Monday, 22 August 2016

Man 1-2 Guvn'r

During my little 'facts of life' lecture on the difference between SU buses and SU coaches, there's one major difference I forgot to mention.

671's Uncle Trevor writes:
"... the floor on an SU bus sits directly onto the top of the chassis; you've lost the luxury of having a couple of inches above it that you get on an SU coach, and you'll find that it matters when you come to try to remove the injector pump (or, to be more precise, the pipes to the governor at the end, which you'll find are ... extremely fiddly and difficult to get to!)."

Very wise words from a man who's been there, face down on the floor of his own SU bus, West Yorkshire SMA 5.

I suspect Trevor's hands are as cut and bruised as mine have become during the struggle to replace the rubber diaphragm in 671's pneumatic governor. This is the part on the back of the injector pump (top right) which regulates fuel to control the speed of the engine.

On an Albion EN250 engine, this happens by varying the vacuum on one side of a rubber diaphragm, linked to the rack in the pump. This sliding assembly is spring-loaded so that its default position allows maximum fuel. When the engine is running, a vacuum is created which fights against the spring to pull the governer to tick-over speed; as the throttle is increased a butterfly valve in the manifold is opened which allows air into the system (reducing the vacuum). Thus, the assembly moves in favour of the spring and the fuel is increased - so the engine speeds up. When the diaphragm is worn or rotten, as 671's was, the vacuum is compromised and the engine tends to tick-over too fast and becomes harder to control.

The job itself isn't too much of a challenge, if very fiddly for two hands, but getting to the governor is a different matter. The bolts are just about accessible on an SU coach (I've done three of those!) but, as Trevor warned, the lower floor of the SU bus means that only angels and small children are able to find their way in. Being neither, I eventually managed to access the bolts from under the bus by blindly poking around with a socket on the end of FOUR extension bars, fed across the top of the gearbox from two bays back!

I'm an idiot.

As it happens the job was worth doing. 671's diaphragm wasn't too bad, but the special adjuster screw on the back of the governor (which allows angels and small children to fine tune the movement of the assembly inside) had been worn to an oval shape by years of hunting. Luckily, the Blue Peter of SUs, I just happened to have another one ready to go.

Refitted, there's much improvement - but guess what? That adjuster screw now needs turning and there's absolutely no way....

Unless... know any kids?

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Little Jobs

I can't decide if this is a fine sight or a worrying one...

Not only was this the first coming together of the two brothers since 671 arrived, this was almost certainly their first meeting in over 40 years. They're likely to have encountered one another in the early 1970s, when both worked on Somerset routes around Taunton; one day, perhaps, we'll find a photo to confirm it.

For now, I'm quite happy with these ones, opportunistically taken in the yard during an essential move around. (Actually, it was deliberately arranged for pure indulgence - nice try, Sheppard.)

Followers of will know that preparations for the 2016 Penzance Running Day have taken priority in recent weeks. Nonetheless, I've completed a few little jobs on 671 to enable major work to begin in earnest soon. I've fitted a new set of batteries so that I can test the work I'll be doing on the engine (yes - it not only runs, but starts on the button!). 671 arrived with 'leisure' batteries fitted, designed to power utilities in a caravan and not really suitable for firing up Albion EN250 engines...

I've also investigated the excessive exhaust smoke issue (see the video for details!), and suspect that a combination of timing, poor adjustment of the cold-start facility and a worn diaphragm in the injection pump governor is to blame. Having sourced the necessary parts, these will be my first tasks to tackle over the next few weeks.
The keen-eyed will notice the awful make-shift rear number plate has been removed, enabling a template for new glass to be cut.  And, for the little it matters at the moment, it's had a good wash...

With a successful Penzance Running Day now in the bag for 420, it's time to get stuck-in. Seeing the mischievous smiles at the top of this post gives much encouragement and reminds me that, after quite a few 'little jobs', even really naughty SUs can eventually be tamed. My early impressions are that 671 may be a little more co-operative than (br)others have been along the way... but that's probably a dangerous thing to say.

After all, it's now two against one.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

It's a Long Story...

I think I'd better explain how I've come to be writing this blog.

Regular readers of will know that my irrational love of the Bristol SU-type gets me into all sorts of trouble. Having helped to restore the SUL coach owned by my family since 1993, I bought another one of my own in 2009 and have spent nearly seven wonderful but calamitous years trying to tame it. Here I am in 2016 having bought yet another one to restore, this time an SUL bus. 

