Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Le Pétomane's Exhauster

Established readers will recognise this as a sign of peace at 270 KTA headquarters. 

Another triumphant MOT means another Woody's Wonder Breakfast (allowed only after a pass) at Sourton Services... and, of course, another year of motoring. Let's never take that for granted.

I say it's a sign of peace, it isn't quite. In recent weeks our friend and I have fallen out over several small issues, not least a bloody irritating whistle coming from the exhauster (which creates vacuum to assist the brakes). The whistle only occurs when the engine is really warm and, hence, two attempts to solve it when cold have failed. 

On our trip home from Guscott's yesterday, we were treated to a unique concert piece - imagine Roger Whittaker meets Le Pétomane.

The culprit is, I'm pretty sure, the copper washer which sits between the exhauster and the banjo bolt on its side. It's a bespoke size, so not just a straightforward change, and the usual warm-up/cool/replace routine hasn't worked. Nor has covering the whole assembly with sealant in a fit of rage at the roadside. So I'm about to have some new washers 'made special' as Doris Hare would say - enough for the Brother and other relatives should they start these cabaret performances of their own.

All being well, we'll be enjoying a quieter Kingsbridge Running Day together on September 16. Come along and listen...

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

All SUmmer Long

Looking at the sunny photos, you'd be forgiven for thinking this Summer has been like the long hot one of '76.

(This was not such a good one for our friend, incidentally. Having been withdrawn by Western National in July 1976 it spent most of the Summer of Love dumped alongside Radipole depot in Weymouth, before being sent to Barnsley.)

This Summer has made up for it. Each of 420's many outings this Summer has been in glorious sunshine.

Palm trees, beaches, flower beds and hanging baskets have all featured. And, because nothing's ever as idyllic as it looks, so too have non-standard fuel filters, battery chargers and rattling cab floors - but let's not spoil it.


TV&GWOT's annual Royal Blue Coach Run in June was as intrepid as ever, taking us from Northampton to Bournemouth, Bournemouth to Exmouth, and Exeter to Windsor, across 3 days. Our friend was not a planned performer this year, with a decision being taken to concentrate Sheppardian efforts on taking 275 KTA (often junior and senior factions don't get to see one another when both vehicles are involved!).

However, a last minute problem with 425 meant that an emergency 220 miles dash was made from Devon to Northampton - the furthest North our friend has been in my ownership, and possibly since its return from near death in Barnsley during that aforementioned Summer...

However, a last minute problem with 425 meant that an emergency 220 miles dash was made from Devon to Northampton - the furthest North our friend has been in my ownership, and possibly since its return from near death in Barnsley during that aforementioned Summer...

Glorious weather accompanied our trip across the New Forest in convoy with Mel Williams' Bristol RELH 1460, seen pausing for breath en route to Bournemouth.

Here we are, squeezing through lovely Lyme Regis on Day 2, and posing on The Cobb opposite the former Golden Cap Cafe, visited by many an SU coach over the years...

... and then pausing in Beer, the optional section of the route for 7'6" wide vehicles (and intrepid drivers) only.

With DS Senior secretly enjoying the opportunity to drive a different SU, we were all quietly marvelling at how far 420 has come from its sickly arrival in our world in 2009. The thought that it might, one day, be summoned for a 600 mile round trip at a moment's notice, would have once been laughable. And yet...

In July, we were joined by The Railway Ramblers, who had selected the former GWR branch line to Kingsbridge as their next walk.

As the former Kingsbridge coach, and possibly a performer on rail replacement duties when the line closed in 1963, 420 was the obvious choice of steed for the sections of the journey where they were unable to walk. These wild flowers are seen outside the former Avonwick station.

The following day brought the HTC's superb Devon Coastal Run, a first for our friend but once an annual event for your scribe. After a great time I plan for it to become so once again. More flowers here, this time along the seafront at Livermead near Torquay.

 "Will you come to our car rally next July" came the question last December, as I boarded a Santa Special at Buckfastleigh. The rally in question was the Torbay Old Wheels Club's gathering on Paignton Green, a magnet for more than 400 preserved vehicles.

420 was the only coach, and his owner was delighted to be asked to open the show and give out the prizes at the end. I even received one - for giving out the prizes. Another charming day and yet more superb weather...

All eyes are now on 420's MOT (early September) and preparation for Kingsbridge Running Day. In addition, there's been lots more progress on his brother (see www.BDV252C.co.uk) and a few little fuelling issues to solve - I'll save talk about those for a rainy day.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Silent Running

Hasn't it been quiet around here lately? 

There are two possible explanations.

One is that the sleepy winter months have left me with nothing to report. Our friend has been locked away in a prison of darkness, peacefully awaiting warmer, happier times when the Albion sun will rise and the music will start again...

The other is that there's hardly been a moment to breathe, let alone write with a steady hand... 

You know us well enough to be able to decide...

