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A vintage 1924 Ford Model T bus has returned home to the village of Shawbost on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis after a 35-year detour that took it across the Minch* and all the way to London, thought never to return.

* The Minch is the busy and often storm ravaged stretch of water that separates the Western Isles from mainland Scotland, familiar to anyone who has traveled to the Outer Hebrides by ferry

RIGHT:  JS 1972

The Model T bus – one of only eight such vehicles that survive – was originally built in Manchester and supplied to a Malcolm Mackay of 20 South Shawbost as a chassis/cowl only.  The timber bodywork, floor and seating was then built onto the chassis by John Macleod, a well-known boatbuilder from Ness in northern Lewis who had earlier been credited with saving many lives after swimming ashore with a rope from the naval yacht Iolaire, which had foundered near Stornoway harbour during a violent storm on New Year’s morning, 1919, packed full of servicemen and merchant seamen returning home from war.  Over 200 islanders and crew lost their lives on that fateful night.
After a period in service on Lewis, JS 1972 was then ‘retired’ to a garage in Shawbost, Lewis.  It later enjoyed a brief moment of fame after it was repaired in 1971by former Western Isles Council Convener and keen motor enthusiast, Donald ‘Domhnall Easy’ MacLeod when the vehicle starred in ‘Lord of the Isles’; a film about the soap and detergents magnate Lord Leverhulme, who owned much of Lewis around the time the bus first arrived on the island.  Interestingly, JS 1972 also participated in the London to Brighton Rally on three consecutive years between 1973 and 1975.

Click images to enlarge

At some point during the 1970s, owner Kenneth MacLeod sold the vehicle to Maurice Saxton of Glenton Tours of London, where it remained for many years until it eventually emerged in a ‘for sale’ advertisement.

Calum Maclennan,  the Secretary of the Western Isles Transport Preservation Group, remembers viewing this particular bus through gaps in the wooden doors of its garage.  He recalls that it would be taken out on special occasions, such as carnivals and village fetes.  When the Transport Preservation Group was established Calum tried to trace the whereabouts of the bus for an article he proposed to write for the WITPG newsletter, commencing his research in 2001 with the Henry Ford Museum archives in Dearborn, Michigan, USA.  Despite following various leads, he was unable to trace the bus, though he did manage to build up a small dossier of useful information about the vehicle.

Then, a chance conversation with Roddy Murray, from Newmarket near Stornoway, provided a key piece of information when it emerged that the bus had been recently advertised for sale in the media.  This prompted Calum ‘Braxy’ Macleod of South Shawbost (Lewis), a great nephew of original owner Malcolm Mackay, to contact the seller, resulting in him eventually purchasing the vehicle.

The yellow-painted Model T bus - registration number JS 1972 - is listed as a Hackney/Goods vehicle, which indicates that it was specifically built to carry passengers and goods.   On 16th Oct 2008, the bus finally returned home to 20 South Shawbost, in the Isle of Lewis, after a 35 year absence.

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