Sunday, 1 December 2013

One for the Animals

Ken Jones's dog, an avid reader of this blog, writes...

"Do I have to step in to write an update for 270 KTA, whose blog has not been updated since October? I want to dispel immediately that young David has another love in his life and is up to some hanky panky."

You're quite right, Doggy. I've been very remiss this past month, and it's not due to hanky panky. I haven't had time for that either. Today is, in fact, my first full day at home in 36 weeks, and even that's been enforced. This has been one heck of a busy year.

Here's what's kept our friend busy in the last month or two...

The annual Warminster Running Day was a triumph, if near-apocalyptic in terms of weather. Our now customary schedule of 242's to Westbury and 247's to Frome (both routes were operated by 270 KTA in the late 1960s) was supplemented by a trip to Longbridge Deverill in such driving rain I could hardly see the road. Funny how full loads always turn up for those occasions, if only to create more steam on the windows...

We also paid a visit to Warminster Barracks, on the outskirts of the famous lost village of Imber, where passengers dutifully obeyed instructions not to take photographs...

... of anything except the coach and the tank.

I often forget how, in a short space of time, our friend has progressed from a dead vehicle to one I'll happily take on a 200 mile mission such as this without huge concern for how I'll get back.

Which just goes to show how silly I am.

Our next outing was preceded by yet more battery problems, a characteristic flaw of 270 KTA since birth if the stories are to be believed. To cut a long story short, he specialises in dead cells, and we're now on our third set in four years. I've finally bought some decent ones, so we'll see how long they last.

The Exeter Twilight Running Event was nothing short of magical, with nocturnal operations based on the bus station in Exeter and covering a range of Corporation and Devon General routes.

With 'red' heritage, 270 KTA was a welcome visitor and carried good loads on some of the tightest routes Exeter has to offer.

After a search of nearly four years, we're beginning to haul in some original-style wheels. Several are now owned, but this was the first to be remanded in custody. Kindly donated by fellow SU owners Terry Partridge and Terry Bennett, in exchange for a later-style wheel, the ceremonial handover was at Winkleigh in October.

When you're cursed with an eye for details such as these, only a right'un will do! This, and others, will be cleaned up and fitted over the Winter months.

And one final, sad development...

It's with great sadness I must report the demise of Partridge the farm cat, one of the least active and yet most supportive followers of 270 KTA's exploits, who passed away this week after a short illness.

Without his regular inspections, I might well have met a few more deadlines instead of charging around the shed to rescue him from underneath buses or heave him down from high ledges. Certainly, I would have eaten more of my own sandwiches. But without his company I'd have had some lonely winters and all at 270 KTA headquarters would have missed out on some of their best laughs.

It's not an overstatement to say that life will be transformed without him.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Sublime Chaos

It's been a busy fortnight for our friend.

Following the Kingsbridge Branch Line commemorations at the beginning of September, we launched straight into the annual highlight of 270 KTA's calendar: the Kingsbridge Vintage Bus Running Day. This year, 35 appropriate vintage vehicles operated an intensive bus service around the South Hams, centred on Kingsbridge Bus Station, the original home of 270 KTA

Here, in pictures, are some highlights...

When you come along to a well organised running day, it feels as though the whole thing has happened by magic. In reality, the wizards are real people who spend many months folded over timetables and plans; and for Kingsbidge, the final days leading up to the final spell are not so much filled with boiling cauldrons as buckets of filthy water, as bus after bus gets a wash. Here, our friend and his friend dry off in the autumn sunshine after their turn.
Anything not look right, here? Ah, good. You failed to spot another of my home-made destination blinds, which had kept me awake with glue and scissors for most of the nights leading up to the running day. Very few real Kingsbridge blinds have survived, so needs must...
Here's a proud moment. This year's running day saw five Bristol SUs in service, by my reckoning a record in preservation. Here, the Sheppard clan are reunited with 1202 (336 EDV), the sole surviving early-style SUL coach.
The Kingsbridge event isn't complete without the now customary 'victory' shot at East Portlemouth, just to prove we made it. For our new readers, I should explain that this is one of the more challenging routes amongst a pretty tricky repertoire for drivers. It's 270 KTA's third year on the route, and it's still no less nerve wracking for the driver...
Sunday involved a procession of Western and Southern National vehicles along a portion of the famous 93 route, from Kingsbridge to Dartmouth. Here, the two Sheppard SULs have made it to their destination, and look very much at home in a town that was dominated by their type for almost twenty years.
Running Days are also about bringing friends together, and making new ones, too. Here, two old enemies - the Bedford OB up front, ousted by the SUL in the early 1960s - agree to put the past aside. 270 KTA is, no doubt, planning some trick...
As our experience has shown, when it comes to running a 51-year old vehicle, one should never take a successful weekend for granted. I've taken a few days to enjoy the achievement of having racked up another few hundred passenger journeys without a problem. I could never have dreamed of this back in the early days.
We must ask the God of running days to smile upon us again in less than a fortnight. The Warminster Running Day will see 270 KTA back in service in Wiltshire - her second home - once again. And given that we're on the posters, flyers, leaflets and on the cover of the timetable, we'd better be well behaved...