Since the start of the year, we've covered another 700 miles, attended five events, carried 500 passengers, ticked off a load of mechanical and cosmetic jobs from the eternal loo roll list... all whilst trying to make headway with the restoration of our friend's brother... (not to mention helping to get Conductor Farley's Bristol VR back on the road after a four year absence, commitments for TV&GWOT, our charitable Trust; plus, of course, the 'day' job which actually involves working nights)...  

Our friend's Winter hibernation actually turned out to be shorter than many people's Christmas holidays, with a Trust Open Day in Devon at the start of January, for which a tour on a genuine Kingsbridge coach was essential. The route took us through now familiar Kingsbridge Running Day territory across Gara Bridge, through the valley, past the former Loddiswell Station and up the hill to home.

A week later, we were visited by Isle of Wight royalty, Ben and Charissa Bartram (of Beer and Buses fame), calling for another tour, this time along the route of former 93 through Blackpool Sands to Dartmouth. I don't recall the original 93 stopping at farm shops for breakfast and beach cafes for ice creams, mind...


We'd barely had time to tear off a few sheets of the loo roll list before we were back in action for Exeter Bus Station's farewell event in March.

This was originally to be the final weekend of operation for the iconic Paris Street bus and coach station (whose heritage, you'll remember, we celebrated back in 2012), before demolition and redevelopment as the inevitable hyperspace bypass, or whatever is planned. In fact, we may have another chance to come back and do it all over again, as issues with the developers mean that it will remain open for now.

The day went ahead nonetheless, and 420 was to represent the many Western National coaches which have passed through it over six decades, with short workings of a Royal Blue route to Pathfinder (we haven't always found our way there successfully... have we?) and a trip to Exeter airport.

Now, remember James and Charlotte

Having an SU amongst your wedding guests automatically means that when little babies come along, buses and coaches are already in the DNA. 

It was a delight to take baby Oscar for his first SU ride around his home city, along with Mummy and Daddy, Nanny and Grandad, while Uncle Matthew was hard at work with his camera... and poor old Uncle Tom was just hard at work.

Our trips to Penzance, for our annual Vintage Bus Running Day, are never taken lightly. Your scribe's preventative maintenance policy goes into overdrive when faced with the 400 mile round trip, and several little jobs were completed ahead of this year's pilgrimage.

This year, we were joined by SU royalty, in the form of Trevor and Shirley Leach - owners of West Yorkshire SMA 5 - and also favourite Uncle and Aunt to my SUs. It was just as well, as routes this year were as adventurous and complex as ever, and the Conductor's role was not an easy one. In Ludgvan, a Church service had to be interrupted to ask for a hazardously parked car to be moved to allow us to proceed. The owner wasn't forthcoming, but we found a way through without incident. Bravo for the calming influence of a Yorkshireman and his good lady wife!

Less hampered by bad parking, our little trips to Sancreed were a highlight for photographers and crew alike. Our friend's shimmering sausage proved popular with the cameras...

The SU owner becomes quickly accustomed to tricky routes, and the wonderful Taunton Vintage Bus Running Day, in May, gave us a new challenge - the 280 to West Monkton. Operated by SULs for many years (most often 268 KTA, but perhaps even 270 KTA during its Taunton years, 1970/1).

Our friend was to be the first SU to return to the village in many decades.

So, you see, silence can be deceptive. My next challenge will be to bring 270 KTA's brother's blog up to date with all that's happened on his restoration amidst these adventures. Pop along there in the next few days for an update, but brace yourself - it's been far from quiet...

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Island Special 4

How better to convey the spirit of our island adventure than this video, taken aboard our first trip to Gurnard on Saturday 15 October 2016 - the first of such operated by a Bristol SU in over 40 years.

The film captures our first departure from Cowes (Westhill Road), and shows our friend meeting some of the island challenges with great aplomb. Listen carefully for witty ripostes from Conductor Farley, buoyed up by the triumphant atmosphere of this heady occasion.

Here we are at The Parade in Cowes, having conquered Gurnard, smiling as if mischief is being done - and yet, so far, so good...

As it turns out, our friend's performance was impeccable on this and every other island trip, almost as if to prove a point. These were happy times and, as if in defiance against Southern Vectis' dim view of his type, 270 KTA showed aptitude and willingness at every turn. And on this route, there were many...

This being the Isle of Wight Beer and Buses Weekend, most turns were outside pubs, and jolly revellers frequenting the northern network of the weekend's bus network joined us in steady numbers, especially on the Sunday.

Even the draw of liquor was not enough to coax 270 KTA's stalwart crew away from duty, however, and our friend proved a constant performer on Route H throughout the weekend, shifting crowds with near-full loads at busy times, with especially heavy duties after Sunday lunch.

Ah, yes - lunch.

Perhaps there was something to keep Driver and Conductor from the crowds for at least 10 minutes, when a break at Cowes allowed for fish and chips while a marshal stood guard over our friend...

This was a truly memorable weekend for all the right reasons and 270 KTA lived up to the trust placed in him by a begrudging yet doggedly optimistic owner, who was thus proven both wrong and right by a steed which performed faultlessly throughout. 

Few things in life are worse than leaving the Isle of Wight, and the journey home was a very sad affair, made bearable only by two things... 

