FLF ‘Lodekka’ was received in by staff at Hants & Dorset’s Southampton Stores.
The bus was in fact part of an order of twenty two Bristol FLF Lodekkas, which was to be the very last batch of conductor-operated half cab double deckers to enter service new with Hants and Dorset. The batch consisted of eleven with Bristol BVW engines and the other half with the Leyland O.600 unit, and all twenty two had fluid flywheel and semi-automatic transmission.
Fleet number 1557 was numerically the second vehicle in the batch to be introduced on August 1st 1967, but although was initially given the registration number KLJ 22E, subsequently received the number KRU 224F before entering service; This was due to the UK year-letter suffix change occurring in August from 1967, rather than on January 1st, as had hitherto been the case.
Our brand new seventy seater FLF Lodekka was allocated along with one of her sisters, to Bournemouth Depot in the Summer of 1967, where she would remain for the rest of her service life with Hants & Dorset. She could most often be found plying the Poole – Wimborne – Bournemouth route, as well as the 23 Bournemouth – Wallisdown service. Drivers were immediately impressed by the semi-automatic transmission on these new buses, though crews did report increased noise levels as compared to the earlier Lodekkas.
On the 5th September 1971 a full-fleet renumbering took place to coincide with the absorption of the Wilts & Dorset vehicles into the now increased Hants & Dorset fleet. 1557 then became 1254. Repainting of the existing fleet into the new National Bus Company Poppy Red livery also soon got underway, and by the end of 1973 a good number of Lodekkas had been changed. 1254 however, would have to wait a further two years to receive the new livery and was in fact the last double decker in the fleet to be repainted!
During the service life of any bus there is always a chance of accidental damage occurring and unfortunately, 1254 suffered a very bad rear-end collision with a lorry in Ferndown sometime during Spring 1978. Early withdrawal and disposal was considered, but in the event she was driven up to Southampton’s Winchester Road body shop and happily was repaired, receiving a complete new rear-platform and full repaint before re-entering service at Bournemouth depot for the remaining two years, when all Lodekkas were finally withdrawn in November 1980.
During 1979, a pair of young local enthusiasts Tim and Geoff began to make enquiries to Hants & Dorset about the availability of fleet number 1254 for preservation. They would eventually purchase the bus, and arrived at Poole Garage one cold morning in January 1981 to collect the vehicle and take to her new home; a farmyard near Colehill, where she happily resided for the next thirty years.
During the ensuing two years, the pair were kept busy with restoration work on their newly acquired project, first attending to the interior, and then in the Summer of 1983 was returned to original Tilling green and cream livery in which she remained in for the next thirty years! At around this time, the original black and white painted fleet number plate turned up having spent some years in a local enthusiast’s collection, so 1254 became 1557 again!
The following years saw our bus leading a very active semi-retirement. She was the original ‘flagship’ vehicle of the ‘Wessex Transport Society’, and was the focus of the club’s formation in 1983. She was kept busy attending many bus rallies and running days, helping friends transport wedding guests, and taking part in several films during the 1990s! Throughout the whole of this time, 1557 was locally based, being stored in a barn on a farm near Wimborne.
At the end of 2015, an already well-loved, preserved bus was put up for sale by it’s group of owners. Not just any vehicle; but a bus that has always had a special place in our founder Director (Trevor’s) heart. In 1975, Trev’ joined Hants & Dorset Motor Services Limited as a Conductor and was regularly allocated to this particular vehicle to undertake his duties. A year later saw Trevor drive this bus out of the blazing Bournemouth Bus Station inferno to safety.
The temptation was too great! Trev’s heart took over his head and a deal was struck to purchase the vehicle from it’s previous owners of the past 36 years.
To justify such a huge investment, the decision was made to bring the vehicle to such a high standard that the vehicle could re-enter active service as a Public Service Vehicle after a retirement of over 36 years stored away in the back of a barn.
After an extensive overhaul and refurbishment costing many, many thousands of pounds, the end result is a vehicle presented to the highest finish, maintained with pride and passion and driven by only the chosen few.