26 April 2015


Someone remarked this week that is very easy to get despondent when you're doing a restoration project. They're absolutely right and the irony is that last week I'd posted that I'd been listening to the song "things can only get better" whilst taking photos of the hard work ahead of me. What is so ironic about that? Well, this week I looked a little further up the framework and discovered that at least one pillar has completely corroded away. The floor above is bearing down on the lower part of the pillar and forcing it outwards. *deep sigh*

This now becomes a priority to deal with as a strong and sturdy structure is essential to the bus. I also discovered corroded supports and missing brackets (completely corroded away) for the nearside floorboards. Some of the boards have also perished and I know that when they come out, they are going to flake away into kindling. But why stop there? What is left of the platform frame was getting worse all the time. So I decided to remove the stanchion to see just how bad it was and it nearly fell off. One stubborn bracket attached to (what remains of) the riser refused to let go of the 20kg platform frame and had to be cut, levered and twisted (to weaken it) away. At least it won't fall off now. The more I do, the worse the bus looks. But it's like a cancer that needs to be cut out.

On a positive note I've had some useful and enlightening conversations this week. I have determined that the reason for the air taking so long to build up (air compressor builds up air pressure once over idling speed, which is needed for gear selection as well as brakes - no air pressure, no moving - the successful signs are that the stop flag rises, the warning light goes out and you can hear the hiss when you hit the operator or brake pedals). On cold days, or when the bus has got cold (indoors in the dark with a concrete floor is not the warmest of places) it has been taking nearly 30 minutes to achieve air pressure. The pressure does not leak, as once it is up it can stay up for hours or nearly all night (I vaguely remember those days). On Wednesday it took half an hour to get sufficient air pressure. On Friday somebody else had the same issue as they needed to move her. But when I went in on Saturday afternoon, it took less than a minute (even though it had been the previous day since being moved). So this turns out to most likely be a sticky valve on the gearbox and I'm told that some RTs are like this and others aren't and that was the same when they were in service. The advice I have been given is to try pumping the operator and brake pedals when starting as this can help to 'unstick' the offending valve. I'd really like to get it sorted once and for all, but in the meantime I'll try that and see if it helps. At the moment it's costing me a fortune to start it up just to pull outside. I will post some time in the future when I've had a chance to see if that works.

I haven't got as much done this week as I'd like to have. I had a puncture (not on the bus) this week which required breakdown recovery to come out. The following day the repair failed, so they had to come out again. Breakdown recovery eats into your time so much and 'fun' stuff is what has to suffer. I'm also trying to plan ahead to source:

  • A supplier of seasoned ash (or suitable equivalent hardwood) - if anyone has any recommendations please message me
  • A metal fabricator - I have dismantled a couple of my window pans (windows were known as 'lights' by London Transport back in the day, but if I say 'lights' you'll be thinking, wtf?!) and I have asked around for spares. I've not found anyone who has a shedload, so I am looking at getting them made up. With modern techniques and equipment I hope to find someone who wants to get into doing this, with the foresight that everyone else will go to them as well
  • Various RT spares - I've previously mentioned that I was supposedly given everything with the bus, but a rudimentary inventory has proved that I am missing various bits and pieces (shrouds, mouldings, bracelets, seat frame bolts). Fortunately there are people who have most of what I am after. I need to do a full inventory to get my shopping list prepared

Most importantly this week are the conversations that I have had and the people who I have met. I went to the Watford Running Day and talked with some great people who had plenty of time for me and it gave me plenty to move forward with. I didn't take the bus (it's properly off the road right now) but did catch RT604 there. The livery is not my favourite (I'm a red bus kinda guy) but I was scouring the inside to see what goes where and being anal and photographing bracelet positions, wood trim and tread placement. Geek stuff, but necessary for when things go back (everything I am removing is tediously being labelled, but a lot of things were already removed (some of it ripped off like the Hulk had previously been helping with restoration, some of it twisted, levered and cut off). These jigsaw pieces need to be identified, ascertain whether they all came off this bus and labeling. So now I'm bloody csi.

20 April 2015

A rollercoaster week

This week was a week of ups and downs. The week started off well with the knowledge that all important electrics were working. Then I chased up the riser pricing and had a knock back that the laser cutting suppliers previously used had got out of the business and a quote from another supplier had made my provider choke on his cup of tea. He was still searching out other suppliers, so all was not lost and I'd have to wait until the end of the week to find out if this is a feasible option.

