London Transport RT delivered to Kent

Last week I had my first half cab drive since March and it was a long distance delivery job for a new owner.

The AEC Regent III, 1951-built RT2591 (LYF316), came to Somerset in 2019 as part of a batch of purchases from the former Yorkshire Heritage Bus Company fleet. My friend Dave Moore and I had quite an adventure bringing this bus and a Wigan Leyland PD1 back (full story here).

Being suplus to requirements in Weston-super-Mare, RT2591 has now been sold to a gentleman in Kent so this was a solo delivery journey.

I hadn’t driven a bus with a pre-selective gearbox for several years so I had arranged to take the bus for a quick drive the previous afternoon, just to familiarise myself with it. Not the kind of task a driver can do safely when the bus is parked only 3 minutes from the motorway! Fortunately I recalled the required technique readily, helped by the fact that I’d watched several YouTube videos showing the driver in the cab of an RT. The thing to remember is that the pedal on the left (normally the clutch in a manual ‘box vehicle) is a gearchange pedal. A gear is selected in advance of actually needing it using the column-mounted selector. The pedal does the actual change when the time comes.

Confident that I knew my way around, I turned up before daybreak the next day to do my checks. It happened that there had been an overnight frost so my first job was to scrape away the ice on the cab windows! The 9.6 litre engine sprang into life readily enough but I began to get worried when it didn’t appear to be building up air. In the RT there aren’t any air pressure gauges. In fact the only dial in the cab is the speedometer! Instead, there is a metal ‘flag’ which hangs down in front of the driver when the air is low. Imprinted on the flag is the word ‘Stop’, making it abundantly clear that it’s not safe to move off. In this case, I couldn’t move off anyway because the gearchange mechanism is air-operated and I couldn’t engage any gear at all!

I revved the engine and waited for several minutes. Still no air. Time was ticking by and I was keen to get away as I didn’t know what delays I might encounter on the way. Not only that but my ticket for a return train journey had already been booked.

In desperation I sent a couple of messages and I soon learned that this particular RT is reluctant in the cold. A bit like me, in fact. The trick is to hold the gearchange pedal down while revving the engine. Lo and behold, within a few seconds after doing this, the ‘Stop’ flag withdrew itself into its box above the windscreen and all was well.

With my woolly hat pulled down over my ears and with thermal gloves on to ward off the cold, I headed for the M5 motorway just as it was getting light. I settled down at a steady 45mph (estimated) but kept a wary eye on my mirrors. I always watch the trucks overtaking me because, although I was travelling with lights on, I worried that other drivers wouldn’t notice my slower speed until it was too late. Happily there were no dramas.

However, it wasn’t a comfortable drive. The seat made my back ache and the engine was loud but I could live with that. However, my hands and feet were SO cold. I wished that I’d worn thermal underwear as well as thermal gloves!

Apart from having to deal with patchy fog, my only worry during the first part of the journey concerned the charging system. When this bus was driven down to Somerset last year there was a problem with the voltage regulator and I didn’t know whether this had been fixed in the meantime. I would have to wait until my first break at a Service area to find out! Having stopped for a break I was relieved to hear that the charging system had been fixed.

For navigation, I had an A4 clipboard with me in the cab with a sheet of ‘bullet point’ directions. Neither my TomTom nor my phone would have survived the journey without a source of power!

On we went, following the M4 eastbound until I turned off at junction 10 and drove through Bracknell to pick up the M3 further south. Having to negotiate junctions and roundabouts in a 69 year old bus kept me on my toes but I was pleased with my progress through the town traffic. I can understand why the pre-selective gearchange system was specified for these buses, as they had to do lots of starts and stops in busy London traffic and a bus with a manual ‘box (before the days of synchromesh) would have been far less agile.

To see what I mean, here’s a chap who is driving an RT in service (quite vigorously) in Romford:

Joining the M3 I then had to do battle with heavy traffic in multiple lanes as I headed for the M25, following the anticlockwise motorway around the southern edge of London. I felt reasonably safe in lane 1 but occasionally had to venture out into lane 2 when lane 1 became an off-slip at several junctions.

Once I began to see signs for the Dartford Crossing I knew I didn’t have far to go. My destination was Greenhithe so I left the M25 at junction 2 and within 10 minutes had arrived at journey’s end.

I climbed stiffly down from the cab and handed the bus over to its new owner who was apparently new to RTs and needed a few tips, such as “How do you stop the engine?”. He muttered something about using the RT as a temporary office for his garage business but I sincerely hope that there is a better future in store for the old girl than that!

The new owner kindly drove me (in his car, in case you’re wondering…) to the nearby railway station and I spent the rest of the afternoon riding home ‘on the cushions’ in the relative warmth of a railway carriage.

In other news, my day job consists of reduced hours doing morning and afternoon school runs with the occasional driving assessment in between.

14 comments on “London Transport RT delivered to Kent

  1. Helen Danby says:

    Doesn’t sound a very comfortable journey at all! And thanks for the video, really enjoyed the trip, You’re right, quite vigorous, the driver was very confident and kept up with the traffic. It made me nostalgic for our running day on the IOW, very sadly missed this year. Helen

  2. busmanjohn says:

    Yes Helen, many of us have missed our usual ‘bus-fix’ rallies and running days. Here’s to 2021! Stay safe and healthy in the meantime.

  3. Alan Bond says:

    A lot Quieter than a Bristol though John and a lot humpier too. Try an RF if you get a chance, it’s like driving a Rolls Royce, smooth and quiet (and warm). Have to say though, that when I worked for LT all those years ago, the RT cab heater was pretty good and I often had to turn it off even on pretty cold days

    • busmanjohn says:

      I saw what looked like a heater by my right foot but didn’t know how to switch it on. Can you remember (for future reference)?

      • Alan Bond says:

        As far as I can remember there is a switch on the panel above your head on the N/S of the cab. Given that the heater unit has a very short pipe run from the engine, it soon warms up. Early RTs didn’t have cab heaters at all and many of the early deliveries were retro fitted by Airworks at Langley.

  4. David Gladwin says:

    Curious how little the route has changed. My problem after years of coach driving was going back to remembering to put the bus’s bum at the stop, not the sharp end. Could wish whoever was in front of the camera could scratch their fleas somewhere else……but a very good choice of video. Thank you.

    • busmanjohn says:

      Haha yes, that reminds me of the time when I had some free lessons in a Bristol Lodekka with Devon General. My instructor got me to let him off so that he could walk forward to a bus stop. I was to draw forward so that he could board again from the bus stop. I dutifully drew forward and came to a gentle stop and opened the cab window to hear what he had to say. “That’s no good!” he complained. “If I want to board your bus I want to step onto the platform not climb through the cab window!”

  5. Richard Ward says:

    Nice report.
    Thank you…..I enjoyed reading it.

  6. Ray says:

    Always good to hear of your escapades John. Haven’t had to scrape frost off a windscreen for 40 years!

  7. Alan Bond says:

    Bristol LSs were very good at giving practice in scraping ice off the windscreen – on the inside. They were a very early example of solar heating – no sun, no heat ! MWs were a little better but even an RF without platform doors was warmer and they had no saloon heaters until quite late on in their lives.

  8. Andy says:

    Hi John,

    Really interesting blog. We will be purchasing a Routemaster in the new year (fingers crossed) and are currently looking for some indoor storage for it in or around the torbay area. Do you (or anyone else here) have any suggestions or connections for such places? found a couple of places so far but they all tend to be quite far away. We are not looking to run it commercially by the way, just rallys and sunny sundays!

    Keep up the good work.

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