Thursday, March 30, 2006

Biting the Bullet

With a temporary home in the "Top Shed" at Sydney Tramway Museum (STM), Loftus, on Sydney's southern fringe, work began in earnest, removing body panelling inside and out.
There were no surprises---- just lots of rust, in a frame 66 years old. The frame material is light (1 mm) steel, given only a perfunctory coat of red lead primer in 1939, so in Sydney's hot humid coastal climate rust is a fact of life.

The bus stands outside the top shed with all top deck panels removed, as well as interior linings and trims, sliding windows and seats. August 2005 photo Bill Parkinson

The Gardner 6LW engine of 1615. At 8.4 litres, max. RPM 1800, output 100 BHP, it is the most fuel-efficient diesel ever built.
photo Bill Parkinson 3/8/2005.

Craig's hard work has seen him able to buy his own house in Wollongong, with a substantial shed on the property. The plan at one stage was to raise the side walls of the shed along with its roof, to give sufficient headroom for a double decker.
Then another idea surfaced. STM has two heavy travelling electric cranes in its workshop. They can lift an entire tram, so half a double decker would be a breeze. Sydney double deckers were built as a single decker with wooden roof, which then had the top deck, constructed separately, lowered onto it. We would do the reverse.
In the event, not much was found to be securing the top deck to the bottom: of the original 80 or so bolts, only about 12 were still intact, some only partially due to rust, and there was some electrical wiring and three destination display winders to be removed.

The bottom deck, still driveable, will go to Craig's house, to have its frame restored, engine and mechanicals overhauled, chassis cleaned and painted, and wheels, brakes and tyres renovated.
The top deck, now sitting on the flat bed of a Sydney tramways ballast motor, can then be restored. This will be done at ground level, obviating the need for awkward scaffolding and elevated work platforms.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The story so far....

Australian Albion fans show off their wares to the visiting Scotsmen. From L to R: Robert Hood with 2023, Rick Robinson, David Griffiths and 1892, David Wilson and 1187, Ben Barnes, Craig Parkinson and 1615.

In 2003 the idea of a tour to Australia by Albion enthusiasts from Scotland was mooted. Organised by Andrew Stewart of Fly Discover Travel, Adelaide, himself the erstwhile owner of an Albion CX19 double decker, which became famous as Albert, veteran of 15 return journeys from London to Bombay in the late 1960s /early 1970s, this tour was to show what Australia had to offer by way of preserved Albion vehicles.

Albion Venturer model CX19GW ex NSW Dept of Road Transport and Tramways fleet number 615, registered number m/o 1615, in George Street City on an enthusiast outing marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of NSW government bus services, in 1983. photo Bill Parkinson.

1615 was acquired for preservation from West Bankstown Bus Service by two members of STM in 1975 and donated to the Museum as an example of the first tramway replacement buses, used after the closure of Manly trams in 1939. photo Bill Parkinson

Australian Albion enthusiasts were aware that they had a rare treasure to be unearthed. Not seen out on the road for many years was the former NSW Department of Road Transport and Tramways bus once registered as m/o 1615.
It is a 1939 Albion Venturer, model CX19GW, the "G" meaning it has a Gardner engine, and it was shut away in the unused sheds of the Sydney Tramway Museum at their old site in the Royal National Park, at Loftus, south of Sydney. The impending visit of the Scotsmen acted acted as a catalyst for its return to operable condition.

To his eternal credit, a young member of the Sydney Tramway Museum, Craig Parkinson, the son of Bill Parkinson who had put in countless hours of work on m/o 1615 in the 1970s and early 80s to restore it to its original colours and maintain it mechanically, came forward.
Craig single-handedly dug out the bus from its dark and dusty shed, cleaned out the fuel system, pumped up tyres, installed batteries, and started the engine for the first time in nearly 20 years. Helpers then removed an entire wall of the shed to facilitate its removal without having to move tonnes of other accumulated material, and with much toing and froing, 1615 emerged into the daylight in December 2003.
The wall of the shed was reinstated, and 1615 was driven to the new site of the Sydney Tramway Museum and placed over an inspection pit, in covered storage.

The bus after having 20 years of dust washed off sits in the top shed at STM with every prospect of a major restoration about to happen......


This article appeared in Australian Bus Heritage magazine, issue 2 March 2004.
It is included here to provide a more comtemporaneous account of 1615's rescue.