Then I spent an evening getting on with removing the first two bays on the nearside. These bays had been restored by the previous owner and I knew that they were not right. The waist rails had been replaced with aluminium floor plates, which had no seat retaining brackets, so the seats next to them were unsafe to sit on and I refused to let anyone sit there whilst the bus was being driven. Boy was I glad I'd made that decision! When the bays came out, I found that the replacement waist rails were fixed only to the wood in the uprights with two half inch screws at either end. Bay 1 nearly collapsed when I started to dismantle it. The wood on top of the stretcher was bolted to the stretcher but wasn't attached to the pillars at either end of the bay. The wood above the window was only attached to the external panels and fell out when those screws were removed. Bay 2 was a copy of bay 1, but there was no wood above the window and no wood behind the cant rail (between lower and upper decks). I was flabbergasted.

What I don't actually get, is that the pictures found on the internet of the waist rail in bay 1 before being replaced, show that it was actually in fairly good condition and just needed some rust treatment and possibly some minor remediation work.

It is somewhat cruel to criticize people for their work, even if it is of a poor standard. I knew the first moment that I saw it that it wasn't up to my own standards (I can be a bit of a perfectionist) and knew that it would need to be redone, but had no idea just how bad it was until this week. I must admit that I was already harbouring a grudge because when I picked up the bus the destination blinds were missing. Not only that, the rollers were missing too. I questioned this and the first response I got was that there weren't any when he had bought it. I questioned that too, because just two months earlier there had been pictures posted on the internet with blinds being displayed. The response to that was that he didn't know where they were, possibly in the back of his garage. When I said I wanted them, I got told that he didn't think he'd be able to find them. It's one thing to want a keepsake like the local route destination blind, but that left me with the headache of having to get new rollers. It's like having a test drive in the car and really enjoying the sound system, only to find that when you pick it up the stereo has been removed and being told that there wasn't one, even though you'd been listening to some banging tunes. It's theft at the end of the day, but I'd let it go and moved on - until I saw the appallingly shoddy workmanship that had replaced adequate original pieces.

This bus has been wronged on more than one occasion. At some point in the past it has had work done on it that was not done properly - a cover up. I don't know who did that and it may have been done without the owner's knowledge at that time, with them thinking that they were getting a good job done. This most recent case was one of someone who got in over their head. I felt that given the circumstances that it was fair to levy criticism with my posted remark accompanying a photo, saying "All that shit has got to go".

I was ready to move on after my shocking discovery as not much phases me. However, the next day I found that all my Facebook posts had been deleted. If the previous night had been a low point, this was almost rock bottom. I'd been posting in a group on Facebook along with other bus preservationists and restorers. It worked well with the right audience and appeared to be appreciated. This is something that I am doing my way for me, but for me to share my story, my progress, the ups and downs with others who have an interest and some of whom would love to have the opportunity to do the same thing themselves, is rewarding for me. If just a handful of people find it useful or interesting, then the effort to publish is worthwhile. Having all of that wiped out because I levied some criticism (about 10% of what I have dished out in this article) along with all the comments and feedback I received, was very disheartening.

It was confirmed to me by others that the person who the criticism was made of (without actually naming them) is an admin of that group and that my posts had been deleted, I had been blocked with the additional action of being prevented from being unblocked. I deliberated about it and realized that I had actually been doing it wrong anyway. I started off using my Facebook account for the bus. Facebook don't like that, they like you to be a person. So I'd changed that and then posted to a group, but whilst that has the correct audience, it's not a good way to document your project because it gets lost among the other group posts. This blog was stale, but it is a good place to keep a diary of the progress as others can join later and pick up from the beginning quite easily. But in order to share this with the people who want to see it, I need to update them via Facebook. Hence the RT3316 page was born (https://www.facebook.com/rt3316page). This page is the place to post the updates for the bus, with the focus currently being on the blog as the permanent record. Comments are welcome on the rt3316 facebook page or on the blog itself. Questions, remarks, suggestions, opinions, praise, criticism - it's all most welcome. So we're back from the bottom, with a new spring to our step.

At the end of the week I got a message about the riser. My provider has found a supplier who can deliver what is needed without making him choke on his tea and I get the initial verbal pricing, which is better than I expected. That is great news. It will still be a big job, but it is just the end to the week that I needed.

This weekend I went back to really get the bays on the nearside thrashed out. I put in some hard work but it was worthwhile. I'd been advised to tackle it one bay at a time, but these three all needed to come out together, especially as any of them could have fallen out without their neighbours providing support.

