AEC Swift BPH 106H
Restoration 2005
AEC Swift

With the boat no longer in the frame, it has been possible to make more frequent visits, and make more progress (kitchens permitting, of course).

AEC Swift, BPH 106H, Paint stripping © J.Wilkins
Stripping paint off the domes. Photo © J.Wilkins
AEC Swift, BPH 106H, The nest box. © J.Wilkins
The Blower motor spaces make good nest-boxes. Photo © J.Wilkins

A job that was started by the RM835 Group, but not finished, is the removal of paint from the roof. The majority of the aluminium section is ready for re-painting, but the domes have not been touched. Regular (methyl chloride - based) strippers will attack the GRP construction, but an alternative called 'Safer Stripper' has been used to good effect. It is slower, but a routine of starting every work session with removal of lifted paint and re-application of the green gel has made good progress over the Winter. It is extraordinary stuff, and will take off large areas of paint intact. It appears that the first coat of NBC Leaf Green is really tough, but everything subsequent will lift off in one piece like a wrinkled blanket!

You can also see that the air-intake grilles have been removed from the dome. They will be repaired or replaced and mounted in new rubber after the painting is finished. You can see the blower motors inside if you look carefully, but not the host of relays that control the 'air-conditioning'. You had to look from the inside to see the bird's nest from last year, which has now been removed. That'll teach me to keep the flaps shut!

Old tickets recovered from the bench seat frame. © J.Wilkins
Old tickets recovered from the bench seat frame. Photo © J.Wilkins

Some cosmetic work has also been done inside, remaking the base of the bench seat cushion for example - which had started to disintegrate due to historic problems of water ingress at the back of the driver's cab. When it was lifted these tickets came to light, concealed between the wooden frame and the driver's cab bulkhead. Then, early in March, a small ceremony was held for the 'popping' of the first new rivet (to replace one drilled out for examination). Yes, Park Royal DID use standard aluminium rivets when they were put together!

The final panel awaiting fixing on the offside of the bus is a lower panel on the emergency door - not an original feature, by the look of the way that the aluminium skin had been hacked in half beneath the beading at lower waist level. Presumably, the technicality of wrapping the aluminium skin over the edge of the door frame was what postponed the job earlier. Now, I have never done any sheet-metal work before.... First, an improvised bending machine was built from a large piece of steel channel section (ex PPG, British Aerospace) and some salvaged steel angle and then lots of practice bends were made to simulate the final job. Calculating the position of the cut-outs at the corners was rather complex, and a reverse bend had to be made for a little guard by the lower hinge casting. My wife said that I should have learned dress-making, and then I would have found it easier to finish the seams. Either way, I think the job has turned out fine, and it looks good, unless you peek at the inside edge (only in emergencies of course).

AEC Swift, BPH 106H, Repairs to Emergecy Door © J.Wilkins
The emergency door was brought home for attention. Photo © J.Wilkins
AEC Swift, BPH 106H, Swapping the wheels © J.Wilkins
Swapping the wheels for the Huddersfield Regent. Photo © J.Wilkins

Another job for the Easter holiday was the Changing of the Wheels which should become Anglesey's answer to the military pageant held outside Buckingham Palace. The reason for the swap was the 9" wide, tube-type 'RT' rims fitted at the front, which were not only wrong but actually in demand! In the photo above, Richard Roper can be seen removing said wheels to assist in the restoration of his Huddersfield Corporation 1949 AEC Regent (ECX 425). He exchanged them for 10R20.0 rims that had been put on his machine for recovery, but which were so fat that they rubbed on the chassis! Another period of exertion spent to good effect. The real question is this: what happened to the set of 10R22.5 original rims that were on SM106 when it was rescued from Emsworth? Answers on a postcard, email or the back of a lorry please.

