Central SMT

B87 in Preservation


This article, by regular contributor Douglas G. MacDonald, dates from May 2003. It brought exclusive news of ex-Central SMT survivor B87 and the chance to save the vehicle. As we now know, the vehicle was indeed saved for preservation.

The Bristol LD6G has been parked up for a decade at a location in the Strathclyde area, and appears to be salvageable. Despite the lack of registration plates, the writer has identified the decker from the ECW Body/Chassis identification plate as being GM9287. The vehicle was one of a batch of 22 delivered to Central SMT in 1958 and became their B87. Central was by far the Scottish Bus Group’s biggest user of the Bristol Lodekka, in all guises from the basic LD through to the FLF, and almost all gave long service to perhaps the least fashionable but most effective nationalised operator in Scotland.

B87 spent its working life in Central’s Lanarkshire heartland, garaged at Motherwell, Wishaw and Carluke depots at various times. It was operated on the whole gambit of the company’s services from short-haul locals to the longer runs into Glasgow from Carluke, Lanark, Shotts, etc.

The vehicle was not withdrawn until 1975/76 and was then bought by Strathclyde Regional Council. The authority purchased numerous LDs from Central and converted them into playbuses. A revolutionary idea in its day, the transformed Bristols, complete with toys, sand pits, bean-bags and a whole lot of other children's delights, were then placed at various SRC Transport Department depots, and visited housing-estates and other areas which lacked such recreational facilities for the youngsters.

Remarkably, B87 was last licensed till February 1992, and it was then that the current owner bought the bus purely because it was a ready-made play facility for his own family. To be completely accurate, he actually purchased 2 vehicles – B87 for home use, and another for his business/yard. Sadly, the latter was destroyed by fire. The owner drove B87 to his remotely located home from the SRC Depot in Burnbank Road in Hamilton.

The author knew of the Bristol’s current static state for a few years, but only recently approached the owner for permission to photograph and video-record the vehicle. The owner also said he’d be prepared to sell the bus, and having been made aware, a trio of enthusiasts including the creator of this website expressed a keen interest. A visit to view and check the vehicle was made in November last year. Although it had no batteries of its own and had been idle for a decade, B87 burst into life at the second attempt using jump-leads. Just as remarkable, the interior lights worked, as did the bell-pushes. The interior obviously needs re-conversion, especially a full set of contemporary bus seats! The white paintwork on the upper deck was flaking away easily enough to reveal the original Central cream underneath.

The platform door was an addition made by SRC and could be easily stripped away. Whilst the visitors were keen in their attempts to buy the Old Lodekka Lady, the asking price was far from keen – believed to be in excess of £2,000. The current owner knows the value of aluminium and the Gardner engine – he sold the latter from his other Bristol to a North East fishing-boat owner!

Notwithstanding the cost, if B87 were to be rescued it would be unique, because no open-platform ex-Central LD has been preserved. Indeed, the only-known Central SMT Lodekka survivor to be preserved as a Central bus, is the FLF  HGM346E (BL346), superbly restored by Douglas Forbes at the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum in Fife.

Parked close to a garden wall, GM9287 still has its distinctively shaped, triangular destination screen, common to SBG double-deckers. The decorative display 'The Monklands Playbus' indicates that the vehicle spent the latter part of its second life in the Coatbridge & Airdrie area.Perhaps not so pretty in pink, but the layers of bright paint seem to have given the Lodekka protection from the damp Scottish climate! The vehicle has been parked al fresco and duly exposed to the elements for almost 10 years, but the famous Gardner engine kicked into life with only the help of a jump start.Not the original seating in the lower-deck saloon! Take away the clutter and the condition is good. Passengers never had the luxury of a wall-mounted heater in B87's Central days! Note that the original lighting and bell pushes are still in situ.
The tramlines hint that this view was taken before 1962, as B87 picks up passengers on the north side of Glasgow's George Square. The bus is heading for Newmains, a village beyond Wishaw, taking 85 minutes on one of Central's typical trunk routes. On its first repaint, the Bristol lost the cream surrounding the cab windows and the black lining-out. The gold fleetname was also reduced to 'Central'.B87 in service as a playbus in LanarkshireB87 in service as a playbus in Lanarkshire
A view inside the cab. The date 14/8/72 next to the bell chime unit indicates the date of the last repaint by Central.The upper deck, with the roof paint flaking to show the original cream panels underneath. The destination screen winding gear is still extant inside the front housing.The rear platform, with the door enclosure added by SRC - it could easily be removed. The vehicle was identified by the author from the Bristol/ECW body/chassis plate.

