Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Autumn Fall

They say that pride cometh before a fall.

A proverb with its roots in biblical times, essentially it means that if you allow yourself to become too proud of your SU, you're certain to end up with a head-gasket failure...

... and look how proud I am here.


270 KTA's appearance at the South Devon Railway's superb Diesel Gala received a characteristic warm welcome from all, and afforded much cause for pride.

Whilst a fairly intensive free bus service was operated alongside the railway, Pearce & Crump-style, there were numerous opportunities to exploit the driver's vanity for photographs such as these.

As well as 'rail replacement' trips to Ashburton, we operated a few photographers' specials to Staverton - a quintessential, rural GWR branch line station, with level crossing, station yard (and "To the National Buses" sign) - which made for some really excellent poses...

... and, of course, our friend looks very at home outside the station at Buckfastleigh. 

No wonder, then - with all this pride about - that we seemed to get through an awful lot of coolant on the final day. A quick check tonight reveals levels on the dipstick have risen dramatically, and the lovely fresh oil I changed only a month ago is now looking like full cream...
I've yet to confirm it properly, but I suspect the ancient proverb has come true. This will be the Winter when I remind myself how to change a head-gasket.
Deep joy, and deep breaths.
For now I'll just console myself with railway trifle...

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Dear David II...

If you didn't deserve so much better, I'd be tempted to make a joke about waiting years for an extraordinary photo, and several turning up at once...

You must excuse me - I'm a little overcome.

Following yesterday's incredible find, these two gems were presented to me today amongst a bundle of old photographs which the donor thought "might be of interest". They were apparently taken by his son - yet again, a little boy with a magic camera that yields its happy coincidences decades later.

The photos show how 270 KTA looked in 1996, shortly after the late Derek Willis (of Bodmin) had donated it to Western National's preservation group. It was towed to the Plymouth bus rally at Newnham Park in this year, and as you'll see, it was quite a spectacle against other more complete exhibits - including our very own newly restored 275 KTA.

Of particular interest is the rear view, showing traces of poppy red still on the bootlid and corner panel, as well as damage to the rear dome (rectified only this year!).

I suspect the donor knew this prize pair of photos was buried in his bundle, and is now awaiting a call to let him know I've found them.

My Dad was the donor, by the way... and the boy photographer was me.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Dear David...

A hitherto stranger writes...
"I went to the Warminster running day yesterday, not far from my home. Your bus rang a faint bell. As a child I was fanatically interested in buses and was sure I had seen this one before.

Attached is a photograph of it (Box Brownie, I am afraid) outside Western National's Salcombe shed in August 1963. It was a shed too: a wooden lock-up that accommodated one single decker.

I hated going on the annual family holiday to that ghastly seaside resort and looking at buses was one of the few distractions that made it bearable.

Peter Brown"

And so arrived this extraordinary photograph, reunited with its subject by the same kind of chance encounter that led to its creation 51 years ago.

Young Peter couldn't have realised the significance his photograph would one day hold. It's among the earliest known photos of 270 KTA, the coach being just over a year old when Peter discovered it, ready for a trip back to its home depot from Shadycombe Road shed in Salcombe. Photos of the Kingsbridge fleet are comparatively rare, and Salcombe is especially seldom seen. This photo is therefore very special.

Add to that the charm of the Box Brownie (which has actually captured the scene with remarkable clarity), and the low-angle achieved by a presumably very little Peter, and it's hard to imagine a better find.

Thank heaven for little boys...

Our friend will next be appearing this weekend at the South Devon Railway's Diesel Gala, where its photogenic qualities will be very much part of the requirement.

Bring along your Box Brownie...

Thursday, 25 September 2014


Nowadays, I'm almost starting to take these for granted...

Five years on from when our friend first barged into my world - bringing chaos like this, and this, and this, and especially this - it could be easy to forget the work that has brought us to a situation where the great Dave Guscott not only issues an MOT certificate without advisories, but also ends his inspection with a compliment: "It's in lovely condition these days".