The vexed question of colours has always troubled me. The interior was painted or rexine-covered in a shade known to LONDON TRANSPORT as "Dark Chinese Green", but would be recognised by you or me as Grey. Similarly, the green of the exterior is "Lincoln Green", but even that was known to change, and became lighter as time went on. Samples of either are as rare as hens' teeth on SM106, so it was a source of joy when the interior of the used ticket box turned out to have escaped both the magnolia wash of previous operators and the stripper of the last owners. Then, when sorting bits of body panelling I came across a bit of window-panelling that still had LONDON COUNTRY green beneath the glazing rubber. When painting my narrowboat, I was recommended a paint supplier called HMG Paints of Manchester - yes, H. Marcel Guest - whose paint was used exclusively by the resident boat painter at Anderton Marina (Hi, Chris!). Chris, a member of the Sealed Knot society, used to live at Hatfield when he organised the jousting at Knebworth House in the 1970's, and he remembers the Swifts on local services. A quick call to HMG brought a surprise visit a few days later, and the parts were taken away for colour matching. After a couple of weeks a box containing etching primer, undercoats and a litre of matched topcoats arrived from a distributor in Chester (who was going to Holyhead to help paint a boat for Stena Line) and it was time for some fun while the emergency door was at home. I love painting, and I was always frustrated by the unhelpful environment when trying to work on my boat in the open - rain, sun, dew, cold, wind, insects and airborne fluff all conspired against me. It was also time to experiment, as I had never used a foam roller before, but after a couple of false starts it came together nicely.

Emergency door in undercoat © J.Wilkins
The Emergency Door in undercoat.
Photo © J.Wilkins
Emergency door being refitted © J.Wilkins
Maurice the Fitter finishes the fitting.
Photo © J.Wilkins

Well, the results are not perfect, but I was pleased and it was a quantum leap ahead of anything that I had done before. It was also good to see LONDON COUNTRY livery alive and well again. The cast aluminium pocket that houses the external pull-handle looked as if it would be very difficult to prepare - removing thick paint and surface corrosion - because of its shape, but it was a doddle for a local grit-blasting company. Sadly, an experiment with an off-the-shelf window rubber (Park Royal Titan pattern) was not a success, as it didn't fit. We shall have to bite the bullet and pay for a die to be made. The window was remounted temporarily in the old rubber to keep the dust out.

It is reasonable to expect that a vehicle which has not been used in a decade will show some signs of deterioration. One of them was that the handbrake lever was almost too stiff to move - which could be due to seizure at one or more of several positions. To find out which of them was seized involved disconnecting progressively the pull rod system which runs from the front of the bus to the rear cross-shaft, which we hoped would be in good condition as it is supplied by the automatic chassis lubrication system. Undoing the clevis pins which act on the various levers proved very difficult - all the joints were stiff or seized up - and to make it worse, the operating rod runs inside the profile of the offside chassis member. Finally, it proved necessary to remove the handbrake shaft at the front - which is almost inaccessible beneath the raised cab floor. We did at least solve the mystery of the curved cover which protrudes into the gangway beneath the driver's cab door - it covers the inner end of the shaft where the operating arm drops down to the end of the brake rod. Fortunately it was made of GRP, and we were able to break it gently where we could not remove the securing screws which had long since rusted into immobility. We were then able to tap the operating arm off its splines, and it was finally clear that it was indeed this shaft that was seized. A blowtorch was required to heat and release the handbrake lever from the taper on the outside end of the shaft. We were then clear to remove the shaft, but the bolts which hold down the inner bearing pedestal were almost totally enclosed by the air piping to the footbrake valve or impossible to get a good grip on due to the small clearance beneath the cab floor. In desperation we resorted to hacksawing off the head of one bolt, but left a sufficient remainder that filing was the last resort! Total effort required so far - about 10 man-hours, and even then we had not removed the clevis pin from the end of the brake rod to free the operating lever, the immobility of which is amazing considering that it even has a bush on the clevis pin. Part of the handbrake problem was that the pin rotated with the operating arm, and eventually the shaped head jammed in the detent in the clevis whis is designed to prevent the pin from turning when doing up the nut on the other end. I think that the moral of this saga is that lubrication is a necessity, and that hiding the shaft in such an inaccessible position is a guarantee of neglect - a black mark has now been awarded to the manufacturer over this. Removal of the shaft was completed at the second session, and taken away for cleaning up. With the bearing bushes out and the shaft cleaned, painted and greased it all moves like silk again. How do we keep it like that?

