22 May 2018

As busy as busy bees

Here’s a re-cap of what has taken place in the last month:

Sean re-joined the restoration for a couple of weeks, until things got busy again for him. It meant that productivity was up and progress was good and I then continued to maintain that progress myself.

Weather-wise: we had some bitterly cold weather, followed by the hottest early Spring Bank Holiday on record, cooled a bit again and then became pleasantly warm. I managed to forge through the cold spells with extra layers of clothing.

The offside rear wheel arch was finished. Then I turned to the nearside wheel arch (thinking it would be easy and it wasn’t). Sean then opted for making the timber for the nearside front wheel arch. He used the same method as for the timber for the rear wheel arches - creating a cardboard template, refining until it is accurate, using it as a pattern for marking the wood, cutting and sanding down until perfected. Then there was the essential protective coating, assembly and fitting. We worked late into the evenings under floodlights to get the work done.
After that, it was back to being a team of one – I cleared out the rear pillars of old wood and rusty bolts, rust treating them, repairing the rear waist rail (welding some steel box channel to the inside/top/nearside edge), preparing and fitting new pillar timber, creating waist rail topping timber, creating a new offside base piece of timber and weatherproofing all the newly added pieces.

I also had to revisit the rear sections of both wheel arches, as I wasn’t happy with them. So both were re-done (it’s a lot quicker the second time around). The valance panel fixings on the battery crate both needed repositioning, which was quite a major job, but necessary to get it to fit properly.
I had to get under the rear section, so the bus had to go up on my makeshift ramps. I don’t like it being up there for too long as not all of the rear wheels are supported; just long enough to do the jobs necessary.
Next up was the rear cant rail and adjoining area. I had tried to avoid looking at it for a long time, as it was rusted beyond repair. But that is not a bad thing when it comes to dealing with it, as there is no question of what to do - rip it out and replace with new. I’m not going to kid you and say it was a 5-minute job. Try 5 days - at an average of 10 hours a day - about 50 hours. The rear cant rail was made to order some time ago and I had to make the corner structure from some steel pieces that I had laser cut and some sheet steel, welding them together.

The structure must have been added to and removed from the bus somewhere between twenty to thirty times, to check for fit, make adjustments and treat. From there I made my way forward on both sides of the bus at the cant rail level, dealing with any remaining rust and rotten wood, taking me forward to the bays that have already been done. This completes the removal of all the old rusty metal and rotten wood up to this height at the rear of the bus. There was a lot of it; much more than I had expected. The timber becomes harder to remove the higher up you go, as it is less rotten. But it does have a lot of rusty screws in it and no clean/flat outer face, which means that it has to come out. I would turn the better stuff around and use the rear face, but it is only coming off in short pieces and much is splitting as it is tough to remove. The interdeck brackets at the rear of bay 4 need some work. I took advantage of a peak in temperature to rust treat the newly exposed metalwork, for the best result in converting the remaining rust and ensuring that it is going to last. The really badly rusted parts have been cut off and had repair pieces added or be left curtailed as appropriate.
I had to use compressed air to clear out the rust, birds nest remnants and other rubbish from the space over the platform ceiling. There was so much of it that it took more than half an hour blowing high pressure air into the section to clear it out, leaving me looking like a bit like a coal miner. I’m not really sure how birds managed to get in there, as although the bus spent many years with access available to them via an open platform, getting into that space would not have been easy. But access it they did and chicks they hatched, with up to about ten quarter inch egg shells left behind and no bird skeletons - a success story.
Then, a cold North wind blowing dented motivation and the difference in temperature was very noticeable. Time was not wasted though; a thorough tidy-up was undertaken (I am a self-confessed messy worker, despite believing in the adage of ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’). Low and behold - I found the crowbar that I have been missing for a long time, masquerading as a piece of scrap metal. That pleased me because (as mentioned) the remaining timber is getting harder to remove and the ‘persuader’ is just the guy for the job.
Some new wood arrived - to make the intricate pieces above the lower saloon windows. I wasted no time in preparing them for their purpose. A groove was channeled out on one face (the edge that faces inwards) to accommodate the interior rail that borders the window shrouds and the lower saloon ceiling. The rear face of these pieces marries to timber that the window pans fix to. The edges that meet were all treated. All other parts that need treating before assembly were done. Recesses for wood fillets that the shrouds screw to were cut out. The interior will be phase 2 of the restoration, but anything that affects the exterior has to be done during phase 1.

I also made two new bespoke brackets for over the platform - one at the front and one at the rear. These provide a method of fixing shaped pieces of wood to the pillars - shaped pieces that the trim can be screwed to that covers the internal/external facings. They are not just screwed to pieces of wood that sit unconnected to anything (as this could allow the facings to sag). The original brackets were rusted to virtually nothing, so new ones derived from old fluorescent light fitting boxes were shaped, drilled and painted. They have a few more holes in than they need, but the donor parts were free and free is a good price for source materials. The extra holes won’t make any difference anyway. Much of the metal I use has been sourced for free, by being a bit cheeky when buying metal box section or angle iron and asking if there are any free offcuts. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. These particular parts date from the seventies (stamped with manufacture date) when they made things from metal and are now being upcycled for many more years of worthwhile use.
There has been a lot achieved in the past month. I had some leftover rust treatment in a cup this week and walked around looking for places to use it. There wasn’t anywhere below the level of the cant rail that needed treatment, which is a major milestone. The more I do, the more I am inspired to do.

