25 October 2015

Show us your front

Today was another one of those days where we had a plan to do something and got distracted with a 'we'll just do this first', which always leads to something else, which ends up turning into a big job. The 'we'll just do this first' was removing the d-shaped trim around the front of the bus, but what I turned into was removing the indicators, front can't rail sections, nearside and offside corner panels above the can't rail, d-shaped trim below the front upper deck windows, the front destination display windows and the trim under the canopy holding the canopy in place. Today's photo shows the final outcome, a good day's work.

According to reports and statistics, people following the progress of the restoration least like doing so on a Sunday. Well, that is when I am most likely to post an update after a long day of working on the bus. I'm sure if you all want to hear about it, you'll do so as and when you are ready but if you want to make sure you know when an update has been posted, just make sure you're following the Facebook page at https://facebook.com/rt3316page - that way you'll get a notification. If you 'Like' the page you will get notified when there is an update.

18 October 2015

Busy busy busy

Wow, I can’t believe it has only been a week since I last provided an update on progress, although I have been saying that things will get busier now.

It is time to remove the steering wheel and get it refurbished. The coating is cracked in places and has electrical tape wound around it to stop fingers getting sliced, but that has severely affected the driving experience. The wheel is held in place by a single bolt and a small slither of metal recesses into a groove in the column and in the wheel. Four bolts connected from the underside of the wheel that can connect to a wheel ‘pusher’. I don’t have one, so I set about making one. Using a strong thick piece of hardened steel, I drilled out the holes for the four bolts and another in the centre, which was tapped to accept a bolt. The pusher lined up near perfectly on the first attempt and I tightened the bolt against the steering column with a ratchet handle. As I tightened the bolt, the thread got chewed away on the bolt and I realised that it had been a waste of time. Plan B involved a copious amount of WD40 and an obscene amount of heat. Heat had been tried in the first instance but had been fruitless. This time the heat gun was placed directly over the column, suspended by cords and cable and allowed to run for at least ten minutes until the end of the steering column was glowing red and the WD40 was beginning to evapourate. When I returned to the wheel with a crowbar to lever and a sledgehammer to ‘persuade’, it only needed one light tap and the wheel was off. The metal retaining piece remained connected in the groove of the column.

With the wheel off, attention was turned to the rear destination window. In need of some TLC, it needed to be removed. The cherry picker is now proving to be invaluable, providing a safe, sturdy platform to work from that can be easily moved around the bus and adjusted up or down at the press of one button or the other. The trim was prised off the rear destination box window, followed by the surrounding panel, the panel below, the curved corner panels on the nearside and the offside, exposing the whole destination frame and allowing removal of the lower part of the destination panel. The glass in the main window was broken, so had to be extricated with a few taps of a hammer – a new piece will be needed anyway.

The nearside destination window came next. The surrounding panel was not original and was connected on the inside of the box with rusty screws. The panel could not be saved and was sacrificed in aid of ensuring that the box itself remained intact, showing few signs of decay. The right decision was made. With a couple of offside rear panel removed, the tail end of the bus looks quite different now (and better by getting back to the root of the corrosion. It is now possible to see what needs to be done underneath and allow access to do it.

The next goal is to empty the upper saloon which is being used as storage space. All of the seat cushions will be taken out and stored in the giant tarpaulin, wrapped up to protect them from dust and from damage. I also want to reduce the weight bearing down on the lower deck whilst the risers are replaced. The weight of a bus load of seat squabs, seat frames and other items adds up.

Another shopping trip was undertaken as well, obtaining a replacement bonnet that is better than the current one, brand new lower (slightly curved) outer panels, a brand new under-canopy window, various pieces of curved and shaped wood, a battery bay, a rear emergency window, pieces of trim and other essential parts. 

11 October 2015

Into dry dock

It has been quite a while since I posted an update on the restoration progress and people may have got the impression that it’s all gone to rack and ruin. That is not the case, but there have been some setbacks and delays as well as curve balls that life has thrown at me to boot.
The platform riser and battery riser proved to be more challenging than expected for the company that made them. It turned out that the original plans used don’t explicitly show an imaginary line that needs to be included to be able to get the platform brackets in the correct place. This meant that they were not lining up correctly and getting it right meant considerable delay. But at least they are right now and the drawings are correct for any further risers that anyone needs. These risers are a modern representation of the originals and have been galvanized inside and out, are stronger than the original whilst still retaining the same crucial measurements. The next stage is to put the bus into ‘dry dock’ to remove the old risers and fit the new ones.

Whilst waiting for the risers to be manufactured the nearside floor was tackled. The channel at the outer edge was corroded in too many places to warrant repair, so new channel was made to the same specification and we had some custom brackets made for these. The turnaround time on these pieces is not particularly quick – small bespoke items don’t hold much of a priority with most of the companies that we approach to do these things. But we did cater for the offside as well – this bus is being done thoroughly.

