A couple of years ago he wrote a comment (which I now can’t find). The gist of it was that instead of messing with an old Toyota I should have a gentleman’s car. I think he suggested an Aston or a Bristol. I can’t remember exactly. Clearly he thinks I’m made of money where as, in reality, I’m just a tight Yorkshireman. Or a tight Glaswegian depending on whether you take my birth place or parentage. Either way there is no escape from a national stereotype of being tight. Anyway, back on the subject… I always do as I’m told. Just ask my wife.
It’s definitely retro. It’s definitely a ride. Thankfully it’s not mine. I’ve just agreed to help.
It’s about time we had another commercial on here.
It’s a 1939 Bristol K5G fitted with a Weymann body and caries the registration GKE 68. If you happened to live in Chatham in Kent just before the war (there won’t be many of you) your local bus operator was a company called Chatham Traction. Well this is the only surviving Chatham Traction bus. All the rest have gone to make bean cans. As such it’s unique. It’s also unusual because of the Weymann body. Most Bristol service busses had Eastern Coach Works bodies fitted. As an operator you bought your chassis and chose who’s body to put on it. For some reason Chatham Traction went for Weymann over ECW. Over the years since it was withdrawn from service a few enthusiasts have realised the importance of this last remaining Chatham Traction bus and it was saved from the scrap yard but it became increasingly derelict.
As far as I can see no individual had the time or resources to restore the old girl and at one point she wound up in a garden with a tarpaulin tied over the top. I’m told that owning a bus is second only to owning a boat as a route to financial destitution. Thank God it’s not mine. Around 2007 a charity was set up (Friends of Chatham Traction) with the aim of saving GKE 68 and with the aid of some grants and lottery funding they have slowly been plugging away at it ever since.
Me and my interest in it…
Ok so I’ll admit that as a bus freak I’m a rubbish one. Sorry, I feel I’ve let you all down there with my lack of dedication. I have a thing for old commercial vehicles and double deckers in particular. (There is a reason for that but it’s a story for another day). But busses in general… Well I used to travel on the bendy busses in London and generally they smelt of tramps and diesel and sounded like the wheels could fall off at any moment. Unimpressed. But a half cab double decker. Oh. Baby… Come to daddy!
I bumped into GKE 68 just over a year ago. There is a transport weekend in town each year - old cars, trucks and busses. GKE 68 was sitting in the corner of a coachwork company in town. Given my thing for a half cab double deckers I wandered over and asked what it was. The chap was sizing me up. Does he want the answer “It’s a bus sir” or is he a bus nerd who wants a proper answer? Anyway I offered my services bolting it back together while wondering if I really needed another project. It’s not like I haven’t enough to do.
We kept in touch during the year but nothing much happened until the next transport weekend when I dropped in again. It was still in the corner of the garage and didn’t look a lot different to be honest. This time, instead of standing politely talking, I met a few of the people involved and was then I was on my knees looking underneath her. And shortly after that I was emailing a chap called Ian making arrangements to have a day with the spanners.
Oh spanners… Whitworth spanners. Dear God. There is a rant coming up!
Incredible what they used to do isn't it. Probably the main reason that Route Masters lasted so long. In fact I think it was the disabled access problems that largely killed them off. And I love the brake test. Ian (who I'll introduce later - he's going to be "Master Mechanic" in this story while I'm "Spotty Apprentice" (at the age of 50)) was saying that with busses of this age one of the problems with the MOT testers was that they didn't realise they had to stand on the brake pedal with both feet! Well, it only does 29MPH, who needs brakes?
If so I had a good look around it earlier this year it looked like the majority of the hard work has been done externally bar the paint and assembly, there wasn't much inside it though!
Yep, it's exactly that one.
To fill in a little more of the story as I understand it (remember I’m very new to this project) it's currently at South East Coachworks (who are a lovely bunch of people) having the body work done. I believe they are doing it as a ‘back burner’ and ‘training’ project which I guess keeps them ticking over when work is light (if it ever is) and keeps costs down for the charity. I sure I was told that the stair case was rotten and SEC have built a whole new one. If that’s the case they did a lovely job. So the body is being prepped for paint. They did the interior ceilings over the last month and were masking up again when I as there last week. I believe the seat frames were sand blasted last year and the Friends of Chatham Traction (hereafter called FoCT) have had the original cloth covering remanufactured.
Mechanically it apparently all exists and is somewhere in Kent. The problem is that it was taken to bits some years ago and the bits are in a couple of locations so lets hope Ian can remember how to put it together again. Mind you he seems to hold the manual in his head and has specific tools for Bristol busses that I’ve never imagined.
The engine has been rebuilt by an ex Gardner chap but it’s not been started in years. The clutch and gearbox are not fitted. I think somebody said there was a fault with the gearbox but nothing serious. All the brake shoes have been relined and we are putting them back on. More in a future post. The brake servos, a main one for the rear wheels and one for each front wheel, are all on the cab floor ready to go back on. But the prop shaft and brake cross shaft both need to come off. The fuel tank is on the floor ready to go back but there are no lines and the AutoVac (fuel sucky uppey thingy) has gone off somewhere.
Oh, and I’m now famous. There is a picture of me cleaning the wheel bearings and Ian freeing the brake actuator shaft on SEC’s Facebook page.