Monday, 7 November 2011

Many Happy Day Returns

So, I’m now half way to getting a bus pass.

Just as well I was driving this weekend, on a little tour with friends to celebrate my 30th birthday. 270 KTA’s gift to her owner was to make it across the border to Cornwall and back without cause for embarrassment, and a jolly good time was had by all.

Our mission was a tour of the Rame Peninsula, often called Cornwall’s forgotten corner, which has some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and yet remains just a few miles from Plymouth. One of those miles is wet, and so provides an excellent excuse for a crossing on the Torpoint chain ferry – yes, with the bus...

After tea, cake and lovely presents, we travelled via leafy lanes to Plymouth, my home for the past three years and home to 270 KTA at various stages in her life, too.

Our official photographer was duly dispatched to get some atmospheric shots of us driving through the historic Barbican end of town. Here we are in Southside Street, flanked by pasty shops, ice cream parlours and pubs, with the chimney of the famous Gin Distillery as a backdrop.

One of the benefits of having the Met Office in Devon is that last minute requests for good weather are sometimes looked upon favourably, hence a very sunny trip around Plymouth Hoe, looking out onto “The Sound”.

The Torpoint ferry takes vehicles across the River Tamar between Devonport (Devon) and Torpoint (Cornwall). These days it forms part of a scheduled bus route, and SU coaches did use it on touring work in the 60s, but there’s nonetheless a certain amount of adrenaline as you board it. With clearance enough to drive on without losing any bodywork, here’s our friend enjoying the airs… and the fumes.

Once you're on, it's the one guaranteed trouble-free mile of the 70-odd mile round trip, and in the glorious sunshine most of our passengers took to the deck for a civilised stroll. And why not; it’s November!

You know it’s your Birthday when you’re allowed into the previously forbidden and hallowed territory of Torpoint bus depot – a long-held favourite of mine – for a pose…

… and given it’s my last 30th Birthday for a while, I thought I'd milk every moment. Had the depot foreman not driven past to see hoards of photographers in the middle of the road outside, we might have got away with it, too...

The five mile stretch along the cliff road at Whitsand Bay is breathtaking for passengers and drivers alike – perhaps for different reasons. A stunned silence filled 270 KTA as we looked down the 120m sheer drop to the beautiful sandy beaches, reachable only by foot and careless driving.

After a photo at Insworke (home to Conductor Farley, who was greeted by his Mum), we tackled a part of the bus route which has now been abandoned owing to tight turns. I can see why.

Journey’s end was Cremyll, geographically just a mile or so down the river from Torpoint, but about an hour by road at SU speeds. I say an hour, those speeds were to be greatly compromised on the return journey by the industrial quantities of roast dinner taken on board by passengers and crew at The Edgcumbe Arms – a fine terminus.

So fine, that by the time we emerged it was getting dark…

The journey home saw some beautiful sunsets, and I dare say a few contented noddings off. I know I caught up on a bit of sleep on the lanes just outside Antony…

It was a wonderful day in great company, and it was nice to hear 270 KTA filled with near constant laughter. (For all the right reasons.) No doubt she was practising for her own 50th Birthday celebrations next July…

Friday, 4 November 2011

P.A.R.T.Y. S.U.

Somebody's off to a party...

It probably speaks volumes that, whilst I have 270 KTA's 50th Birthday celebrations next July planned in precision detail, the plan for my own 30th was only fully cast in aluminium on Tuesday. And it's on Sunday.

270 KTA will be conveying a small party across the Tamar, via the Torpoint ferry, for a spot of lunch in Cornwall. In preparation, today saw an early morning wash in the rain and fitting of an appropriate destination blind. And number.

Full report to follow when I'm 30.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Loo Roll List

On my desk at home sits a list so long it had to be written on a loo roll.

Thereupon are recorded the many jobs I plan to tackle on 270 KTA over the next few months, now that the rally season is safely done.

Whilst I'm a long way from being able to tear off even the first perforated sheet, here are some photos to prove I've been winning...

First the broken injector pipe (No.2), which you'll recall unceremoniously fractured on the Kingsbridge Running Day. I've had a new one made at City Diesels in Plymouth, by a man who instantly recognised where it had come from.

"I used to work on those engines. They always did that - load of old sh*t!." Always good to find an expert...

I've now become an expert myself in how to fit No.2 injector pipes to an SU, a job which involves hooking it around the chassis and intricately feeding it along a path you wouldn't think something of that shape could take.