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Wet Wet Wet

Turned out nice again...

On the wettest day of the year so far, our commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the final train to Kingsbridge turned out to be a very British affair.

Unperturbed, 80 intrepid explorers turned out to recreate the journey as a bus route. Some had thought we'd actually be driving along the trackbed itself... (I know). Although in parts it might have been easier for the driver to have done that, given the complexity of the route and the steamy windows through which it had to be negotiated.

Highlights included: an encounter with the world's laziest Policeman, who'd rather see us out in the rain directing traffic than move an inch to do it himself - or, mercifully, to arrest us for blocking up the village; accidental deforestation of the road to Gara Bridge; and 270 KTA's crossing of Gara Bridge itself, which attracted more attention than the tour of the old station which was going on at the same time. My gould, it's tight...

We had a lovely time, and paid tribute to our ancestors in a way that befitted their own 'last train' celebrations fifty years ago. It was anything but dry.

We'll be doing Gara Bridge again on Saturday, by the way, at the Kingsbridge Vintage Bus Running Day. You're welcome to come along and watch.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Rail Replacement

50 years ago this weekend, the final train ran to Kingsbridge - home of 270 KTA, both then and now.

It was a sad but not entirely sombre occasion. Locals 'borrowed' the restaurant car from The Cornishman and had it marshalled into the branch line train for the occasion. The bar was dry of whiskey by Avonwick - first stop from the main-line junction at Brent - and the merry passengers had to move along the top shelf for alternative refreshment during the long, twelve mile journey to Kingsbridge.

This weekend TV&GWOT will be marking the anniversary with a bus trip from Kingsbridge to Brent, passing as much of the trackbed as we can, and stopping at all the former stations along the route for a look around. (With the exception of the two termini, they're all still there and restored as private houses.)

We'll be using 270 KTA, along with Colin Billington's Bristol H - a fellow South Hams vehicle - and the more off-route 'Taunton Shuttle' Ford Transit, which is suited to some of the tougher terrain.

I would invite you to join us, but a small feature in the local paper has returned an enormous response from locals and all three buses will be full. But you'll get some photographs here.

Instead raise a glass, or a whole restaurant car, on Sunday...

Saturday, 24 August 2013

We're Back

At last.

This week saw 270 KTA's third victorious journey for MOT testing, a little later than usual due to major domestic upheaval (a house move that turned out to be more like relocating a transport museum).

To refresh your memory, since our last foray there's been major work to rebuild the gearbox, clutch and gear linkage amongst other things.

And on Thursday, in the words of MOT tester Dave Guscott, "it all worked".

MOT day is always like a trip to the dentist, however confident you may be in your own vehicle. Having someone as experienced and straight talking as Mr Guscott prodding around your handiwork makes for a tense hour while you await the verdict. In typical style, 270 KTA usually smirks through the whole ordeal like a naughty schoolboy while yours truly awaits the parents' night report with dread...

Naturally, the relief of a pass must be celebrated, and the traditional way is with an afternoon of relaxation at the Sourton Services Health Spa. Sadly this year, as in all previous years, they were clean out of dried papaya and mango nut museli, so instead we had to go for something from the specials board...

Colin, too, was celebrating the pass of his Bristol LHS which travelled in convoy. (Bus enthusiasts will ask, shouldn't it be a smaller breakfast for an LHS?)

Another growing tradition of MOT day is the eventful journey to and from the test centre, for us, a 160 mile round trip. Not to mention the first year - when it soon became apparent that my new acquisition should not have been on the road with those brakes - 270 KTA has so far given us flying windscreen wipers in a monsoon, boiling water during a major drugs raid, an unexpected diversion via a farm track, and now this year: the lorry, the split trousers and Darth Vader.

(To cut that story very short for time and decency, whilst trying to help a lorry driver pass the coach on a narrow Devon lane, I bent over and catastrophically split the gusset of my trousers in front of a long line of cars and, for reasons unknown... a man in Darth Vader costume. Clear now?)

