Friday, 21 December 2012

2012: A Special Year In Pictures

It's now just over three years since a tow truck drove into my world with a big green pest tied to the back of it.

Before then, life was probably peaceful, predictable and calm - I'm now too tired to remember. But I'm glad to say it hasn't been any of those things ever since.



In this special festive post - a review of 2012, our friend's 50th anniversary year - new readers will come to understand why the chaotic life is altogether more exhilarating and fulfilling. Our friends of old will smile and nod as we relive the joys and pains of an incredible 2,500+ miles of motoring in the naughty but entirely lovable Bristol SU coach we count as 'our friend'.

Click the links to read what we wrote as we went along...

2012 began with the loo roll list, the menu of Winter tasks so long that only a toilet roll could provide sufficient length for its scribe. You'll recall that 270 KTA had made its tentative return to the road only six months earlier, after a long illness.



Among the jobs ticked off before Spring was the changing of the injector pipes, the correction of a leaky hub, changing of the filters, fitting of a newly dipped steering wheel, fitting new batteries and associated cleaning up and chassis painting underneath. And that was just sheet one...


Of course, nothing is ever as easy as the forecast, and the beleaguered expression of your scribe suggests there could be easier Winter sports than trying to get an SU back on the road...


Yet, back we were by April - briefly. Our third attempt at attending the Penzance Vintage Bus Running Day was a success only in as much as we got there and back. A blown manifold gasket resulted in some of the loudest noises you can reasonably imagine a little four-cylinder Albion engine being able to make, and I decided to spare the public a noisy ride - and myself the embarassment. We limped home, but not before I'd taken a photo which proved that, at long last, our friend had been to Penzance...


I had a week to patch things up before the wedding of friends Linda and Mark, whose guests I'd promised to transport in style. With gaskets bunged up with Gun Gum (brilliant stuff to get you home - and to weddings...), we made it. I'm very glad we did.


The changing of the gaskets was an unpleasant job, but rewarding in its own way. With a week to spare, it was finished in time for a busy weekend in May, when BBC Radio Devon's two most devoted listeners joined us for a cream tea outing to Slapton Sands in the morning...


... and in the evening, the guests of the Stagecoach South West Long Service Awards posed alongside 270 KTA for their official photographs. Here, our friend waits patiently for her owner to stop making bad jokes on stage at Sandy Park, hallowed turf for Exeter Chiefs fans.


With another MOT success in June, albeit an eventful one, 270 KTA would be good to go for the celebratory tour I'd planned to coincide with the week running up to the 50th anniversary of her delivery to Western National in June 1962.


Beginning at the Weymouth rally, we visited each of the areas in which 270 KTA had worked during its time with Western National and Devon General between 1962-76 - in most cases, for the first time since then. We recreated photographs around Weymouth, Trowbridge, Bridgwater, Taunton (above) and Newton Abbot, ending up with a celebratory picnic in the former Kingsbridge depot yard - her original home - on the anniversary itself. It was one of the proudest weeks of my life, and the 50th Anniversary Tour write-up makes for a heartwarming read.


With confidence building in our steed, the annual Royal Blue and Associated Motorways Run didn't seem as daunting as it had done last year, when I concluded that our friend wasn't yet in good enough shape. Not so for 2012, when we successfully completed the run from Exeter to Salcombe, Plymouth, Bodmin and return to Bath.


Peter Murnaghan's fine on-the-road shots show 270 KTA passing Liskeard in the company of best friend 275 KTA, a more accomplished (and slightly faster) member of the Sheppard family. Incidentally, rumours that our friend was overtaken by a cyclist on this run are entirely true...


The annual Plymouth Hoe rally gave an opportunity to catch up with Trevor Layland, a former Western National driver who was based at Totnes for many years. Trevor used to drive the SU coaches a great deal (most often 1222), and having exchanged photographs in recent months I thought we'd better see if he still looked comfortable in the seat. He did!


August witnessed the coming of age for long-suffering Conductor Farley, a great supporter of 270 KTA even if not the greatest admirer of its type. By way of persuading him of its merits, we organised a trip across Dartmoor for 30 of his pals. Despite selecting one of the hottest days of the year (and consequently boiling up on a particularly tough hill), we made it to Princetown for a heavy lunch at The Plume & Feathers. To say the Cornish can drink...


Yet more old friends turned out for our favourite event of the year, TV&GWOT's Kingsbridge Vintage Bus Running Day, in the shape of Brian and Ron, the only Western National Kingsbridge drivers still alive today. They remembered our friend very clearly, and had no idea it was still going. Another emotional moment for 2012.


Fortunately or unfortunately, they weren't able to join us to sample my own driving on the notoriously hairy East Portlemouth route, which we conquered successfully for another year, though with little regard for the timetable...


A second return to Wiltshire came in October, and a very welcome chance to carry passengers on some of our friend's old Trowbridge-area routes at the Warminster Running Day. This was glorious, and will henceforth become an annual pilgrimmage.


Making the most of the 50th year, activity has continued well into the Winter of 2012. TV&GWOT supported an event in November hosted by First Great Western on the Liskeard-Looe branch line, which saw the return of the Great Western Railway Society's steam rail motor to Cornwall. Toegther with Colin Billington's Bristol H, 270 KTA provided a connecting bus service which followed the train, Titfield Thunderbolt-style, through the Cornish countryside.


The first of the two weekends went swimmingly, though the second was marred for us by gearbox troubles which, typically, I've been unable to replicate now the time has come to investigate. Better add it to this Winter's loo roll...


And so it is that the pest of old has brought adventure and joy to the lives of many over the past twelve months. More than 2,500 miles, well over 500 passengers, it's surely been a most glorious 50th year for 270 KTA. And, as I look back on the 1,000+ photographs I've taken to prove it hasn't all been a dream, I realise it's been a very special year for me, too. Chaotic, exhilarating, fulfilling... and very special.

Happy Christmas to all who follow our adventures - there'll be many more in 2013...