17 April 2018

Here comes the sun

It’s been a long time coming, but the weather is changing (for the better in bus restoration terms). With the IOS Blogger app being ditched, updates to the restoration have been published on the bus Facebook page in the first instance, as it is more convenient (https://facebook.com/rt3316page) and copied to the blog as time permits. Personally I think they are very short-sighted; perhaps the commercials simply don’t add up and they feel that blogs are a thing of the past. I disagree, as I consider Social Media to be a topical delivery method as people generally don’t look at historical posts, so I will maintain the blog (http://blog.rt3316.com) as a record of the restoration (planned to be kept long term).

The last time I wrote, I was moving on from the offside bay 3 to the offside rear wheel arch, full of confidence that it would be a walk in the park. Yeah, well it was a walk through brambles and nettles if I’m to use that analogy. What a pig it has been. I had based my expectations on the pieces of wood that I prepared for the nearside wheel arch (but have not yet fitted). Just as I thought that I had it all right, I used a mallet to tap a tight fitting piece of wood into place and there was a cracking sound – the sound of a piece snapping off the end. These pieces of wood are curved sections, which are not easy to make (especially when you have the most useless bandsaw in the world). They result in a lot of wastage. After creating a new substitute, I then found that I wasn’t happy with another bit (or the gap at the end of it - I am extremely fussy), so that meant making a replacement for that too.

Once finally done, the whole lot had to be dismantled again for treating two sides, waiting until dry and then treating the remaining faces. It is a delight to assemble for the final time and my expectations for the nearside rear wheel arch have been realigned.

All of this is extremely time consuming. On Sunday I went along to the Spring Gathering at Brooklands but barely stayed for a couple of hours, heading straight to the bus to put in another seven hours of hard slog. The photos I took precede some tidying up, so that I can be organized for the next battle. I aim to increase the time and effort in order to make some advances and with milder weather and longer days, should hopefully catch up on the backlog caused by Winter. Check back soon for the next update.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. I added the eyes!


01 April 2018

Easter 2018

Happy Easter 2018 to one and all.

I am absolutely not bothered about the shops being closed for a day or chocolate eggs that don’t even contain a glass and a half of milk any more. I spent the day working on the bus. It was colder than I thought it was going to be, but it was just my fingers that were getting a little chilly from time to time. Nothing that wrapping them around a nice cup of tea couldn’t fix. Speaking of fixing, today’s agenda included completing the rear offside corner, up to the cant rail at least. It is quite a milestone, as I’ve essentially completed a full circuit of the bus up to at least about the height of the bonnet.

London Transport opted to make the rear corner somewhat flexible due to frequent dings and dents, with the lower rear corner panel being replaced by a rubber panel. The bus was purchased with a rubber panel here and It looked awful, so I vowed to revert to a regular panel after restoration. The bus is not going to be shunted around in bus garages such that the corner is going to get dented and if someone rear ends it, I have more to worry about than some broken wood.

At the bottom of the body for the rear corner, I was able to source an original part, similarly for above the waist rail. I made up the other two pieces that I needed, which have to cater for the taper in at the back end of the bus - in case anyone didn’t realize, the width at the very back of the bus is less than the main width along the length of the vehicle.

Mid way between the base and the waist rail presented me with a challenge. Wood is needed here to fix the panel and trim to, but I wanted a bit more strength and support, so I had some steel laser cut to the appropriate shape and created a metal corner section to fix the wood to. Two of these steel corners were welded together, but spaced apart by 43mm. It sounds very precise, but in actual fact, that was just the distance that I ended up with after using the brackets I had to space the bits apart! These have been bolstered by some spacer bolts too - nothing in half measures. The section is rock solid, but without adding unacceptable weight to the area. The metal parts have been rust treated (which primes them to resist corrosion) and everything was finally all bolted together and treated to combat moisture and rot.

It probably doesn’t look like much, but it means a lot to me. The rear corner has just been a vacant space for an extremely long time. It’s done now - on to the next bit, which is finishing off the timber for the rear wheel hoops - something I consider quite easy in comparison.


23 January 2018

Winter 2017 restoration update

It’s been a long time since the last restoration update, but that does not mean that work has not been happening. On the contrary, a lot has been achieved.

The goal is to work around the entire lower area (e.g. below lower saloon windows) and ensure that the bus has sound foundations. Although the vehicle was a great big bucket of rust, the lower areas were by far the worst, due to water flowing downwards and being splashed up.