The journey home was in glorious sunshine, and gave an opportunity for some photographs around the many local SU haunts, including Tavistock Bus Station, where 273 KTA was so often found to be lurking in the '60s...

And so begins a very late start to the rally season for 270 KTA. Provided I can find some new trousers, we'll next be in action at TV&GWOT's annual Kingsbridge Running Day on September 21st, one of five SUs expected to attend - to my knowledge, a record for any rally in recent memory. We also have the splendid Warminster Running Day on October 13th, for whom 270 KTA has been this year's poster pin-up. I'm not sure how I feel about other men leering over her bodywork, but if they knew what a handful she was...

Plus there may be one or two other assignments in the interim. Watch closely as regular updates resume.

Oddbod Junior rides again...

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Updates, Large and Small

I hope you'll forgive the brief blogger's silence. An impending house move has dominated the last few weeks, although 270 KTA has, as you'll see, provided more than sufficient distraction to keep me sane...

Yes - sane!

An update on a few things:

Firstly, our gearbox toils appear to have been both successful and worthwhile. There's been nothing to give concern over several short tests, in fact, only encouragement; it's almost worth pickling this moment.

Nasty noises and whines have gone and, for the driver, the gear change is improved beyond recognition thanks to the renewed linkage. Where the lever had moved several inches before, it now moves millimetres. The pudding can no longer be stirred from the cab.

(That's Jaguar Universal Joints for you...)

So we're back in business.

That said, given the work we've just done has only been tested locally, I didn't feel it would be comfortable to attempt this year's Royal Blue Coach Run (London to Margate, Brighton, Portsmouth, Salisbury and Cheltenham - roughly 1000 miles when undertaken from Devon). Instead, our friend will sit this one out until a few more journeys have been accomplished, and brother 275 KTA will make polite excuses for his friend.

270 KTA's next mission will be MOT renewal in the next few weeks, for which I'll finally need to repair the electric door, given new regulations. Thereafter, BBC Radio Devon's vintage vehicle rally looms on July 14th (trails are running on air as we speak, featuring the engine sounds of an SU stunt-double ), followed by the Plymouth Hoe rally the following week.

Then, all being well, a more intensive calendar begins.

Another development of the last few weeks is that 270 KTA is set to feature in a forthcoming book by Nigel Furness, in which Bristol vehicles are appraised by their owners. As you might expect, I've given the SU as honest an appraisal as you get on this blog; it's ultimately an infuriating and yet totally endearing design in equal measure, depending on how the day has gone. Expect to hear more about that soon.

And speaking of press calls, Ken Jones' newly delivered model of 270 KTA has received rave reviews in the N-Gauge Journal.

Being new to SU ownership, Ken is much more cavalier than I am about the prospect of on-the-road failure, and he reports that he will be taking it on the Royal Blue Run in a week or so's time.

I look forward to updating you on its progress...

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Little Monsters

Those who know my father will not be in the least bit surprised to learn he's developed a special name for 270 KTA...

'Oddbod Junior' is, of course, the smiling but clumsy monster from Carry of Screaming, who wreaks havoc wherever he goes. His haplessness is a source of great irritation to his owner, but generally ends up endearing him to everyone watching at home. Remind you of anything?

This weekend - the three day marathon to pull together the work of the last few weeks - my very own Oddbod Junior has done all he can to resist going back together. But, like his namesake, he's ultimately failed in his attempt to cause mischief.

After 5 months, 1 week and 3 days, 270 KTA is now back on the road - with a new clutch, bearings, rebuilt gearbox and linkage. The result is excellent.

I'll tell you all about it over the next few days - after some sleep.

Monday, 22 April 2013

A Sordid Confession

To 270 KTA: I have something to tell you.

This weekend I went out with someone else. It was your sister.

You see, it's been difficult between us these last few months - you with your problems, me unsure of how best to help - and a man needs to do what a man needs to do.

I looked around and there she was - with that familiar smile...

This was just supposed to be a bit of fun - nothing serious, just a little weekend away... the two of us... by the sea... in Penzance. You know how it is.

Okay, I'll admit it. I bought her gifts. Something new to wear for the weekend. I even placed it upon her brow as I've done to you so many times before. I stood back to admire how she wore it; I was taken in. But only because she reminded me of you.

On the journey down she talked in hushed tones. Even her voice made me think of you. As we drove, I thought of all the fun times we'd had together - suddenly it was like Bridgwater all over again, and I was under her spell. We went for miles. We were happy...

But you have to believe me - all the time I was pretending she was you.

And then, suddenly, she turned; showed me her true colours. In an instant she was done with me - a complete change of heart. She didn't want to come away after all.