The end result may look hideous to some, but to me it is fabulous. It's fabulous because we're making progress. The stretcher in bay 3 on the nearside needs some repair work, we have new waist rails for bay 1 and bay 2 (many thanks to Dave Simmons who saved us a whole lot of work by supplying some that he had made up some years ago). We can look to fit appropriate brackets for them and treat the rusted metal.

The cab emergency exit has been removed to be tidied up - but it is working, so that's a bit more good news. I also got sidetracked a little and started removing some trim around the cab. This revealed a mix of good and bad wood, but predominantly good. That was a concern as the cab is made up of dozens and dozens (not quite hundreds) of pieces of wood that need to be carved and are often rotten. Some of the wood in the cab has been replaced and (for once) has been done properly.

The week has ended on a good note and I'm pleased with the pace of restoration.

18 April 2015

Starting point

The restoration started in March 2015, with the first step being to move to new under cover premises where work on the bus can be done. The previous landlord was a good one, but did not want restoration to take place there, which is perfectly reasonable.

In preparing for the move, one of the batteries exploded. Yes, exploded - I'm not exaggerating. A build up of gas ignited when we went to start her up. I bought two new batteries from Tayna, fitted them (I made that sound a lot more simple than it actually was). The move was simple and she now lives in a secure under cover unit not far from Watford.

The first thing we did was to assess the condition of the riser. The riser sits at the rear end of the lower saloon, where you step up from the platform into the seating area downstairs. The riser sits on the end of the chassis and brackets are attached to it to support the platform. There is also a battery riser that bolts to the riser and extends rearward to support the battery bay beneath the stairs and attachs to the back of the bus at the lower most point. The riser is a major job on an RT and many believe that if it is knackered, the bus is not worth saving. Close inspection has determined that the riser on RT3316 is (for want of a better word), knackered. The inspection revealed that this bus has been 'refurbished', probably back in the nineties. However, it was not done well. It may have looked okay, but it was a cowboy job. Quickly I began to realise that rusted metal (for the most part) had been plated over, with no rust treatment on the original rusted piece. Thus creating a hidden environment for water/moisture to get trapped and the rust to spread even further, in turn creating even more moisture that then causes other areas of the bus to rust, that would not normally be so bad e.g. Behind the foot wells upstairs. When the rear panels of the bus were removed, it looked as though the end of the battery riser was in a remarkably good condition. But when the bottom step was taken out to allow access to fix the platform, it was then found that a piece had been added over the top of it, simply to cover it up.

I reached out to the bus preservation community for advice and got put in touch with somebody who had replaced a riser on an RT seven years ago. After speaking with someone involved with that (and finding that their experience was a good one), I contacted the company who made the riser and they advised that they could do another and would work out some pricing for me. But more about that later.

I also chatted with someone else about making a riser from scratch. An RSG is not an option, not only because the size would not be right (and the panel that should cover it would not fit back in place) or that it wouldn't slope the way that the riser does to allow water (rain) to run down off of the platform, or even that it would be too heavy, but more importantly (as was pointed out to me) it would be too rigid and would result in stress fractures elsewhere (such as the chassis). The riser was designed to flex a bit and absorb some of the stresses applied by bumpy roads (and we certainly have enough of them nowadays).

There were a couple of options on the table and things do not tend to move very quickly in the bus preservation / restoration world (possibly because many people in it have other full time commitments). So the next thing was to crack on with assessing the electrics.

The indicators had not worked since day one. I had seen them working in a video taken by the previous owner just a couple of months before I had bought the bus, but was told that they had been intermittent and so knew that they needed attention. I had tried to resolve the issue last year myself, but I was getting strange results from testing the continuity and voltage. Dave Simmons in Tilsworth helped me out with an RT wiring diagram and I spent many hours deciphering it and ended up reproducing my own simplified version (I will add a link here later to a download of it) which included just the indicator circuits and components. Note that I'm talking about the flashing directional indicators, as it took me a while to realize that 'indicators' was the term London Transport used in the day for destination displays.

Enter Ken. Ken contacted me last year with his story about when he drove RT3316 at Bolebroke Castle on the bus driving experience that she used to perform. It was fascinating to hear about it (and he is not the first person that I have spoken to who went to Bolebroke to drive her). Ken has since got involved with the restoration and we now work as a team. One of his great attributes is his ability to renovate items, so he has taken on the task of doing so with many of the items that can be removed to work on, including:

  • Headlamps & surrounds
  • Fog light
  • Side lights
  • Bell pushes
  • Radiator grill
  • Front number plate
  • Bonnet identification plate & bonnet handles
  • Rear light unit
  • Rear indicators
  • Rear number plate panel

He has a lot of work there, but I know that he will produce spectacular results. So all those items came off the bus and she is most definitely no longer roadworthy.

