Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of making a mesh of things

15th June 2014

Today is our 40th wedding anniversary. Weeks ago I told a certain director who was planning out the loco rostering to keep the weekend clear just in case we wanted to do something to celebrate the occasion. But the wires got crossed, and I was rostered as usual on Saturday and have next weekend clear. Steph meanwhile, with pragmatic foresight (if you can have such a thing) had offered to help Lynn in the “Break Van” cafe at the railway today as it was the annual bus-rally. But I am not entirely mean and miserly – I bought her a lemon muffin.

Actually, certain events which are not relevant to this blog have had a tremendous effect on things this week, so let us head back to the beginning -

On Monday, the crane still being in place down at Darley Dale with the works train, Rob prevailed on Harvey to give him a couple of hours as banksman which enabled the headshunt to appear, albeit it that it requires a bit of a tweak with the sleepering before it can be bolted up, and the buffer stop at the end. At the other end of the yard, 3 panels of track with concrete sleepers have been piled up, in anticipation of re-levelling and extending the first track right down alongside the shed. But that was about it and the works train became the first over the new turnout as it returned the JCB to Rowsley in order to carry out entrance road repairs before the weekend bus rally.

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14 901 was out again on Tuesday, and we had the added diversion of Radio Derby doing a sort of “Down your (rail)way” type programme. (I'm sorry if you are too young, or have no idea what I mean, but years ago on the Home Service of the BBC “Down your way” was a popular outside broadcast – recorded of course – where the presenter visited places and interviewed people). Of course, the great and the good (and a few others) were all spruced up – one even had a hair cut, not that one can see this through radio - as presenter Andy Potter pottered his way from one to another. At one point he was perched next to the edge of the platform speaking into his microphone as we rolled in at the head of a train – had I been driving I might just have been tempted to sound 14 901's horns – as a warning of our approach, you understand, but as Roy was driving at the time I refrained.

They particularly wanted a live steam loco chuffing bit prompt at 4pm (after a news broadcast or something) but as there is no train actually moving at 4pm (we'd been in 10 minutes before and were not due out until 4.14) I was warned that on the previous arrival I was to drop the vac to allow the kettle to uncouple, and at 4pm prompt they would chuff loudly away on cue with the Potter-person aboard. And even light loco they managed some wheelslip.

You can, if you move quick, pick it up on listen again through the BBC's Radio Derby page, but don't expect any reference to me, 14 901 or the biggest development going on on the railway at the moment – I don't sound too bitter do I?

I must admit, but for the fact that Andrew had been signed off work for a fortnight, we would not have been ready for concreting on Friday. The weather improved by Wednesday but the sheer man hours required to assemble shuttering, insert DPM, mesh, spacers, wire together with “Z” bars on not one but two 20m “track slabs” would have been beyond my efforts alone and I would have had to call it all off. As it was, medical matters occupied Andrew until the afternoon on Wednesday and in sweltering conditions we worked on until half-past nine, by which time the mesh in the eastern slab was pretty well finished but the western had barely got its DPM down.

Thursday continued in much the same way, with copious quantities of liquid as meshing continued, Andrew cutting, me wiring together. We compared blisters and vied as to who has the biggest. (Having one very large, one small, and a blood blister I think I just won), but by Thursday night (a 10pm finish) all the mesh was down in the second track, but much still needed wiring together. Late in the afternoon Rob had arrived with a road compressor, we planned to use a “poker” to vibrate the concrete as we laid it, and Rob promised to leave out some air hoses for us at Rowsley.

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At 7a.m. Friday I was opening back up. Andrew had dashed off to pick up the booked concrete float from the hire company and on his return grabbed my van key to get the air hoses from Rowsley, only to find that the lads working on the kettle boilers had turned up unexpectedly and snaffled the lot. The concrete pump wagon arrived around 7.45 and started setting up. Terry phoned to say he was on his way and would be there about 7.20 (I didn't believe him for a moment, it was 7.55 when he appeared, but at least he did) and Dom Beglin arrived a while later. We had done all our calculations and whereas I had thought it would be 9 cu metres per slab, Andrew had calculated it would be 8 which happens to be one big lorry full. So I had ordered 16 with the proviso that we might need a supplementary dollop.

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The lorry arrived and presented its load to the open mouth of the pump machine, which duly directed it across where I was still stolidly wiring mesh together and into the eastern track slab.

