King Alfred restorations

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Members of the FoKAB fleet will be out and about as soon as possible. FoKAB

As Nick Larkin reports, although things are starting to look up across the country, there are still uncertainties affecting events scheduled for this year

Although Covid-19 has taken its toll on the activities of Friends of King Alfred Buses (FoKAB), with another of its events cancelled in May, work on major restorations is continuing apace, says Chairman James Freeman.

“Meetings have moved onto Zoom, events have largely disappeared (though we did manage a very successful pop-up museum display day last September) and longer-term restoration has gone onto go-slow as each lockdown has precluded activity,” he said. “Routine maintenance has carried on, thanks to a dedicated band of volunteers who have been working in ‘Covid-secure’ conditions, but there are two bigger projects.

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“One of these is the very long-term scheme to produce a highbridge Leyland Titan of the kind that King Alfred operated, made out of two obtained 30 years ago from the Isle of Man. This is progressing very gently this year, because Covid-19 has meant that most of the volunteers involved cannot come to site in Winchester. We expect it to be ready in a couple of years.

“Our other major project, provided by virtue of members’ sponsorship, has been a major body rebuild for 1970 Leyland Panther UOU 419H. This has a Plaxton Derwent composite body with extensive woodwork incorporated in its construction. It was last summer that we looked at 419 from the side and realised there was a serious crease in the roof panels above the windows, about halfway along. We sent the bus to Qualiti Conversions at Botley, whose proprietor Mark Whistler is a good friend of FoKAB. He got to work quickly. When the external panels were stripped off the sides serious deterioration was evident. Both the woodwork and the steel had failed halfway along the bodyside – a situation that required decisive action. Remedial work was commissioned and was carried out through the autumn, the decision having been made meanwhile to strip all the lower body panels off and make good as necessary. The windows were removed because the rubbers were in a poor state.

“The rubbers being of an unusual design with a rather large cross-section, it was necessary to source bespoke replacements. These were supplied by Advanced Materials of Littlehampton who specialise in made-to-order silicone rubber extrusions. FoKAB obtained sufficient material so that we can replace the window rubbers also in sister vehicle UOU 417H in due course – the cost per metre for these extrusions becomes significantly less with increased quantity.

“All the framework was completed before Christmas and the panels were replaced and prepared for paint. The picture shows the bus almost ready for painting. Suitable reproductions of the King Alfred statues on each side as well as the ‘R. Chisnell & Sons Ltd’ legal lettering have been commissioned from a local supplier.

“Professional repainting is scheduled for April and the completed bus should be ready for May. After a thorough service and presentation for a Class V MoT it will be fit for the road.”
Event cancelled

As a result of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the Trustees of FoKAB have reluctantly decided not to hold the planned running day in May this year. Secretary David Morgan said that having looked very carefully at the implications of the Government’s current ‘road map’ out of lockdown, holding the Winchester event was no longer practical or appropriate.

He added: “There are still too many uncertainties associated with the coronavirus pandemic, including exactly what kind of public event is permissible at any given time. In taking this decision, FoKAB comes into line with most other bus and coach preservation organisations who have similarly cancelled or postponed events planned for April or May 2021.”

FoKAB had already committed in outline to its customary participation in Winchester Heritage Open Days on 11 September 2021. It is now hoped to expand this involvement to a two-day event with a vehicle display on Saturday 11 September and a Running Day with free vintage bus services on Sunday 12 September. More details will be made known in due course.