In the beginning two

 

In the begining -- of our second Trans Asia trip

Well in the beginning was our first Trans Asia trip in 1975. This is the beginning of our second Trans Asia trip in 1977. We had learnt a lot for the first trip and hence this was easier to organise and we had less concern about the choice of vehicle. The trip was to be run by Pete Dryer and Ivan Hurst, me, again. This time we were not working for the same company or in the same region of Great Britain. Pete was working and living in East Anglia and I had returned to work with Percy Bilton Ltd in North London. I was living on site in an old AEC underfloor engined coach, whilst I was converting it to a motorhome. The AEC was not going to be the vehicle we were planning to take to Asia. 

 On a trip out in the AEC, with a group of friends on board, it dropped a valve half way up the M1. We pulled over to the hard shoulder, and inevitably the police turned up. We explained what had happened, and then they amazed us. The engine could be accessed from inside the coach by removing an access cover in the floor. In the cold and pitch dark, they took the cover off and started to play around, getting themselves dirty in the process. After a while, and together with our description of the sounds made as it failed, they decided it could not be repaired at the roadside. We anticipated the next step would be the very expensive call out in the middle of the night of a heavy duty recovery vehicle. Instead, they asked if we thought it would move slowly. We were up for giving it a go. They told us of a layby just of the slip road, not far away. It was illegal to park there overnight, but they would let that pass and inform their colleagues. They told us we could not drive along the hard shoulder but that they would follow us with their blue lights flashing as we progressed slowly along the nearly empty motorway, at less than ten miles per hour. Every now and then another piece of metal fell off inside the engine accompanied by the sounds of an expensive fix. We parked up and waved them goodbye. How pleasant was that.

In the morning, after a pleasant night in the layby, I decided to attempt to drive back to North London to carry out repairs at the home base. Damage had definitely been  sustained in the engine, but it would still run, and perhaps we could nurture it all the way home. Off we set, our merry gang, after breakfast, back down the M1 in the direction of London. The coach lacked power and it was noticeable the it was missing a cylinder. Coolant water was mixing with the oil which in turn would produce a plume of dark smoke drifting across the motorway every time we had to power up a hill. By the time we got to Scratchwood services we had used up our water supplies, continually topping up the radiator. We stopped for loo, coffee, and lots of water.

On leaving the services there is a hill up to the overbridge across the motorway to rejoin the southbound carriageway. Our expected plume of smoke enveloped the police station located at the services. The police station had disappeared as we reached the overbridge. They could not have failed to have noticed it. Over the bridge and on the down slip road, we were not adding to the smoke but the motorway was covered in drifting smoke. Looking back to the services and the police station we could see a police car being hastily scrambled. It did not take them long to catch up with us and pull us over. We expected a ticket and an expensive recovery. At least the recovery was not in the middle of the night and would be for less miles. The police boarded the coach, expecting a group of hippies, but found us, and we explained who we were, and what had happened. We also said that we recognised that the smoke was a hazard, but that it decreased once the engine was warm, and that we were less that 10 miles from home on the construction site on the North Circular Road. Amazingly, we were told to be on our way but to watch out for the smoke, and stop if it got too bad. 

We made it back to Colney Hatch Lane without further incident. Weekend over.

A small trench was dug using one of the site excavators. That was a new experience for me. Actually hands on the controls, for the first time. The trench became the attempt at a garage inspection pit. I recall the gearbox, or was it the dynamo, being lowered onto my chest and then being extracted from under the coach on the trolley. Big vehicles equals big, heavy kit, difficult to manoeuver. The engine was mounted under the floor on its side, with the head to the left hand side. Head of and the damage could be assessed. It was a dropped valve, which had been totally pummeled by the piston continually hitting it as the engine rotated. The value had also damaged the piston, conrod, wet liner and head. The metal fragments had also damaged the small and big ends. So, in the yard of a construction site, in the open. I stripped the engine down. Replaced the valves, valve springs, piston, the piston rings on all the pistons. All the big and small end bearings with tight fit, ones. Replace the cracked wet liner, and put the whole lot together.

The engine would need to be run in for at least 1000 miles before being rebuilt again with correct fit big and small end bearings.

Such a task was not something I particularly looked forward to doing on the side of the road somewhere in Asia. It was difficult enough doing it without garage equipment, in the open, on site. Also, with all the conversion work to a motorhome, the resulting seating accommodation was limited. Did I want to sell the coach, lose all that work, and have to start again. A simple answer, no.

