The Long Road to Bus and Coach Restoration

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Hidden away in the wilds of East Lothian, with beautiful views of the Lammermuir Hills, is a treasure trove of old buses and coaches which were once familiar sights on the streets of Edinburgh. Richard Walter finds out what it takes to preserve them and the challenges of keeping them roadworthy and looking good

The Gifford Transport Group (GTG) started in the early 1990s when a small band of likeminded enthusiasts got together to preserve old Edinburgh buses. The group is currently made up of a small, but extremely dedicated, number of preservationists: Iain Docherty, Jim Mason, Robert Carlyle, Andy McLelland, Gordon Stirling, Mark Hannan and Gavin Robinson. The members come from various backgrounds. There is a retired gas man, truck and bus driver, train driver, retired paramedic, gardener and a couple of PCV drivers.

Gifford Transport Group member Gordon Stirling beside Leyland Tiger Duple 340 65 (D65 BSC). RICHARD WALTER

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The GTG restore their collection of old buses within a working farm and there is an east/west of Scotland divide within the ranks. The sole Glaswegian and Uddingston members are outnumbered by Edinburgh and East Coast folk, but member Gordon Stirling assured me: “We never come to blows!”
Gordon explained a little about his background. “Having driven some of the Group’s buses during my bus driving career in the 1980s with Lothian Region Transport, I have a strong emotional connection with them.

“My first preservation project started in 1999 when I purchased a share in SCS 333M, a former Western SMT Leyland Leopard which I later sold in 2005 vowing never to buy another bus. Now having retired, I am about to start another project in the form of ex-Lothian Region Transport Volvo Olympian 202 (M202 VSX) providing that the chassis corrosion is not too serious.”

Gordon strongly believes that being part of the Group is an escape from the rat race and a great stress release. He said: “To spend some time at the farm breathing life into an old bus brings a lot of satisfaction. A good team spirit exists and everyone is only too happy to share their knowledge and expertise.” Gordon pointed out however that while the camaraderie is very special, the pies and coffee shared in the bothy are often the highlight of the day.
Since its formation, the GTG has occupied a few different bases. The current site has been its home for approximately 30 years and, as the Group has a good

Former Lothian Region Transport Leyland Tiger Duple 340 65 (D65 BSC) seen underneath the Edinburgh Castle Rock in Johnstone Terrace, normally full of tour coaches during August. RICHARD WALTER

relationship with the farmer, they do not foresee any need to move again. The name Gifford comes from the small town nearest to the farm base.

The aspirations of the GTG

Iain Docherty told me: “The Group’s aim is to preserve buses from our youth, most of which have an Edinburgh connection as that is where most of us grew up.”

Turning to the current premises, Iain explained: “We have the use of a large shed which the farmer uses at grain harvest during August and September. All the buses have to park outside for approximately six weeks but being the summer, the weather is reasonably kind to our vehicles. Within the shed we have most of the tools required for the restoration of the vehicles. Equipment such as a sand blaster, stand drill, parts washers, jacks, pallet truck and forklift are owned by the Group. Hand tools, air tools etc are owned by the individuals, with everything being shared to get various jobs done. Paint brushes are mine.

“A couple of local companies, Prentice of Haddington and Rogerson Coach Travel, source parts and have very kindly donated equipment to us. Rogerson has recently donated a set of lifts which have been a great piece of equipment to save us crawling about the floor beneath the buses. The only skill we do not have amongst us is welding and this has to be done by calling on friends to come to our assistance.”

I asked Iain what were the first vehicles owned and if there were any specific types of buses and coaches that the Group would like to add to the fleet.

