Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of duck tape and Baby Powder

23rd March 2014

This week seems to have been directed very much at “the shed”. On the one hand I have not quite kept up with an average of grouting one column per day – the weather has not been kind and some of our foundations, being 300mm below surrounding ground level, do not drain readily after rain. But anyway, on Tuesday I headed over to the planned cladding supplier to go through the specification and requirements for the roof.

As usual, I am learning things - like how the overlaps are arranged, both down the roof and along to be away from the prevailing wind. All these panels are made to order, which means even when the order is placed, we will have a 3 week lead time, and that won't even begin until we have the OK from the Planning Department, who have authorised us to clad the building in dark green, dark blue or dark grey but still insist on formally approving our colour choice: a service they are happy to provide as they charge a fee of £97 for doing so.

Having got back I had an appointment with a local contractor who did much to clear the site last year, and who was interested in digging out the floor area. He rolled up on time in a Discovery with a distinct rattle up front. He pulled the bonnet catch before getting out and in response to my observation said he had something that would sort it, and proceeded to dowse the front of the engine, fan belt, etc., with a white powder like he was dealing with an ants nest. It was Johnson's Baby Powder, aka a fine talcum. I suggested that it might not be doing his alternator a lot of good, seeing that it was blathered in the stuff.

“Bluddy hell,” he said, “never thought of that.”


Earlier in the week I had spent much time re-drawing our Structural Engineers Plans for the floor, creating sections through to show the depths of excavation, the lay of the MoT Type 1 stone, etc., but was still not satisfied. It still wasn't a clear description of what was required for digging out. You see, there are basically 3 levels of excavation – where we are normally working, the ground must be dug to foundation level. Where the Mattersons will be, it must be 50mm further down, and where the tracks are, we go to 210mm below foundation level – that's over half-a-metre down from finished floor level. Just as I was about to go to bed the answer occurred to me – all I had to do was create a plan view and colour code the various depths light green, dark green, and brown, and this drawing was the one handed over to the contractor to work to. The following day he was on the phone with the estimate that we will be lifting some 270tons of clay, soil, tarmac, ballast and whatever else is on the old yard area. I was happy with his price and he will make a start this next week.

Once we have this dirty great big hole we must fill it back up again with hard core, for which this all-purpose MoT Type 1 stone is specified. I started ringing round the main aggregates suppliers and was surprised by the variation in cost, although transport was obviously a significant factor. One supplier was quoting me a price at nearly £30/ton and when I suggested that this wasn't very competitive, proceeded to tell me which of his competitors would be cheaper. I had only got a price from one of them so rang off and phoned the other! In the end however, the best price is the nearest, and a quarry that lies between the Tissington Trail (the old LNW line from Buxton to Ashbourne) and the High Peak Trail (the C&HP) will be supplying in due course.

Fixing the rails has also come in for attention. At one time we were considering drilling the freshly set concrete and using rawlbolts, and it has the advantage of being able to line everything up with strings and such but is time consuming, dusty, and with our luck, we'll strike bits of reinforcing mesh every time. Cast-in sockets, normally put in to providing lifting points, can at least be pushed in to the wet concrete and provided it doesn't need to be perfect in its positioning, should serve. Initially Andrew found a supplier in Sheffield, but when I got a price from them I was not overly impressed, as at nearly £10 each, and about 120 required, you can understand my reluctance. Eventually I found another firm offering a cheaper version which are due to arrive tomorrow. I haven't even thought of concrete prices yet, nor of whether we try to go it alone or bring another contractor in with prior experience, yet I am intrigued by a “new” shuttering system which uses extruded pvc forms which are cast in and obviate the need to make special joints in the concrete for expansion/contraction. It would be much easier to make a decision between the various options if I wasn't having to pay for it.

But, with the weather quite reasonable toward the end of the week, I have spent a couple of hours each day breaking out the formwork from the last column, setting it up around another, draining the holes, mixing up a quantity of cement grout and pouring it all in. Hardly an enterprise worthy of extensive illustration. And with Andrew away on Saturday I spent another morning down there doing column number 5, and was back at lunch when my phone rang and I was off to a rendezvous with a friend who had some bags of cement going spare.

However, Andrew returned this morning and we headed back down to Darley to complete column number 6, only ten more to go! Mixing this damn stuff to the right consistency still eludes me – sometimes it is too thick and needs forcing down the mounting bolt cones, other times it is too thin and oozes under the edges of the formwork. No doubt by the time we complete number 16 we will just about become proficient.

I bemoaned the highly expensive banner that we had to take down last week. I considered returning it to the supplier and claiming that it was nowhere near as durable as they had claimed it to be, or even trying to get another at a reduced price, but in the end, found my roll of duck tape and set about doing some patch repairs on the back. Before leaving Darley we set it up again, this time backing on to one of the concrete panels, and indeed, duck-taping it in part to the concrete. If it will last 6 weeks or so like that it should be sufficient. Besides, we had another incoming special train today so I wanted it there for the advertising. After lunch, we headed up to Rowsley and were about to start doing something when the said train arrived.

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Originally it had been planned to be one loco, then another, then another. In the end it was Braunton that brought the train in, and the 31 had been delegated to shunt the carriages across to the loop while the West Country was turned and coaled. Steph had come down with us and photographed it from the other end of the site. But we had, while all this was going on, actually made an effort to get something done on the locos.

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“James” had been run last week but sadly the batteries are getting poorer at holding charge and despite our best endeavours, we could not get it going, and of course had not brought the battery charger with us. So Andrew returned to “Libby” while I dealt with another matter. Eventually I joined him and between us we refitted the silencers. Libby has an arrangement I have carried out a number of times, namely having two smaller diameter silencers in parallel rather than one enormous one to achieve the same result. Libby though was done on the cheap, using two donated silencers that came, unused, off a Kato crane. Unfortunately in emptying out the van to make space for bags of cement I had removed our nuts and bolts stocks, so those holding the silencers in place are temporary.

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We tested one of the casing doors in place – the strange pattern on the right you see in the photo is the reflective strips on Andrew's Hivi reflecting in the paint – to check whether our filler for the converter oil tank was going to clear the catches after all: it looks like they will, just. I drilled out the end of the alternator stay bracket ready to complete that little job and painted the last few purlin brackets I had forgotten about.

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As we left Rowsley, Cheedale was in action shunting the works train so that Charlie could take it back to Darley Dale, where it is standing tonight on the main line next to the shed.

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