Faversham Fever

Then it was Spring time and things started to blossom. GKE 68 was moved from Aylesford to South East Coachworks' workshop in Faversham over the two days 25th/26th April. Another move delicately executed by Jay and Wayne of Mansfield Haulage and their impressive Volvo wrecker. How they tucked GKE nicely into the corner of the workshop was a joy to watch!

Then on 13th and 14th May came the Faversham Transport Weekend. SE Coachworks are leading players in this event, and opened their premises to the public. We were able to take our usual gear along and made some new friends. Thanks to Chris, Paul and all the SEC guys for their help.

Time Flies

The fact that its just a year since the last post reflects that there's been a lot going on. Who said retirement was when things slowed down?

In early April 2016 we took GKE 68 to the South East Bus Festival at the Detling Showground, near Maidstone. The organisers allowed us to take our skeleton of a vehicle into the main hall with all the vintage cars and motor-bikes which were part of the main Heritage Transport Show. This attracted a lot of new attention, which did us no harm at all.

Much background work on a second bid for Heritage Lottery Fund money during the summer, but by September we were ready for something different so we made a special effort for Chatham Historic Dockyard's "Salute to the 40s" weekend.

Then suddenly it was December, and we'd submitted our application to the HLF.

On the 2017 New Year holiday a local bus event in Gillingham saw the unveiling of Nu-Venture's latest Chatham Traction tribute bus. Probably the best representation yet of the once-familiar colours. Thanks Norman!

An agonising wait for the HLF bid outcome came to a disappointing conclusion, but we know why and we'll sort it. The 2017 AGM, our tenth, welcomed Roger Davies as guest speaker. Roger was the catalyst to a revival of Chatham Traction interest some 15 years earlier and he recounted the background to the assembled company. Before the meeting the tribute bus ran a nostalgic return to Borstal and Bookham Wood:

A quick summary there of a year's events. More detail in our occasional Updates, which you can see here.

Another year, another different AGM! - on March 5th

This time we invited a speaker with many years experience inside the bus industry. Alan Price was a BET group management trainee. His first placement was with Maidstone and District at Luton depot between 1959 and 1963 when the Chatham Traction spirit of independence was still strong. We learnt of the problems of traffic congestion in pre-M2 Medway, how to change gear on a Bristol K, and how to "borrow" a bus from Gillingham depot without them knowing..... Wonderful stuff. Alan's contribution added to our normal numbers to the extent that we just over-filled the newly refitted Learning Space at Rochester's brilliant new Huguenot Museum.

We were able to display some new photos, both of recent work on GKE 68 and of Chatham Traction buses in service. Alan Page brought along his entire output of paintings depicting scenes around Medway in the 50s with a bus (or two) in them. The paintings were long ago dedicated to the cause and we're now working to make them available as prints. I love the one of Frindsbury terminus, with a GKE Bristol shown heeling over as it executes the 180 degree turn!

Our display, showing some of Alan Page's paintings, and Gordon Mackley's bus models.

One of each type Chatham Traction operated during its lifetime....

One of each type Chatham Traction operated during its lifetime....

Cinderella gets to go

We didn't in the end take the bus to Chatham last year (we had a better offer involving Medway Museums which needs some work) but subject only to last-minute calls on our towing friends GKE 68 will be at the South East Bus Festival at Detling on Saturday 2nd April. The organisers have done a great job to preview this appearance as a chance to see something of what's involved in restoring a bus of this age from the state it was in. We'll display it as it is - all ribs and no panels with no special preparation - as a sight not to be seen again.

Full details of this event at https://www.arrivabus.co.uk/south-east-bus-festival/.

Together at last!

Wednesday 16th September saw a major milestone in the restoration of GKE 68, with the return of the bus to Nu-Venture's Aylesford garage sporting a complete, rebuilt body structure.

GKE 68 arrives back at Aylesford.

GKE 68 arrives back at Aylesford.

The last stages of the bus's 22-month rebuild on the Romney Marsh were somewhat extended,  but an extra effort over the final 4 weeks saw the two decks reunited following completion of the roof rebuild. The bus now has a sound structural body as a result of a thorough exercise to address all structural components. This was always going to be the biggest single task and its completion provides a solid basis for the balance of the restoration.

To draw local attention to this achievement we're planning to display the bus for a day in Chatham in a few weeks' time.