Two more attempts were eventually necessary to get the handbrake operating arm out of its clevis. Because of the difficult access, it proved necessary to undo the air pipes at the back of the footbrake valve to make a little more room - and then to borrow a professional mini-blowlamp to persuade the pin to let go of the bush, which it did after three cycles of heating and squirting with penetrating oil (plus some very carefully-directed impetus). Incredibly, the parts were completely free when oiled and reassembled - which harks back to my point of three weeks ago! Some very nice looking pins have been obtained from MBA541, suggesting that they have been renewed quite recently. Other tasks accomplished during the cooling/lubricating cycles include drilling out the rusty screws from the wooden rails at the front, stripping more paint from the roof and domes and removing the nearside inner windscreen pan. This item was in poor shape after the installation of the BUS STOPPING sign by Blue Lake Coaches. A start has also been made on undoing the low front step modification. Drilling out rivets is compulsive!

Refurbed handbrake parts © J.Wilkins
Refurbished handbrake parts.
Photo © J.Wilkins
The aluminium football pitch © J.Wilkins
The Aluminium football pitch.
Photo © J.Wilkins

The cleaned-up, painted and LUBRICATED handbrake cross-shaft and lever have now been re-fitted. Neat, right-angled grease nipples have been drilled and tapped into the bearing supports so that the assembly can be greased properly when everything is finally adjusted. It proved easy to put everything back, as it could be done in order and the parts did not interfere with each other. The joy of being able to move the handbrake lever easily with one hand is hard to describe. It just feels right. At the next visit the operating arm will also be attached, and then we will see if the brakes work. My guess is that they will not, but that's for another day. Further paint-stripping action has seen the roof cleaned off as far as the rearmost bay, which is a relief, even if painting is still a fair way away. A small start was also made on rubbing down the front dome, and an area of historical damage to the nearside has been reinforced inside with new fibreglass mat so that the crack will not come through again. Vestiges of Leaf Green will have to remain as a primer, as I can find no safe way of getting it off. Even the 'Safer Stripper' seems to soften the gel coat, and the paint will not let go, so damage from the stripping knife is occurring.

SM106 looks out into the sunshine © J.Wilkins
SM106 looks out into the June sunshine.
Photo © J.Wilkins
The bench seat area in primer © J.Wilkins
The bench seat area in primer.
Photo © J.Wilkins

Sanding down the dome was very satisfying, plenty of water and 240 grit carborundum paper soon made a disgusting green soup which dribbled down and gave everything, myself included, a pale NBC coating. Once that had dried off it was time for some repairs. Historical leakage by the destination blind window has caused some corrosion, which had to be cleaned up with an angle-grinder. Since my neighbours did not want covering with rust and sparks the bus was towed to the front of the garage out of the way. It was very satisfying to see clouds of rust and old paint give way to clean, bright metal. Liberal coats of (Finnigan's) No.1 were applied to the steelwork. The nearside of the front dome has been damaged by impact, cracking the GRP, and repairs were effected originally by plastering filler over it. Since the angle grinder was out, it was used to grind into the fibre and new reinforcement was laid up in situ with glass tissue, finishing with filler. The angle which carries the centre exit step was similarly corroded, so was also cleaned up and painted. This involved removing the nearside life-guard, whose brass butterfly nuts were rather stubborn. It proved necessary to cut off one bolt with the angle-grinder - so it really paid its way that day. The remaining screw holes in the front coachwork have been cleaned out and plugged, so the stumps were sawn off and planed smooth. Some tinkering around the engine rounded off another useful work session.

Work on the handbrake has led, inevitably, to the rear brake drums - and the thorny problem of wheel removal (again). Unable to borrow a brace the correct size I have bitten the bullet and bought one. A local company called TRUCK PARTS NORTH WALES were very helpful, so it was expected that it would be a similarly routine job to remove the rear wheels. Wrong again! This time the joker was a set of mixed nuts, half of a different size. Fortunately it appears that the large ones are the same size as those found on the Ricketts-mobile (aka Bristol LHS, VOD 123K) so a borrowed brace should do the trick (again) before they are given away to a good home. Frustration was expended in further rubbing down of the front dome, and bench seat panelling. A quick whizz over the following week with 1K etch primer and a decent undercoat made the seat and cab bulkhead look very presentable, even though the colour was wrong. The top-coat will put that right, of course.

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