But it does... if you call it the right names.

One unexpected bonus is that, with the replacement pipe fitted clear of the chassis, the 'knocking' sound I've been complaining about for months (now semi-affectionately known as "Donk Donk Donk") has completely gone. That solves the mystery. One extra job for the toilet roll: I'm going to press ahead and replace the other three injector pipes, making some modifications to their shape to stop them from rubbing on each other, which at the moment they are.

By the way, I've been remiss in not showing you the outcome of my steering wheel endeavours, to which I've now put the finishing touches. Can you spot which is 'before' and which is 'after'?...

And while we're in the cab, a generous offer has been made by the two Head Sheppards to reupholster 270 KTA's driver's seat, which was left badly torn after years of stroking busmen's bottoms. Fortuitously, some years ago Mrs Sheppard Snr was presented with an industrial leather sewing machine as a gift from Mr Sheppard Snr (along with a roll of leather which just happened to match the seats in his Bristol FLF...).

The Sheppard Upholstery Works reports good progress. Here's the new leather, cut and prepared for stitching...

... and the foam from inside the old seat...

(Incidentally, markings on the base of the seat indicate this was originally the seat from 271 KTA - perhaps you'd like the old bits back, Mr Helliker?...)

Last weekend's mission was to flush out the coolant system and replace with fresh antifreeze and water; by the look of what came out, I'm the first to have done it for years. Having warmed everything up before opening the tap, it took a good 20 minutes of flushing through with the hosepipe before the water ran clear.

Poor old drains...

And so progress is made. Next up, the task of getting the electric door to work. As a motor retro-fitted to a weighty, previously hand-operated door, they never worked particularly well in service by all accounts, but getting it to work at all would be a bonus.

And, in a couple of weeks time, 270 KTA will have the responsibility of a little outing in celebration of somebody's 30th Birthday. Can't think whose...

Thursday, 29 September 2011

A Joyous Bundle

An exciting parcel has arrived which will warm the hearts of 270 KTA fans everywhere...

The OO-gauge Bristol SU coach models are here in quantity. Specially comissioned by 270 KTA's scribe, 30 of the little things will soon be heading to new owners as far flung as Scotland and the Channel Islands (real life SU coaches ended up in both places, incidentally).

As you can see, they come unbuilt in raw kit form, allowing their owners to recreate their favourite coach in a livery of their choice. One of the demonstration models was recently exhibited at the Model Bus Federation AGM, finished in poppy red and white as 270 KTA in her Devon General guise; let's hope this satisfies the desires of the growing army of 'red fleet' fans who are intent on persuading me to follow suit with the real thing...

I'm having four of the things. Watch this space to see how they turn out.

Alas, for those who missed out, the production run was a sell-out with even the samples being snapped up...

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

achievement [uh-cheev-muhnt]

- noun
1. something accomplished, esp. by exertion, practice, perseverance, etc.

Here I present some photographs which tell the story of a truly memorable weekend for our friend and her owner.

This tranquil scene by the sea belies the racing pulse and flushed cheeks that lead up to it. Thursday was to be my time for quietly getting re-acquainted with the routes 270 KTA and I were to tackle at Saturday’s Running Day; some chance! Armed with a dozen friends (many of them highly practised in the art of bus driving), we embarked on what was my first ever passenger carrying trip. In the spirit of deep-end learning, our tour took us along the narrowest single-track lanes of Beeson, around double-hairpin bends into Beesands, between stone parapets in South Pool and up many first-gear hills in between.

It’s hard to decide whether driving a bus load of people you know makes it better or worse when you mess-up a gear change, but I was ready for anything by the time we paused for Chinese in Kingsbridge on the way home. For the record, we even ordered some of the dishes using bus numbers…

I slept well that night, as did 270 KTA I suspect. Thanks to Helen Billington for allocating me a room with a view…

Among the preparations for Saturday’s outing were a good wash (thanks, Lee), a good mopping out (thanks, Mel), and a modest amount of ‘bullshit’ for the cameras. One thing that’s annoyed and puzzled me for a long time is an arrow shape which appears on the radiator grille when viewed from a distance, but like a magic-eye puzzle seems to disappear when you get up close. The only way to get rid of it was to paint the entire grille using a 3mm brush… and three hours later, get rid of it I had.