“The vehicle that started it all off, and longest in the fleet,” said Iain, “is former Edinburgh Corporation Transport Alexander bodied Leyland Titan PD3 690 (ASC 690B) owned by Jim Mason. Growing up in Gorgie this bus was a regular on the service 1 and was a good enough reason for Jim to buy it. Robert wanted something from the days of Eastern Scottish and bought the Seddon. I would like a Duple Dominant II-bodied Leyland Tiger from Lothian Region Transport days but sadly none are around, or a couple of Bristol VRs. Robert hopes for an Eastern Scottish Bristol Lodekka as he travelled on those buses to school. Everyone in the Group would love an old Edinburgh Corporation Guy.”

There is no limit to the number of buses the Group can own but Iain feels that the they maintain the best manageable number at present. “Any future acquisitions would have to be stored outside,” he said. “The restoration and routine maintenance of current buses is taking up our time at the moment and progress can be slow.”

Ensuring authenticity

I wondered what were the most important factors to take into account when considering a vehicle to be suitable for preservation and the scale of the work required to restore it to its former glory. Iain believes that personal taste is the biggest factor followed by the amount of work required. He said: “After purchase, the vehicles are given a full assessment to establish their condition and requirements. Bodywork, interior and mechanicals are all carefully assessed and the necessary work planned. The work always turns out to take longer and requires more than initially thought when first purchased. We have rebuilt frames, changed complete engines, repanelled, replaced complete floors, rewired and repainted various vehicles. Time and availability of a workforce is the biggest problem for us.

Iain Docherty, Andy McLelland, Robert Carlyle with GTG mascot Blaikie. RICHARD WALTER

“We do a lot of research to ensure the vehicles are as authentic as possible,” explained Iain. “We have some original paint codes and send samples to Craftmaster paints in Cambridgeshire who match to the old Masons paints originally used. Williamsons Paints in Yorkshire are another original supplier still manufacturing what we need. Photographs are a great source of reference and when at shows and rallies, we scour the stalls for pictures of our vehicles and others from the same batch. Peoples’ personal memories are also invaluable. The old varnish fix transfers are mostly unusable due to age deterioration. Parts can be a problem but the wider preservation movement is more than happy to help when an appeal is put out. Badges have been collected by enthusiasts for many years and can normally be found for sale on internet sites like eBay and Facebook (albeit some are at vastly inflated prices) or sourced at the various stalls at rallies and shows. Destination blinds are also collectable items available and can be specially made up by a couple of specialist companies. Older tubed tyres on split rim wheels are getting harder to source and some vehicle owners have been forced to update their wheels to take the modern equivalent.”

The time taken on restorations varies considerably, with three to four years being the norm. Some take as little as a year to complete but Leyland Tiger Alexander T Type Eastern Scottish 316 (PSF 316Y) has been owned for 20 years and it is still a long way from completion. Other vehicles have been waiting for approximately 10 years. Priority is given to the vehicles requiring less work and keeping maintenance up to date on the running fleet.

Due to varying day job shift patterns, members tell each other when they are available and arrange dates and times to carry out the work accordingly. Access to the shed is 24/7 and normally one or two days a week for about six or seven hours is spent working on the vehicles.

Iain pointed out that there can be frustrating times during the restoration projects which range from paint seeping under masking tape, to lining an engine up to its mountings. Each situation is assessed and thought about and normally works after a change of method or a good think about it. Faulty gear boxes and exposed black wire can cause problems too.

“The most rewarding part of the restoration is seeing the vehicle complete and back on the road,” said Iain. “The comments and praise we receive when the vehicles are displayed go a long way to making it all seem worthwhile.

“At the various UK rallies we attend, or enthusiast trips we arrange, the sight of our vintage vehicles triggers many stories which are recited to us. One friend met his wife on one of the vehicles when he was driving it and she was a passenger. He jokes about hating that particular one. Former drivers and mechanics tell their tales about working with them.”

