The Dennis Bus Restoration Project.
Around 1975 the club was made aware of an old North Shore Transport Dennis bus sitting in a swamp at Clevedon south of Auckland. The bus history has been researched over the years and it came to NZ as a built-up show bus in 1923 and was purchased by North Shore Transport for the Bayswater to Milford route. As far as we can establish the bus was retired around 1936. It then was converted into a mobile canteen and served in the war years at Western Springs. Some time in the 1950s it became a mobile home but ended its life when floods came and washed it to destruction.
Club members from 1975 brought it back to Devonport club rooms and started to work on it often in 24hr marathon sessions.
We occupied a building in Clarence Street, Devonport, known variously as bus barns or a J. J. Craig depot. The premises were were quite large and members could store cars there for a reasonable rate, We built a clubroom in one corner with a pot-bellied stove and an illegal bar. Our earliest photos of the Dennis were taken at the Clarence Street shed and includes photos of Mike Greig, Harold Kidd, John Wilmott, John Hearne, Ian Goldingham and Colin Keenan. Ultimately the building was due to be demolished to provide a car park for the new supermarket and that was when we were forced to look for and buy land in Oteha Valley Road, then "out in the country".
When the club rooms relocated to Albany the project was put on hold for some years. The move from the early Albany site to our current site in Masons Road further delayed the project. In those early days money and time were all spent on the clubrooms and our new grounds. Finally in 2007 the issue of the bus restoration was discussed at the AGM. Many wanted to sell the bus but in the end a vote decided to keep the bus and instigate our Thursday morning restoration sessions to focus on the project. Initially our restoration mornings started with 4 members (Kevin Lord, Warwick Orr, Tony Gillet and Clive Sandham) working on the bus and shortly another 3 working on the Fire Truck. This early AGM decision and the enthusiasm of those members were the start of our investments and focus on restoration.
As the Dennis began to take shape the next question was, "Where do we keep it?" Eventually and after much thought we decided to build the middle shed (now the Garage) mainly to keep the bus and fire engine. At the start of the project proper in 2007 The Dennis was just a rolling chassis, the gearbox and engine were in boxes, the radiators were also in boxes and not fit to be used. Of course the cost of this restoration was a continuing headache. Most of the parts had survived the 2 moves but the labels were long lost. When the project was in Devonport the team had taken good drawings of the wood work shape but little other records.
The initial team, comprising, Warwick Orr, Kevin Lord, Clive Sandham and Tony Gillett were soon joined by others until we had a good team of 8 or 9. The old gearbox case had water in it and had corroded with large holes in it but sometime in the past a better case was found so the gears were reassembled into a new case with new bearings.
We had several components of the engine and the original team had managed to repair the lower end but had stumbled when the blocks were found to be past repair. The engine was stripped back and completely reassembled. The blocks were still the problem but we found the rear one was just about usable and then we found another engine with the front block usable. The radiator was still a problem and was going to be a huge cost of over $20,000 to repair just the core professionally. We set about to do it ourselves. We worked on bogging and sanding the top and bottom tanks to become patterns and had them recast. and re-machine. The next challenge was the cores. Clive Sandham had been a tool maker in a past life so set about and made a “wavy washer die”. Clive and Warwick Orr then spent many weeks punching washers from brass sheeting and another team were pushing them onto new brass tubing. 127 Tubes and 32,000 wavy washers was the final count! All were dipped in solder and assembled into the refurbished brass top and bottom plates. George Mikhailovich a retired radiator repairer sweated them all together. The finished radiator only cost about $2500 in materials and a lot of labour. After all this work the engine was now a 'runner' and fitted onto the chassis together with a refurbished clutch and the gearbox, brakes, and running gear all working. We first ran the engine in 2010.
Way back in 2006 Ian Goldingham drew out the details of the body based upon the state of from the old frame recovered from the swamp. This drawing was put into a working drawing by Len Woodgate a retired coach builder. The decking for the floor was made and welded by in 2010 then framing started. The rear mudguards were made from scratch to fit the framing. Some time later we were offered some front guards from a 1920s Sunbeam and surprisingly these generally fitted with some reshaping into what you see today. With the frame finished, we had some cedar Tongue and Groove run up to cover the roof. This was shaped and then fibre-glassed to be finished about 2014. The sides were panelled in aluminium then shaped panels were rolled and fitted and thus covered all the body. Others in the team made window frames these were all fitted painted, latches made over a period.
Of course we still did not have a bonnet! Just some very rusty side panels and the rusty centre panel, this proved a considerable problem as first attempts would not open. We made a small model of the bonnet panels and then scaled that up and with considerable modifications along the way it now opened without rubbing the paint work. The interior was fitted with the same cedar planks. The next task was the seating. We eventually made pattern cast the seat sides. Seat and back slats were cut from timber acquired from a closing down cabinet maker business . All were pre-made, then concealed screwed into the powder coated cast frames Over many months the bus was looking more finished. Brian Cullen spray painted the sides with a colour we hoped was the original colour from samples found on the swap. Wheels were altered to look like standard, tyres found and fitted.
The club was planning to build another shed and we realised that the new building would block the bus from be able to be moved out of the restoration shed so we focused on being able to roll the bus out the door and move it to the storage garage. To move the bus out we had to shift the hoist out first. We then hooked the tractor on and pulled towards the door. Reaching the door, we knew the height maybe a problem and it was. So, we loaded the back up with 12 members and that lowered it enough to sneak out with less the 25mm clearance. From here finishing work has progressed with the vinyl flooring being laid on the floor, Seats all installed and bolted into place. We needed some remedial work on the steering since it was incredibly stiff so we stripped the steering box installed king pin thrust bearings, which we found in the spares boxes.
On 29th April 2021 the Dennis made its first journey, under its own power in the last 65 or so years. Colin Austen drove the bus from the storage garage, made a delightful 3-point turn and reversed into its new home in the new shed. Once again we had height clearance problems and so the 'crew' had to jump on board and give us that extra bit of clearance. The garage door height issue has now been fixed giving us the opportunity to finish of the electrics and mount the newly fabricated rear bumper.
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