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Nine-year project to restore historic bus is just the ticket

By john workman  |  Posted: November 14, 2013

The magnificent GEA 174, in its two tone blue WEst Bromwich Corporation livery.

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Stan Letts is a man with all aspects of the omnibus and its history coursing through his veins.

A man born to work with buses, on buses, and around buses, and now he is about to witness the successful conclusion of a nine-year project he has been involved in with other members of the Transport Group within the Black Country Living Museum, when a newly restored West Bromwich Corporation bus is unveiled at the museum on Saturday.

The Transport Group has about 120 members and 20 have been working around the clock to return the bus from a rusting wreck to the pristine condition it is today.

Stan said: “The bus in question, GEA 174, was one of a batch of 20 supplied to West Bromwich Corporation Transport in 1952.

“Although it would have worked on any of the Corporation’s bus routes, it was used mainly on the busy 74 and 75 services from Birmingham via West Bromwich to Dudley or Wednesbury.

Separate charity “It was still in service when the Corporation’s operations were absorbed into the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, commonly known as ‘Wumpty’, in 1969, and continued to be used for a short time afterwards.” In the early 1970s the WMPTE gave the bus to Dudley Libraries as a potential exhibit for a Black Country Museum which was then in the throes of being formed.

The museum finally came into being in 1975 and a transport group was set up as a separate charity from the main museum.

After being in store for several years a restoration attempt was begun on GEA 174, but it immediately ran into problems.

After an extensive examination, it was discovered the bus was in a worse condition than had first been thought and expert advice and work from an outside source was needed.

The firm chosen was based in Erdington, Birmingham, and they had virtually stripped the bus when they went out of business.

The Transport Group then had to mount a rescue mission to bring the bus back to the museum, a feat in itself, where a few desultory unsuccessful attempts were made to start a rebuild.

It wasn't until 2004 that a working party taken from the volunteers of the BCM Transport Group, under the guidance and leadership of group member Gordon Ibbotson, started work in earnest, and after a hard slog that has taken nine years and countless hours of diligent workmanship, GEA 174 is once again in pristine condition.

This Saturday (November 16) Stan will proudly take his place along side others who have been involved in this project, when GEA 174 is unveiled at a private, invitation only ceremony at the Black Country Museum.

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