Fortunately, I'm too much of a worrier to become complacent. Yet, there's been so much going on at 270 KTA HQ these last few months, there's been next to no time even to worry, let alone to reflect on our achievements.

So let's do the latter now.

Since the phoenix-like return of 270 KTA's throttle in time for the Exeter Bus Station 50th Anniversary, our friend has been enjoying himself, and helping others to do the same. (I did replace the slave cylinder in the end, along with the infamous throttle release spring [again, easy to forget trauma], to great benefit as far as the throttle is concerned.)

Firstly, a smashing day was spent with Terry Bennett and his Bristol LH, Devon General 88, recreating some of the routes that 270 KTA would have trodden during its time with DG at Newton Abbot. This is a period in our friend's history which, because of my allegiance to its 'green' days, I'm often accused of under celebrating. So a gang of interested parties was assembled, and celebrate we did - appropriately, 40 years to the month since 270 KTA was downgraded by Newton Abbot depot from 'dual-purpose' to 'bus' configuration.

We sampled routes to Teignmouth via Combeinteignhead, Haytor and Ashburton, and delightful Coffinswell, and the territory is enchanting. Whilst I'm definitely not (repeat: "NOT") about to get out the poppy red paint, I am very pleased that 270 KTA has some unique Devon General heritage, and will celebrate this more often in future.

Our next adventure featured a castle on top of a very prolonged hill. The wedding of a South Devon Railway friend gave a good excuse for a trip across the edge of Dartmoor to Haldon Belvedere, in the company of Colin Billington's Bristol H, and Alasdair Page's 1930s Rover car. Here, the bride enjoys her final moments of freedom, as we prepare to enjoy a period picnic in the beautiful surroundings of Lawrence Castle.

Alongside our annual 120-mile round trip for an MOT (a success as previously indicated), there have been a couple of trips to for dinner with friends. In fact, 270 KTA has become a regular at The Dartmoor Lodge in Ashburton; good job we have a suitable blind...

And, of course, last weekend was the annual highlight of 270 KTA's year, Kingsbridge Running Day - a return to original territory which is often as emotive as it is bold and adventurous. This year, I revived the old Kingsbridge tradition of attaching a bunch of fresh flowers to the bulkhead of its coach, evident in all known photos of 270 KTA in its early days.

The running day and subsequent trip to Dartmouth and Westpoint is already well chronicled on the Thames Valley & Great Western Omnibus Trust's Workshop Blog, so I'll leave you with a few shots of our friend's adventures that speak for themselves.

Another far cry from those early days - astonishingly, now well over 5,000 miles ago...

At Kingsbridge Bus Station (c) "Better Living Through Chemistry" on Flickr

At East Portlemouth (c) DTS
Kingsbridge (c) Sarah Anne Harvey

Crossing Gara Bridge (c) Peter Murnaghan
Sleepy Time (c) DTS
Kingsbridge line-up (c) DTS

Slapton Sands (c) DTS
Climbing beyond Slapton (c) Dave Growns
Between Slapton and Dartmouth (c) Oliver Silvester

Between Slapton and Dartmouth (c) Zoe Williams

Your scribe (c) Alasdair Page

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Playing Ball

Big, international events like the World Cup may pass some of us by...

But Exeter Coach Station's 50th Birthday Party isn't the kind of bash you can miss if you own a West Country coach, especially as the place probably won't be there for much longer. As a coach that would have passed through a lot in service, we'd been specially invited by the organisers, and agreed to go long before the throttle packed up.

So a sick note for our friend would not be enough to excuse us from games. At least not without the usual fight.

The match began Sheppard 1-0 SU, with both throttle master (top) and slave (bottom) cylinders putting up little defence during their removal. An early equaliser saw 270 KTA back on usual form, when it was discovered that the master cylinder was the rarer of two types fitted to the SU, and not the one I had parts in stock to refurbish: 1-1.