We also determined that we needed a lot of brackets to support the wood that fits between each bay. These are principally two types with holes in opposite configuration, so to all intents and purposes, left and right brackets. There were no ‘off the shelf’ brackets that suited the purpose, so we had some made to a new universal design that works for either left or right. However, the first batch of these were not right and added further delay. We now have them and they are all correct – we anticipate that we have enough for the whole bus (all of the original ones need to be replaced – there is no point in doing a half-hearted job).

Whilst all of this was going on during the summer, we sought to address the issue of accessing the upper part of the bus. Ladders and platforms are an option, but portable warehouse steps are ideal for this task. The only problem is that they are not made for being transported – they need to be strong, so they are typically welded together or so seriously bolted that it is not feasible to dismantle when it comes to buying secondhand ones. Enter the cjherry picker (or more accurately ‘vertical lift’). To suit the requirement a secondhand vertical lift on a trailer was bought. It needed some refurbishment, so it was rewired and the trailer components were modified, rust treated and painted. Hey presto, we have a fully functional 24v vertical lift with a two man cradle that raises up to 5.9 metres. Which is more than enough to get to any part of the 4.35 metre high bus. The refurbishment has most likely tripled the value of it, but it is now a useful asset and wins friends in the preserved bus scene!

Further parts stripping has been taking place as well. A project like this is very time consuming, which is why it is labelled as ‘a labour of love’. Removing old parts has to be done slowly and carefully. Most of the screws and bolts are rusted and are more like pins. The corrosion happens about half way down, so they get thin in the middle, but much of the wood has rotted and in the process has swollen. So swollen rotted wood holds onto rusted screws and bolts. Most parts need to be prised off using chisels, screwdrivers, hammers and a crowbar. Constant gentle prising is needed, coupled with the patience of a Saint. Many of the tasks seem quite daunting and you feel deflated as you uncover the extent of the corrosion. In my case I was also uncovering a lot of bodged work. Rusted pieces that have not been treated but have just had car filler applied, with the corrosion continuing to eat away underneath. Thus, some parts just come away in large chunks of filler. You have to eradicate the decay by either removing or treating all the rusted parts. Sometimes that means cutting out sections, but the end result needs to be corrosion free and then be treated against future corrosion. Eventually it will break down again - especially if exposed to the elements – but a decent protective layer can help to fight off that damage and ensure that the crucial hidden parts don’t fail the integrity of the polished final product. The latest pieces to come off are the nearside front wing and nearside front mudguard. The wing was not easy to remove, but had to come off as it is corroded and needs to be repaired. But we will make it come up like new. As for the mudguard, it needs repairing due to corrosion, but I have managed to acquire a brand new one in LT primer. That is one of the parts that I have been able to get hold of.

Getting hold of parts for a 65 year old bus is a challenge. You don’t just find them on the internet and there is no “Parts for old buses” shop. But it is not impossible. I have made sure that I balance working on the restoration with networking at various bus events. You need to get to know the fellow bus owners and take note of their recommendations and advice if you are new to the game. A project like this is a steep learning curve and there are many people who will help you along the way, but they are not going to come to you – you need to go out and find them. I found someone who has collected parts for RT restorations and has now determined that they won’t be doing any more, three is enough. Thus they have lots of parts that I need. For me it is like it is Christmas – I made a list, checked it twice and found that 90% of my wish list is available. Being able to obtain the parts will save a considerable amount of time, effort and expense. Which is fabulous as I have a ridiculously aggressive time schedule for getting the work done and I have to hold down a full time job and pay for it (I’m not a highly successful millionaire businessman, I work like most other people and maintain all the usual things that everyone else does too – this would be far more difficult without volunteers to help me).

The current stage of the restoration is the fitting of the risers (this will take a while as the old one is not going to want to come out easily), along with starting to build up the nearside lower deck again and removing more parts for renovation. The steering wheel will go away for renovation; the nearside front wing is being repaired and the front mudguard being replaced. Sean Weston has joined the Friends of RT3316 and has been instrumental in helping to remove the rear destination cover which will undergo refurbishment by Ken Brett, also a Friend of RT3316. Ken has finished refurbishing many of the parts removed during the summer. They won’t be going back onto the bus yet and I will take some photos for the next update. Some have been finished off completely and others have been etch sprayed ready to be fitted again prior to a respray.

One last thing that I haven’t mentioned is that I paid a visit to London Transport Museum’s Archive. I had to arrange this with them (and it took a while), but I found that they were very helpful and allowed me access to the original technical drawings, many of which haven’t seen the light of day in well over a decade. I now have technical details that will help when it comes to having to make up parts or have them made. As the time that was available to me was limited, I only got my hands on about four to five hundred drawings. I saw the rest and they numbered about another thousand – I will have to arrange to go back again and make sure that I have more time on my next visit to go through them all.