An Albion CX19 double decker rises from the dust

On Saturday 3rd January 2004, m/o 1615 (“1615”), the last remaining 1939 model Waddington-bodied Albion Venturer was extracted from storage at the old Royal National Park site of the Sydney Tramway Museum. 1615 was one of only 17 pre-WWII CX19s supplied to the N.S.W. Dept of Road Transport and Tramways by Albion Motors Ltd of Scotstoun near Glasgow. Some had Albion oil engines, then still in their early stages of production, but most had Gardner 6LW diesel engines. 1615 is the last survivor of the group and is now the only pre-war CX19 in the world.
Thanks largely to the efforts of Bill Parkinson and the band of South Pacific Electric Railway (SPER) members who recognised the heritage value of the vehicle, as one of the buses bought to replace the Manly Trams after closure in 1939, 1615 has been preserved as a complete omnibus, even with its original seats.
Informal discussions occurred from time to time with directors of SPER about the future of 1615. There was never any clear idea of what could happen. What should happen was quite simple: it would need restoration, but the question of who should do it, and where, and who would provide the resources remained uncertain, and at the time of writing is still uncertain. The Sydney Tramway Museum’s resources are more than fully committed to its ever-expanding tram fleet, and the equipment for restoration of buses with steel frames is different to that needed for wooden-bodied trams.
Then one of those happy accidents occurred—some members of the Albion Club in Scotland decided to organize a Tour Down Under, to arrive in January 2004, so as to be in Sydney for Motorfest on January 26th. They knew Australia was a treasure chest of preserved Albion trucks and buses thanks to the company’s vigorous export activities, and they wanted to come and have a look. They knew about 1615, and the Model 80 bus at Tempe, m/o 1187, thanks to correspondence between U.K. and Australian Albion enthusiasts over the years, and were anxious to see them. Twelve months ago all they were going to get was a glimpse of 1615 covered in dust, buried in the back of an unlit shed, and a static view of 1187, the 1935 model 80. unable to be run because of cooling problems.
This sad scenario was enough to arouse the energies of members of both SPER and Historic Commercial Vehicle Association (HCVA) to do something about it. Howard Clark, chairman of SPER, was adamant that the visitors should be shown a good time. On December 17, 2003, SPER and HCVA members Howard Clark, David Griffiths, Peter Kahn, Craig Parkinson (son of Bill), Bruce Pinnell, Vic Solomons, and David Wilson met at the old R.N.P. site at Loftus to assess the chances of getting 1615 out of its awkward location, of moving it to Tempe for display, and of running it during the visit of the Albion Club members. A meeting afterwards at Sydney Tramway Museum, and a submission then the board of SPER, resulted in permission to remove the bus on January 3rd 2004.
Rather than try to clear a path forward, past tonnes of stored equipment and two other double deckers, 2619 and 2806, it was decided to remove a section of the shed wall behind 1615, and back it out. Craig Parkinson then showed himself to be one to accept a challenge. Craig put in a lot of hours to check the fuel system and cooling system, fit batteries, and try to run the engine which had not turned for 12 years. It started almost immediately. On January 3rd a team of Ben Barnes, David Griffiths, Chris O’Brien, Chris Olsen, Bill Parkinson, Craig Parkinson, and Roland, the caretaker at the R.N.P. site, rapidly removed the wall cladding, pumped up tyres, started the engine, and backed it out, running on clean fuel from a 5 gallon drum set up by Craig beside the engine. The reversing process required about ten to and fro movements to clear the shed and its posts, after which Craig had blisters on his hands from the steering wheel.
A number of trams was driven out of the Tramway Museum to permit 1615 to be parked over the inspection pit for checking fluid levels, brakes, exhaust, etc. Craig put in many hard hours chiseling encrusted mud and grease from the running gear and then used Tempe’s steam cleaner to freshen up the engine bay and under-body area. Craig drained the old oxidized fuel from the tank and filled it with fresh diesel, and fitted a set of nearly new rear tyres from the chassis of 1619, lying at Loftus old site.
It was now ready for driving, on trade plates, from Loftus to Tempe, a move which occurred on Saturday 17 January, with Bruce Pinnell at the wheel. When you look at 1615, think of Craig. His energy, skill and enthusiasm has been a prime contributor to the present state of the bus.
Once at Tempe, Ben Barnes and David Wilson put in some hard yards cleaning out the interior of dust and junk. On Saturday Jan. 24th, 1615 was run around the yard at Tempe so that some old hands could renew acquaintance with the idiosyncrasies of its gearchange, and some new hands, e.g. Craig, could get to grips with it, prior to the arrival of the Scotsmen on Sunday 25th.
Late in the day, on a last run around the yard, it quietly died, right in the middle of the yard. The Amal fuel lift pump had packed it in. The first plan was to remove the pump from the derelict chassis of 1619, sitting in the open at the old RNP site, Loftus. The second plan, to call Michael Myer of Turnwell Diesels Woy Woy, established that he had in stock kits for Gardner lift pumps, so Craig and Ben Barnes made the bold decision to head for Woy Woy at 6 p.m. Saturday. The kit was taken back to Parkinsonville, Wollongong, fitted to the pump, which was returned to Tempe by 8 a.m. Sunday, to be refitted, pumped up and bled of air from the injection system. 1615 started, ran fine, and hasn’t missed a beat since.
Next day, the Scots were deeply impressed. Some of them, experts at constant mesh boxes, had a run around the yard, but only one, Paul Adams, can claim to have mastered the gear change immediately, at first acquaintance. The Gardner engine with its heavy flywheel and relatively low compression ratio, makes the up gear change very slow compared to a post-war CX19 with Albion oil engine.
The challenge is now to formulate a plan for the restoration of 1615 which is acceptable to its owners, SPER, and the owners of the bus restoration facilities, HCVA. Discussions with three groups, the Boards of the two Museums, and the group of individuals interested in this unique vehicle, will continue for some time until a mutually acceptable arrangement is found. There is great good will on all sides, which bodes well for the future, when it is hoped that both societies can look forward to occasional joint ventures involving trams and buses.
As a postscript, readers will be interested to hear that m/o 1187, the oldest surviving Albion double decker in the world, is now operable, after having its cooling problems cured. The completely useless water pump, corroded and leaking furiously, has been overhauled and refitted, and the tendency to boil on normal running has been cured.
Its Gardner 6LW engine has a water circulation manifold on each block of three cylinders, and the entry from the back block to the front one was totally obstructed by corrosion. A pair of bronze manifolds, as opposed to the original ones, of cast aluminium alloy, was supplied and fitted by Michael Myer, mentioned above, and the bus now runs like a rocket. If its brakes are up to the task, it may be registered and be run on restricted duty.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Bus in Question