Next came tracing the electrics. Ken took the indicator switch away and found that it was cutting out intermittently. He did his magic and it came back repaired. We then found that there were bad contacts at various points (nearside front indicator ear, bulb holder), terminal block in the speedo unit, indicator switch connecting terminals, repeater unit (behind drivers head) and terminal block inside the rear light unit. Pretty much everywhere that there is a connection! Between us, we managed to fix them all and ended up with fully functional directional indicators! So then we took them off (we now know they work, but we have lots of work to do and will add those final pieces towards the end.

We got all the external lights working. We chased out the rear light unit wiring (it doesn't match the wiring diagram colour scheme or identification markings, but I expected that (so many people have worked on them over the years and once the bus was no longer serviced at Aldenham, variations were introduced).

We then got all the internal lights working, less the bulbs that are missing or broken. I'm working on sourcing replacements, but that is not as easy as it sounds.

A number of other electrics have been tested and there is some work to be done in-place, but nothing major - it's all bad contacts - no major rewiring needed!

Then the seat frames needed to be removed in the lower saloon. This is necessary to get access to the side panels, both internal and external. We will need to address each and every bay and resolve issues as we work our way around the bus (also a clean and open working space is essential to expediency and success). Removing the seats was not straightforward. The retaining bolts were all badly rusted, as were the screws into the floor. This was the point that I realized that Whitworth 3/16 tools are the most useful ones when stripping an RT. Most of the bolts used are that particular size and metric and imperial just don't cut it. Imperial 7/16 is the closest match, but the socket has to be carefully hammered into place over the bolt head as it is just fractionally too small. Thankfully I'd robbed my mother's old spanners (with her consent - she didn't even know where they had come from, let alone had any use for them) and had a Whitworth 3/16 spanner. After the first couple of seat frames I was able to pick up the pace and got through the rest of them.

Everything else had been moved upstairs for storage at this point. The seats need reupholstering and new foam, but I have had some discussions in the background and that will progress in the coming months, once the right deal with the right supplier has been made (the material is on back order anyway).

That brings us up to this current week, which I will cover in the next post.

17 April 2015

Restoration intro

Welcome to the RT3316 blog, which provides progress on the restoration of this 1951 AEC Regent III (RT type) double decker London bus. For the uninformed, it's the one before the Routemaster and it is red (always has been) with the engine at the front (with a half-cab) and platform at the back. There were c. 7000 of these buses built, but less than 300 survive today (most were scrapped).

The bus is undergoing major restoration. The original plan was to get the restoration performed by specialists but this did not pan out. The restoration is now being performed personally with assistance from various individuals who will be referenced and credited (where appropriate) through this account of the overhaul.

The restoration involves a considerable amount of work, but it is worth doing. A warning to anyone who thinks about buying an old bus to fix up - they can look quite good but conceal the real condition beneath the skin. It can be difficult even for a trained eye to really assess whether a purchase is worthwhile (as it can easily require £60,000 to make a bad bus good). This is not the case with RT3316. This bus revealed much of it's need for repair upon first inspection and consisted of an even balance of good and bad bits. Knowing that 50% needs repairing or replacing simplifies the task at hand and the desire to crack on and get the work done means that the timescale of completing this within a year is realistic (which is better than the 7+ year estimate that other RT owners state, from their own experience).

<EDIT> It later transpired that 95% of the bus needed reparing or replacing, including major items.

I will be bringing the blog quickly up to date with the work that has been performed so far. I am not an expert at restoration (I have never done anything like this before), however I am learning quickly from an incredibly helpful and knowledgeable array of people. I have quite high standards, so if I think that the result is good enough, only total purists are likely to disagree. I am also quite capable when it comes to 'fixing things' - it isn't what I do by day, nor am I talented at everything - I know when to ask for help. But I am happy to get my hands dirty, possess good common sense, have a positive attitude and drive. With the right tools, I can do lots of stuff. With these attributes, the restoration will get completed and will be done properly to a good standard.

I hope that you enjoy this account of the work. It may not always be completely serious, but it's not meant to be Pulitzer material!

Steve Downing