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The Whitby Steam Bus
As you’d perhaps expect, running a steam bus on a daily basis has its fair share of thrills and spills, and Vernon keeps Vintage Spirit readers abreast of all that’s happening with Elizabeth in a monthly column in the magazine.
Below you'll find a short excerpt from Vernon's column each month.
To keep up with Vernon and the Whitby Steam Bus, make sure you read Vintage Spirit every month. You can save 24% on the cover price when you subscribe, simply call 01283 742970 or click here to subscribe online.
Diary of a Whitby Steam Bus
Getting Elizabeth on and off the low-loader is always fun as there is so little ground clearance at the back with the pipes under the water tank, but we managed as usual. The job was to collect four lots of people in period costume from different hotels and take them in two journeys to a castle on the banks of Loch Ness, none of which seemed to bother Elizabeth, but we thought it was all way too posh for us!
On the personal front for a change, we lost Buster our lovely ‘Steam Bus Dog’ two years ago and have missed him terribly, as have our regular passengers. In a covert operation Viv had me convinced that the time was right for a successor and so Millie has appeared. She is a lovely Staffordshire Bull Terrier and is at home both in the cab and the saloon, where passengers spoil her greatly. So far she has shown little promise with spanners and the like but there’s time yet.
Where does all the time go? Here we are back at work seven days a week and the alarm clock has turned into the devil incarnate. The winter work carried out has been largely successful and I can report that Elizabeth's brakes are working well and on demand, which is always a bonus. On a little negative note, we have solved the problem of water sneaking into the crankcase, but at the cost of oil escaping to the degree that I strongly urge you to buy shares in Morris Oil as soon as possible. The solution is being sought, but until then Elizabeth is sporting an incontinence tray.
Saturday 16th February makes the return to seven days a week steam operation in all but the worst weather, and, let me tell you, it is something of a shock to the system for the first few weeks. Being as we are still seeking a full-time steam bus and charabanc driver, I’d better not say too much about it being hard work. As with many places, the snow has been a nuisance and the freezing temperatures made the shed an unpleasant place to be, but as mentioned earlier, not long to go now.
To give you the nitty gritty, the simple fitting of new piston rods was complicated by
’s crossheads having too much lift in their parent trunk guides. This caused a visit to our stored and the summoning of replacements, If I told you the fitting of the same was traumatic, I’d be understating the situation as it was horrific! Anyway, we managed, as we always do, and the engine was duly put back together. A proving run did just that and proved that the oil glands could not cope with the quantity of oil thrown at them, with a resulting loss that neither we nor the authorities would find acceptable. New neck bushes and lots of graphite packing have solved (ish) the problem and we are back on the road again. Elizabeth
Well, from leaving temperatures that emulated that of Elizabeth's cab in summer, what a shock to the system to be back in overalls and in that very shed. To keep you up to speed on Elizabeth's progress, we have removed her firebox and cleaned both it and the boiler shell. The latter was treated to a new steam collection pipe as the existing one was life expired. Our very nice boiler inspector (remember, he does read this) visited and did his usual routine with only positive grunts along the way. After a pass at the visual stage, omward to the hydraulic pressure test- my favourite (not!). The boiler did shed a tear or two under pressure, but then so do I in the same circumstances. Needless to say, a few minor tweaks and the boiler was persuaded that the water was a gift and should be looked after, rather than spat out. The steam test awaits, but with the weather being so cold I've decided to postpone this until the work on the engine is complete, then kill two birds with one fire, so to speak.
The autumn also provides the opportunity to assess the books and look at the profit share of Elizabeth and Charlotte. The steam bus was first out of the traps with a claim for new piston rods and gland packings, brake linings and the removal of her firebox for cleaning and inspection. Her older sister has more modest aspirations, though she has just removed a fortune from the balance sheet for her cylinder head repair. There will be lots of other jobs no doubt, but they’ll only surface as we progress.