Hours trawling through manuals and parts lists revealed the numbers of the seals required - as ever, Sheppard Senior is to thank as centre-forward for this research. A call to our local Devon stockist (Classic Spares of Kenton - use them!), and a supply of both master and slave cylinder kits were bought: 2-1 to Sheppard at half time.

270 KTA's slave cylinder fought back valiantly in the second half, refusing to come apart and, after eventually yielding, showing itself to be in pretty poor condition inside. Still, needs must, and in the absence of a new cylinder (for now), seals were changed and all appeared well.

And changing all the seals in the master cylinder was surprisingly straightforward:

Sheppard 3-2 SU.

Then for reassembly and bleeding. I'll spare you the full match report on that, but by the time I'd expressed all the air from the system, the score was looking decidedly non-league. Eventually, teams gave up playing ball, and by the early hours of the morning were mercilessly kicking each other into touch instead.

Eventually, we at last had a working throttle. Unlike when I started, it could be operated fully using the pedal and without the use of string. Admittedly, because of the poor condition of the slave cylinder, it's a little bit slow to release, but that can be replaced and solved in due course.

Let's call it a draw.

Main thing was, we made it to the do...

Photo Courtesy of Stagecoach South West
Photo (c) Clive A Brown, Flickr

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

(Blue) Blood, (Cold) Sweat and (Almost) Tears

At last - we have an answer to an age old question that's baffled mathematicians, philosophers and hardware shops alike:  How long is a piece of string?

I'll show more detailed workings in due course, but as far as 270 KTA is concerned, the magic length is equal to the distance between the rearmost swing of the driver's right arm and the hydraulic throttle slave cylinder - whose demise meant we had to bow out of Day 3 of this year's Royal Blue Coach Run...

Indeed, had the emergency string in the boot been any shorter than the magic length described, we might not've been able to limp home at all, and would probably still be pouring industrial quantities of brake fluid over the car park of the Holiday Inn Express in Exeter...

But none of this later activity should be allowed to overshadow the physical and emotional triumph of Days 0, 1 and 2, which saw our friend making his longest journey for three decades - and first trip out of the West Country since 1984.

Perhaps most exciting of all, this year's run began with a return to London's Victoria Coach Station, where SU coaches were frequent performers on Royal Blue duplicates in the 1960s. To arrive with the coach that, years ago, I thought would never make it out of its shed let alone back to such a prestigious former haunt, was unexpectedly emotional... 

(The photo every driver hoped somebody might take: departing Victoria Coach station, courtesy of Dave Hooker)

Departure from London was via the more affluent route, over Putney Bridge and into leafy Surrey, where we were caught in action by Steve Guess, just outside Cobham.

Having narrowly escaped a parking attendant during a brief stop in Winchester, our friend was piloted through Hampshire by an initially willing driver (let's just call him 'R' in case any of his own vehicles are reading), who tried hard to mask a grudging like of the SU. Here he is at the wheel, pausing from the delights of driving for a photostop outside the old Royal Blue stop in Ringwood, Dorset...

It was during this pause that we finally determined the gender of our friend (until now, slightly ambiguous).

"420 must be male...", concluded 'R', "because I'm not immediately attracted to it". Poor 270 KTA...
It was a rare opportunity for me to ride on my own coach, and after crossing the New Forest, a comfortable journey concluded in Bournemouth.

That night, while father and son were to be found inside the pub, two brothers enjoyed the evening sun outside.

Day 2 began with a stunning departure from the site of the former Bournemouth West railway station, home of the beloved Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway, but on Saturday, a makeshift coach station with a view.

Soon after a spirited departure (captured on film by Michael C Pugh, as Facebook followers may have seen), it became clear that we were not achieving full throttle, and top speed began to diminish from 57mph to around 40mph. Hill climbing was also compromised, although on a lovely sunny day, who cared if the journey took a bit longer...

Through Blandford (where my driver's hat dropped me in it with the local press), up through the magnificent Dorset countryside to the Shaftesbury Hotel for lunch, and a thoroughly memorable journey across the Somerset Levels behind 2246, Graham Thorogood's MW.

