Monday, 22 September 2014


The Grand Circular Somerset Expedition
It is Saturday (6th September) and Mrs fbb is catching the 0630 train from Axminster to attend a prayer and bible study day in Wimbledon. How will fbb fill his wifeless day? Answer; with a bus tour of plenty of Somerset, starting from Taunton at 0755.

The plan was to travel from Taunton to Bridgwater; Bridgwater to Burnham-on-Sea, Burnham to Weston Super Mud, Weston back to Bridgwater by a different route, Bridgwater to Watchet (near Williton but not shown on the map above), Watchet to Minehead, and Minehead back to Taunton. Then back to Axminster to meet the spouse at 1905. Travel between Axminster and Taunton was to be by car due to time constraints.

Why, you may ask?

fbb is not familiar with this part of the UK, having visited Weston and Minehead briefly on a family holiday some 20 years ago; so three purposes motivated the chubby one.

1. See more of the county that you do when you drive
2. Observe competition between Buses of Somerset and Webber Bus
3. See how well buses are publicised

Buses of Somerset [BoS] service 21 covers the first three stages of the expedition.
Recent developments have seen the 21 running every 15 minutes from Musgarve Park Hospital (Taunton) to Bridgwater, continuing every 30 minuted to Weston.
Webberbus competes throughout the route, but NOT as one through service.

Or with one route number; thus confusing fbb.
The on-line timetable shows service 15/75 between Rockwell Green (similar to BoS 22) ...
... and the Hospital to Taunton as service 15, then on to Bridgwater where Webberbus' 15 pumpkin turns into 75 and thus on to Burnham-on-Sea. Note that Webberbus' on line timetable is very small, is not a PDF so doesn't enlarge and is thus difficult to read (and reproduce for this blog!)

Arrival at Burnham Pier Street is at 14 and 44 minutes past each hour; where (to quote Webbers) there is a connection between 75 and  service 76 to Weston.
Only partly true. The 76 is only hourly ...
... and there is an 11 minute wait northbound and 12 minute wait southbound. Hardly a slick connection! Webberbus can't manage any maps so we have to turn to Traveline.
The 76 turns inland at Berrow and follows the "white and blue" roads on the BoS map via East Brent. The buses show "Fast via East Brent" on the screens ...
... and have a journey time of 37 minutes, whereas BoS takes approx 20 minutes more.

So; BoS and Webberbus, contrast and compare.

Overall BoS has a simpler, more frequent service.
BoS has clearer on-line information; timetables you can actually read!
Neither company published detailed fare tables
The perception is that Webberbus is cheaper
Webberbus vehicles are newer
When the buses are in BoS green they look better
When in First livery they look awful

Buses of Somerset - looks nice
First Bus - looks awful
Webberbus : too cluttered

But, as always, livery is a very subjective matter.

Who is winning the war? There will still plenty of visitors around on 6th September and most of them were travelling with OAP passes. Indeed there were very few cash customers; fbb estimates that, on most of the journeys he used, less than 10% of his fellow travellers paid with real money. The exception will be dealt with in a later blog.

Overall. though, both operators appeared to be carrying "average" loads, certainly not (highly?) profitable, with First doing better between Taunton and Bridgwater.

Both operators currently have a ludicrously cheap weekly fare.

Buses of Somerset

We’re cutting the price of our Jackdaw ticket!
From the 18th August, this ticket will cost £15
on all of our services anywhere.
Travel all week on all services for just £15 !

But the variety and complexity of Webber's fare "offers" is bewildering, as well as being named after birds!

Jacldaw, Magpie, Parrot, Starling, Flock, Swift; plus Early Riser, Kids4aquid, College, Avon Rider and Weston Rider are all listed on their web site; mostly with no actual prices. BoS "offer" fares are more transparent with the actual prices shown and much easier to understand.

But, of course, this simplicity falls apart when BoS impinges on its former bedfellows at Weston super Mare and Bridgwater. There are Weston area tickets which are, presumably, valid locally on BoS.
Or are they? Then First Bus operates the 375 and  X75 between Bridgwater and Wells, shown on the BoS map display at Bridgwater bus station but NOT in the BoS timetable. There is a joint local fare ...
But your weekly ticket on the 375/X75 is presumably properly priced ...
... rather than heavily double (treble) discounted. The only ticket that admits to being valid throughout "Wessex" and (Buses of) "Somerset" is the day rover.
BoS may be "part of First" ...
... or as one green-liveried bus announced, "brought to you by First", but, at the fringes, it becomes confusing and complicated.

