Friday, 28 October 2016

Island Special 3

You join us on the Isle of Wight Ferry, after a successful journey from South Devon to Lymington, en-route to the island's Beer and Buses Weekend.

This was 270 KTA's first water crossing since it last encountered the Torpoint Ferry and, almost certainly, its first ever departure from the UK mainland since it was built in 1962.

Any classic vehicle owner will tell you that trusting its survival to a floating vessel is an irrationally nerve-wracking experience. Minor potential for sinking aside, the vehicle is suddenly obliged to work on command or else face total humiliation and expensive recovery bills to secure its future on either side of the crossing.

Fortunately, and some may say incredibly given its temperament, our friend entirely overlooked the opportunity for disgrace and behaved impeccably, clearly as excited as his owner at the adventure which awaited.

The excitement of both showed on the island roads between Yarmouth, Newport and Ryde where, in the late October sunset, 270 KTA bowled along like a native. We arrived at the former Southern Vectis Ryde Depot - nowadays the Isle of Wight Bus Museum - in high spirits. It's not often things go better than expected...

After a Thursday night amongst friends at Ryde, Friday was to be our friend's day for a tour of the island.

An essential place for photographs was Ryde bus station, a formative location for your scribe's early bus spotting days as a child. Usually on a Summer Saturday day-trip from Berkshire, my Dad and I would arrive at Ryde Esplanade station and buy our Southern Vectis Rover Ticket; often the lady in the Travel Office would encourage my enthusiasm by handing me a pile of spare ticket rolls to 'play' with, completely unaware that I had a working ticket machine to put them in at home!

This, of course, is the photo that every island-loving, train-spotting vintage bus owner dreams of (there are more than you might think).

And for those who like Hovercrafts....

Other locations visited included...


St Helens and Bembridge

Shanklin Station

The former Southern Vectis Shanklin Depot and Bus Station

The former Southern Vectis Ventnor Depot
For the next two nights, 270 KTA was to stay as close as possible to our apartment in Ventnor, saving space at Ryde depot for the larger and less adaptable buses. Adaptable little Bristol SULs certainly are, as this photo of our friend settling in to his temporary home proves.

This explains why I'm now a fully paid up member of Ventnor Tennis Club, who very kindly allowed us to use their car park for two nights. This was not only secure but a pretty spot, reached via a very tight reverse manoeuvre between two stone gateposts; we became quite good at that. 

After a fun day, it was time for bed ahead of the main event...

To be continued...

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Island Special: Part 2

In Part 1, I made our departure for the island sound like a whimsical, capricious affair - as if we're now so confident in 270 KTA's performance that we can run off and behave like the Famous Five. 

Regular readers will be rightly suspicious, so I should declare there was actually much preparation. A minor weep from a fuel pipe at Kingsbridge prompted a major pre-island obsession with fuel delivery, leading to the replacement of the main pipe between the injection pump and the fuel filter, the latter also being replaced and other potentially vulnerable pipes sleeved or re-routed.

The previous pipe had been cobbled together by Mr I. Bodgem using a couple of olives, loosely-fitted to a dubious length of 1/4" steel pipe. In disgust, I sourced some proper brass ends and soldered them nicely to a new length of copper pipe, and replaced the unions at either ends with fittings that were made for the job.

I also made it a pre-island priority to solve, finally, the old issue of throttle-return springs, long since replaced after multiple failures but never to my satisfaction. Subsequent springs have always weakened when warm, causing the throttle to stick during gear changes and the driver the blush on occasion. I had springs of the required length and tension specially made and, on the advice of Basher the former Weymouth Inspector, in large enough quantities to allow spares to be carried.

Speaking of carrying spares, this box was assembled for our trip to the island and virtually contains a spare SU chassis in kit form. Alongside the vulnerable throttle-springs are most hydraulic cylinders, associated repair kits, assorted pipe ends, filters, a reconditioned fuel lift-pump, pipes and a selection of ends, hoses, jubilee clips and assorted fastenings. There was no question: we'd get to the Isle of Wight and back...

Less crucial for getting-there in one sense, but just as vital in another, the traditional handmade Sheppard destination blind resulted from several hours on my knees with a roll of tracing paper and and pair of scissors. Not bad from a distance.

And so - as I remember saying before - we set off... via the A38, A30 and A35 to Bridport, Dorset - a very famous haunt of the SU.

