My role as a delivery driver seems to be continuing into the Spring. Not that I’m complaining of course. The cold, dark, gloom of winter is usually a bus-less time for me so I’ve been glad to have been offered some long distance driving jobs recently.
This London Transport RT has been stored in the Crosville depot for a few months, having been acquired from a group of enthusiasts in Basingstoke but never used. It was sold on recently and I was called upon to deliver it to Cambridgeshire, where it was going to have a roof repair done before being collected by its new owner.
The photo above shows RT935 (JXN325) outside the depot just after having had a ‘wash and brush up’ a few days ago.
The 1948-built bus originally carried a Park Royal body but the present (Weymann) one was fitted during an overhaul at LT’s Aldenham works in 1964. Several manufacturers built RT bodies to a standard design so that, during overhaul, chassis and body could be refurbished separately. To speed things up, the chassis would receive another RT body – not necessarily the one it had come in with! RT935 entered preservation in 1971 and, although well cared for in the years since then, remains in largely ex-service condition.
It felt rather bizarre to turn up at the depot early one morning this week for another RT turn. It was only a few weeks ago that I had driven RTW29 back from the London Bus Museum at Brooklands! Although RT935 had been moved the day before for washing and fuelling, it was reluctant to start due to its long period of inactivity. I had to get a fitter to hook up a booster pack before I could get it going. The 9.6ltr AEC diesel coughed and spluttered into life, filling the garage with acrid, bluey-white exhaust smoke. I left it running for a bit while I did my walkaround, checking the lights and so on. I didn’t realise it then, but I would later find that the engine would also be reluctant to stop!
I had been assured that the bus ‘drives OK’ but still, knowing that it had been idle for so long, I started out very gingerly in case any problems developed. I’m happy to report that RT935 did indeed drive OK but, even so, I continued throughout the rest of the journey to listen for strange noises and to watch the top of the radiator for signs of overheating. Thankfully all was well and even the smoky exhaust cleared as soon as the engine reached operating temperature.
For two reasons, although I could have chosen a more direct route, I chose a slightly longer route. By taking the M5 up to Birmingham and then east via the M42 and M6, I was able to keep the speed up around the 45mph mark nearly all the way. It also meant that I could avoid a couple of low railway bridges which only just had enough clearance. They wouldn’t have posed a problem for a Lodekka but the RT is 14′ 6″ high and I didn’t want to risk adding further damage to an already dented roof!
After three hours of driving I was ready for a break so I stopped at Corley Services on the M6. Stopping the engine however was more difficult than it should have been. First, I had to locate the engine-stop device. On the RTW I had driven previously there was a fuel cut-off cable mounted vertically on the steering column. On this AEC-engined RT it was missing and nothing resembling an engine-stop could be seen anywhere in the cab. Then the penny dropped. On some buses you have to reach down and pull upwards on the accelerator pedal, to which a fuel cut-off cable is attached. So I tried that. But all that did was to reduce the engine revs from slow idle to very slow idle. Pulling harder didn’t have any effect either. What could I do to stop the engine now? If it had a manual ‘box I could have put it in gear and let the clutch out with the brakes on until it stalled. But RTs have a pre-selective ‘box with no clutch. I decided that I only had one option – to put the bus into 1st gear, which usually reduces the revs anyway when the gear engages, and then lift the pedal. This I did and finally the engine stopped. While there was still air available I returned the selector lever to the neutral position and operated the gearchange pedal. There was a hiss of air and a clunk – all was well.
Then came lunch, a comfort break and a chance to take a few photographs. As I mentioned, the bus is very original, retaining all the interior adverts from its last service days. These are valuable in their own right and serve to compensate for the otherwise rather tired appearance.
It’s time I explained the title of this post. In a remarkable coincidence I happened to be watching The One Show the previous evening. In one of the segments, which featured the daughter of the late Richard Briers, they showed a clip from an episode of the 1970’s TV sitcom The Good Life in which Richard Briers plays one of the lead characters, Tom Good. One of Tom’s chickens had evidently escaped from his back garden and was shown climbing aboard a red London bus. I happened to notice the registration plate and nearly fell off my chair. “Good grief!” I exclaimed to Mrs Busman John, “I know that number!” She looked at me, puzzled. She may also have rolled her eyes, but I can’t be sure. “I think that’s the bus I’m driving tomorrow!” Now Mrs Busman John is very tolerant and lets me get all passionate about vintage buses. But I could detect that this outburst was stretching credibility very thin. I took the hint and let it go for the time being.
Later on, it was still on my mind and I just had to know. Was it RT935 or wasn’t it? I found that evening’s One Show on the BBC iPlayer and scrolled forward, pausing when the chicken crossed the road. Well actually it stepped up onto the platform of RT935. Yes, there it was, as clear as day – JXN325. You will know, dear reader, how I love to recreate old scenes. So here’s a shot of JXN325 from a similar angle just to prove it.
Feeling very satisfied, I set off again eastwards. When the motorway was reasonably quiet and I wasn’t dealing with the backwash from passing lorries, I allowed myself to gaze down at the classic lines of the RT bonnet and wing to my left. Once again I felt really honoured to be driving such an iconic bus. I remember my Dad – and even his dad – raving on about RTs in London. To them it was the pinnacle of British bus design. If only they could see me now!
Following my route notes on the cab floor I soon reached journey’s end. There was one final challenge: crossing the dual carriageway to join the country road which led to my destination. The oncoming traffic came thick and fast. I waited for a really long gap before venturing out across the northbound lanes of the A1 Great North Road. Buses of this era are not noted for their powers of acceleration!
I parked the bus outside the restorer’s workshop but then found that I was trapped in the cab. The sliding cab door had jammed shut! I just managed to squeeze myself through the gap behind the driver’s seat into the lower saloon, via the non-existent glass. The door was later freed up by Rob, the boss who came out armed with a large screwdriver. He and his cheerful chum Charlie swarmed all over the RT like a pair of schoolboys. They have built up a business restoring Routemasters but have had various adventures with RTs in the past, including touring France.
Inside the workshop I was fascinated to see many Routemasters in various states of disrepair and refurbishment. There were a couple of LT single decks too, RFs I think.
All too soon it was time to say farewell. Rob kindly drove me to the nearby railway station, which seemed unusually busy for 3pm in the afternoon. The reason for the busy-ness soon came into view – none other than the Flying Scotsman! Freshly painted into BR Green livery, it was travelling light engine + support coach down to London Kings Cross. The LNER Pacific was to be relaunched into passenger service the next day at the head of a Kings Cross – York express. The rest of my journey home went like clockwork and was quite tame compared with the rest of my fun-filled day!
Main photo of RT935 at Crosville – Jonathan Jones-Pratt