(Read a quick lesson on the differences between buses and coaches here.)

In this first post, I explain how the obsession began, despite the SU having long since finished in service by the time I was born. The SU coaches entered my consciousness by accident, at bus rallies and road runs, their pleasing lines and smiling 'faces' doing their own work to charm a schoolboy with a weakness for such things. The SU buses had to work a little harder to get themselves noticed, but only because there were very few in active preservation at that time. 

I'd seen them in books (he says, like an adolescent schoolboy describing how he'd first encountered the opposite sex). My Dad thought they were ugly, but I liked the look of them. Small and quaint, they had the same mischievous look as the coaches. And, like the coaches, they had a habit of lurking around in the background, puncturing the grandeur of the bigger, more purposeful buses.

The first SU bus I actually saw was this one, a long-term, decaying resident at the yard of W. Norths of Sherburn-in-Elmet (who also played a significant role in 671's continued existence, as you'll read in the potted history to the right). 
My Dad and I visited Norths a few times when I was 8 or 9 to find spares for our Bristol Lodekka. The SU was Western National 634 (348 EDV), although by the time I saw it there was nothing left to identify it. 634 was an instant hit with me, not just because it was an SU but also because it had no remaining steering mechanism which meant the steering wheel could be turned round and round with next to no effort. This was a vital feature for a nine year-old aspiring bus driver. 

I soon met (and drew) the SU buses at Colin Billington's place in Berkshire, as well as Trevor & Shirley Leach's beautiful red West Yorkshire example - by which stage it was too late to stop the growth of what has been an ambition ever since: to own one.

The first I knew of BDV 252C (671) was this photograph. I bought this quite soon after I started collecting photos of SUs (as an addict would) in the early 1990s and was excited to see there was still a Western National SUL bus in a good state of repair. 

A little investigation showed it was privately preserved in the North of England by a father and son team, Dennis and Dave Say of Yokefleet, assisted by Dave's future wife Christine and, later, Dennis's partner Margaret. I collected many other photos of it whenever they turned up, both in service and in preservation, the latter always showing it turned out well and confirming it was in safe hands.

Dave Say has very kindly shared with me some tales of their time with "the happy bus", as 671 was known, and I'll be posting these in due course as a tribute to the vast contribution the Says made to 671's survival. 

All went quiet from 671 in the early 2000s when it was sold on to a truck enthusiast who required a bus to ferry his friends to shows. The new owner wasn't actively engaged with bus preservation so 671 quietly disappeared from the scene and we interested parties all lost track of its whereabouts. 

Concern was mounting for its continued existence until, in around 2012, it emerged looking like this...
... a far cry from its cup-winning days with the Says. There was concern for its future among enthusiasts as it passed between short-term owners, deteriorating further each time. 671 had become an emergency.

Twice before I've narrowly missed out on buying 671. On both occasions it was sold for quite an excessive price given the amount of work required for the restoration. First time it moved to Bath, where the owner promptly listed it for sale on eBay, a dangerous marketplace for historic vehicles. Despite a realistic but generous offer from me, it was sold again to a new owner in Somerset. 

Having established contact, I was kindly given first refusal when the time came to sell 671 - and after the anguish of missing out twice in recent years, I didn't dally around!

The sale was agreed on 13th (oh gawd) January 2016 and, after a preparatory visit to bleed the clutch and reattach the prop-shaft, we collected my prize by low-loader on 4 February 2016, my long-suffering Dad at the wheel quoting the Laurel & Hardy phrase "Another fine mess you've got me into"...

Highlights of a memorable but smooth journey 'home' can be enjoyed in the video below.

Now safely home, the scale of the restoration task can be easily assessed. It is huge, though I'm surprisingly undaunted. That's not because I'm either naive or arrogant (our other vehicles kicked any last vestiges of those traits out of me years ago) but this time I want to take my time. I'm lucky enough to have other buses I can drive in the meantime so, unlike previous projects, I'm under no immediate pressure to have 671 on the road.

Instead, the priority is to enjoy the restoration and do a thorough job over the next few years. Whatever horrors we find - and, trust me, there will be some, if not many - we'll deal with them gradually and watch as it slowly comes back to life.

And that's why I'm writing this blog - enjoy watching...

Monday, 29 February 2016

The Rescue

Welcome to the blog. 

Here, in just 90 seconds, is the story of BDV 252C's recovery from Somerset on February 4 and the start of an exciting new era for us all.