Since before we owned her,
has had a crack in her cylinder head that could not be welded due to its location and has responded to the ceramic type repair. Sadly, corrosion and old age have conspired to take the problem beyond this remedy. The only answer was to behead her and send the faulty organ by ambulance to Charlotte . After days on a life support machine, the consultant decided that invasive surgery was the only option, though she may not survive the ordeal. It needs to be pointed out at this stage that Hull ’s engine is one of very few new-fangled overhead valve models, so most other engines carrying donor cards could not help. Anyway, the valve seat has been bored out and a cast weld applied to the crack, followed by ceramic seal to overcome any porous areas. She is now off life support, but still in intensive care and I hope to give you better news next month. Charlotte
As Great Dorset has already become a memory for so many of you, as has most of the 2012 rally season, it causes me to reflect a little too. While most engines and wagons are looking forward to a well earned rest, your resident slave-driver expects another two months work from
and that means every day. Our season has been up and down, with many signs that the recession is taking hold, though we have ridden it better than most. Elizabeth
has been in service most days and continues to perform well. It’s coming to the time of year for planning the winter programme of improvements and renewals, and, as mentioned in a previous missive, the engine is this year’s lucky recipient. First thoughts were to remove the whole unit and attack the lot, but tests have shown that the diff has grown out of its self-harm problem and all parts are currently playing nicely together. While it does mean not fitting the new high gears we have in store, the backlash on the existing incumbents is still acceptable. All the other jobs can be done using keyhole surgery through the crankcase door. The plan is to fit new piston rods, together with new metallic gland packings, white metal the small ends and replace the pump ram. Now, if all of that is the total of the required work, I shall be a very happy man, so we shall see what surprises our starlet has hidden in her nether regions!... Elizabeth
, a day filming with Sky Atlantic has made her even more impossible to live with, as she takes the celebrity role more seriously each day. The good news is that your favourite magazine gets some wonderful exposure in a high-profile programme to be screened this autumn. For now, I cannot tell you any more due to the threat of certain torture, but promise I will before the time… Elizabeth
Now to the big news of the month: Vern Junior has decided to leave our employ to pursue a new career. This has left us in absolute turmoil and more importantly,
Charlotte is without a driver and there is not another living soul that could relieve my duties on . It has thrown what was a succession plan out of the window and made us face our mortality. It is unthinkable that, having got this far, Elizabeth could lose its colourful old ladies in the next few years, so we are very much in the think-tank at the moment… Whitby
When coasting, DG engines should be in the 'drain' or mid position on the reverser quadrant, but
has had much glee recently, moving the lever on her own into the 'forward fast' notch. At first I suspected a lazy spring as the cause, as the lever is retained by a spring-loaded ball, but by now you know Elizabeth well enough to realise she would never let me off so lightly. No, the quadrant itself is worn and what should be a notch with a straight bridge to the next has evolved into a lazy radius, meaning our little starlet can choose her own position whenever she feels like it. Having decided on a plan of action, the offending article (a you-know-what to remove) was taken by ambulance to the cosmetic welders for augmentation. By the time you read this, several miles should have been covered following the revolutionary 'rolling back the years' surgery procedure. Apart from greasing and other routine items, that's about it on the mechanical front… Elizabeth
The biggest job on the wish list was a trip to the health farm near
Colchester for the front axle. As usual, engineering guru Dr Percy came up with the goods and returned said component in as new condition; at the time of writing all is back in place. In fact, optimism abounds just now as, but for a few engine parts, we are ready for some tentative steps…
Worrying about the van was one thing, but more so the vital water supply it was carrying. Some quick thinking saw me run up the gatehouse of the MOD property where I was, met with a submachine gun-carrying, rather disgruntled guard. Struggling to get the words out before I got shot, I explained our plight and that we’d best not explode on their property, which triggered a quick phone call and out came the fire tender, complete with crew, who topped up the tank amid some happy banter…
Well here is the time of year when even Elizabeth and Charlotte get a little time off, though the same cannot be said of yours truly or Viv. All that toil over a very long working season means that lots of TLC is needed for our wonderful old ladies to keep them fit to fight another year...
has enjoyed much attention recently, bearing in mind her imminent travels. Renold, the chain manufacturer, has kindly given us a new drive chain for the big journey and fitting took place just prior to writing this. What a difference in noise levels and smoothness of drive. The really nice thing is that Renold was the supplier of choice to Sentinel, so we now have approved spare parts!... Elizabeth
The sickness list is quite small this month with only minor ailments to report.