Result, we found and bought a Bedford coach. Newer, more seats, and lighter. 

We also decided to take two vehicles. We had sold the first truck in Nepal for a profit, which was sufficient to fund the whole trip. With two vehicles we had the potential to fund the rip and continue onwards as far as the money could take us.

We altered the Bedford coach to provide two tables, one either side, both with facing seats about halfway down the centre aisle. Again, good use was made of construction plywood and timber. A removable piece of ply, which sat between the two tables, converted the tables to a high level bed for one. As long as that person did not roll too much in the night.

Seats at the back, but not the very back row were also removed to provide space for four people to sleep together, cosy.

All of this could easily be reversed should it be required when we went to sell it in Nepal. Provided we still had the removed seats with us.

Solution. We also bought a Ford D550, with a crew / utility cab and it was ex Eastern Electricity Board, EEB. It had an open back with drop down sides, but was not a tipper truck. The crew cab was to provide the kitchen area to support the Bedford coach. The seats taken out of the coach were fitted to the open back. Giving a sort of alfresco riding experience for those so inclined, similar to an open top bus but without the elevation. Although the Ford came from the EEB it required more work to get it through the MOT than the older coach. A lot of the air brake lines had to be replaced by a local garage in Norwich. The air pump was still inefficient, but just OK to pass an MOT.

Carnet de Passage, international driving licenses, passports and visas, all a lot easier due to knowing how to do it and what was required. 

I drove the Ford down from East Anglia to the site I was then working on at Hunton Bridge, Hertfordshire. This would become part of the feeder road system for what was to become the M25. At the time, it was non-motorway and called Ring road D under Abercrombie's Greater London Plan. My motorhome, and indeed home had moved to Hunton Bridge and together with the Ford were parked next to the site offices.

I recall one morning, a workday for everyone else, but not for me, I was leaving the site in the Ford D550. The contracts director was on site, in a meeting immediately adjacent to where the Ford was parked. With air brakes you have to run the engine for a while, both to warm it up, and to pump up the air reservoirs for the breaks.  This was making a significant amount of noise next to the meeting room. The faster I tried to do it, so as to get away from the office, the louder it got. That Site Agent, would now be known as Project Manager, Andy Ward came out of the office, having been told off by the Contracts Director Roger Taylor, and in turn told me off. Just then the pressure was enough to go, so a quick apology and off I went, without the necessary explanation.

Pete had a flat in the centre of East Dereham in Norfolk and his parents had bought a house in Holt in Norfolk, but had not yet retired and moved in. The house had a large garden, complete with a farm gate. The Bedford coach was already there.

I drove my AEC motorhome up to East Dereham and paid for a years storage at a local yard. Back to Hunton Bridge and I drove the Ford to Pete's parents house and parked it in the meadow part of the garden. Or was it in the other order?

Either way, the vehicles were ready.

We had already advertised in Time Out for additional people to join our adventure. Celia, who lived in Norwich replied, said she wanted to join us, and then changed her mind. Just before we left, Celia decided to come anyway.

Nina, a Sweedish lady whose husband had unfortunatly died, was also going to come along on our little adventure. Nina and her husband were part of our Norfolk group of friends. At one point we had 'two guys and two gals', as Pete put it in his letter to the 'Two Females'. Celia wavered, and Nina dropped out.   

We also replied to an advert from 'Two Females' seeking travel companions, on 4th Sept 1977. We met up at Kensington McDonald's. Now that seems strange today in the times of the ubiquitous McDonald's, but this was a very new thing. I seem to recall that the Kensington one was number 5, UK numbering, and it was the one we used to go to from Hatfield, sometimes after the pubs had closed. It was a go to place, for something totally different. How things have changed. The two were Annie and Chirs. We must have got on well enough for agreement to be reached to travel together. As it turns out, a very good outcome. We did not know at the time, nor notice that Annie was, and still is a vegitarian. I recall that I said, after polishing off a Big Mac with chips etc, "I could do with another of those". After some exclaimations and comments, I proceeded to do just that. In those days it didn't go straight to my waist or hips. I had hollow legs. Annie perhaps just had chips.

Chirs subsequently appeared on local radio to try to drum up extra people for the trip because we had plenty of seating capacity. No uptake on that unfortunatly.

That is it, the core team formed. 

Pete and Ivan, (me), together with Annie, Chris, and Celia.

 

 

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