More 'Discovery' Photos

Look very carefully ... can you see the Central fleetname?


More than a  year after revealing the existence of an ex-Central decker, regular contributor Douglas G MacDonald delights in bringing us some glad tidings : B87 has been spared the scrapper’s blowtorch and bought for preservation, on a one-way ticket to transport salvation.

Tuesday 8 June 2004 will be regarded as an historic date for bus enthusiasts, but especially significant for Central SMT fans. That was the day an Old Lady Lodekka was moved to a new home and saved from an ignominious end.

For anyone not fully aware of the background, ex-CSMT B87 (GM 9287) was found in a little-known location in Central Scotland, by the author. It had been on the owner’s land for over a decade, since being purchased from the former local government authority, Strathclyde Regional Council. The vehicle had been - along with a few other ex-Central deckers - converted to a playbus by SRC, and that’s why the buyer wanted it : for his kids to play in. Despite being exposed to the elements for ten years, the LD was in remarkably good  exterior condition, with the extra garish layers of non-standard livery perhaps offering it some degree of protection. On the inside, it was minus seats and grab rails, but the lights and bell pushes were still extant and in working order.

In another twist, the owner revealed that he’d also had another ex-Central Lodekka at one of his business premises in Glasgow (B110). Sadly, the Gardner engine had been sold to a North East trawlerman, and then the body was all but destroyed by a fire instigated by vandals. He willingly agreed to sell B87, but insisted that the author was to be the liaison, or go-between, for any interested parties. The author readily accepted, stressing that there would be no personal financial gain, but only a wish to save a bus on which he’d travelled many times. Publicity via this website and other transport outlets generated a good deal of interest initially. However, the owner’s asking price, being on the top-heavy side, deterred a lot of groups or individuals. By the turn of the year, the future for B87 still appeared uncertain. A group of enthusiasts appeared to be seriously interested, but did not proceed. The owner was not overly concerned, for while he was all for the vehicle passing into the hands of preservationists, he was just as prepared to sell B87’s engine and scrap the rest of the vehicle – not an open threat, but more of a time stricture on his part.

A combination of difficulty in contacting the owner, plus business commitments and a serious family illness, saw the author temporarily forced out of the communication chain. It came as a complete, but most welcome, surprise to learn only a few weeks ago that a new buyer was close to concluding a purchase.

At this stage, it should be stressed the new owner wishes to remain anonymous for the time being, purely for reasons of modesty, but will be publicised at a later date. Suffice to say, he is a professional Scot, currently working abroad, but soon to return to these shores. Being known to the author, the Webmaster and another regular contributor to the site, we can all vouch that he has a passion for the vehicle type and especially for Central SMT.

Prior to the big day, the then-owner had moved the vehicle within his own back yard, willingly demolishing a wall to facilitate B87’s removal from the rural site that had been its home since the early 90s. Under the supervision, and more importantly the jump-starter, of Tom from Cumbernauld, who regularly plies his trade at the SVBM, the 47-year-old engine came to life. She was then driven by Gordon Stirling, himself the owner of an immaculate ex-Western ‘Y’ type at Lathalmond and a photographic contributor to these web-pages, the short but potentially hazardous distance to a point where the bus would be readily accessible to a tow-wagon. It was only about 600 yards, but it was a farm track featuring pot-holes and a steep incline all the way. Any fears were short lived, as the old omnibus took the journey in her stride, despite having been a lady of leisure for all those years.