's water pump has needed its glands re-packing and her mechanical lubricator for the engine held a wildcat strike, but after improved terms it went back to work... Elizabeth
Just a few days before completing this 'Captain's Log',
decided to spit out a substantial piece of a back cylinder joint. Age and experience has taught her that to do the same with a front cover would be futile as it could be replaced within 30 minutes, whereas its aft counterpart is a full day's job. She also knows that any other time than the high season would lessen the impact and my blood pressure wouldn't rise nearly so much... Elizabeth
One snippet of good news is that our intrepid charabanc,
, waged her annual battle with the mighty rolling road and won - bless her. Now complete with a new Class 6 MOT, she continues to venture out whenever the weather is kind to her... Charlotte
Early Tuesday morning saw me on the phone to
Owen Springs in Rotherham and the firm kindly agreed to repair the faulty spring in 24 hours. As I’d already decided that both springs ought to be overhauled, it was arranged that they would both be ready in time. To cut the story short, Owen was as good as its word and I collected both springs that looked like new on the Wednesday afternoon. was back on the road first thing Friday... Elizabeth
has managed to be good-natured for the most part. She seems to relish all the attention and praise she gets. The brakes continue to be a problem, but the solution draws ever nearer. Their steam supply has been regulated in a very scientific fashion, using coins with various holes in them, then measuring brake drum temperature - who said I'm not analytical!... Elizabeth
Having told you that
, our lovely charabanc, was waiting patiently for her turn to work, she has thrown a tantrum in a big way. It seems that her transmission brake has come adrift, meaning you cannot get her into gear. Also, there is a terrible drag when you are moving and trying to change gear... Charlotte
Sometime soon, likely this year,
will be moving house and although it will be on the same site, she does carry some baggage. Although this will be a nightmare short-term, there will be the luxury of finding all the things we have lost over the last few years, when the shelves are stripped... Elizabeth
On the domestic front, Viv did drag me away for a week and very nice it was too. Having returned not a bit refreshed, the front end of the engine is now stripped down and the new cylinders are being prepared for their turn of service. All the valves are now lapped and fitted, and many of the large number of studs are in place. The plan is to fit them in the next couple of days, along with a new set of piston gland packing sets...
The new boiler top I campaigned for is now fitted and should lead to better steaming as it is a much better fit. The new brake operating rods, forged by our local blacksmith, are now in place, in fact the underneath is looking decidedly respectable...
This year is to be the biggest ever for us and we have to do our utmost to give our grand old lady the very best while she's at the health farm. You already know about the visit to
, but let me tell you there are a number of other bookings at the provisional stage that will announced as they are firmed up. Prepare for Manchester Airport on tour! Elizabeth
In terms of operation things have been relatively smooth, though we did have a spot check visit from VOSA recently. The result was a very happy examiner who had no advice to offer and was very pleased with the way we do things...
Elizabeth's diet remains as cosmopolitan as ever, happily consuming the fruits of Poland, Russia, Columbia, and we haven't told her yet, but she's about to get some Yorkshire, yes, Yorkshire coal!...
For long enough, there has been a problem associated with the bogie and one that has been the root of many disturbing and expensive symptoms. Until very recently, we have only ever dealt with the latter, not realising there was a hidden illness...
, played an important part in a grand reopening of the park in town recently and was particularly in keeping as the theme was the 1920s. Both she and her sister are much loved by the local children and adults alike, so it was wonderful for her to be there for the day... Charlotte
Having racked up nearly 70 days in traffic this year, many gremlins have manifested themselves and in the most awkward of places. Having had the engine out fairly recently, there is an ongoing need to tighten up some fastenings, like the half shaft and horn plate nuts...
In the coming months I hope to share with you some of the incredible highs and lows that go with running a steam engine up to 280 days a year, as well as an 80 year old charabanc, which from this year will get her job back on the seafront, so in the main season, both ladies will be on parade...
More about the Whitby Steam Bus
THE WHITBY STEAM BUS After just five years of providing daily tours of Whitby, converted Sentinel waggon No. 8590 Elizabeth has become as much a symbol of the town as fish and chips, Captain Cook and the gothic abbey. Operated by husband and wife team Vernon & Viv Smith, the steam bus has proved hugely popular with tourists and enthusiasts alike, and has brought the preservation movement to a far wider audience in the North East.
History of Elizabeth Sentinel DG6 Waggon No. 8590 was supplied new in November 1931 to Cement Marketing Co Ltd of London and was used for haulage purposes. In 1948, she was sold to Bituminous Road Products Ltd of Middlesbrough who named her Joyce and fitted her with tar spraying equipment. At some point in the 1950s, she passed on to W & J Glossop at Hipperholme, and continued to be used as a tar sprayer.
In 1962, the waggon was saved from being scrapped by FC Lambe of Bromsgrove who bought her for £50. Over the following years, she passed through a number of hands before being bought by Vernon in 2003.
In April 2005, Elizabeth made her last trip in the guise of a dropside lorry, before heading into the workshop for her reconstruction to a steam bus. The period bus body was built in just six months, and was craned onto the rear of the waggon; as it is essentially ‘bolt on’ the Sentinel can be returned to its original chassis cab form in a matter of hours.
While the bus body was being completed, Vernon & Viv were facing the enormous challenge of trying to change the law in order to allow Elizabeth to legally provide a commercial steam bus service. After contacting the Secretary of State, they eventually succeeded in their aim, and in December 2005, Elizabeth performed her first commercial trip in the town.