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Vehicle 1973 – The Preservation Story – Dan Gutzewski.

At the beginning of the 1990’s a group within the “Watercress Belle” staff raised money, via an informal share issue, for the purchase of a full kitchen car (RKB 1555). Problems with blue asbestos and the cost of the removal and disposal of the substance turned the group’s attention to RBR 1973, which was stored at Wolverton Works after being withdrawn from mainline service, and was available for purchase.

The vehicle arrived at Alresford by road on 29th November 1991. Initially the interior and exterior were cleaned and the first project was to replace the flooring in the kitchen/pantry/corridor areas with new “5 bar” Aluminium tread-plate. This was hand sawn to obtain minimum gaps between the sheets to prevent water ingress. The pantry contained an unwelcome surprise- the marine ply beneath the old tread-plate had rotted and had to be removed (in a sack). The floor had been slowly rotting for years, due to water seeping through from a badly sited joint in front of the pantry sink. The replacement 7/8” ply was cut and baptised with Cuprinol, after which the restorers departed quickly and let it set for a week.

The “3R’s” of vehicle preservation, “Remove – Restore – Replace” were quickly learnt. As work continued it became clear that the run-down condition of the vehicle would mean a slow and protracted restoration.

With safe floors in the kitchen and pantry installed, the next task was to remove the ceilings. The kitchen was originally wired in “Pyro” (a cable with copper core separated by mineral insulation), with impossible access to the terminal boxes. This was replaced together with all the internal wiring, except the lounge, with heat resistant cable. All the 24v lighting sockets were replaced and the ceiling in the kitchen rebuilt, partly with aluminium sheet, and partly with melamine faced hardboard. A major rebuild of the internal water pipes was undertaken to provide easier drainage during frosty weather, and to consign various “nightmare horrors” of plumbing to the scrap bin. A major rebuild was also undertaken on the gas system, the main element being the reduction to 6, rather than 8 propane gas cylinders (3 “A Bank” and 3 “B Bank”).

Following the intermittent progress before 1999 there was a period of limbo until 2002 when a renewed interest was shown. The external bodywork was known to be in poor condition and required work to certain areas, such as the vestibule ends, beyond the group’s resources. During this period an undertaking was sought from the MHR for future use of the vehicle, which permitted work to begin in earnest. One of the first tasks was the replacement of the gas bottle boxes on the under frame. The originals were in poor shape and in need of replacement. Various “house calls” to other preserved railways were made, but to no avail. The answer came on a holiday to North Wales, when a visit to a railway in the locality revealed two specimens in very good condition. They were exchanged for cash to augment their tea fund for the next year. These acquisitions enabled the two boxes in worst condition to be removed, and they found further use supporting a worktop in the “Watercress Belle” support coach’s workshop.

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