Sunday, 22 August 2010

BUS STOPS

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress", so said Frederick Douglass. He'd have loved the SU...



This weekend saw an historic moment in the project to rebuild 270 KTA's rear brakes. Pulling her out into daylight today, I put my foot on the brake pedal and... the thing actually stopped! This is progress.

It's certainly a marked improvement on four months ago. The rear brakes were reporting an efficency of 30%, with the park brake barely holding it on the flat at 15% efficiency. Looking at the records from previous owners, the brakes had passed the last MOT in 2008 with just 1% in hand!

A strip-down and rebuild was the only option. It turned out that both sides, as well as being long overdue a general service, had some faults.


On the nearside, the top shoe was barely making contact with the drum when the brake was applied. Closer examination revealed that the steady-bolt (which should be adjusted to ensure the shoe is square with the drum) had been over-tightened, and so the shoe was so far out of alignment that only the outside edge was touching the drum. No wonder it was only 30% efficient!

On the offside, two big problems had coincided to wreck the shoes and the drum. Firstly, the hub bearings were loose, so the brakes were fighting against play and drift from the drum. Also, some twirp had seemingly been unable to fit the shoes onto the adjuster (admittedly, I found it difficult, too), so had left the adjuster butted-up to the shoe at ninety-degrees to the slot into which it was supposed to fit!

The steady-bolt issue had been down to worn threads in the backing-plate, so in both cases these had to come off and have nuts welded to them. This also gave a good opportunity to tidy-up the chassis and springs, and apply a few coats of silver.



The bi-sectors and adjusters for each side were stripped, cleaned and reassembled with much copperslip (my new favourite smell), and newly re-lined shoes were fitted to both sides. Colin Billington was able to provide a brand new drum for the offisde, still chalked "BIDEFORD" from its days in storage with Western National. I was very proud to be the one finally to fit it to an SU...

Having completed the rebuild yesterday, today I adjusted each side in turn, before trying the results in the yard. A nice firm pedal was a sure sign of improvement, as was the alarmingly short travel on the handbrake lever, with arm work reduced by about 75%! As it happens, I've since removed the handbrake linkage for further tightening up, as promised - it's currently like the proverbial "stick in custard" at the back end.


For now though, I'm reliving the sense of satisfaction I felt when hitting the pedal today, which eclipsed the many struggles I've overcome in the past few months. With another weekend's work, I'm confident I should be ready to try out those MOT brake rollers again for a slightly more brutal measure of my progress.



Whilst I've done all the work myself, thanks are due to my Dad, whose only hours away from the Chief Engineer's Advice Line in the last four months have been spent working at his lathe, machining parts for me. Thanks also to Colin Billington for his invaluable help in sourcing parts, and to a man I know only as "Kevin", who repairs tractors in the Devon hamlet of Woodleigh - he's the nice man with the mig welder, you see...

Saturday, 14 August 2010

FOUR LEGS GOOD...

For the first time in many months, 270 KTA is spending tonight on all four (well, six) wheels, following a successful day completing the rebuild of the offside rear brakes.

There'll be a return to the blocks briefly next weekend, when I revisit the nearside to fit new shoes, but with everything so recently reassembled I hope this should be no more than a morning's work.

I'll then adjust the newly rebuilt brakes on both sides, before tackling the rather sloppy handbrake linkage which currently seems to travel in all sorts of unexpected directions when the park brake is applied. My plan is to strip it down and adjust the rods from scratch, given the brakes it controls now are very different to the ones it was tugging at six months ago.

Full details of the rear brake rebuild to follow soon, but for now I'm rejoicing in today's success with a bottle or two of Quercus IPA, from 270 KTA's local brewery in Kingsbridge. And the coach, meantime, is enjoying its own weight once again...


Friday, 6 August 2010

THE STORY SO FAR...

Welcome to the blog. Ever since I bought 270 KTA last December, I've been meaning to find a way of sharing our many tales with friends, enthusiasts, sadists and anyone else to whom they may appeal - and here it is.