After some early fuelling-up on Saturday morning, our first trip was the 0932 feeder service from Loddiswell to Kingsbridge. To add to the nerves of driving an SU in front of my Dad for the first time, I also had Nick Helliker and Mike Ellis on board – between us we own roughly a quarter of the surviving SU population! Other riders of note in front of whom I’d hoped to retain crash-gearbox dignity include well-known preservationists Graham Thorogood and Neil Markwick, Graham Bailey who made it possible for me to drive in the first place, and photographer in chief Ken Jones, who is almost as much of an avid follower of 270 KTA as his dog.

Here I am at the ironically named South Pool, checking to see how much water had boiled out of the overflow during the long climb up from Sherford. By normal SU standards it wasn’t much – ‘finding its own level’ as I euphemistically say whenever it sprays boiling water through the driver’s cab window into my face.

It turns out 270 KTA wasn’t the only one boiling up on this trip. On arrival in Sherford, a furious lady resident accosted Conductor Farley and insisted that the area outside her cottage was not to be used for the turning of buses. We resisted the temptation to point out that it had, in fact, been used for that very purpose when buses used to run the route in the 1960s, and instead encouraged a full load of passengers to wave cheerily as she flew off on her broomstick…

Here’s a very significant moment in our weekend: 270 KTA outside her original home, the former Western National depot in Derby Road, Kingsbridge, now Jades’ electronics factory. Again, the smile carried by our friend somewhat contradicts the mood of her driver, who had just discovered why things had felt a little sluggish on the way home from South Pool… A fractured injector pipe.

Were it not for the brilliance of David Sheppard Senior, that’s where the day would have ended. With the engine running on three cylinders (it’s sluggish enough with the full four!), and fuel spraying onto the manifold, we limped home to enable the Engineer in Chief to begin the task of making an injector pipe from thin air. With just an hour to go before our next run, and two other buses already broken down, the pressure was on to make it work somehow.

Fifteen minutes before we were due at the bus station, my instruction came from under the bus: “Go and wash your hands – we’re off”. He’d quite literally saved the day…

(Photograph Courtesy of Laurence Mayhew.)

Off we went with a full load, 33 passengers plus driver and conductor, bound for East Portlemouth. This is the route which takes us through the aforementioned Beeson and Beesands, both even more tricky to negotiate with extra weight on board. After what seemed like a fifteen-point turn in East Prawle (thanks, parked cars), we eventually rolled down the hill into East Portlemouth some 61 minutes late…

We made up some of the time on the return journey, but not much, and we eventually arrived back at Kingsbridge bus station to find Colin Billington tapping his watch! We’d won the prize for the last bus back…

Strangely, we all managed a good drink that evening - tired, muscles aching, but happy. Really, really happy.

Sunday’s weather made me question whether I really fancied subjecting 270 KTA to the drive up to WHOTT’s annual rally at Westpoint, near Exeter, but peer pressure (and threat of being made to take a Bristol LH with no clutch) made me see sense. I was instantly glad I did, as our friend performed impeccably, and it was good to rediscover fifth gear again – the South Hams certainly had no use for it on Saturday!

And it was worth the drive just to enjoy this fine sight…

A tranquil end to a busy weekend with 270 KTA. I can’t wait for the next one.

Further photographs from the weekend are now beginning to emerge on Flickr and other sites. In particular, Laurence Mayhew’s collection is worth a look, together with PTOTPA. Thanks also to Graham from Plymothian Transit, for his kind words about the blog.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Grand Day Out 1

An eventful but ultimately successful day out at Kingsbridge Running Day for our friend, who carried nearly 200 passengers...

Full details in due course.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Day At Home

On Saturday, 270 KTA will be having a day out - at home.

The (now annual) Kingsbridge Bus Running Day is a recreation of the town's bus network in the 1960s, and as Western National's Kingsbridge-based coach between 1962 and 1968, 270 KTA will be an essential visitor.

I've taken the rest of the week off to make sure we're ready. Having returned from finishing the steering wheel project last night (I don't want to talk about that), I attempted something more creative into the wee small hours of the morning; being correct for her later life in Somerset, 270 KTA's destination blind doesn't feature Kingsbridge - or, rather, didn't, until I set forth with eleven sheets of tracing paper, a pair of nail scissors and two sticks of glue. Look okay?

One particular highlight will be between duties, when we'll be using the overflow parking at Jades Electronics factory - the old Western National Kingsbridge depot until 1971, and the very building to which 270 KTA was delivered new in 1962.

