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.


  1. Ringwood, Hampshire... (admittedly with a Bournemouth postcode - but even this was in Hampshire when Royal Blue ran in royal blue colours)

    1. Quite right, Cyril - shouldn't have stayed up so late.