 

Another AGM, another venue...

Conversion work for the Huguenot museum at the Rochester Visitor centre meant we had to seek somewhere else to hold this year's Annual General Meeting. Enter Colin Jarvis, sports fanatic, old vehicle enthusiast and Chairman of MEMS Power Generation based in Gillingham. Colin generously made available facilities offered by the 44TWO Club, located at the top of Featherby Road opposite the site of the one-time Central Hotel. Anyone who was a bus and coach enthusiast in the 50s and 60s will remember the Central being jammed at weekends with dozens of coaches and London buses taking folk for days at the seaside on the north Kent coast.

Again, a route run was organised, differing in two ways from previous years. Firstly the routes covered - parts of route 2 to Rainham and route 5 to the Strand - were somewhat compromised by Saturday lunchtime levels of traffic and modern alterations to road access. But you can't stop progress. Secondly, this time we had the use of 1945 Bristol K6A HKE 867, which is operated by members of the M&D and East Kent Bus Club. A wonderfully nostalgic experience to climb Chatham Hill at 20 mph to the sound of an AEC engine. Crewed by Phil and Mike, the ride was much appreciated by those partaking and our thanks are due to Richard Wallace for the arrangements.

In the company of modern buses in Waterfront Way, Chatham, departure point for the 2015 AGM route tour.

In the company of modern buses in Waterfront Way, Chatham, departure point for the 2015 AGM route tour.

Traction Tea Break

The dark days of January seemed like a good time to provide some relief in the form of an opportunity for our friends and supporters to gather, chat and drink the traditional drink which has long fuelled bus operations throughout the land. On Saturday 31st January about 40 folk headed for the MidKent College where refreshments had been provided by the College's Catering students. Apart from discussing the latest developments with GKE 68 and the wider project, there was the opportunity to see some of the items from Brian Smith's collection. These have been made available to us by Brian's sister and brother-in-law Jill and John Findlay, and we were very pleased to welcome them along.

Brian's Setright Speed ticket machine, cash bag and waybill wallet 

Brian's Setright Speed ticket machine, cash bag and waybill wallet 

Extract from a Chatham Traction weekly traffic summary from February 1946. The signature is that of District Superintendent Lionel Cronk. The total takings from fares for the first month of 1946 were £16,833 11s 4d. In old money, of course.....

Extract from a Chatham Traction weekly traffic summary from February 1946. The signature is that of District Superintendent Lionel Cronk. The total takings from fares for the first month of 1946 were £16,833 11s 4d. In old money, of course.....

The level of conversation showed that people were taking advantage of the opportunity, and we gained a couple of new friends in the process. Thanks to the College for the arrangements.

Brian Smith R.I.P.

Sadly, we heard last week that Brian had died, on Saturday 1st November. He was 81.

He was a life-long bus enthusiast, having started to visit Luton depot regularly whilst still at school. He joined Chatham Traction as a Conductor in 1955 on completion of his National Service, a job he did with Maidstone & District until the end of crew buses in the late 1970s. 

Brian bought GKE 68 in December 1960 for £65, one of the earliest moves in the country to privately preserve a bus. He came along to the very earliest meetings of the group that evolved into the Friends of Chatham Traction, and made a whole-hearted contribution to the 2005 Commemorative Event by bringing many of his treasured artefacts to show and turning out for the day in full Conductor's rig. He provided many observations and memories of life on the buses in the 50s, but his shining contribution to our cause was, uncharacteristically perhaps, a starring role when we were featured by BBC South East Today in November 2008. We invited him to become our Honorary Life President two years later, which he accepted.

By all reports, buses were Brian's life and for "his" bus to come back and tell the story of Chatham Traction's contribution to life in Medway would be a fitting tribute.

Brian Smith 1c.jpg

Sponsor a Seat

An opportunity for individuals, families, clubs, societies and local businesses to support a very visible and essential part of GKE 68's restoration. Seats are a fundamental part of any passenger vehicle and their quality and finish make a big contribution to any interior. However their multiplicity means they are always an expensive item, the more so when special materials are required to reproduce an authentic appearance. 

An upper deck double seat from the bus, removed 58 years after it last carried fare-paying passengers. Imagine it re-covered with new moquette of the original pattern (fragments of which are draped over the back of the seat to the left) and trimmed with shiny new leather!

