I know exactly how the rider of Sunnyhillboy - who came second in Saturday’s Grand National – must feel right now.
For sportsmen, there’s a well trodden paddock of self-analysis where narrowly missing success amounts to little more than complete failure – a place where it’s little better to almost succeed than not to have taken part at all. It’s ground I’ve trodden myself this weekend.
True to my pledge, 270 KTA did make it to Penzance this weekend, and crucially, did make it back home again; but we didn’t take part in the running day.
A mysterious tick developed en-route and soon grew into a deafening bark which, frankly, worried the life out of me. It turned out to be coming from the exhaust manifold, which had worked itself loose and consequently blown its gasket.
Although it didn’t render our friend immobile, it made the ride sufficiently uncomfortable that I wasn’t prepared to subject passengers to the noise - or, selfishly perhaps, her driver to the shame of taking people out on a vehicle that clearly wasn’t right. So I decided she should spend the day resting at Long Rock depot in Penzance. We nearly tasted success.
Let me tell you, it’s thoroughly depressing and actually quite lonely when something like this goes wrong. There’s a feeling of letting the side down, of being a bad person; it must be like your child throwing up during the school nativity play. (Incidentally, I did that as a child, too – maybe I am a bad person?)
For me, the nadir of the weekend was watching all the other buses around 270 KTA peeling away, one by one, disappearing for a day of adventure in West Cornwall. There we were in sudden silence (ironic, given the problem), and there our friend would remain.
As it happens, I had a good day riding around on everybody else’s buses. But it wasn’t quite the reward I’d hoped for after weeks of late nights trying to get 270 KTA ready for her stint. I'm still quite sore about it.
But look. This was not a complete failure. By my reckoning, the 200 mile round trip to Penzance was the longest journey 270 KTA has completed in my entire lifetime – the last time she covered a distance like this was probably when she travelled west from Sussex in 1981. I was busy being born. Since then she’s not really been fit to complete a journey like this, until now.
It’s easy to forget that 270 KTA is only now emerging from years of neglect – of course we’ll have problems. And besides, all the issues I’ve been working so hard to fix over the last few weeks and months appear to have gone. Despite the noise, she actually performed well.
To celebrate all the above, I took 270 KTA for a lap of honour… well, perhaps not honour… but a lap of Penzance Bus Station at the very end of Sunday, so that at least it felt like we’d been able to join in.
These pictures prove we made it. To me, it was worth the effort just for them.
Bloody deafening, though…
(Next weekend 270 KTA is expected as a guest of honour at a friend’s wedding down the road in Plymouth. So this week I have the task of sealing up the manifold enough to quash the worst of the noise. Then, it’s the fiddly job of removing the manifold and changing the gasket completely; it’ll be a busy few weeks at 270 KTA HQ.)
I’ve cut my thumb on a grindstone, been burnt by hot oil, hit my head twice, been soaked to the skin several times then wind-dried in a gale. I've spent more money on oil this weekend than Russia, and watched most of it quite literally disappear down the drain. I should have just gone to Bognor.
I can only begin to recount the pain and frustration our friend has caused this weekend. I say ‘friend’, we’re not speaking at the moment. I walked away tonight without the usual glance back over my shoulder, not because I didn’t want to, but just to make a point. I’m a very cross owner.
The main source of frustration has been the oil filter. What should be a routine change has been made hellish by the fact I’m obviously the first person to bother in over 30 years. The type of filter hiding in 270 KTA was phased-out when the SU’s were in service, and since then most have been modified to take a more contemporary filter. Evidently mine escaped, and if anyone’s ever considered it they’ve promptly decided it’s a job for someone else…
And that’s turned out to be me. But these days even the modified filter is obsolete.
The most frequently asked question when people see an old bus is “where do you get the parts?”. So here’s the answer: you make ‘em. To cut a long story short, I cut a long filter short, created a rubber seal and a spring using a modified tap washer and a door stop, and it’s just like the real thing.
It’s this kind of ingenuity that keeps old vehicles alive. Crude though it sounds, a lot of precision thought has gone into making this thing: Mr Sheppard Senior has spent days researching filters to find ones with the correct end fittings; the tap washer is made from a plasticised rubber which won’t rot when surrounded by oil, and fits the recess in the filter perfectly; and the doorstop has the ideal properties for a light spring to work in compression. Plus the latter two were both available from B&Q over the Easter weekend.
But with 270 KTA, that’s not good enough. There has to be pain.
So far the new filter’s been on and off six times, having managed to spray 8 litres of brand new oil over the South Hams. First it was through the main seal, then it was through the nut on the top, and now it’s coming out through the pipe at the front. As I write, I’m waiting for some liquid-metal to dry on a stud which has come loose in the housing. After that, we should be in business.
(Update - it didn't work. Back to drawing board on that one...)
There have been other, more successful missions this weekend, but I won’t dwell on them. Right now I need some sympathy. Never mind whether the coach will make it to Penzance this weekend – will my thumb be on it?...
Avid readers of the blog will have heard it all before (twice, in fact…), but this year we’re definitely off to the Penzance Running Day - even if it kills me.
And well it might. With under a fortnight to go we’re nowhere near ready. Alongside various lumps of the bus soaking in my kitchen sink, there are still a good many pre-Penzance jobs waiting to be started. The famous loo roll list still has much to be wiped off.
But be in no doubt: we are going to Penzance.
Like the Kingsbridge event, Penzance is a day when buses of the right kind and colour to recreate the golden age of transport in the town. It’s as much for the general public as it is for gricers, and it’s always great to see new generations learning about what was once a way of life in their part of the world.
That’s why we do it; well, that and the chance to dress up and play at being bus drivers for the day. The swashbuckling Pirates had nothing on a Western National uniform…
I honestly don’t know when 270 KTA last made it so far West, if ever. Cornwall is the only part of Western National’s territory where she never got to spend any length of time, although she did end up languishing in Willis’ Bodmin yard for many years after her passenger carrying days had ended. But Penzance was a stronghold for many other SULs (267-9 KTA started out there), so she’ll look ‘proper job’ to the locals.
First though, here’s to ten days/evenings of intense work. The new injector pipes are now in place (buggers to fit, every one), so my next job is to change the oil and fuel filters, probably for the first time in decades. Mr Sheppard Senior has supplied cross-reference part numbers for new filters which, with some modifications, should do the job nicely.
Then to the engine-stop mechanism. You’ll recall that during 270 KTA's visit to my work last year, a senior BBC manager… well, managed to come away with the engine-stop lever in his hand. It turns out the original stop-cable had long since been replaced with a cheap piece of old garden wire, itself repaired several times since and very fragile. It was waiting to happen, but don’t tell my boss.
Here are my plans for something more substantial:
Once that’s fitted we’re into the less pressing stuff, like a jolly good clean – oh, and finishing off the broken door motor I started repairing six months ago.