Final funding appeal

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Covid-19 has meant the £345,000 restoration of a 1939 Bristol double-decker as a community asset has not been able to be completed as planned this year. Now an urgent appeal has been launched to raise £40,000 to complete the work on the Weymann-bodied bus.

Saved for preservation in 1960, GKE 68 was new to the Chatham & District Traction Company. After being stored in a Suffolk garden for many years and narrowly escaping the attention of the scrap man several times, GKE 68 was acquired by the Friends of Chatham Traction in 2009.

A massive restoration began, with the help of, among others, Arriva, which has agreed to store the bus when work is complete, Nu-Venture, Chatham Historic Dockyard, and not forgetting South East Coachworks where the work is taking place.

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Funding has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund, other grant-giving organisations, and bequests. Friends Chairman Richard Bourne explained: “We were confident that the bus would be finished this year, and were aiming to present it with a fanfare to the community of the Medway towns where the bus spent all its in-service life. Covid-19 held up physical work for many weeks, visits to suppliers were curtailed and we lost much exposure and income through being unable to attend events.”

On a happier note, Richard added: “We can now see an end to the work and a more accurate prediction of the likely remaining cost has been possible. Contributions would be welcome from any source, individual or corporate, to help us reach the £40,000 needed to achieve the major milestone of an operational vehicle.”

A five-year plan to use the bus for a wide range of educational and social activities has been drawn up.

The bus has been rebuilt, said Richard, ‘from the tarmac upwards’ but the original chassis and most of the main body members have been retained. Some of the work has been carried out by apprentices as part of their training experience. Glazing, electrics, upholstery and finishing – some of the most expensive work on the vehicle – are still to do.

A brief history

GKE 68 was delivered to Luton depot as part of a batch of 37 Chatham & District Traction Company Bristol K5Gs. Known locally as the ‘brahn buses,’ the operator was a subsidiary of Maidstone & District, into which it was absorbed on 30 September 1955.

The bus was repainted from its original green, brown and cream livery into M&D colours in March 1956 but the following December was sold to Passenger Vehicle Disposals of Dunchurch, Warwickshire and on to Mountain Transport of London SW3, which used it to provide staff transport during the construction of the Berkeley Nuclear Power Station in Gloucestershire.

Chatham Traction conductor Brian Smith later bought the bus for £65. Renovation work began, and the bus eventually ended up in the Suffolk Garden of M&D club member Brian Baldry.

When the house was sold after Brian’s death, bus narrowly escaped the cutter’s torch before being saved by the British Bus Preservation Group. Passing through several subsequent owners, GKE 68 was eventually acquired by the Friends of Chatham Traction in 2009.

How you can help

Donations can be made to bank sort code 40-52-40, account 00032126, or by cheque payable to The Friends of Chatham Traction sent to Mike Hodges, 8 Pier Avenue, Whitstable, Kent CT5 2HQ.

You could also sponsor a seat renovation for £250.

Much interior work is still needed before the bus returns to service. FRIENDS OF CHATHAM TRACTION
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