The good news is that the lower areas are 95% completed now. This includes a new riser (arguably the most important part of an RT), new battery riser (there’s no point in doing one riser and not the other), completely new platform, reconstructed rear end, stripped back both sides of the lower saloon to the centre section (replacing pillar foot brackets and outrigger timber, floor channels, floor, longitudinal seat footrests and floor, valance support timber and valance panels), repaired or replaced waist rails and brackets, repaired front bulkhead, repaired front nearside panel and front wings, replaced bonnet, replaced 75% of cab timber, new rear wheel hoops and made a new battery crate (from two crates). All that remains is the completion of the offside section around and ahead of the offside rear wheel hoop and the offside rear corner. It is clearly questionable about whether the bus should have been saved, but the answer is that it could and has been. No bus was more worthy of a complete restoration than this one, which would otherwise have been lost forever (which would have been a loss of a piece of significant history).

When I last posted an update, I was confidently working on the cab. I was a bit too ambitious as it turned out that the parts did not fit back on the bus as well as I thought they did. The final tolerance expanded to about an inch (25mm) out. That was totally unacceptable as that is when glass gets stressed and breaks or the door or windows won’t shut. So the cab had to be dismantled again. With the use of a bottle jack, clamps and braces, it was slowly put back together. Some wood pieces were made again from scratch and there was lots of measuring and double checking of the fitting of adjacent parts.

Although it was a lot of work, it was worth doing again. The cab wood was treated once more to ensure the best possible protection has been applied to resist water damage and rotting.
Most of the lower panels have been fitted and work was done on the outriggers. The ones ahead of the rear wheels were very badly corroded and the wood was crumbling to dust. I have strengthened them with 20mm steel box sections bolted through and welded on, with new pillar feet brackets. These are unique brackets and difficult to make and are left and right handed. The near side has been fitted, allowing the floor channel to be added. This in turn, meant that the floor section for the outer third of the lower deck in bay 3 could be constructed - it seems like forever since there was something to stand on here. Over the festive season, the pillar was refitted along with the coving panel for this bay and a new lower panel. This section required the adjacent one (the wheel arch) to be done at the same time. It was a lot of work, but has been a long time coming. Completing the nearside was a fantastic milestone, celebrated with a well earned cup of tea!

I’ve had to work my way up as well. The inter-deck strengthening brackets were found to be wrong. The holes for the wood support brackets for the top of the cant rail are in the wrong place, thus putting the top of the can’t rail 15mm too high. I have consequently had to remove the ones that I have fitted, drill new holes in all of the brackets and refit them. I hate having to go back and do things twice and I seem to have had to do quite a lot of that. It means that I am unproductive and that really bugs me. But ending up with the right result is far more important and I’m not going to bodge it.
On re-doing these, I observed that the contours of the body were not straight. Certain assumptions are made, such as: by using the original holes in pillars etc., everything will line up. That is one wrong assumption. I bought a reel of white elastic and pinned points along the bus to establish the datum lines to work out what was wrong. I finally found that the problem was with the nearside pillar between bays 3 and 4, which had shunted upwards (probably due to upward jolts from potholes) and had forced the body out of shape. I can overcome it by creating new holes for brackets all the way up and trim the top of the upper pillar. This is more favorable than doing a cut and shut on the lower pillar and the body has been bent out of shape for so long that it is not even possible to pull it back into shape (I tried but the pillar was simply going to buckle, so abandoned it).

The good news is that I have completed the hard bits. Whilst there is still a lot to do, it gets easier from here, with the exception of no longer being at ground level (and I don’t like heights - which is a bit odd for someone restoring a double decker, but is something that I must simply overcome). Hopefully, Winter will be over soon and the cold weather will stop hampering efforts.

17 September 2017

End of summer 2017

The Summer Holiday season is over and the nights are drawing in again. My focus switched to the driver's step, the panel that it fits in and the structure that supports it. The absence of the step was not only making it difficult for me to get into the cab, but also anyone else who needs to move my bus. To save on repetition, the next section is an update posted to Facebook.

This panel took in excess of 60 man hours to do; Ken sandblasted and prepared the actual step; I cut off the bottom fifth of the panel and welded on a new section that I made from an old fluorescent light fitting. I finished it off with some Isopon P38 (duly sanded) and then Ken etch primed the whole section and fitted new screws. I had to create new wood framing from scratch and rust treat and refit the supporting metal brackets. The bulkhead wood insert bracket had to be modified as it was not an original and was too wide for the wood (more welding). That bracket was welded to the new bulkhead lower channel and both were treated to prevent rust. The parts underneath and the wood were treated with black bitumen paint to resist the effects of water that will get thrown up into this area (the main reason for having to re-do so much of it). Finally, pre-drilling the hardwood for the panel securing screws and fixing it in place.

The next thing on my radar was cab wood, as I was getting a bit concerned about the risk of cab wood pieces already prepared being accidentally broken. I was a bit surprised at how quickly I was able to finish off the pieces for the front of the cab, with the bandsaw coming in particularly handy. These were mostly a case of reverse engineering them from the bits that came off, which were old but for the most part, intact. The long, intricate corner piece was a brand new old stock that I sourced, which would have been hard to remake. After screwing and bolting it all together, it has been painted and awaits finishing off with the side cab wood pieces and refitting of the front/corner panel. I have some work to do inside the cab though before I close it up. I've also just got the wood to complete the rest of the lower panel wood supports and will be working on those too and a replacement front offside mudguard that needs a bit of tidying up. I think I need to clone myself.