21 September 2018

September 2018 progress update

The frequency of the restoration updates is proportional to the progress. This is the third update in as many weeks, indicating that progress is good. She is still a skeleton right now, but it won’t be too long before her appearance changes.

It’s been a stormy week. The remnants of a hurricane and then two storms in two days. I must be barking to be four metres up in a cherry picker in gale force winds. But I’ve had some spare time that I have put to good use with some extremely long days getting filthy dirty with my labour of love. The near side framework was reassembled, ensuring all the timber follows straight lines along the length of the bus. I was then finally able to move on to bays 4 and 5 (upstairs over the platform) and the rear corner. The ‘D’ shaped window in bay 5 was removed - the window pan does not need any repairs, but had to come out to check the wood behind it. The piece at the bottom of it was rotten at both ends so had to be replaced. This is quite a deep bit of wood and (in my experience) is beyond doubt the most difficult piece to remove from the bus. It is wedged in to metal channel and held in place by a gazillion bolts and screws. This is the Excalibur of the RT. With all the screws and bolts cut, a three foot hardened steel crowbar hammered in behind the wood and pulled with all my might was rocking the whole bus side to side. This hardwood was the Peperami of all the hardwood on the vehicle. After an hour of gracefully trying to extract it, the mother of all drill bits was brought out to chomp it’s way through it, creating a shower of wood chippings. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Completing all the timber in the rear area of the near side meant that I could add some wood filler to some gaps and old screw holes, do some sanding, some brushing down of dirt and dust and add the metal and timber weatherproofing. This is where the wind comes in handy as sanding and brushing down outside in windy conditions means that it all just blows away up into the sky. I nearly blew away a few times too, but no excursion to Oz for me - I have far too much to be getting on with.

Essentially the near side is now finished. There’s the little matter of some windows and panels, but the bulk of the work is done. The off side is next - I anticipate that it will take two to three weeks to complete. It is actually worse than the near side, but it gets easier when you’ve done it once. I’m a dab hand now!

16 September 2018

A collapsed bus

This week was the week when I realized that since before I even owned the bus, it had collapsed. How could I possibly not have known before now? I’ve known for some time that something was not right on the near side. The inter deck brackets were so badly corroded that I had to create some support pieces, in much the same way that London Transport dealt with unforeseen issues. This week was when it became glaringly obvious just how serious the situation was.

 I’d been working my way along the upper saloon restoring the near side framework one bay at a time. The bay over the canopy is what I call bay zero, then there is the front bulkhead at the front of bay one and then bays two, three and four (which is over the rear wheels), rear bulkhead and bay 5 (over the platform). I had got as far as completing bay 3 and found that it was two inches (50mm) lower than bay 4. That’s not a small margin – that’s a cliff edge.
I could see that the lines were not straight, but couldn’t work out where it was going wrong. So I had a cup of tea and it helped me decide that I needed to create a plan of the framework, measure it all and then work out what was going on. Only when it came to analysing it did it become clear that each of bays zero through to three had collapsed on the near side – the off side was okay. As I worked my way forward along the nearside, the amount that the upper saloon had dropped got worse. When I bought the bus, it looked as though it needed a bit of work, but it looked fundamentally sound (apart from the lack of a platform). It was a wreck.

Today I set about fixing it. I labelled all of the timber from the waist rail up to the upper saloon windows and removed it all. It was a humid day and would have been great to work outdoors, but I needed to do this on a flat and level surface, so that meant working indoors. Bay 4 and 5 are okay (they contain considerably more metal keeping them in shape), so I started with bay 3. Each pillar had a marker (angle bracket) clamped to the top of the upper saloon window framework, all in the same position. The upper saloon window framework all measured up correctly, and the lower saloon floor channels, foot brackets and waist rails similarly (most of the lower saloon parts have been replaced). I had two constants and just needed to ensure that the upper saloon was lifted to get the same height for each bay. I make it sound simple, but there is a complication. The reason for the collapse is the corrosion of the inter deck brackets, which means that the floor/ceiling is lower than it should be. So I had to fix the upper saloon framework to the upper saloon floor / lower saloon ceiling and then lift the floor / ceiling until the correct overall height was achieved. All on my own.

I carried out this procedure for each pillar to raise each bay. The canopy was a little more tricky, but I’d already bolstered the near side support over the canopy and added new support for the front corner of the floor upstairs. This meant I was able to perform the work by lifting the canopy and adding support to the pillar and then lifting the floor / ceiling at the front of bay 1 and adding a support bracket to keep it at the correct height. All clamped together with marine grade steel M8 nuts and bolts with steel box channel in a vertical position to take the downward force in excess of the original design requirement. This bus has earned the right to be called a bionic bus. We have the technology, we can rebuild her.
The end result is a straight line along the upper saloon window framework and an uncollapsed bus. The next step is to reinstate all the timber. Some of the fixing holes for the brackets that support the timber are going to be in the wrong place, so I know that I will need to do some drilling. But the remediation had to be done and it has been. And now I’m kna whacked.