An upper deck double seat from the bus, removed 58 years after it last carried fare-paying passengers. Imagine it re-covered with new moquette of the original pattern (fragments of which are draped over the back of the seat to the left) and trimmed with shiny new leather!

We estimate that the cost of restoring the seats (all 54 seat places, including the downstairs longitudinal 3-seats) is about £17,000. This includes roundly £2,000 for new moquette alone, which is also subject to minimum quantity ordering and therefore the need to find other projects which may be able to use a genuine late-1930s pattern of seat covering.

We reckoned that a sum of £250 per seat place (which, when gift-aided, produces the figure we estimated) would be within the means of enough people and organisations for this element of funding to be achieved. There are seven takers already. Anyone else wishing to sponsor a seat please use the Contact link.

A Chance for £10,000!

On the last day of September we received the news that our Medway Heritage Bus had been selected for a shortlist of 30 applications to the Yorkshire Building Society's Lasting Legacy Fund. Of these, 15 projects will receive £10,000, the winners being chosen by a public on-line vote. Please have a go on our behalf - it only takes a couple of minutes. The details are on the YBS website at http://www.ybs.co.uk/legacy/index.html.

And tell your family, friends, colleagues, club members, anyone.....! Voting closes on 31st October.

Upstairs Downstairs

Roy Gould has been pressing on with the reconstruction of GKE's upper deck. Frameworks for both new sides are in place, and much of the timber work around the front and rear of the structure has been renewed. 

The canopies (or domes) at the front and rear of the roof are of beaten aluminium and will receive special attention to reclaim them and remove the results of years of battering by trees and such. Renewal of the main roof sheets awaits resolution of how to reproduce the clench joint between sections. We have every confidence!

 

New Upper Deck side framing in place.

New Upper Deck side framing in place.

Rear end framing and timber work. Some of it is even original!

Rear end framing and timber work. Some of it is even original!

Front end framing.

Front end framing.

The old upper deck off-side framing has been set aside, partly to serve as a reference for window mounting and the drop window assemblies, but also to allow preservation of part of it to show the level of deterioration it had reached before restoration began.

The old upper deck off-side framing has been set aside, partly to serve as a reference for window mounting and the drop window assemblies, but also to allow preservation of part of it to show the level of deterioration it had reached before restoration began.

75@75

In August we launched a further fund-raising initiative called 75@75 in acknowledgement of GKE 68's 75th birthday and an estimate that £75,000 would see us a long way towards completing its restoration. We've contacted a number of Medway companies, businesses and individuals to raise awareness and seek support with some promising responses.

The appeal was launched at Chatham's new Waterfront Bus Station in the company of Medway Councillor Howard Doe, whose portfolio includes Heritage.

 

Five Trustees and a Councillor. The poster being held by Wendy will start to appear around the Towns soon.

Five Trustees and a Councillor. The poster being held by Wendy will start to appear around the Towns soon.

Taking the Lid off Bus Restoration

During June GKE's lower deck started to look like the real thing again. Timber decking was added to the platform, and all the stress panels were fitted in place.

New platform decking. The used ticket box and rear saloon panel are original. The stairs handrail has long been bent probably as a result of a rear-end shunt at some point in the bus's itinerant life around the farmyards of Britain. It'll recover... Anyone know where to find metal platform edging angle with the non-slip texture? No yellow edges in 1939.

New platform decking. The used ticket box and rear saloon panel are original. The stairs handrail has long been bent probably as a result of a rear-end shunt at some point in the bus's itinerant life around the farmyards of Britain. It'll recover... Anyone know where to find metal platform edging angle with the non-slip texture? No yellow edges in 1939.

Stress panels fitted, and floorboards cut and laid but not yet fixed pending work on the chassis components which is still to begin. The front partition is the original, apart from the pillars at each end, as is the ceiling support structure.

Stress panels fitted, and floorboards cut and laid but not yet fixed pending work on the chassis components which is still to begin. The front partition is the original, apart from the pillars at each end, as is the ceiling support structure.

Things then began to move upwards. Much of the upstairs trim had previously removed by volunteers Rob Murray and David Lawrence. Roy began by assembling "the easy bit", i.e. the plain 5-window side frames. 1930s Weymann manufacturing practice was to build double-deck bodies as two separate decks which were then bolted together.  The unfortunate bit was that the bolting passed through the outermost upper deck floorboards! GKE's floor was either rotten (at the edges) or woodworm-affected (everywhere else). Trying to replace two-layer tongue and groove flooring with the metalwork of both decks still in place was going to be tricky, as was dealing with aluminium roof sheets and end canopies with corroded edges whilst working at the full height of the bus. So, the momentous decision......