We had a huge argument at the roadside. Even the Police got involved at one point. It was over.

She soon found another man to drag her around that night. I was left to trail behind as best I could, weak and powerless, trying to steer the situation away from an unhappy outcome.

I wished I hadn't been unfaithful. I knew it would end in tears.

I said goodbye and went off to drown my sorrows at a much nicer bar.

The last time I saw her that night, she was standing with her front completely exposed while her new man unscrewed himself and drove away into the night. Once a North Devon girl, always a North Devon girl, I thought...

Can you ever forgive me?

I could come and see you next weekend, and patch things up. We could sort all your troubles, and things could go back to the way they were... We could go away for weekends together, just like we always did...

And I promise never to stray again. Unless it's an SUS...

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Struggle And Progress

When I began writing this blog nearly three years ago, one of the aims was to show you - and hopefully interest you in - the huge amount of work that goes into keeping a 50-year old vehicle alive.

I'm willing to bet that even the most hardened of readers will be surprised at just how much we've had to achieve in the last few weeks as part of 270 KTA's gearbox overhaul, to get us to our current position: we're almost ready to begin putting her back together.

Here are some photos to explain, shock and impress...

The cause of our initial problem was a broken spigot bearing - the bit which sits inside the flywheel and supports the rotation of the main shaft into the gearbox whenever the clutch is engaged.
 Above you see (left) the plate which holds the bearing seal (which, like the bearing had disintegrated) into place. After many hours of searching, it would appear that bearings of this size are no longer available; so, we must find a way of working what we have. We've had to modify the plate to house a bearing with a slightly larger outside diameter, to run further up the shaft, and what you see on the right is the result. A major result.
The Universal Joints I mentioned last week - the joints in the gear linkage which should swivel and allow it to bend - are also no longer available from the original manufacturer, and there are no equivalents listed against the old part number. Following extensive research from David Sheppard Senior, we're happy to reveal that 270 KTA will be rebuilt using genuine Janguar E-type steering joints, which are precisely the same size and spec, and are readily available!
And don't they look good in place? Here's one inside the newly sourced fork to replace the weird one which had been fitted at some point...

Please note that those who drive coaches with Jaguar joints also shop at Waitrose.
Then there's the gearbox turret - the bit where the movement of the gear linkage is translated into movement inside the gearbox that causes the gears to engage...
This had been drilled, bashed and otherwise bodged to within an inch of its life. Naturally, replacements are not plentiful, but thanks to Jonathan Pye and some excellent precision welding (yes, of aluminium!), we now have a turret whose difficult past brings no difficulty for the future.

Oil leakage had been a major problem because of damage to the front seal in the gearbox (which, it turns out, had been the wrong one). With a bit of transposing of part numbers, it turns out these are still available, via the Bearing Boys, who are to be recommended.

Even the cleaning up of parts for re-use has taken hours of work. The prop-shaft, gear linkage and other apparels have all been stripped, primed and given several coats of paint.

The gearbox has taken 8 litres of white spirit to clean, inside and out, and now looks like something you'd be pleased to find under a coach. If we have an oil leak in the future, we'll see it...

Finally - we now have two clutch plates in stock which, we hope, will do the job. These have taken weeks to track down, culminating in a trip to Essex for David Sheppard Senior armed with our pattern, and a return journey armed with three of the buggers. He is the Patron Saint of SU Owners.

Something else which needs replacing: this special cleaning device which has seen painstaking use over the past few weeks (gears have teeth too, you know).

Fortunately these are more readily available than most parts...

Alas, for those attending the Penzance Running Day on Sunday, 270 KTA will not be present for obvious reasons - this job was always going to be too big to complete in time, that much we knew. But there will be an SU in service - Colin Billington's Deltatours liveried 286 KTA, a coach with lots to answer for - and its mystery driver may look familiar...


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Light Relief

It's been a difficult few weeks at 270 KTA Headquarters, and Saturday night finds our friend's owner in need of comfort.

Hurrah for Ken Jones, who offers us the ultimate light relief in the form of his newly delivered N-Gauge 270 KTA, scratch-built by Malcolm Hall to Ken's specification.

At 1:148 scale, it's something like 57mm long, 15mm wide, and Ken tells us that unlike its slightly larger forbearer, it comes complete with a fully functioning gearbox. I suspect it'll be out on a Taunton town service before mine will.
Were it not for the fact that our frustrations have also brought about great progress in the last couple of days - some new parts sourced, others mended (an update on which will follow) - I might have considered a swap.
Not that Ken would, I suspect...

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Double Pronged

How many David Sheppards does it take to mend an SU?

