The restoration of 196 LAA 231 is a joint Malcolm Spalding / Tim Stubbs project. We both remember the J10C's in Tracco service and although they only spent one year on front line 'London' work, were around on excursions for most of their short lives and, at the end, for the last year or so, got put onto bus work and school runs. I always thought they looked stylish but not everyone agrees!
We used to belong to the 'Dennis Register', an informal group overseen, I think, by Carl Ireland in Hull who had or was associated with a couple of Dennis's in that area. They published an occasional newsletter and one of these referred to the fact that one of the group had purchased an ex-East Kent Lancet from Lowe and Spittals scrapyard at Sittingbourne in Kent. The comment was made that another Dennis resided there, an ex-Aldershot one. Off went Malcolm to have a look and sure enough it was 196 LAA 231 in there, facing a boundary wall, mainly intact but missing about half its seats, quite a few light fittings and missing the boot doors. A bird's nest was in a split panel and there was one broken window. There was a car on the roof so we thought the structure must be pretty sound. This coach has a Strachans Aluminium framed body. As with 220, it was being used as a store, but in this case the scrapyard staff undertook to unload it and tow it out from its resting place. The price of £400 was said to be the equivalent of a shed which would be needed to replace it as a store.
It is worth commenting at this stage that L&S was one of the best-run scrapyards we had seen up to that time. It had a brick built heated washroom with hot and cold running water, Swarfega dispensers, towels, etc, and the crane driver carefully using a squegee to clean the crane windows after a shower of rain. When the staff cleared out all the accumulated junk from 196, they carefully placed on the luggage racks any relevant parts they found, e.g. the saloon light fittings, and window winding handles, all of which we still have.
Whilst 196 was in the scrapyard, we needed to see if it would run and to decide whether to move it under its own power. It had apparently resided there for 15 years and initially it was a mystery why it went there as there were no obvious defects. The coach had been used in Kent by a Church group, carrying the legend "Crusading for Christ" over the radiator grille. One day a chap turned up and commented about us getting it going again. He told us that the reason it ended up in Lowe & Spittals was because the 'old boy' who ran the Church couldn't find anyone to drive it, so it got dumped.
We fitted a set of batteries, and got 196's engine running, only to find we had zero oil pressure. After consulting some railway colleagues, it was thought we should take a look at the oil pressure relief valve. This we did, and found a spring which can best be described as 'knotted,' it was all twisted up. A new spring did the trick. The next thing was we got drenched with antifreeze down our necks when the water started to circulate, as the heater element which was situated in the cab ceiling leaked badly. We sorted that out by disconnecting it. It is still the same to this day. We fitted up some rear lights to replace the missing ones and temporarily wired up the headlights and - hey presto - almost road legal.
After 15 years in the yard, we were disappointed to discover that, on the day we went to collect the coach, some vandals had got in and broken our drivers side windscreen. There was nothing for it but to get busy having a piece of laminated glass cut to size and fitted. We were up against the clock as the trade plates had only been borrowed for one day. However, we eventually got going and took the coach to a Maidstone & District bus depot for an oil change. When they saw this disreputable looking vehicle, we were banished to a pit in a back shed. However, no oil container could be found there for the old oil and so we were ultimately permitted into the main building with its fully equipped oil change facility. We popped in some new engine oil and cleaned the oil filter. To say it was clogged was a bit of an understatement. We had a job to extract the element from the finned tube; such was the buildup of crud.
Upward and onwards and although now very late and getting dark, we set off for Burton via the M11, A604 etc, arriving there about 3am.196 achieved an easy 55mph on the motorway.
Malcolm had to drive straight back to Kent to return the trade plates. En route, the diff oil seal sprang a leak. I had arranged with the foreman at Stevensons garage to park there, and he allocated us a space on the back row. This meant shifting one of their coaches and putting it back after we had parked up. We left a trail of oil in their yard which caused the mechanic to investigate a leak on their bus - until they realised we were the guilty party! All this happened in about 1982/3, I think.
After a while we painted the front panels in A&D colours to make it look better and soon the shed at Burton was ready for a 3rd vehicle and so it moved there. In due course a single deck lean-to to the shed was built to accommodate 196 and release a double deck space in the main shed. Between about 1995 and 2011, we received an annual visit from Eric & Joyce Nixon. During these stays, Eric worked steadily on the bodywork of the coach, beating out the various dented panels, renewing others, fitting beading, to the point where the external panelling was pretty well completed. One of the seats was stripped down to the bare timber frame to enable the eventual manufacture of seats to replace those missing which most probably went into Transit vans in Kent!
In the meantime, the pit had been built in my shed, and in about 2007, I was able to free up the pit where the trolleybus had been standing. This enabled some chassis work to be tackled on 196. All the brake hydraulic parts (hoses, master and slave cylinders) were removed for overhaul and this included re-sleeving with stainless steel sleeves, carried out by Jeremy Price in Bromsgrove. Once re-fitted, this gave some comfort about future brake performance. Whilst on the pit the rear axle oil seal was renewed and the entire chassis painted with red oxide primer and silver finishing paint.
Other work completed at Burton was the rebuild of the boot floor and the rear body structural bumper. This was badly corroded, being of steel, and bent, having been struck. Other parts seriously badly rusted were the cab doors, also in steel. Special sections had to be folded and welded in. The n/s door is pretty well complete and fitted, but the driver's side door is still to fit.
For the move to Medstead, a low-loader was employed, but for easier loading 196 was driven under own power for a couple of miles to a flat yard. This confirmed everything is still working, although en-route the cab filled up with fumes, despite having no cab door, indicating there was an exhaust leak somewhere under the cab floor. Remaining work will mainly comprise of restoration of the interior. The ceiling trim is very rotten, as is the floor covering. The seats all need to be re-trimmed, and several to be made, and moquette lining to most of the interior including the inside of the rear dome needs to be fitted. The moquette for this was purchased some years ago, along with some for the other preserved A&D vehicles. Some of the glass louvres over the side windows are broken and will need replacing. I suspect that some attention will be required on the winding mechanism of the drop windows, as it will be nice to have them operational. The one broken pane was replaced at Burton.