click on any photo to enlarge

Albion Venturer m/o 1615 is a model SPCX19GW: that is, a SPecial for Sydney transport, Wide (8 ft.) with Gardner engine. Until February 1940 it was fleet number 615, and registration number m/o 1815, but to remove the disparity between fleet number and licence number (registration number) 1000 was added to the fleet number. The figure 1000 arises because originally N.S.W. motor omnibus registrations (m/o plates) 1 to 1000 were allocated to private operators, so Department of Road Transport and Tramways plates began at m/o 1001 in 1933 when State Government omnibus operations began. However for a short period in the late thirties, the disparity was 1200, and our bus fell into that group.

Manly, West Esplanade, October 1939. A remarkable shot , not of 1615, but of its near relative 1613, in its original condition. It is believed that the occasion is the first day of tramway replacement buses at Manly. It is in that very brief interval when registration numbers of these buses were 1200 out of synch. with fleet numbers, so for the moment it is m/o 1813. photo courtesy Allan T Condie.

An order for 17 CX19s was placed in early 1938, they entered service in 1939, 13 with Gardner 6LW engines and 4 (m/o’s 1611 to 1614) with Albion EN242 diesels. M/o 1612 was involved in a serious incident on the Northern side of The Spit bridge, in 1949 when it failed to take a tight downhill corner, ran over a bank and overturned. Sadly, there were fatalities and the bus was written off.
Bodies, entirely steel framed and seating 28 down, 33 up, were built by the Waddington Motor Body Company, Granville NSW, to a design prepared by DRTT engineers. Originally they were licensed to carry 19 standing passengers (!) but this was later reduced to 13, making 74 passengers all told. They entered service in 1939 at Manly Depot, converted from the tram depot.

Just to the north of West Esplanade, Manly, was a reserved area which was part of the loop used to turn trams at Manly Wharf. When the trams finished, the space was sealed and used as a bus stand. It is now under the new Meridian building: 1615 may be standing on what is now the kitchen of the Allhambra Restaurant! Various differences can be seen between 1615 (now in green and cream livery) and the post-WWII Albion CX19 beside it: notably the absence of an opening lower deck emergency window and the presence of swages in the panels, lined out in black in the pre-war livery. photo courtesy David Wilson.

After 20 years service m/o 1615 was withdrawn from Brookvale Depot where it had been since that depot opened in 1952 . It spent a mere few days at Willoughby depot, and in November 1959 was sold to West Bankstown Bus Service in South Western Sydney, which operated several ex-government CX19s. It and 1619 were purchased in 1975 for preservation and later donated by David Wilson and Adrian Price to Sydney Tramway Museum, on the premise (if one were needed) that each was a “Tramway Replacement Bus”, being used to replace trams on the Manly system which closed in 1939.



