How a 3D printer is helping vintage Routemasters get back on the road

The head double-decker mechanic for a major tourism company in Nova Scotia is using some of the latest technology to keep antique buses running.

John Bartlett, Ambassatours's head double-decker mechanic, uses the latest technology to fix the ancient buses

Ambassatours has what may be the biggest fleet of vintage Routemasters in the world. (CBC)

Keeping vintage Routemaster buses on the road takes a special kind of love.

The iconic British double-deckers carried passengers around the streets of London in the 1960s and for decades after.

Today, they carry tourists visiting Nova Scotia.

The Routemasters didn't come with a manual. John Bartlett taught himself how to fix them. (CBC)

John Bartlett, Ambassatours's head double-decker mechanic, keeps them running.

The Routemasters entered service in London in 1956 and the last one rolled off the line in 1968. When they came into Bartlett's care, they didn't bring a manual.

"They are a tough old bus. When you crawl underneath one for the very first time, you see how far advanced they were from anything in North America for that age," he says. "You get to know each bus as a person, so to speak."

The old bus he's working on this week probably has a million miles on it. Often, it's the smallest things that take it off the road. Today, it's a broken blinker. Specifically, a tiny plastic piece inside the switch.

When one of the small plastic pieces inside the turn switch goes, it's enough to take the bus off the road. (CBC)

"When you make a right-hand turn, it makes a contact between those two pins. This is neutral and that's left-hand turn," Bartlett explains.

In 1963, it would have been an easy fix. But in 2018, it's a little trickier. They haven't made the buses in 40 years and spare parts are increasingly hard to come by.

Sellers have realized that, and a replacement switch could cost $350 online. Given that Ambssatours has what it thinks is the biggest fleet of Routemasters in the world, that could soon add up.

So Bartlett paid a visit to his friends at Velocity Machining and Welding in Burnside.

Andrew Stevens was happy to use Velocity's 3D printer to create exact replicas of the 1960s pieces. (CBC)

Andrew Stevens took careful measurements and drew a 3D version on the computer. The computer tells the 3D plastic printer what to do. Twenty minutes later, he's printed replica Routemaster pieces that could fool a 1960s mechanic.

Anything to help a friend keep his vehicle on the road.

The 3D printer pours plastic to make exact copies. (CBC)

"We've done a lot of pieces for him over the years in the machine shop — a lot of welding, too. He just came with these parts and needed them made and we made them," Stevens says.

For $15, Bartlett has the fix he needs, mends the broken blinker, and gets the venerable bus back on the road.

With the new part, the blinker is as good as new. (CBC)

About the Author

Jon Tattrie

Reporter

Jon Tattrie is a journalist and the author of two novels and five non-fiction books. He won the RTDNA's 2015 Adrienne Clarkson Award. Find him @jontattrie.ca.