1) Great memories from a wonderful holiday for coach and owner alike; and...

2) A gruesome looking, but massively tasty beetroot and red onion scotch egg from 270 KTA's favourite deli in Yarmouth.

Total trouble-free distance, home to home: 492 miles

Water miles not included.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Island Special 3

You join us on the Isle of Wight Ferry, after a successful journey from South Devon to Lymington, en-route to the island's Beer and Buses Weekend.

This was 270 KTA's first water crossing since it last encountered the Torpoint Ferry and, almost certainly, its first ever departure from the UK mainland since it was built in 1962.

Any classic vehicle owner will tell you that trusting its survival to a floating vessel is an irrationally nerve-wracking experience. Minor potential for sinking aside, the vehicle is suddenly obliged to work on command or else face total humiliation and expensive recovery bills to secure its future on either side of the crossing.

Fortunately, and some may say incredibly given its temperament, our friend entirely overlooked the opportunity for disgrace and behaved impeccably, clearly as excited as his owner at the adventure which awaited.

The excitement of both showed on the island roads between Yarmouth, Newport and Ryde where, in the late October sunset, 270 KTA bowled along like a native. We arrived at the former Southern Vectis Ryde Depot - nowadays the Isle of Wight Bus Museum - in high spirits. It's not often things go better than expected...

After a Thursday night amongst friends at Ryde, Friday was to be our friend's day for a tour of the island.


An essential place for photographs was Ryde bus station, a formative location for your scribe's early bus spotting days as a child. Usually on a Summer Saturday day-trip from Berkshire, my Dad and I would arrive at Ryde Esplanade station and buy our Southern Vectis Rover Ticket; often the lady in the Travel Office would encourage my enthusiasm by handing me a pile of spare ticket rolls to 'play' with, completely unaware that I had a working ticket machine to put them in at home!

This, of course, is the photo that every island-loving, train-spotting vintage bus owner dreams of (there are more than you might think).

And for those who like Hovercrafts....

Other locations visited included...


St Helens and Bembridge

Shanklin Station

The former Southern Vectis Shanklin Depot and Bus Station

The former Southern Vectis Ventnor Depot
For the next two nights, 270 KTA was to stay as close as possible to our apartment in Ventnor, saving space at Ryde depot for the larger and less adaptable buses. Adaptable little Bristol SULs certainly are, as this photo of our friend settling in to his temporary home proves.

This explains why I'm now a fully paid up member of Ventnor Tennis Club, who very kindly allowed us to use their car park for two nights. This was not only secure but a pretty spot, reached via a very tight reverse manoeuvre between two stone gateposts; we became quite good at that. 

After a fun day, it was time for bed ahead of the main event...

To be continued...

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Island Special: Part 2

In Part 1, I made our departure for the island sound like a whimsical, capricious affair - as if we're now so confident in 270 KTA's performance that we can run off and behave like the Famous Five. 

Regular readers will be rightly suspicious, so I should declare there was actually much preparation. A minor weep from a fuel pipe at Kingsbridge prompted a major pre-island obsession with fuel delivery, leading to the replacement of the main pipe between the injection pump and the fuel filter, the latter also being replaced and other potentially vulnerable pipes sleeved or re-routed.

The previous pipe had been cobbled together by Mr I. Bodgem using a couple of olives, loosely-fitted to a dubious length of 1/4" steel pipe. In disgust, I sourced some proper brass ends and soldered them nicely to a new length of copper pipe, and replaced the unions at either ends with fittings that were made for the job.

I also made it a pre-island priority to solve, finally, the old issue of throttle-return springs, long since replaced after multiple failures but never to my satisfaction. Subsequent springs have always weakened when warm, causing the throttle to stick during gear changes and the driver the blush on occasion. I had springs of the required length and tension specially made and, on the advice of Basher the former Weymouth Inspector, in large enough quantities to allow spares to be carried.

Speaking of carrying spares, this box was assembled for our trip to the island and virtually contains a spare SU chassis in kit form. Alongside the vulnerable throttle-springs are most hydraulic cylinders, associated repair kits, assorted pipe ends, filters, a reconditioned fuel lift-pump, pipes and a selection of ends, hoses, jubilee clips and assorted fastenings. There was no question: we'd get to the Isle of Wight and back...

Less crucial for getting-there in one sense, but just as vital in another, the traditional handmade Sheppard destination blind resulted from several hours on my knees with a roll of tracing paper and and pair of scissors. Not bad from a distance.

And so - as I remember saying before - we set off... via the A38, A30 and A35 to Bridport, Dorset - a very famous haunt of the SU.

Western National's Bridport depot was among the final bastions of Bristol SU operation into the early 1980s and, like the Isle of Wight, it's unlikely that one has returned since. Our friend looks just right against the gates of the 1972 depot site, where we made a brief pause for our lunch. 

And where better for a picnic?

Okay, so this is a bit more scenic, as we made our way via Burley and the New Forest towards the start of our 1700 ferry crossing at Lymington...

 To be continued...