The rendezvous timings for the recovery wagon had been 0930/1000, but with no show by 1030 an anxious new owner called M8 Recovery. He was told the allocated truck had been delayed, but the M8 proprietor promptly despatched himself and another mechanic in another wagon and, a short time later, arrived on site. Hitching up the hi-tech towing equipment to B87 was done within minutes, and then her first journey on public roads in over a decade began. The bus was effectively transported on a suspended tow, with the front wheels lifted off the road, and secured to the wagon by a T-bar clamped around her front axle. This meant good time was made on a trip of around 12 miles, and even took in a stretch of the M8 motorway where the LD was 'pu’d alang' at a fair rate of knots over what, for her, was uncharted territory. Chauffeured by Gordon, the new owner was keen to film the momentous occasion. The author brought up the rear, and then sped on to arrive at the destination ahead of B87. Efforts to record her arrival were almost thwarted by a Glesca Cooncil bin-lorry blocking a street he’d thought would provide a shortcut! Oh yes, the destination. All can now be revealed : the new home for this classic double-decker is the Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust at Bridgeton.

The new owner would like to convey his gratitude to Iain MacGregor, Martin Denman and everyone at GVVT for their offer to afford the bus a roof over its head and provide a perfect location for preservation work. Indeed, on Tuesday, the welcome from the on-duty members was warm, as was the lunchtime chat and hospitality shown to the writer!

On entering the main shed of the former ‘Corpy’ garage, the bus was returned fully to terra firma and uncoupled from the M8 truck, which then signed off. Ironically, its departure signalled the only mechanical problem encountered on the day. As Gordon jumped up into the cab to drive B87 into her allocated position, the starter-motor jammed, but minor attention from Big Tom and the Brig'ton crew soon had her moving.

Before having to rush off with Gordon, the owner’s camera clicked and whirred, as did the author’s. The  proud purchaser smiled broadly and proudly alongside his new acquisition, while the writer admits to having a lump in the throat at seeing the old girl in new and ultimately more caring surroundings. B87 will have Central company in the East End of Glasgow, as T150 is currently housed there, plus a former Volvo Ailsa. The Lady Lodekka will undoubtedly be unique. Whilst only a few CSMT vehicles in total have been preserved, she is the Company’s only open-platform Bristol to survive, and in due course will be a welcome addition to the distinguished ranks of preserved vehicles, and not only north of the border.

The new owner says he is not setting any timescale or deadlines to complete the restoration of B87 to her former glory. He knows it will be a major project, but is aiming to get the overalls on and, with a little help from his friends, start the job in August.

After the vendor had voluntarily demolished a wall in preparation, B87 leaves the Lanarkshire location where she'd spent the past ten years al fresco.

B87 eases forward under her own steam towards the tow-wagon which will escort the Old Lady on her first journey in over a decade.

Negotiating a minor road en route to the motorway, the bus looks comfortable hitching a ride from the truck. The latest T-bar suspended tow gear meant that the trip didn't have to be made at snail's pace.

The Omnibus OAP is towed through the gates of the GVVT premises in Glasgow's Bridgeton area after an uneventful journey, but her appearance on the main trunk route into 'the toon' had many overtaking motorists casting an eye at the bus.

Compared to her previous existence, B87 will now enjoy the abject luxury of covered accommodation, while she undergoes her major makeover. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the transformation from her current condition to past grandeur will be a long, but hopefully steady one.


More 'Rescue' Photos

Here are some additional photos of B87's rescue on 8 June 2004, courtesy of Gordon Stirling.

Initial work 

Fast forward


Please refer to B87's Back on the Road page to follow the bus's travels beyond this point. (See side panel)