For the record, fbb rode BoS double deck from Taunton to Bridgwater; then, after a "comfort" break, Webberbus to Burnham-on-Sea; thence 76 "fast" to Weston. The plan was then to catch the 21 back "slow" via Burnham to Bridgwater before striking out west towards Minehead.

It didn't quite work out that way as we will see in due course.

But tomorrow, Bridgwater.

 Next GCSE blog : Tuesday 23rd September 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

From Curlers to Couplers Part 2

And Bullets to Beer.
Not everything Peco developed was a success. British Railways experimented with the "Road Railer" concept in the early 60s and Peco backed the idea as a winner.
It was a van body with road and rail wheels which could be pulled by an artic tractor unit; or joined together to make a train. It was unsuccessful and Peco were left with lots of unsellable models.
really? a real road railer revealed

Rosebud Kitmaster entered the Model Railway market in 1959 with a range of locomotive and carriage kits. The carriages were well-detailed but without interiors.
So Peco started production of cardboard kits for seats, luggage racks and people.
In 1962 Rosebud sold out to Airfix who retained some of the locos in their range but discontinued the carriages. Again this left Peco with egg interiors on their face. In the 1968 catalogue these were still for sale as being "easily adaptable to many coach styles and sizes." They weren't, at least not "easily". Airfix later went phut but many of the locomotives are still available from the Dapol (ex Airfix) kit range.
Kitmaster/Airfix/Dapol "Pug"

Triang produced TT3 from the late 50s as a smaller option compared with 00. TT3 was "Table Top" 3 millimetres to the foot as opposed to 00 which was 4mm. The Triang stuff was crude and unreliable and the marque did not last but became a specialist modellers scale. Peco were still selling stuff in 1968.
Meanwhile Lone Star began producing their Treble-O-Lectric range in 1960 (000, later gauge N). This scale was 2 millimetres to the foot and although crude at first ...
... developed into a hugely popular style of modelling which is still popular today. The quality and detail of modern N gauge stuff is astounding ...
... and this time Peco made the winning bet with a superb range of wagons ("Quality Line") all made in their own factory.
And remember, this wagon is about 1½ inches long!

But in 1963, the company introduced its 00 gauge plastic based track in one yard lengths. Called "Streamline" it was immediately a huge success. Very strong, easy to bend into attractive curves and easy to cut to length it was a winner. fbb bought some!

Pointwork soon followed and then "Setrack" which came in chunks like a traditional child's toy train but realistically scaled. The company exports to 35 countries world wide and the present track range is enormous. The web site lists over 150 track products for 00 alone.
Three different sleeper types are produced to which has been added a fourth, a style favoured in Europe called "bi-block".
The two halves are joined together; buried under the ballast are steel rods!

The Streamline track range now includes all currently "popular" gauges between "Z" and "1".

fbb is not connected with Peco in any way and no longer has a model railway; attempts to get one going have proved fruitless, overtaken by more important things like work and family and shortage of cash! But, in a way, he has grown up alongside Peco and low lives but a few miles from the factory.

It was in 1973 that Peco moved to new premises on the outskirts of Beer. The factory employs about 100 staff plus 30 seasonal extras for the Pecorama tourist attraction.
Beautifully kept gardens, fun places for children, a vast permanent model railway exhibition plus the usual shop, cafe all contribute to a good value visit. Details of winter (limited) opening from the Pecorama web site (here).

The miniature railway (check dates) is superb and you might be lucky to meet a couple of locomotives of interest.

Mr P (leaflet front cover, above) is named after the company's founder, Sydney Pritchard; and Claudine ...
... is named after his wife.

Peco has gone a long way from a few couplings and wheels made out of the leftovers from a closed munitions plant.

fbb can wholeheartedly recommend a cream tea in the Orion Pullman Coach that graces the entrance area ...

... but you should check opening times as the Autumn draws on (here).

And if ll these 00s, TTs, Ns and 000s confuse you, here is Peco'sown explanation of what it is all about.
 Now you know.
What a Welcome
No 3 son has just attended an important conference in Austin, Texas, in connection  with work. fbb has no idea exactly what his work is.
But he did like the hats!  But guess what his favourite fast food might be?
National bad spelling day?