Western National's Bridport depot was among the final bastions of Bristol SU operation into the early 1980s and, like the Isle of Wight, it's unlikely that one has returned since. Our friend looks just right against the gates of the 1972 depot site, where we made a brief pause for our lunch. 

And where better for a picnic?

Okay, so this is a bit more scenic, as we made our way via Burley and the New Forest towards the start of our 1700 ferry crossing at Lymington...

 To be continued...

Monday, 24 October 2016

Island Special: Part 1

By my reckoning, it's been 41 years since a Bristol SU last ran in service on the Isle of Wight.

Southern Vectis - the island's famous and much loved bus operator - had eight SUL saloons and, by all accounts, didn't like them much.

One caught fire at Havenstreet; another suffered brake failure and ended up straddling some roadworks like a scene from On the Buses. By 1973, most had been withdrawn after just ten years' service and by 1975 the last ones were leaving the island forever.

Your scribe has favoured the island since he was a boy, not least because - with its 'Vintage Fleet' in the late 1980s - it remained a haven for all the buses he loved but had missed the chance to sample in service on the mainland. The island offered a first ride on a Bristol Lodekka (MDL 952, now in Russia); a sit in the cab of a K5G (CDL 899, still pride of the Southern Vectis fleet); a first sighting of a Lodekka in green (TDL 998); but never an SU.

The last of the Southern Vectis SU's was scrapped in 1985, when I was just 3 years old (although I can say with great authority that its builder's plate lives on, safe and sound). So, the hope for an SU to return to the island falls to non-native cousins. Can you think of anyone who might oblige?

The invitation to attend the excellent Isle of Wight Beer and Buses weekend needed no consideration at all.

Our friend - in spite of everything that's happened in the past - would love to come along.

In fact, why not make a week's holiday of it? We'd book our usual apartment (normally travelled to each year by Cowes Redjet and contemporary Southern Vectis service bus) - but this year, we'd arrive there by SU.

And we'd use our friend to operate the first Bristol SU service on the island since 1975. Yeah!

And so we set off...

To be continued...

Friday, 21 October 2016

Get Some Nuts

Photo: Helen Bolt
For those who failed to spot anything of note in the last post, this man is offering regular lectures to anyone who'll listen.

Not that you'd want to listen for long...

Regular readers will be t(i/y)red of hearing about wheels, so I'll keep this brief: the front two are now on.

Not only that, they've already done the best part of 700 miles. They've carried our friend through another successful Kingsbridge Running Day (worth a read of the blog here to see what 270 KTA encountered); they've taken us up and down Haytor on a Dartmoor tour for the Kingsbridge drivers; and, in the last week or so, they've taken us to some very new pastures indeed - more about which coming soon in our series of 'Island Specials'.

Photo: Helen Bolt
But for now, here's the pictorial story of the much heralded wheels being made good. I promise not to mention them again... until I tackle the back ones.

So now you're interested?...

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Inner Hope

"Everything that is done in the world is done by hope."

Martin Luther may not have been taking an SU for MOT but, had he been, he'd have twiddled the blinds accordingly.

Inner Hope paid off for our friend (and five of his friends) on Monday, as Dave Guscott awarded us yet another year of motoring.

"Still going strong", he said. We've become his regulars.

Actually, a bit more than hope went into 270 KTA's MOT. A two-day inspection and service, full grease and filter change kept me busy last week, alongside coats of paint on the new front wheels (hopefully to be fitted this weekend).

And so to Kingsbridge Running Day on September 17, where 270 KTA will be giving free rides in the capable hands of Driver Farley while I nurse yet another delicate SU back to the road (no - not the brother quite yet!).

Our friend will be tackling the notorious route to East Portlemouth, plus a new foray to Bigbury-on-Sea and another to... Inner Hope.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Find A Wheel....

No wonder he's grinning like an idiot.

A seven year trawl of the country's farmyards, barns, workshops and scrapyards has finally yielded enough original-style wheels that 270 KTA and his brother will, at last, have a full set - at least where the eye can see.

I've advertised in magazines (of all kinds - even those), posted online, left notices on farm trailers and even rummaged in thorny undergrowth looking for these treasures. This original style wheel (Dunlop 22753, by the way) has a very distinctive look, much prettier to the eye of the wheel-purist than the later type which gradually replaced them as tyres were changed in service.

Had you not noticed?

An advert on Facebook recently brought FOUR from the marvellous Gary Cadwell, well-known lorry preservationist and all round helpful man. We owe him.