Service car and duplicate were together for the entire journey to Bridgwater, all in glorious sunshine. Magic. At Bridgwater we met an old friend of 270 KTA, who regaled me with tales of its many breakdowns in service and the notorious unreliability of its batteries during its time at Bridgwater depot. "We only ever used to send it as far as Crowpill Lane"...

I again relinquished the driver's seat for the run to Exeter, this time to our friend Lionel Tancock, former Trowbridge driver and legendary master of any crash gearbox. True to form, he bonded instantly with 270 KTA (his first SU experience), and evidently enjoyed his drive much more than 'R' - despite obvious limitations with the throttle.

What was to be a quick pause for a photo outside Taunton depot - long time home of 270 KTA - soon became an unplanned highlight of the run, as coach after coach followed us in. More magic!

Arrival at Exeter Coach Station was followed by throttle investigations in the hotel car park. It appeared that the master cylinder had been working too long a stroke, which in turn had caused the slave cylinder to over work and leak, and air to enter the system - thus compromising the throttle. Whilst bleeding the hydraulic system, the master cylinder itself gave up pumping, and we lost what little throttle we had...

And that was that.

270 KTA had to be carefully driven home to South Devon using a piece of string as a hand throttle. Although I've had more comfortable drives, the superb Boy Scout rigging of Sheppard Senior meant our friend was able to make the journey home under his own power with surprising ease - and, of course, no compromise to safety. And we did at least get home.

So here's your answer: I'd say a piece of string, if it's to be the saviour of a poorly SU at the slightly curtailed end of a long and satisfying adventure, is about 8'11" long.

How long will it take to fix the hydraulics? That's a much harder question. You'll have to come back soon to find out...

 Day 3 of the Royal Blue Run took us, albeit without our friend, up to Minehead for a marvellous tour of Exmoor, and back across to Bridgwater. The Thames Valley & Great Western Omnibus Trust blog will take up the full story in due course.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Porky Appendages

In response to a number of complaints about recent double entendres, I'm going to do all I can to keep this post free from potential innuendo.

That won't be easy, mind, because this one's about a sausage...

When I was first reacquainted with 270 KTA years ago, my Dad received a message which read: "Just seen 420! Looking very sorry for itself. Very tatty, bashed-in rear dome, and it's got no sausage".

You see, to fans of Western and Southern National, a sausage is not just for breakfast. In our world, a nice, fresh Porky White sausage is far less appetising than a really old one which has gone green. A sausage like this...

Sausages like this were fitted to the sides (and often, fronts and backs) of touring and express coaches in the 1950s and 60s, and were a distinctive part of the companies' coaching liveries.

270 KTA carried one on its boot-lid from new until its livery change in the early 1970s, when most sausages had their chips and were taken off. Since then, it's been a source of great annoyance that our friend is without this porky appendage.

A very good friend of ours (let's call him 'G') was sympathetic to my frustrations, and was kind enough to supply an original sausage in "as removed" condition. From chalk marks on the back, it appears this came from 1205, an early style SUL which carried sausages on its sides as well as rear. (1205 went on to work on the Isles of Scilly, so incidentally, this one narrowly escaped becoming a Scilly Sausage... or worse, as the rest of the coach ended up being pushed off the side of a cliff.)

Anyway, I digress. As part of the huge list of jobs I’ve been ticking off in the past few weeks, in preparation for the Royal Blue Run this coming weekend, I’ve finally set about fitting the sausage. It’s cleaned up remarkably well, and with the later style of fleetnames (carried by 270 KTA from 1969 onwards), it looks as though it’s never not been there.

Oh – and about that bashed-in roof dome… as you can see, that’s in the process of being sorted, too. No hurry, Sheppard... 
More on the run at, and updates to appear here in due course. By my reckoning, when we make our way up the A303 to London on Thursday, it will be the first time our friend has been outside the West Country since 1984…