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.

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