Keeping the Faith

Work on GKE's body structure is about half-way through its scope.  It was about time, therefore, that an opportunity was created for members and supporters to get the flavour and see what they were getting.  A visit to the New Romney Potato Store was accordingly arranged for Thursday 29th May.  Twenty-four FoCT members and friends duly inspected the work and saw the scale of work necessary to repair upwards of thirty years of slow decomposition.  The lower deck, including the platform and cab, is all but complete structurally, with window pans and external panels to come.  Upstairs is largely a repeat of downstairs for the sides, but Roy Gould and Chris Gibbons are having a good ponder over how to deal with roof sheets and end canopies which have been nibbled away at the edges by the dreaded metal moth.

The assembled company included one youthful Chelsea supporter......

The assembled company included one youthful Chelsea supporter......

The cab has been the subject of much deliberation, with some complex shapes which were heavily corroded and so not easily copied.  However the three-dimensional inner wing was triumphantly installed in mid-May and has stiffened up the whole cab to great effect.

The cab has been the subject of much deliberation, with some complex shapes which were heavily corroded and so not easily copied.  However the three-dimensional inner wing was triumphantly installed in mid-May and has stiffened up the whole cab to great effect.

IMG_5044.JPG

Steeling Ourselves

Down on the Romney Marsh Roy Gould is making good progress with GKE’s bodywork.  In January the body and chassis had been separated to allow blasting and painting.  This confirmed the good condition of the chassis but also showed where further replacement of corroded metal was needed on the lower body.  New steel fabrications, supplied locally, have since gone in at the rear end of the lower deck floor and under the platform bulkhead.  This alone cost roundly £1400, but is an excellent job.  Work has also gone into rebuilding the platform, rear end and cab structures and things are soon to move upstairs.  So nice one Roy, and thanks to our Co-ordinator Chris Gibbons for keeping check of things and injecting his own considerable experience.  Nice to know we've been into every corner!

Chassis and lower body structure after blasting and painting.

Chassis and lower body structure after blasting and painting.

New steelwork above rear of chassis.

New steelwork above rear of chassis.

AGMs can be fun!

The Friends of Chatham Traction Annual General Meeting on 8th March was once again held in Rochester. We try to keep the necessary formalities simple, leaving time for a presentation on progress of all aspects of the Medway Heritage Bus project and, sometimes, peripheral matters of interest or a guest speaker. This year we arranged for the morning of the AGM a tour of former Chatham Traction routes in Strood, visiting Salter’s Cross, Frindsbury and Brompton Farm Road. The tour, on a Nu-Venture Volvo Olympian, was well loaded but not by all the same people who attended the AGM!  A worthwhile add-on nonetheless, and thanks once more to Norman Kemp, for again providing the bus without charge and this time doing the driving.

Then and now comparisons are invariably prompted on such occasions. Termini that were once on the edge of fields are now surrounded by housing, and streets that were comfortably negotiated by 7ft 6in wide back-loaders are now an obstacle course of parked cars and traffic calming. Bucking the trend, Salter's Cross on the old A2 is almost quietly suburban in deference to the M2.

One of Chatham Traction's finest - a 1954 Guy Arab IV at Salter's Cross in September 1955 on hire to the Southern Counties Touring Society.  A John H Meredith photo.

One of Chatham Traction's finest - a 1954 Guy Arab IV at Salter's Cross in September 1955 on hire to the Southern Counties Touring Society.  A John H Meredith photo.

The 2014 AGM Tour at the same place.  The modern shelter isn't as picturesque as the old one...  The house behind has been modernised but remains recognisable.

The 2014 AGM Tour at the same place.  The modern shelter isn't as picturesque as the old one...  The house behind has been modernised but remains recognisable.

Hold Tight Please

Activity on the project is generally moving up a gear and we felt we needed to be able to both report new events and update our website quickly. A move to Squarespace has made this possible and has prompted a re-hash of the site.  Much of the material is from our original site, re-presented in what we hope is a clear and easy to read format.

Our thanks to Nic Brokenshire and Footprint Computers for getting us this far.