The journeys themselves promise to be a lot of fun. Our runs to South Pool and East Portlemouth are typical of the terrain which meant that the Kingsbridge fleet consisted of narrow vehicles, often single track with hard Devon banks on either side. And they're a twisty test of the driver's navigational skills...

Good job 270 KTA's a native; let's hope her memory's better than mine...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Where There's A Wheel...

It's back on.

Because it's late and I'm tired, I won't reveal now how this magic has been done.

What's important at this stage is that now the steering wheel and (proper) nut are both back on, so too are plans for 270 KTA and her driver to give some rides at Kingsbridge Running Day on Saturday week...

Having tantalised, I'll save that for later, too...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Bum Steer

The humble wedding ring has a lot to answer for.

After passing through the fingers of thousands of bus drivers, 270 KTA's steering wheel lost its war of attrition with the band of gold long, long ago. For every battle scar in its plastic coating, a new layer of tape - black, gold, and even bright red - has been wound around its surface like a giant bandage.

Now twice its original thickness, multicoloured, sticky, and with trailing ends that slime through your hands at every bend, it's become the job I really must tackle before we go out again.

I discovered this evening, there's a problem - somebody's already tried and failed. Quite spectacularly.

To get the steering wheel recoated, or even painted in the interim, it has to come off. Normally you'd remove the centre nut and use a pulling device to lever the wheel gently from the column.

Or, if you're silly, you'd just resort to bashing the centre of the steering column for no obvious reason, mutilating the threads and ending any hope of getting the original nut to fit. You'd then leave the steering wheel attached only with a token nut of the wrong size and thread and hope that nobody noticed. Guess which method was used last time?!

Far from the small task of getting the wheel repaired, I'm now faced with the challenge of finding a way to build up the steering column enough that a new thread can be cut into it. Otherwise, the steering wheel could fall of at any time!

Oh, and it has to be done before Kingsbridge Running Day in three weeks. Any ideas, then give me a steer....

Friday, 5 August 2011

Little Things

Great news for those eagerly awaiting the models of 270 KTA and her kind, mooted earlier this year.

A pre-production sample of the resin kit, specially comissioned, reached me today. It's great! The windscreens will need some careful attention to make them look right, but the basic body is spot on.

If you're one of the lucky 25, heralding from as disparate locations as Guernsey and Scotland, you can expect your bundle of joy in September.

But, as with a real SU, you'll need to invest a few hours before it's quite ready for the coach station...

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


As if there hasn't been enough to celebrate these past couple of months, 270 KTA is rejoicing in a milestone for her owner.

I've passed my PCV test, and now have a full licence to drive buses and coaches!

(Those interested can read more in this article.)

This is, of course, great news for anybody hoping to ride on 270 KTA. I've previously been allowed to drive her with only 8 passengers or fewer because of a legal exemption for drivers of buses over 30 years of age.

With a PCV licence we can participate fully in running days and carry as many of you as her 33 seats will take at a time. Form an orderly queue...

Roll on Kingsbridge Running Day, Saturday 17th September. More on that very soon...

Sunday, 24 July 2011

A Win!

Just what I need: something to polish

Not only did 270 KTA get along to her first rally today, she somehow managed to win me a cup.

"Best Single Deck Bus, 1962 to present" is a bold claim, and not one I'd make myself just yet; even at fifty paces you can see what needs to be done.

But I'll happily take some shiny silver credit for just getting 270 KTA to Plymouth's Hoe rally today; and how humbling that it's decided by a vote amongst fellow preservationists, people who know that making things look nice is the easy bit.

This was the empathy vote.

(And what a thrill to have the trophy presented to me by none other than BBC Radio Devon's Gordon Sparks, a man I haven't seen since last Friday...)

Well done, 270 KTA!

Friday, 22 July 2011

On the 'Oe

It looks dangerously like you might get to meet 270 KTA at a rally this weekend.

All being well, we'll see you on The Hoe on Sunday - a fitting first public outing for our friend.

You'll observe that whilst cosmetics are still a long way down the priority list, I've now made a start on polishing the first half dozen yards of the 27,000 miles of aluminium brightwork an SU has to offer.


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Other Kind of Ticket

We all laughed at 'On the Buses' when Eunice Black - playing the world's most over zealous traffic warden - slapped a parking ticket on the front of Stan Butler's bus.

It doesn't seem so funny now...

