(Not so) easy, tiger

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Peter Jackson speaks to a father and son team who have taken on their most ambitious preservation project yet

15-year-old coach and bus enthusiast Jake Sumner and his dad Dave are no stranger to the pages of CBW. If you cast your mind back to last year’s Christmas issue, you may remember a feature on the Stratford-upon-Avon-based duo’s first foray into preservation, which involved the purchase of two Volvo B10M Plaxton Premieres from local firm Bakers Coaches.

R4 and R5 ONH were past their best – having latterly been used on school services – and neither was roadworthy, with R4 needing some welding to get it through its MOT and R5 missing some parts. Being the most complete and fully drivable, R4 became the priority for Jake and his dad. “We’ve just recently fixed R4’s number plate lights, and we’ve cleaned out some of the lenses on the lights as well. We have a few more things to do and then it’ll be ready for its MOT,” Jake told me.

“We’re hoping to get the MOT done ready for April, because that’s when the Kirkby Stephen rally is normally held,” Dave explained, “so we’re hoping to take it up there for its first proper run. I did my PCV test in September and got through, so I can drive the thing now! It was hard work though, as I had to do it round Guildford. I did it with a company called J Coates; they’ve got depots all over, but the only place they could get me into (they cancelled my initial booking when the first lockdown happened) was Slough. So I did my lessons in Slough and then had to go to Guildford for the test, which was interesting!” he laughed.

“R4’s coming on really well and we’re still doing bits to R5 as well. It’s had some new mirrors and indicators, and we’ve replaced a few parts of the dash. We’ve got a shell of a caravan at our yard that’s crammed full of Plaxton bits, and Volvo in Loughborough have been quite helpful for parts too.”

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Bolt from the blue

As lovely as the Plaxtons are, the limelight has been somewhat taken off them recently thanks to the arrival of a new project that, in Dave’s words, was simply ‘too good an opportunity to miss.’

Back in June, CBW published the news that Transport Museum Wythall was willing to let its ex-Stratford Blue Leyland Tiger PS1 go to a new owner free of charge, provided it continued in preservation. The single-decker bus, which had been in storage for a number of years, was delivered to Stratford Blue (the operator, not the cheese) in September 1948 as fleet number 41, and was part of a batch 10 vehicles which were, coincidentally, the operator’s first new single-deckers.

Registered GUE 247 it, along with its nine siblings, was unusual in having a Northern Coachbuilders SD body, and is said to be the sole surviving example of its type. Following its departure from Stratford Blue, the vehicle spent some time with independents in Wales before being withdrawn from service in 1960.

It then passed to a dealer in Cheshire where, fortunately, it was saved by Norman Myers and handed over to the museum in the 1980s. It’s been in storage ever since, and with a number of other projects on the go, the museum said that GUE was still at the back of the queue – hence its decision to let the bus go.

“I saw the article and that they were offering the bus for free,” Jake said. “He showed his mum and she said don’t show your dad!” Dave added, laughing. “But of course he did show me, and we had a look at it. It’s history at the end of the day – it’s a very old and unique bus – so we thought we’d try and get hold of it.

“Wythall had it for a quite a while but they needed the space, which is obviously why they offered it. We emailed them and told them we were interested. Dave Taylor was the guy who sorted it all out, and helped us get it on the low-loader and everything. We managed to move it with the help of Gisbourne’s of Stratford, which went really well. Wythall were brilliant – they’re glad it’s gone back to a county it used to work in.

“It was one of those times where you can’t let the opportunity go,” continued Dave. “It cost a couple of hundred pounds to move it on a low loader, which was nothing when you consider its historic value. It’s about bringing something back from history which would have been lost.”

Jake (right) and his dad Dave. PETER JACKSON

Long road ahead

As you’d expect of a bus that’s been out of action for 60 years, GUE needs a lot of work. “It’s a very frail bus,” said Dave. “The body is made of wood and needs a lot of work, so we’re going to have to separate it from the chassis.

It’s a big job, but it’s the only one of these vehicles left, so it’s important somebody preserves it.

“We’ve got to find an engine and gearbox though first of all – the bus is just a rolling shell currently. Fortunately, the drivetrain that originally came in the bus was also used in the Leyland Tiger PS2, which makes our search easier.

“Most of the woodwork on the body I can do, as I’m an ex-carpenter anyway – I can use a lot of it as patterns and recreate it to match the original. So that’s a big help, but obviously the project is going to take a long time to do. I reckon the cost to restore it will be in the region of £26,000, so it’s very much a labour of love.

“But it will be absolutely amazing when it’s done, and it will attract so much interest. I’m hoping that by the time it’s done, Jake will have his PCV licence too, so he can use it on things like wedding hires to help cover the costs.

“We’re going to restore it to its original Stratford Blue livery; it has been in other colours before though.” Jake added: “Yes, the second company was Purple Motors of Bethesda, Gwynedd I think.”

“It’s a very unusual vehicle,” Dave continued. “There’s an interesting backstory behind it – I believe they put an order in for versions with different bodies, but something went wrong and they had to transfer the order to Northern Coachbuilders.