Former Lothian Region Transport Leyland Tiger Duple 340 65 (D65 BSC) inbetween a good choice of tour buses on the Royal Mile, despite the lack of visitors to Edinburgh in the summer of 2020. RICHARD WALTER

Keeping the fleet roadworthy

Once the vehicles are restored, Iain was keen to point out that they still require a lot of love and attention to keep them in good condition. “It invariably rains every time we are out so basic cleaning is required. If the owner or driver finds a fault, we instantly pause the long term restoration to complete the repairs to keep the vehicle on the road. Repairs can be anything from a faulty light bulb or flat tyre to a fuel pump. “Health and safety are always a priority,” added Iain.

Staying at the Bus Stop

Just beside the bus shed, the farm owners run a unique bus-themed holiday experience which was inspired by the Gifford collection. The aptly named ‘Bus Stop’ is a holiday experience with a difference. Luxury and rustic accommodation is offered in the form of converted single and double-deck buses set beside decking with wood-burning stoves, BBQs and wood fired private hot tubs. The buses range from old Dennis Darts to former Lothian Region Transport Leyland Olympians. The farm is home to alpacas, horses and sheep and chickens live in an old shell of a bus where visitors can collect freshly laid eggs for their breakfast.

Iain Docherty working on the engine of Edinburgh Corporation Transport 833 (EWS 833D), a Leyland Titan PD3 with Alexander bodywork. RICHARD WALTER

Effects of coronavirus

Work on vehicles took an unexpected break when lockdown started following the outbreak of Covid-19. Iain was able to carry out some fibreglass work at home but nothing sizeable could be resumed until early June when access to the farm was possible again.

Sadly there have been few of the usual bus-related events to attend during 2020 but Iain and the Group members hope to be able to show off the results of their hard work as soon as practically possible. Indeed, LRT Leyland Tiger Duple 340 65 (D65 BSC) undertook an impromptu trip around Midlothian and Edinburgh centre on 1 August following it being road taxed.

Pandemic effects aside, I asked Iain about the challenges for bus preservation by the GTG in the future. “Volunteers are always hard to find. There have already been cases of vehicles being disposed of after owners passed away or are not able to carry on the work required. Modern day enthusiasts are preserving buses from their youth which they remember and do not have a connection to the older vehicles.”

Hopefully however it will be some time before any of the marvellous vehicles at Gifford are at risk of being disposed of. For the foreseeable future the hard work of the team in the big shed at Gifford will be there for many people to admire and enjoy. You can discover more about the Group’s activities on their new public Facebook page at ‘Gifford Transport Group.’

The Gifford Transport Group collection consists of the following vehicles at varying stages of restoration:

  • 1964 690 (ASC 690B) Leyland Titan PD3 Alexander ex-Edinburgh Corporation Transport (ECT)
    1966 833 (EWS 833D) Leyland Titan PD3 Alexander ex-ECT
    1967 867 (JSC 867E) Leyland Atlantean Alexander ex-ECT
    1974 XXA 854M Leyland Leopard Alexander Y type ex-Fife Scottish converted to breakdown recovery wagon
    1975 121 (GSX 121N) Bedford YRT Alexander Y Type ex-Lothian Region Transport (LRT)
    1976 122 (MFS 122P) Leyland Leopard Alexander Y Type ex-LRT
    1978 228 (EFS 228S) Leyland Leopard Alexander T Type ex-LRT
    1978 230 (EFS 230S) Leyland Leopard Alexander T Type ex-LRT
    1978 S847 (ESC 847S) Seddon Pennine VII Alexander Y Type ex-Eastern Scottish
    1982 316 (PSF 316Y) Leyland Tiger Alexander T Type ex-Eastern Scottish
    1986 65 (D65 BSC) Leyland Tiger Duple 340 ex-LRT
    1986 349 (D349 ESC) Leyland Tiger TE Type ex-Lowland Scottish
    1997 260 (P260 PSX) Volvo Olympian Alexander Royale ex-Lothian Buses
    1995 202 (M202 VSX) Volvo Olympian Alexander RH ex-Lothian Buses
    HRR387 Leyland Leopard Willowbrook ex-East Midlands