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Birmingham AEC Regent Appeal - January 2018
Just before Christmas 2017 came a long-awaited event in the revival of 486 when the bus moved under its own power for the first time since 1944! The need to swap places in the workshop with Johannesburg trolleybus 589 prompted the move and Andy Baxter had the honour of driving 486 out of the shed for it to be seen in daylight after just over four years in 'intensive care'.
The absence of certain vital components such as the windscreen, rear registration number and a complete driver's seat meant that movements were limited to the yard outside the workshop. Also, the lack of a V5C registration document, which eventually arrived in mid-January, prevented arrangements being made to legally drive the bus out on the road.
Nonetheless, we established that the many hours of hard work to resurrect our magnificent 1931 Regent were bearing fruit. Unsurprisingly, after such major surgery, the need for adjustments was apparent, but overall 486 did what it was meant to do and on completion of its first minor excursion I was privileged to drive the bus back inside the building and park it up.
With 486 in its new position, work got under way in the New Year on installing the seats. The wooden plinths, cast aluminium pedestals, steel angle seat rails and powder coated frames were brought together, starting in the upper saloon. Ian Barrett and Saul Woods spent many hours aligning, adjusting and checking each pair of seats to ensure they were at the right height and angle. This was a long-winded process requiring much checking and re-checking. Packing pieces were made and some pedestals reduced in height to get all the frames to line up. The bare squab backboards were screwed into each frame to show where the top of the seat would be and how it would relate to the support brackets fixed to the waist rail fascia panels below the windows.
After fitting of the nearside single seats at the rear of the upper saloon, backboards were returned to museum volunteer Bob Scott in A&J's trim shop at Lye ready for building up with the required timber framework and upholstering in the excellent leather which has now been received from UK Hides. I then collected further bare backboards from Bob and the process was repeated with the double seats in the lower saloon before attention returned to the remaining seats upstairs. There was an unusual seating arrangement alongside the staircase on the upper deck of these Regents. Instead of what we now know as the conventional arrangement on most rear platform buses, with double seats continuing along the nearside to the rear where there was a triple seat, in this case, there were two rows of single seats either side of a short gangway leading to the rear 'triple' seat. This 'triple' seat was officially only designated as a double seat to keep the seating capacity to forty-eight and a lower road tax bracket!
Fitting of the single seats alongside the stairwell partition and the rear 'triple' frame was undertaken by the end of January, leaving only the arrangement of the seats over the rear wheelarches in the lower saloon to be established.
Interspersed with this work, Ian's team continued with repairing and fitting other items. The cab door was finally hung and I completed painting on both sides of it before Ian fitted the lock and a new leather stay strap.
Ian also renovated the bulb horn which, as well as the electric horn, was part of the standard equipment of the time. He then made up a new mounting block for fixing the horn where it emits its comic hooting noises through the round aperture in the front panel. He also made up a new stay strut which braces the horn when having its bulb squeezed!
Two wing mirrors and a rear-view mirror for the cab were renovated and fitted using the correct style arms and clips.
Saul made up a new door for the front blind box which I painted inside and out before it was glazed. It was then fitted to the bus with budget locks and chrome plated covers (known to Metro-Cammell as "escutcheons") for the keyholes.
Two replacement handles for the bonnet side panels were found and fitted and Ian made up support arms for the brackets to hold the destination slip board which fits across the radiator. A suitable fog lamp in excellent condition was given fresh paint and fitted by Andy to complete the exterior lighting of the bus. This is supplemented at the rear by the tail board which Andy made up with detachable brackets that can be stowed away in the toolbox under the nearside of the lower saloon floor when not in use.
Inside the bus, Saul has been busy fitting handrails and giving them a final polish, a skill honed on Lambretta scooters back in the 'Mod' days of his youth (which was not that far back, of course!). The conductor's mirror on the stairs was trial fitted with new brackets prior to stripping of old paint and being renovated. This is a substantial oblong flat mirror in a varnished wood frame that would look more at home on a dressing table, which is probably where a lot ended up when the Regents were pensioned off!
At the front of each saloon Ian has fitted the brackets to accommodate the slip boards that would have told passengers which way the bus was going to travel around the city centre. Before New Street, Corporation Street and Colmore Row became part of the one-way system in the centre of Birmingham, buses using those roads would alternately go clockwise and then anticlockwise. These boards, if maintained correctly by the conductor, could help passengers avoid going the long way around town if hopping off and taking a short walk would be quicker!
Over the Christmas and New Year break, I had drawn up a list of tasks which I still needed to complete before Ian and his colleagues could finish their work and hand over 486 to the Trust. The only snag was that after spending the first week of January back in Surrey wielding my brushes, I came back with a longer list than when I started! The problem is that so many items were being brought to the point of completion, with 'this bracket needing a coat of paint here' or 'that lot of bolts needing touching in there'. Many of the items would only take minutes to paint, but it might mean mixing up primer, undercoat or gloss, or a mixture of two, maybe in brown or blue, black, white or cream. Some of the tasks seemed to take an eternity, such as varnishing all twenty-two platform slats five times before they could be secured to the floor (and then receive yet more coats) or painting the seat pedestals, plinths and seat rails, each type of component multiplied by at least twenty-four, with four coats per item.
By the time I stopped to take a holiday in February, I was beating the list into submission and I hope that by the time you read this, only a handful of tasks will remain for all members of the restoration team before 486 is ready for the road northwards once more
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