How a 3D printer is helping vintage Routemasters get back on the road
John Bartlett, Ambassatours's head double-decker mechanic, uses the latest technology to fix the ancient buses
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.
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 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 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.
"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.