What a welcome!
 Next bus blog : Monday 22nd September 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

From Curlers to Couplers Part 1

and From Bullets to Beer
Karl Nessler invented the "perm"; more specifically a machine to impart waves to a lady's barnet** using heated electrical elements. His equipment was terrifying ...
... despite the smiling face of the customer/victim. His assets were seized during the First World War and he restarted his business in London but later fled to the USA where he became an American citizen. The managing director of the London business was a Mr Sydney Pritchard. The products were marketed under a French version of the name, Nestlé, although with no link to the chocolate manufacturer.

During World War 2 the business diversified into producing armaments and was advised to move out of London, for obvious reasons. A property was found in Branscombe, Devon. It was a newly built but as yet unused bus garage. After the war it became a motor repair shop and filling station.
The building still stands, although much changed, and is now the obligatory flats. The mouldings above the former ground floor doorways and windows can just be glimpsed in this Streetview shot.
After the war, chemical "perms" were fully developed and there was little demand for Herr Nessler's torture machines; although Mrs fbb was once the user of its successor, her precious set of Carmen heated rollers..
Sydney was a lifelong railway enthusiast and designed  a coupler for Hornby Dublo model trains ...
... as seen on the back of this 3 rail N2 tank. Its useful feature was that a truck, carriage or loco could be lifted out from a train without dislodging its neighbours. Mr Pritchard refused to sell his idea to Hornby but instead negotiated a fee of ¼d (a farthing) per coupler used. With the proceeds of this well-thought-out deal and some leftover metal rod from the wartime munitions work he started his own company. It still makes the coupler although it is no longer popular with modellers.
He named his business the Pritchard Patent Product Company and at first used a PPP logo. Later this became shortened and simplified to:-
Another clever idea of his was to use anodised aluminium as axles for sets of metal wagon and carriage wheels. This ensured electrical isolation and made the product suitable for the up-and-coming two rail systems.

The company's main product has always been track. In the early days it consisted of fibre strips of sleepers to which rail was affixed by pushing little spikes into a soft insulation board surface.
Pointwork was also available.
By now the company had moved to lavish (?) premises on Station Road, Seaton (later renamed Harbour Road).
the building still stands, sort of, but is almost unrecognisable with canopy, larger windows, extra storey and an orange and white paint job.
Ground floor front is a cafe; the rest is a flooring warehouse.

Other product ranges followed. Peco Wonderful wagons were just that. A nylon underframe ...
... was fixed to a cast metal body with holes already formed. The spigots were melted with a soldering iron (fbb used his father's cigarette lighter!) and cardboard sides and ends ready imprinted and moulded were glued on.
By today's standards they were crude, but compared with Hornby timplate ...
... and with the upstart newcomer Triang in plastic ...
... they were, well, wonderful ...
... even in black and white.

fbb bought two in 1955 (?) with a fair wodge of his holiday spends, much to the disgust of mummy and daddy. He assembled them on the beach. Incidentally, the Hornby tinplate wagon illustrated above is on sale on-line for £48 (here). Bet you wished you'd kept yours!

But the model railway world was changing rapidly, and Peco changed with it.

We move into the 60s tomorrow.

**barnet : "Barnet Fair" = hair, cockney rhyming slang.
Just over a week ago fbb was drawn to a meeting of the Axe Vale Heritage Association. The speaker was Michael Pritchard, son of Sydney and soon-to-retire current MD of the company. His talk was utterly fascinating, particularly on the company's early history. Mr M is just as camera shy as was Mr S and fbb was too excited to remember to take a photo at his talk. 

The fbb's are paying a second state visit to the Isle of Wight with cat sitter, neighbours and a contingent from G4S ...

... patrolling their extensive back and front yards to maintain security. Blogs for the next few days have been pre-posted to appear automatically each day, but comments may go unacknowledged. The Island schedule is frantic and wifi availability uncertain.

Normal service will be resumed on Wednesday.

An email from our Island correspondent confirms fbb's arrival arrangements.

All is going well for the impending Royal visit. The entire island has been repainted and Calthorpes Road should have been resurfaced! The Boathouse (nosh - fbb) is booked for 1pm and we will meet you there. The Lord Lieutenant is unfortunately at another much less important event so will not be at Fishbourne to formally welcome you.

Typical of Lord Lieutenants; no sense of priority! Seen here recently welcoming another OAP.

 Next Peco blog : Sunday 21st September