You see, the problem with having 270 KTA fit for the road is that I'm now bound to behave like an excited child and do all the little things I've been dreaming of since, well, I was one... like driving over to Totnes - a major haunt of Bristol SU's in their heyday - and pretending it's 1962.

In the old days, my chosen spot was one of several bus stops on The Plains, outside the Western National enquiry office. It's only natural that I should want to recreate the scene as closely as possible on the much heralded day I should get to drive an SU to Totnes...

Even if the bus stop is now a taxi rank...

I first noticed the warden's presence through the viewfinder of my camera - some irritating woman in a high-visibility jacket getting in the way of my shot. Oh bugger.

Fortunately, the warden was more sympathetic than Eunice Black. After an outrageous lie about having some problems with the bus, she waved me on with a pitying half-smile.

I think she knew my game; as if I'd have a problem with 270 KTA!


The trip to Totnes carried the thinly veiled excuse of needing to warm up the engine to investigate our rogue ticking noise. It turns out to be number 3 injector which is making the noise - not a major problem thank goodness, but something I'll put right in the next few weeks.

Then I can really get down to some illegal parking...

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Many Happy Returns!

Following a brief and triumphant hiatus, we must regroup in time to say...

Happy Birthday to 270 KTA, which turns 49 on 1 July!

Next year is, of course, the biggy. It probably won't surprise you to know that plans for a 50th Birthday party (actually, a tour) are already well in hand. More on that soon...

Since our triumphant MOT day, 270 KTA has acquired her first tax disc for some years and has been officially entered for her first rally in my care, on Plymouth Hoe in July.

Keen eyes will also have noticed our new 'Summer' banner at the top of the blog.

We didn't attempt the Royal Blue Run in the end. At 400+ miles, I'd already pretty much decided it would be overly ambitious as a proving run, and a couple of small outstanding issues on MOT day made up my mind to enjoy the ride as a passenger.

Now that she's been certified as safe, the next stage is to get the level of general maintenance to my satisfaction before I venture too far. The Hoe Rally seems like a good first run.

First job this weekend is to investigate a 'tick' which develops when the engine is warm. All ears suggest it's nothing serious, probably an injector, but best sorted. I'm also planning a full oil and filter change in the next couple of weeks.

So we're into a new and happy phase. The joy of many hundreds of little jobs 'to-do', combined with the ability to take the thing on the road.

The best of both worlds.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

We Passed

Today has been a milestone day for our mutual friend:

270 KTA now has an MOT!

I'll bring you some meaningful context when I've had some sleep, but for now, here's how the big day went...

0440 - Alarm clock rings, but is not required. I barely slept at all.

0554 - Depart 270 KTA Towers in blinding sunlight.

0619 - Depart South Brent services with a full tank of fuel. Owner's pocket considerably less full.

0758 - Arrive Sourton Services, having managed not to boil up on the notorious Haldon Hill. Driver realises he's carrying only 86p in cash, so writes off ambitions of a bacon sandwich and instead pursues tea.

0842 - Arrive Guscotts, Halwill Junction for testing. Dave is on good form: "Thought you'd try again, then?!"

0910 - Dave's helper rips his trousers (and skin) on the runners underneath 270 KTA's driver's seat. I hide the corresponding rip in my own trousers in the hope this is not seen as a safety issue...

0959 - PASSED. Dave breaks the good news from the cab window. "It's really nice, ennet".

1016 - Return journey is halted by a man waving his arms in the middle of the road. He tells of a serious accident ahead on the A386 Tavistock road, the one I need. Decide to divert via Bridestowe - looks like a big road on google maps...

1026 - Realise it's not a big road. It's single track, mainly uphill, and I can't turn round because I'm in a coach. After a long slog, we pop out on the A386. Back on course.

1135 - Two women at a bus stop in Tavistock flag me down, retracting their hands and shaking their heads at the last minute. Maybe it's because Bristol SUs haven't run in Tavistock for 35 years; or maybe they decided they didn't want the bus that goes to "Butlins Camp"... (I mean, it's not the school holidays yet, is it?)

1230 - Arrive BBC Plymouth, where I must begin a day's work while 270 KTA waits patiently in the seven private spaces coned off in anticipation of success. Among the spectators is my boss, who later sits in the cab and manages to break the engine stop cable. (Don't mention he's not the first... I might get a pay rise.)

1906 - Driver checks oil and water, mends the engine stop cable and performs a tight 180 degree turn in the car park.

2119 - Arrive 270 KTA Towers, jubilant but exhausted.

Our friend is back on the road.