From boiling-up in the midst of a drugs raid near Plymouth, to an emergency stop at Morrisons in Tavistock to buy 24 bottles of mineral water; from explosive backfiring in the face of a South Hams gardener, to shooting myself in the eye with brake fluid; you'll get blood, sweat and tears by the gallon here. (N.B. We work in imperial.)

But first, we've some catching up to do...

Many are confused, amused and bemused that I should have such a fascination for a type of bus that retired from regular service some years before I was born.

My association with the Bristol SU actually goes back to 16th June 1990 when, on the HCVS Ridgeway Run, I first saw Colin Billington's 286 KTA. I was instantly taken by its quaintness - much like a Bristol MW in size, but considerably lighter 'under foot', with smaller wheels and thinner profile - and charmed by its unusual bulging headlights.

Aged 9, I meticulously researched my new favourite single deckers, and presented my primary school teachers with many a hand-drawn image of what they took to be 'just a bus'. Little did they know...

In fact, the SU became just as much a part of my childhood as if I'd grown up in Devon or Cornwall in the '60s. In a moment of weakness in 1993, my Dad - previously not a great fan of SUs - conceded that they were in fact "quite sweet", and bought 275 KTA from Colin Billington for us to restore. We'd already proven our capabilities with our Hants & Dorset FLF, by then in rally condition, and 275 KTA was to be the next challenge.

Aged 12, I began collecting photographs of SUs in service and, uncannily, the very first photo I bought was this one: of 270 KTA in Trowbridge, c.1968.

As the collection grew, the original photo remained a favourite, and I was pleased in 1995 to learn that 270 KTA had actually survived. It had recently been donated to the Western National Preservation Group by Willis of Bodmin, albeit in a bit of a state. Imagine my delight when, at the 1995 Plymouth Rally in Newnham Park, the opportunity to take this photo arose...

I followed the fortunes (and otherwise) of 420 through the years that followed, and when I found myself at BBC Plymouth for a job interview in 2008, it was no surprise that immediately after my grilling I went clambering up the bank behind Chelston Meadow depot in the hope of catching a glimpse...

As it turned out, I had more success with the job than I did with the photo, and I relocated to Plymouth in November 2008. One of the great perks, if not motivations, was to be the active West Country preservation movement, and a string of rallies on my doorstep - in the case of Plymouth's Hoe rally, quite literally, and in July 2009 guess who I caught up with...

Little did I think that five months later I'd be sending off the V5...

As a result of downsizing at the Western National Preservation Group, 270 KTA was set to pass, along with other buses, to Colin Billington. Being fully stocked in the SU department, he offered me first refusal, and thanks to his help the unthinkable happened almost overnight.

270 KTA was towed to her new home on 4th December 2009, untaxed and without MOT, and oddly with very little input from her owner-to-be. WNPG carried out the tow while I was busy on other bus related business in Cornwall; and completely by chance our journeys coincided near Landrake. In a moment I'll never forget, weeks of conversations and years of dreams suddenly turned into a reality: 270 KTA was heading my way, quite literally.

No doubt, both 270 KTA and I owe a large debt of gratitude to WNPG for keeping her alive across two decades. Into 2010, quite a bit of mechanical work is needed to restore her to the road. In due course I'll post a more detailed diary of what's been tackled so far, including a very leaky fuel pump, a puntured diaphragm in the governor, and a thorough rebuild of the rear brakes which were badly in need of attention.

Once MOT'd, I plan to carry out various preventative measures, such as renewing water hoses and re-routing some pipes which are in danger of rubbing. Perhaps more excitingly I want to spend some time on getting the cosmetics right, including a full repaint into the correct shades of Tilling cream and green and application of original 'serif'-style transfers.

Bold plans, indeed. As a preservationist's assistant of some 20 years standing, I should know better than to make plans, and this blog will no doubt serve to highlight that error time and time again. But beyond the tales of over-confidence and optimistic deadlines, I hope the blog serves as a lasting record of what goes into a project like this - and, of course, the unquantifiable but immense pleasure that comes out of it.

Read on!