“The restoration certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it is steerable; we were able to pull it on and off the low loader using a winch. It is mainly just the engine and gearbox that are missing, as well as some of the interior – the majority of it is there to be honest, especially where the panels are concerned. Some of the panels even still have the original blue paint visible, and one of the old adverts is still visible at the back under the window!

“The suspension is all there, but it’s meant to have two wheels at each side on the back and one of them is missing. Hopefully that won’t be too much of a problem to get hold of. Interior-wise, there are only a couple of seats left and it’s very fragile – Wythall had to put a wooden frame in the middle of it to give it a bit of support. There’s not really any glass in it, and the floor is there but it’s in a pretty bad state.”

Transport Museum Wythall had the bus since the ‘80s

Anything is possible

Looking to the future, besides using the bus on wedding hires and taking it to shows and road runs, Jake and Dave have more planned for GUE. “We decided before we picked it up that, if we could get hold of the bus, we’d try and eventually set up a museum with that as the ‘mascot,’” explained Dave. “So we’ve set up some domain names and a website – which we’re working on at the moment – under the name Stratford-upon-Avon Transport Museum. The bus was obviously part of Stratford Blue originally, so it would make the perfect mascot for a museum in the area. We’ve still got some writing to do on the website, but we have done quite a bit to it recently in the way of pictures and a template, so it’s starting to take shape.”

Dealing with Wythall has given Jake and his dad further inspiration to bring their ideas to life and made them realise what’s possible. “It was interesting learning how they started up,” said Dave. “They’ve gone from having a field basically in the early days to where they are now, and it’s been interesting to hear what problems they’ve faced over the years and how they’ve grown. They were very keen to hear about what we’ve been doing with the coaches, and we’ve made some good friends down there – we’ll definitely keep in contact.

“We’re hoping one day, when things have returned to normal, to maybe get a lottery grant or something. We’re going to need more of a covered area than we have at present to work on something like the Stratford Blue bus as well.

“We have another three years or so left on the lease for our current yard, and I’ve said to Jake that we’ll have to go into a warehouse of some kind when that runs out. That would allow us to do a lot more work to it, as at the moment it’s under a cover outside. We’re looking at getting some kind of polytunnel so we can make a start on it, but we really want to try and get R4 going first so we can enjoy that for the time being.

“R4’s obviously needed a lot doing to it to get it roadworthy, but we’ve dealt with most of it already – the lights, lenses, wipers, washers and so on. The starter motor was on its last legs too, but we managed to change that ourselves. We’re doing as much as we can, but it needs a bit of welding doing at the back before we can put it through its MOT. Once that’s done though we’ll be able to get it out and about and start using it, which is what it needs. Jake’s still moving it around in the yard too!” Jake added: “I’m getting more confident with it now. I can’t wait to get my licence too when I’m old enough.”

The rear view of GUE 247 – a long restoration lies ahead

Out and about

Jake and Dave had plenty planned for 2020 when I spoke to them ahead of last Christmas, but of course the majority of those plans haven’t materialised. Despite Covid well and truly spoiling the party, they have managed to get to some events this year – just not in one of their own vehicles.

“Jake and I went out to the Showbus Road Run back in September and had a nose at some of the vehicles there. That was really good,” said Dave. Jake agreed: “I really enjoyed it. One of my favourite vehicles from the day was a Mercedes-Benz minibus, I think it was a Plaxton Beaver. It was white and didn’t have any company name on it, but I liked the look of it – you don’t see them that often. Another one of my favourites was Pulhams’ Plaxton Panther B8R that was there.”

“We started off at Oxford services and then went along the route, stopping off at places like Stokenchurch,” recalled Dave. “Then we went to High Wycombe and to the bus station at the end of the route where most of them were coming in, and we had a great time.

“It’s been so quiet though this year, everything’s been cancelled,” he said. “The amount of times we saw events come up on Facebook only to be disappointed later when they had to cancel… it’s a real shame. Covid really caught us out I think, everything changed so quickly. The worst part is how many companies have had to throw in the towel after years and years in business – it’s horrendous. I really feel for them, and I think the government should have done a lot more to help the coach industry and save those jobs.”

On a more positive note, the Leyland Tiger isn’t the only new vehicle Jake has added to his collection this year. He’s got an interest in minibuses too, and now has one of his own to work on and enjoy: “It’s a 2002 Ford Transit and it hardly had any seats left in it!” he said. “I think it was used as a van more than anything in the last couple of years. We’ve managed to get three more seats for it so far; it was originally a 14-seater so we need another five seats. It has a bit of rust on the side panels, and it’s going to need a rear view mirror and both door mirrors as well, but it runs and drives OK.

“It’s way different to drive to a coach. I don’t know which I’m going to prefer driving when I get my licence and get on the road, but I like the coach more at the moment because I don’t stall it as much! I’d like to restore it to its original form, like with the coaches, but I don’t know what operator it was with originally so I’ve got to do some more research.”

Jake’s unbridled enthusiasm for all things coach and bus, combined with the support of his parents, will no doubt get him far in the industry he so wishes to be a part of. One thing’s for sure, CBW will follow his progress and that of his preservation projects – let’s just hope for something of a return to normality next year so that Jake and his dad can get back to doing more of what they love.

Do you have any of the missing parts mentioned in the article? Please get in touch with Dave on 07538 244861

 

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