Others have come from donor vehicles and two from the equally marvellous Daniel Shears' forest at Winkleigh.

The bad news, of course, is that my requirement for correct wheels has doubled in recent times. 270 KTA's new brother is from the final batch of SULs to carry this style too, and five of its seven* have been replaced with strange ones. The better news is that the two remaining ones are in good enough shape for further use (i.e. round), taking our total to ten... which means both vehicles can now have correct wheels where they count.

*Don't forget - buses have six wheels, not four, and in fact SULs have seven including a spare. So we're not entirely out of the woods yet; if you know where I can find more...

For now, back to the wire brush.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Posh Spread

I'm remiss in not sending you to your local newsagent in search of Coach & Bus Week which, a fortnight or so ago, featured someone you know...

This chap, whoever he is, seems pleased to have found a copy at Reading Station.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Cornish SUperstition

Given 270 KTA's track record with Penzance Running Days, it was brave of The Cornishman to include us in their preview of the event.

Regular readers of the blog will know (whereas readers of the paper hopefully won't) that our successful attendance is never without jeopardy. Loud noises and over-running gearbox rebuilds thwarted each of our earliest attempts to reach West Cornwall, to the point that I once thought we'd been jinxed by the famous Pirates.

Despite successful attendances in 2014 and 2015, an element of superstition remains at 270 KTA Headquarters and I never take for granted the success of the 200 mile round trip, or the free vintage bus services (over difficult terrain) we throw ourselves into if we're lucky enough to arrive.

Terrific, then, that we should be given the first run on a new route at the event: Number 13.

Fighting the stars, here is our friend at the Sancreed terminus of Service 13 last weekend, a really lovely route as it turns out. Along with two successful visits to Sancreed, we also ticked off the hilly 16 to St Ives (top photo), via Ludgvan and Halsetown, as well as our now-established duty to St Buryan - favoured by readers of The Cornishman.

Despite the omens, 270 KTA performed almost faultlessly; a small matter with a broken spring on a brake light switch explains the irate man at St Buryan. And as noted by one passenger during the decent of Newlyn Hill, "Good job you did that brake adjuster!".

Wasn't it just.

So there, despite pessimism, successfully began the 2016 season for our friend, another busy year full of delight... and probably still trepidation...

Thursday, 24 March 2016


In spite of the distraction caused by the arrival of a little brother, these have actually been a productive few weeks for 270 KTA.

I'm very pleased that one little task in particular, added to my loo roll list many sheets ago, has finally been wiped off. Let me explain.

Since I rebuilt them five years ago, 270 KTA's brakes have required regular adjustment to keep them at peak performance. Brake adjustment has always been key with SUs; a former Royal Blue Inspector once told me, "the brakes on 'em were either really good or there weren't any". Consequently I've become paranoid about keeping them well-adjusted and couldn't help but worry that one adjuster always needed more turns than the others....

For the uninitiated, drum brakes work by means of 'shoes' which, when the brakes are applied, are brought into contact with the inside of the spinning brake drum to slow it down. Over time, both the lining of the shoes and the drum itself become worn, and therefore the position of the shoes must be periodically adjusted so that the movement of the shoes continues to take effect on the drum.

It turns out that this was 270 KTA's problem. This spring-clip, fixed to the brake adjuster, is designed not only to give definition to the positions of the brake adjuster (which turns to move the shoe up or down relative to the drum, by means of a thread), but also to lock the adjuster in position. Without it, vibration can cause the adjuster to turn and, in this instance, wind the brakes off! As you can see, the end of this one has broken off.

Don't panic - we're talking millimetres over hundreds of miles here - but it's certainly enough to have made me suspicious over time and feed the paranoia about brake adjustment. With a new clip now fitted, the adjuster should maintain its position over time. On the Inspector's binary measure, the brakes should henceforth be "good".

This was a straightforward job, made easier because I was re-tracing my own steps. Everything came apart easily because I'd put it back together with grease and copper-slip last time. For the first ever time, 270 KTA came quietly and a simple job was even easier than I'd anticipated. Perhaps our friend is finally becoming tame - or perhaps the presence of a sibling role-model is having an effect.

I don't believe either for a minute. This weekend 270 KTA will be in action (for one day only: Saturday) at the South Devon Railway Easter Gala. Immediately afterwards, that nasty crack in the offside lower windscreen will finally become a memory - another little job that's only been waiting for six years....