Back to the future for restored Leicester Leyland

Apprenticeships see young engineers learn the ways and means of modern buses, but in Leicester, two recruits are going back in time assisting a preservation society while also boosting their own skills

Today’s apprentices (right) are guided by two old hands at First Leicester

Two apprentices at First Leicester are getting a taste of the unexpected as one of the city’s oldest surviving buses returns to Leicester City Transport’s (LCT) successor for mechanical attention.

It’s part of both their learning process and the bus’ restoration to its former glory.

The bus, a 67-year old Leyland PD2 double-decker with bodywork from the same manufacturer, was completely overhauled on the same basis 35 years ago by LCT.

In a twist to the tale, the two engineers who served part of their apprenticeship on it in 1982 are now supervising 2017’s work.

Bus 154 is part of the Leicester Transport Heritage Trust’s (LTHT) fleet of the city’s preserved buses. But sentimentality is not the reason for its appearance at the Abbey Lane depot, says First Midlands Regional MD Nigel Eggleton.

Instead, it’s a mutually-beneficial arrangement that will serve the apprentices well as they begin their careers in the bus industry.

“It’s the first time that any of our apprentices have done anything of this depth on a preserved bus but various other vehicles owned by the LTHT have been on site for less extensive work,” he says.

“There are some elements of the PD2 that are considered old-fashioned or unusual by today’s standards and the skills that the apprentices will learn when dealing with them may not be immediately relevant to their day-to-day tasks.

“But today’s bus building is changing at such a pace as manufacturers seek to cut costs and improve efficiency that there is nothing to say that some of them may return in the future.”

To the old school…

The PD2 was delivered to LCT in 1952 and it served its home city until 1970. It was later sold to a farmer in Lincolnshire for use transporting fruit pickers before being brought back to Leicester for restoration by then-LCT General Manager Geoffrey Hilditch in 1981.

The bus as it was in 1981 after its return to Leicester from Lincolnshire

Replacements for some PD2s, including the bus in question, were a number of Bristol RE single-deckers.

Ironically, one of the REs is owned privately by LTHT Chairman Richard Worman, who is happy to see what he describes as “an ongoing strengthening” of the ties between First Leicester and the Trust.

“We are very happy to be able to provide the PD2 for the apprentices to learn their skills on and it is an arrangement that also benefits the Trust,” he says.

As part of the work, the apprentices will carry out a service on the bus’ 9.6-litre Leyland 0.600 engine and they will also perform a brake test.

As the bus has vacuum brakes, the test cannot be undertaken on the rolling road at Abbey Lane, but the Trust has access to a Tapley meter that will be made available for this purpose.

All lower panels will be removed and the wood frame beneath examined and replaced where necessary; it has lain untouched since 1981, and there are indications that it may need attention in a small number of areas.

Also planned is the replacement of a spring on the bus. 154 received a new spring some years ago, but as a result it now has a slight but noticeable lean as the leaves opposite remained untouched. The work by First’s apprentices will rectify that.

After completion, 154 will be repainted in authentic maroon and cream. It will return to the rally and educational visits scene later this year, although its absence will be short; it was driven under its own power to Abbey Lane and it was active until January.

First’s relationship with LTHT is an ongoing one, and the newest member of the Trust’s over 20-strong fleet is a Scania low-floor single-decker new in 1998.

…and back to 2017

First Leicester has four engineering apprentices. With around half of its fleet being made up of Euro 6 StreetDecks and StreetLites from Wrightbus, the PD2 represents quite a contrast to what the two youngsters chosen to work on it will experience once their training is complete.

“I am always keen to look at opportunities where we may be able to help out preservation societies in the areas we serve as I value the heritage in Leicester, the Potteries and Worcester,” says Nigel.

As a demonstration of that commitment, last September First Potteries staged an open day at its Adderley Green depot on the same day as a Potteries Omnibus Preservation Society (POPS) event.

That is expected to be repeated in 2017; at 2016’s event, it revealed two buses painted in liveries from days gone and a third may follow this year.

But in the East Midlands, the apprentices’ work on bus 154 “will help to conserve this piece of Leicester’s transport heritage for generations to come while also playing a part in shaping the skills of the new apprentices at First Leicester,” says Nigel.

“It is a great example of old and new working in partnership.”