Monday, 20 September 2010


270 KTA may not have been able to go to the ball, but her Fairy Godfather did bring her a coach.*

Here they are, the Sheppard SUs, together for the first time in almost 15 years. Following this weekend's brilliant Kingsbridge Running Day (more about which in a moment), an overnight stop for 275 KTA allowed for a reunion in the sunshine at 270 KTA's Devon home.

It's likely they are friends of old. They would certainly have worked together during the Christmas of 1965, when 270 KTA moved (briefly) from her Kingsbridge base to 275 KTA's native Plymouth depot.

Last time they met, at the Plymouth rally in Newnham Park in 1996, both were in the early stages of preservation. 275 KTA had made the the long journey from Berkshire, having only recently returned to the road after a decade in bits; 270 KTA arrived from Laira behind a Western National tow truck, having been donated to them for preservation.

This weekend, 275 KTA was very much a star performer at the Kingsbridge Running Day, where we were celebrating 50 years since the first Bristol SU took to the road. Among the highlights of a truly magical day, a journey on Service 110 saw us heading along the narrow lanes through Beeson and Beesands to beautiful East Portlemouth, with a full compliment of 33 passengers - who loved every minute!

As my Dad will attest (he negotiated the double hairpin bends on hills with customary skill, often to well-deserved applause from the passengers), the SUs come into their own on terrain like this.

When they're running, that is! The past few weeks show that 270 KTA has, realistically, a good few months of work in store before I can think of subjecting her to passengers with any great confidence. A check-over by my Dad (and Chief Engineer) this weekend has cemented that fact, and I'm now working on prioritising a list of 'little jobs' for me to tackle over the Winter months.

The weekend has spurred me on enormously, and reminded me that the occasional perils of owning a Bristol SU are worthwhile. 275 KTA travelled 470 miles in three days without a problem - a timely reminder that with excellent maintenance, they're excellent little vehicles.

So - 270 KTA will go to the ball one day. But not until I've stripped-down the glass slipper, cleaned it from top to toe and reassembled it with copper-slip. It should be easier to fit then, too...

*Comments from SU detractors about "ugly sisters" will be ignored.

Sunday, 19 September 2010


Together for the first time in 15 years: Full story to follow tomorrow...

Thursday, 16 September 2010


"On the third occasion - optimistically booked before I'd uncovered the full horror of the offside rear brakes - I chomped the hard bullet of realism and cancelled well in advance."
... and on the fourth occasion, the hard bullet of realism bit me.

Given the absence of jubilant updates last week, it will come as no surprise that our latest lurch at the green certificate wasn't the triumph I'd hoped for. Sadly, the mission was aborted within a few miles of base, when multiple problems suggested it would be wise to turn back while I had the option.

Firstly the brakes, though greatly improved since our first adventure, were still not quite to my satisfaction on Devon's hills; the re-build of the rear brakes has undoubtedly worked wonders, but there's still not the braking response I'd hoped for beyond shunting in the yard. I conclude that the front brakes will require a similar rebuild, and perhaps the vacuum servo will need attention, too.

Also, a gentle 'knocking' sound - evident since it I bought it, whenever the engine is warm - seemed to increase in volume during our journey; coupled with some dense black smoke on the hills, these are all signs that I need to do some more work before I trouble Mr Guscott again.

One great sadness for me is that 270 KTA won't be on the road for the Kingsbridge Vintage Bus Running Day this Saturday, where we'll be celebrating 50 years of the Bristol SU. Not only was she originally based at Kingsbridge (the only remaining SU with that claim), but she now lives so tantalisingly close to where five other SUs will be recreating a 1960s timetable in celebration of their half-centenary.

I couldn't have tried harder to have her ready. But with every week I've worked on her, it's become more and more clear that 270 KTA needs quite a bit more work than her reasonably tidy cosmetic appearance would suggest. And ultimately, that's what real preservation is about; doing things properly, instead of the patching up and bodging which has kept many a vehicle mobile (just), until somebody takes responsibility and does it properly.

And Do it properly I jolly well shall.

Happily I'll still be there on Saturday with my Dad and 275 KTA, an SU which (it's heartening to remember) we've successfully brought back from an even more sorry state. Although mine won't be at Kingsbridge, I hope we can bring the two together at some point over the weekend for the first time in fifteen years. Last time I managed a photo I was just 13...

So it's looking as though 2011 may be 270 KTA's year instead, with an exciting winter of challenges to come. It'll make that first rally all the more exciting, whichever one it is.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


Dave Guscott - the affable boss of Guscott's Coaches in Halwill Junction, North Devon - will chuckle to himself when he sees what's booked in for MOT next Tuesday at 1000. It'll be the fourth time my name has appeared in the bookings this year.

We failed to reach North Devon for our first appointment back in March, after 270 KTA developed a heart-shuddering banging noise just a few miles from home.

Having replaced the diaphragm in the governor, we did make it across Dartmoor in April for our second appointment; however, given the braking problems which became all too apparent en-route, it's a miracle we made it back again.

On the third occasion - optimistically booked before I'd uncovered the full horror of the offside rear brakes - I chomped the hard bullet of realism and cancelled well in advance.

The reason so many West Country preservationists travel to Guscott's for their MOTs is that, unlike the majority of commercial MOT stations, Dave understands how old vehicles work. He sticks unbendingly to the rules, and crucially, he'll tell you if there's something wrong with your bus. In 270 KTA's case, back in April, there was: the brakes, which had somehow passed a test elsewhere just a year or so (and very few miles) previously, were far from up to the job. Not that I needed to be told after a terrifying drive...

"Otherwise, it's all good", said Dave, with words that give heart for Tuesday.

We'll see. This weekend I'll finish off servicing the handbrake linkage, and then spend some time adjusting the front brakes, which are actually pretty good as they stand. I'll then pull her outside for a good scrub inside and out.

One other prepartion for Tuesday will be the coning-off of five parking spaces in the BBC car park. Come what may, I'll need to be at work as normal on Tuesday afternoon, and will therefore be arriving by coach.

That should raise a chuckle, too...