A Wollongong radio station sponsored its repainting, into a mainly blue colour scheme, but by about 1980 Bill Parkinson of the Tramway Museum had spent many long hours repainting it back to its 1939 colours of red and cream. It saw some years as a Museum vehicle, but as pressure grew to concentrate on building the new museum site, the bus fell into disuse and was stored out of sight in a corrugated iron shed at the original site of the Sydney Tramway Museum in Royal National Park, Loftus NSW. Through a series of sad occurrences and bad decisions, 1615 is now the sole surviving pre war CX19 in Australia, and almost certainly in the world, but happily its future is now assured. The bare chassis of 1619 is at Loftus, with its engine, and offers are welcome from would-be restorers. A UK-style body could be fitted: the unlikely result would then be an 8-foot wide UK double decker of 1939!.

On an outing for the 50th anniversary of NSW Government buses, 1615 stands in Eddy Avenue below Central Railway Station. Behind it is Leyland TS7 Tiger ex-m/o 1275, also owmed by STM and now on display at Sydney Bus Museum, Tempe. The date is 1983. Photo Bill Parkinson

With the impending visit of the Scottish Albion fans in January 2004 acting as a spur, it was extricated, fired up, dusted off and tarted up for display. The major effort for this exercise was provided by Craig Parkinson, son of Bill who kept the bus alive in the 70s and 80s.
After seeing some service as a demonstrator at Sydney Bus Museum, Tempe, during the Albion Tour Down Under, 1615 returned to Loftus where room was found for it in the new depot buildings, and Craig got stuck into removal of panels to see how bad the steel framing of the body was. Answer, it’s pretty awful, with major rust in the pillars of the firewall behind the driver, as well as all the usual trouble sites under the fixed panes of glass which were “sealed” with glazier’s linseed oil putty, and along the sills of the sliding windows.
But steel is cheap, and with access provided by removal of all internal and external panelling, and windows, the frame will be renovated. Above all the vehicle is complete, with all its original seating, fittings and trims, and largely unaltered structurally from its 1939 condition. The bus has even recovered its rear destination display box: these were removed by the DRTT in the 50s and simply thrown away, but a Tempe (and Loftus) member, Brian Mantle, made one from scratch, including winder mechanism, which was fitted at the time of the 1980s repaint.

The bus after its first repaint into Government colours from the West Bankstown livery. The setting is at La Perouse, and the colour scheme is the later, wartime, version of red and cream, with fewer black bands and reduced use of the cream colour. Photo Bill Parkinson

Craig’s plan is to lift the whole top deck away, using the overhead travelling crane at the Tramway Museum’s workshop. Seeing virtually all the feet of the top deck pillars are rusted away, just taking out the seats and cutting the wiring to the top deck lights should free it up!
By this means, work on the top deck frame can be conducted at ground level, not 10 or 12 feet up on a shaky scaffold, and the roof, which is hail damaged, can be reskinned. Craig will transport the whole top deck by truck to his home where he estimates it will fit in his garage in Wollongong: what a perfect set-up for restoration! A good deal of the top deck framing will need new metal welding in to replace rusted sections: front corner sections, waist rails, pillars and skirt rails as required.
When the top deck is done, and reskinned but not painted, it will return to Loftus, and the bottom deck can actually be driven to Wollongong to get its treatment. As was done at Waddingtons in 1939, the two will be reunited using the overhead crane. Using new aluminium is a great saving in time, avoiding arduous paint stripping and panel beating, as new panels can be created in a matter of minutes with guillotine and swaging machine. The roof is a toss-up: setting hundreds of solid rivets will be a chore, but so would tapping out hundreds of hail pock-marks, sometimes with dubious results.
It is estimated that about 35 sheets of 8x4 and 6x4 aluminium sheet will reskin the whole bus. Cost: about $1000. Armed with the experience gained on my Waddington-bodied Leyland TD4, I will attempt to keep Craig supplied with some of the necessary frame components: the angle gussets for the top deck pillar feet are already made.
The re-entry of 1615 into Museum activities will be eagerly awaited: it is not only a unique Albion, but a very charismatic vehicle with its many distinctly pre-war features such as swaged body panels, (visible as black lines in the photos) and a much darker-feeling interior with lots of dark brown trims. The Gardner engine gives a very different sound to the EN242B in the post war CX19s, and the “silent third” gearbox with its helical gears from clutch shaft to countershaft in third and top sounds much quieter, but also sweeter.. And because people were smaller of stature in the 30s, pre-war Sydney deckers are 2 inches lower in height than the post war buses, at 14 feet 2 inches.
And finally, an appeal: does any reader know where Craig might obtain a fair sample of the radiator enamel badge? 1615’s is very battered.