In the last update I mentioned that I’d done some repairs on the platform window but didn’t include a photo, so I’ve added a picture of that. This repair took 6 to 8 stages of filling and sanding before being primed. This area corrodes on all RTs and I've seen much worse than mine!

09 September 2018

Late summer 2018 update

It’s been a scorcher of a Summer - often far too hot for restoration work. That’s not my only excuse for slow progress - World Cup, work, illness and childcare also played a part. Work on the bus has continued, albeit a lot slower than the previous season. Now we are in our Indian Summer and it is back to forging ahead.

The repairs to the front near side mudguard/wing were completed and it was reassembled. Repairs to the lower saloon platform window pan were done (several layers of Isopon P38 sanded down one at a time until a perfect finish was achieved). This was done 'in situ'. At the front of the bus, the two ‘sweeping back’ timber frame pieces that make the front upper saloon corners had rot channels on their outer edges where the front windows and trim screwed into them. These are large (and difficult to make) pieces of wood, which were still fundamentally sound once the rotten timber was chiselled out. So some Everbuild two part wood filler was used to build layers. It hardens quite quickly to form an almost identical density compound to (very) hardwood. In much the same way as the Isopon filler, it was sanded down and then treated. The end result is a perfect finish that equal to (if not exceeding) the original timber.
The next step is replacing the upper saloon timber, much of which I thought was okay. Upon closer inspection, I was wrong. The only pieces that are okay are the ones that have never had screws in them - two strips either side behind the large side panels. Everything else has perished at some point - mostly at the ends / joins. It’s not the kind of perished that wood filler can fix - it’s rip it out and replace. The rotten bits come out easily, but the rest is solid hardwood. It might be okay if I could remove it and trim down and re-use, but the bolts holding it in are badly rusted and just snap if I try to undo them. It means that the upper saloon will take longer than expected, but it is what it is. No shortcuts - the labour of love continues. With one saving grace - the vertical lift (cherry picker) is a godsend. I can’t imagine doing this with just steps or ladders; I’m already up and down enough with the hydraulic platform.

This restoration lark is tough when you are doing it on your own. Trying to muster the enthusiasm to spend endless hours on what still looks like a burnt out shell is difficult. Every now and again though, I get a sign that helps. For example, the other day whilst I was working on her outside, I went to wash off a brush and met with a gardening services guy who was cutting a nearby hedge. He asked if I was breaking it for spares, which immediately deflated me. I told him that was not the case and what I was doing and he commended me and said that he will watch for the finished product. But he also then went on to tell me that he used to drive them and had respect for anyone who did that for a living. He asked me if I had ever heard of Red Rover in Aylesbury as that was who he worked for. Now that is unusual as they bought a number of RTs from London Transport as they were disposed of and ran them in service in and around Aylesbury in the sixties. They were some of the oldest of the LT RTs, so would not have had heaters and would have been tired, even when new. He said it was hard work and he certainly wouldn’t want to do it now - you needed muscles in your arms to turn the (non-power assisted) steering with a load of passengers at very low speed. Moments like those are what encourage me to continue when my tank is getting close to empty. That plus music.

Milestones help to encourage me to keep at it. Whilst the upper saloon framework is going to take a long time to do, I have broken it down into sections. The first section being the front of the bus. On finishing the timber, it was treated, which helps me to see a completed area. I worked my way back from the front on the near side, working on each bay and it’s neighbour. I have now completed one half of the near side, having treated all the finished metal and wood. That is a quarter of the upper saloon, which has taken a couple of weeks to do. I wish it could be quicker, but I have not been slacking and my productivity is good, so I cannot really ask for more.

Another boost is the initial window pans from my sheet metal fabricator. I worked with them to do them the way that Widney did them for London Transport. All the remanufactured ones that I have come across to date have not been the same as the originals, with the extrusion (the curved part from the window to the outer face) being too sharp. Some were pieces of steel welded together and then ground down. None satisfied my fickle attention to detail and I would never be happy with windows that were not how they should be. I amassed a stock of old window pans that could be ‘cut and shut’, but doing them right takes a lot of skill and time. Getting a sheet metal fabricator to do them would actually cost more than having them make new ones. So new ones it is, especially as I have been able to get the corners pressed, which has not been financially viable for the sheet metal fabricator to do. With some to-ing and fro-ing, perfect corners are now mated with matching lengths. The only issue that I have now is that the new wood fillets that sit beneath the pans (supporting interior shrouds) have been made too large, preventing the new windows from fitting properly. It just means that they will have to be trimmed down, mais c’est la vie.

One last thing. I shouldn’t forget to mention getting the window pans to the bus. It was, shall we say, a little unorthodox :-)