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 www.tvagwot.org.uk, 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…

Monday, 9 June 2014

Carry On, Matron

There's a little bit of our friend you probably haven't seen before.

Tucked modestly away from public view, it's a little something that really, only his owner and closest family should ever get to see. Even I haven't pulled it out in public for quite some time because, to be honest with you, I've been a little bit worried about it.

I speak of course, of 270 KTA's dipstick.

(Now, stop. Every coach has one, it's a fact of life. Now straighten up while I tell you about it.)

Thing is, for a few months my dipstick has been a little bit milky. It's not an uncommon complaint in the SU surgery, as milky oil is generally the first indication you get that a head gasket has blown. That's a periodic illness every SU will suffer, and you don't need to be a Doctor to know that when oil and water come together, the result is a milky-white sludge.

So, I've been concerned. Since my first milky experience, I've drained the engine oil twice, both times to find that the oil in the sump is exactly how nature intended - not milky at all (so not polluted with coolant), and therefore not a head gasket problem this time.

The only way to find out what's wrong is to have it off. My dipstick, I mean: whip it out, tube and all, and give it a jolly good seeing to.

(And still you're tittering?)

The condition, it turns out, has been caused by a build up of condensation in the convolutions of the oil filler neck, not a serious illness by any means, but enough to make my dipstick wet and milky in all weathers. An operation was carried out under local anaesthetic to blast all the muck and moisture out of the tubes, and all is now well.

Well, almost. I've always been aware that my dispstick can be a little stiff at times, and close examination of the tube reveals why. It's a bit kinky...

At some stage, the dipstick tube has been cut short, and a new (kinky) end welded on. A gentle straightening procedure involving heat and paracetamol means that my dipstick will now slide in and out as it should...

One last thing. It turns out that my dispstick is shorter than everyone else's. A little session comparing them over the weekend reveals there's much variation in the SU family, both in overall length and size of end. But I can see you're in no fit state to talk through the detail....

More to follow on our Royal Blue Run preparations when you've calmed yourself down.

Monday, 2 June 2014

A Really Useful Engine

There are, would you believe, a few times in life when owning buses and coaches can actually be useful.

I well remember the day when, as a small boy, our new patio furniture was delivered to our house by Bristol Lodekka, and unloaded into the garden through the emergency door.

Ten years ago, I left University with all my scholarly possessions crammed into the aisle of a Bristol SU, which just happened to be attending a rally nearby. My flatmates couldn't believe what they were seeing, and finally saw the benefits of a hobby they'd obviously misunderstood.

Last weekend, I was at it again, this time with 270 KTA who just happened to be attending the South Devon Railway's excellent 1960s Gala...

.... and was therefore able to perform a useful task.

Here we see 'Buyer Collects' in action, as two enormous railway signs, purchased from the SDR by your author for his collection, are taken aboard the nominated pantechnicon for the day.

See. Entirely useful...

By performing these little tasks every now and again, a vehicle is able to persuade its owner that the expense, grief, worry and strife it may cause in between trips the local garden centre to pick up a rare tree* - are all entirely justified.

(*Sheppard Senior in 275 KTA, 2011.)

If only our friend could find me a wall to put them on. Now, that would be useful...