Eight cubic metres only filled about three-quarters of it.

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In my “Grand master plan” for the day, I had anticipated load 1 filling the eastern slab, leaving us to tamp and smooth it off, erect guide strings 1503mm apart and press into the wet concrete the plywood boards through which my cast-in M20 sockets were bolted. But without the entire length full of concrete, putting the strings up was pointless so we had to wait for the lorry to return with load number 2 to finish one track and start on the next. My timing therefore was rather shot to ribbons: as soon as the second load was expended, we were measuring the remaining volume and estimating what we needed to complete the task. Although the slab was nominally 200 thick, Terry encouraged me to work on 300 thick since clearly our previous calcs were falling short. I had already discovered that the concrete was 20-30mm higher in the first slab than I had planned for, and in hindsight I should have ignored Terry's advice and gone for a load based on 250 thick. But we called for another 6 cu metres and with help from Andrew in getting the strings set up, I pressed the pads into the concrete, very conscious that the older delivery needed tapping in with a hammer, whilst that from load 2 sank gently in with mere hand-pressure.

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Load 3 arrived and we completed track 2, but there was still a metre or so in the truck and they don't like having it back, so we hurriedly filled an area behind the shed, and when that was full, created a slab as a doorstep. At this point I lost all interest and returned to my strings to get the pads into the second track, leaving Andrew, Dom and Terry to dispose of a few more barrow-loads wherever they could.

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As things wound down I gave Dave Lathrope, the DD stationmaster, and his wife a tour of the development so that they could understand and explain to passengers what was going on and how far it had got. We toured the full site and even inspected the soon-to-be headshunt and the tadpoles. In the end, I had been on site almost 12 hours when we locked up and headed back, though my departure was delayed in part by Andrew having headed back home in his car, taking the key to the van with him...

First thing Saturday it was back down to Rowsley to fire up 14 901 for the day's trains. Once again I had Roy Taylor and Paul, so by rights I could have left them to it, but as my name was on the sheet I stayed on for a “relaxing” day. Andrew meanwhile headed in to Darley and cut the required slots in the surface of the concrete to forestall cracking, and Steph went with him to do a bit of tidying in the Portakabin. I must have been in light-hearted mood as during an exchange at Matlock, when a volunteer, having put a blade of straw (or something) in his mouth, put on a yokel accent and declared -
“I'm off to see Farmer Giles”
I replied immediately with -
“Oh, are you going after that scarecrow's job then?”
It took him a full minute to come back with a retort, which suggested I was obviously one of those “bluddy ASLEF men”.

The down home signal at Darley Dale gained a new finial for a while as Dom Beglin was up the top – had laying 22 cu metres of concrete the previous day sent him over the edge?

Again I had a passenger wanting to know if Penyghent was broken (Tuesday it had been children who had run on to Matlock platform only to be disappointed). It apparently doesn't occur to them that we might roster different locos on different days (so much for the Peak Rail website) or maybe they have a mindset, like so many enthusiasts, that 901 is 'only a shunter' and not capable of such duties. Hopefully they'll come to the 14s at 50 do next month and realise the error of their ways.

Back on 901, the oil pressure gauge had gone to full scale and stayed there. I use electric gauges and they seldom give any trouble, but the oil pressure one on 901 has always been a nuisance with either the sender or wiring throwing up faults. The kettle driver who came on for the afternoon had not been out with 901 before and sent the cleaner back with a message to “turn my injector off”. I figured he meant exhauster but we ended up in the Duty Manager's office straightening it out.

As I left Saturday night Rob was busy setting things out for the bus rally. Normally we would have given Rowsley a wide berth on such a day, but Steph didn't want the hassle of driving and finding nowhere to park, and as I put my foot down against Andrew's idea of heading up to the DVLR, we went in together with a plan to do a few miscellaneous tasks.

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It looks like the sender for 901's oil pressure gauge is about to give up the ghost. This must be its third since 2008 – I checked all the wiring through and the gauge started working but was erratic and after a few minutes went full scale again. So I must change that, hopefully Tuesday morning before we go out in service. Behind the Rowsley loco shed Andrew was stripping redundant parts of the ex P&T tamper Rolls' engine planned to become the new heart of Charlie. The bus rally looks to have been a success – Andrew observed two Sheffield buses that even he can remember in service (I could remember one of them new). Others were of the opinion that bus enthusiasts are even worse than railway ones – that I find hard to believe.

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