The answer is, of course, two...

At my end of the M4, M5 and A38 this weekend, I've been concentrating on cleaning up the gear linkage which, you'll remember from last week, had to leave 270 KTA in its entirety.

We've now managed to separate the rods which had been welded up, and with equal difficulty have removed the three universal joints. These are swivel devices which allow connected rods to bend through two plains, except when they're as seized as these three were...

I've also stripped and primed the prop-shaft (the bit that turns with the output of the gearbox, and via the differential, effectively makes the wheels on the bus go round... and round). The universal joints on this are good, but were so heavily caked in muck that they couldn't be seen, let alone maintained.

Meanwhile, 200 miles up the road, David Sheppard Senior has been working on the turret that sits on top of the gearbox and houses the mechanism that selects the gears.

This has been mercilessly bodged over the years: worn bushes have been literally bolted into position to reduce play, and best of all, a new and unfinished end-fork has been bashed onto the end of the linkage and bolted up in the wrong position.

Compare the fork we have (left) with how it should be (right)...

Spares Department

The most significant progress of the week, though, has been in the hunt for bits. The most common question at rallies is "where do you get spare parts?", and the answer to that requires a blog post in itself - if not an entire blog. I'll elaborate on it more once we've finished the job, but suffice to say that using a mixture of cross-referenced part numbers, contacts, ingenuity, improvisation, adaptation and more, we now have:

- 1x new oil seal for the spigot bearing (on order);
- 1x new oil seal for the front end of the gearbox (on order);
- 3x new imperial sized universal joints (the same, we suspect, as steering joints on the E-Type Jaguar - on order);
- 1x new brass bush for the front end of the gearbox turret;
- 1x correctly machined end fork, plus replacement rods for those damaged by the Phantom Welder.

We're still struggling with (but will need to find or make):

- 1x spigot bearing (an unusual imperial size with no inner race);
- 1x brass bush for the back of the gearbox turret;
- 1x clutch plate.

And getting the stuff is just the start. Just as well we're an illustrious team of old...

Monday, 1 April 2013

Gearbox Rebuild 2: The Practice

Opening up 270 KTA's gearbox is a little like biting into a Kinder Surprise:

Not only have you no idea what's inside, but you know it probably won't be what you were hoping to see.

(And unless Kinder have got their act together since I was a boy, it's also inevitable that at least half the toy will be broken or missing...)

Fortunately, this weekend's surprises have been largely pleasant ones. Thanks to Sheppard Senior (the Patron Saint of Bristol SUs), progress has been great and we've achieved our aims: the gearbox is out, has been examined and we think we know what's wrong. That bit isn't as bad as I'd feared.

But to get to that point, we've had to take the tin opener to other cans of worms...

Anyway, here's where we stand.

The spigot bearing in the back of the crankshaft has disintegrated, which is almost certainly the cause of our Looe noises. This is the bearing which spins on the main front shaft when the clutch is engaged. Lumps of metal, formerly rollers and the inner casing of the bearing, were discovered in the bell-housing, having been spinning around in the way of the fly wheel...

The oil seal in the front of the gearbox had also perished into oblivion, allowing the gearbox to lose huge amounts of oil. Most of this has ended up on the clutch, which will also need to be replaced, along with the oil seal on between the clutch and the flywheel, which had been smashed apart by the failing bearing.
Inside the box everything is fine. The front main bearing, which we'd expected to have to change, would have been taking lots of additional strain in the absence of a working spigot bearing, but we caught it in time. In fact, inside it's a really good box, with little play or wear to the gears. Good Kinder...
There are some other big problems to overcome. In removing the gearbox we had to dismantle, not just the bit of the gear linkage which connects to it, but the entire linkage from front to back. 

Someone, somewhere will remember welding up the joints which would normally make dismantling simple...

The linkage will have to be separated, re-machined and assembled properly with three new universal joints to replace what are, to look at them, the originals.

The phantom welder is probably the same person who'd remember: bashing the hell out of the top gearbox turret (which now needs replacing); drilling a hole through a knackered main bush and bolting it up to reduce the play; replacing the front oil seal without bolts in the housing to stop it from flying out; replacing every loose stud with a tatty old bolt, regardless of threads; and, perhaps it's the same person who secured the prop-shaft with set screws instead of shouldered bolts. I do hope this wasn't you...

In summary, we have a lot of work to do. The next few evenings will be spent sourcing parts and cleaning up the old bits. 270 KTA will have to wait patiently on her pedestal while all this goes on.

Then, when we're ready, we can think about how to go about putting the ultimate Kinder toy back together...

Keep you posted.