(Above Picture) - Ailsa 377 seen Westwoodside in October 2021, in conjunction with the Isle of Axholme Running Day. Photo by Alex Proctor.
LWB377P is a Volvo Ailsa B55-10 with Vanhool McArdle dual door, 75 seat, double deck bodywork. It was new to the South Yorkshire PTE in June 1976 as their fleet number 377 and was part of a batch of 62 identical vehicles. It operated from Greenland Road garage for all its’ time in Sheffield, where it was most commonly used on routes 52 (Crookes to Woodhouse) the 71(Prince of Wales Road Circular), the 69 (Sheffield to Rotherham), and the 277/278(Sheffield to Doncaster).
It was withdrawn from service in 1986 when just 10 years old and was sold with others from the batch to London Buses, where it operated from Potters Bar garage.
377 was the only SYPTE Ailsa that ran in London to see further use (the rest were sold for scrap), it coming back to South Yorkshire with Powells of Wickersly.
During 1993 the bus was sold onto Black Prince Coaches of Morley, Leeds. By this time the bodywork on 377 was in poor condition and a great deal of work was carried out on it by them, replacing a lot of the body frames, before being outshopped in the ’25 Year Anniversary’ livery that it still wears today. Such was the extent of the work that was done on the bus by Black Prince, it was said at the time by them ‘If I had known how bad it was going to be, I wouldn’t have done it!’, this making 377’s survival all the more remarkable.
Ailsa 377 was last operated by Black Prince Coaches in March 1997. Overall it was the most ‘long lived’ of the batch, outlasting sister 383 at Tudhope Coaches, Kilmarnock, by around a month. 377 was purchased for preservation by Trevor Heaton on 13th March 1997 and driven back ‘home’ to Sheffield.
Trevor stored 377 at various locations over the years, the first 7 years of which were outside at a haulage yard at Hellaby , where unfortunately the condition of the bus had deteriorated. In 2004 it was moved undercover, which of course stopped any further serious deterioration. Over the years’ a lot of parts had been gathered for 377’s eventual restoration, together with funds, so that in his retirement, Trevor could attend to the vehicle.
In September 2014, the volunteers at the SYTT learned that Trevor had become seriously ill with Leukaemia, so with the blessing of his wife Mandy, we set to work to resurrect 377 as a surprise for him. We thought it rather unfair that he had stored the bus all these years and when retirement was around the corner, with time available to work on it, he had become seriously ill.
However, as the job progressed it was obvious that 18 years of inactivity had taken their toll on the bus, as it was in a much worse condition than the initial inspection had concluded.
Trevor had been in remission with the Leukaemia, but in September 2016, we heard the news that the condition had returned. Sadly, after a further stay in hospital Trevor passed away in November 2016, aged 66.
We did tell him about the work that had been done for him on 377. He was absolutely over the moon with what had been done. He was really touched that someone would do such a thing for him. We feel very sad that we could not complete the work in time and that he did not survive to see and ride on a running 377, even just once. Life can be very cruel.
Come the new year 2017, the work to re-commission 377 continued. Progress was slow due to having to move the rest of the vehicles and parts from The Tinsley Tram Sheds, which was a massive distraction for many of the SYTT’s volunteers. Eventually, after many man hours and a lot a replacement parts, 377 finally made its first trip out in July 2018 (a test run around the block a few times), initially with clouds of smoke from the exhaust! Nevertheless, all seemed relatively OK, so it was taken back into the workshop to have a few more service items done. The bus has had an enormous amount of work carried out on the running gear and underside, but the work on the bodywork, inside and out has been kept to ‘essential’ work only, to retain the Black Prince livery. It would be fair to say that 377 has ‘been brought back from the brink’. It really was in a terrible state underneath!
377 is presented today in a ‘as withdrawn condition’. At the time of writing, it last ran like this a little over 21 years ago — March 1997. When purchased for preservation, it was never intended for 377 to run again in Black Prince livery, however the passage of time makes the livery interesting, representing a period in time and an operator that otherwise would just be part of a history book. Having been stored for over 20 years, 377 is now a bit of a ‘time capsule’ back to the 1990’s! If Black Prince had kept 377 for another year, and had put another MOT on it, then this is about what it would have looked like.
377’s first official outing was the Olive grove Open Day in September 2018, and then the Isle of Axholme running day in October 18. 377 only just got back to base that day, as a fuel starvation issue had started. The last mile was completed with several stops, but we eventually got back.
We plan to run 377 in this guise for the short term, where it will, by popular request, make a number of trips back to West Yorkshire, visiting Leeds, Morley, and the surrounding areas. Out of the many Volvo Ailsa’s that Black Prince once operated 377 is the only one they operated to still wear Black Prince livery.
In March 2019, a new lift pump and injectors were fitted, and a gauze fitted to the pick up pipe in the fuel tank-(the original had been removed while it was still in service), to prevent sediment being sucked up. 377 attended the Black Prince 50th Anniversary Event in April 2019, where it ran around on many of its old routes and took part in a parade though Morley town centre. It performed faultlessly on this event.
377 was used on the SYTT Open Day in July 2019 and then on the inaugural event for the Heaton Archive Trust in September 2019. It had become unreliable once again though, with the fuel problem returning.
Due to Covid, we all had a forced period of inactivity, but when normality started to return, we decided to bite the bullet and sort the fuel problem once and for all. A new fuel tank was made and fitted on house at the SYTT, the fuel lines cleaned out, new filters fitted, which has now cured the problem. When the pickup pipe had been removed from the tank it was obvious what was causing the problem. The gauze had collapsed and was directly over the end of the pickup pipe, which in turn had allowed corrosion and sediment to be sucked over the end of the pipe, virtually cutting off the fuel supply.
Since the new tank has been fitted, 377 has run at the SYTT Open Day in October 2021 and attended the Isle of Axholme Running Day 2 weeks later. Both events have been completed with no issues, so reliable performance has returned to 377.
The longer-term plans are to carry out a light restoration (some panel replacement, roof coves etc), and repaint the bus in the final version of the SYPTE livery, which is the livery Trevor would have chosen for it.
Bus preservation is a very expensive hobby. Over the years Trevor had likely spent to the tune of £15,000 on storage of the bus alone, plus an unknown amount the parts (some rare) that he had obtained for it. If it had not been for him, then the bus would have likely not been purchased for preservation back in 1997 and wouldn’t be still around today for us all to enjoy. For that Trevor, we salute you!