Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of shuttering, sand and fuses

29th June 2014

Here we are, nearly half way through the year. The longest day has come and gone. Wimbledon is in full swing. This time last year we were digging a test hole for the Structural Engineer, seeing site clearance finally underway at Darley and refitting the repaired turbo to 14 901.

A year on and on Tuesday I am out with 14 901, with, as usual Roy Taylor to share the cab and a few jokes with. The loco was performing satisfactorily and for the first part of the day the weather was quite OK. The only curious thing to note was a horde, or maybe a herd, of guys in DBS hi-vis all congregated by the ground frame at Matlock (NR side) receiving a lecture presumably on how to operate a ground frame. Are they so rare that personnel now come so far to see one?

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But then mid-way through the afternoon the skies suddenly opened and the railway went quiet. It was my turn to drive back from Matlock and I actually had wheelslip as we set off, and again moving off from Darley Dale, but the only thing otherwise was that the handbrake wheel in the cab had stuck in the off position and refused to budge, so I left 901 chocked over the pit with a plan to grease round and sort it out before the next service day on Saturday.

Wednesday and Thursday saw us back at Darley, making a start on shuttering. Steph's book on basic brick-laying also had a chapter on concreting, revealing that with shuttering ply 18mm thick and concrete 150mm, we should have supports every 750mm or so to prevent bowing or collapsing. I'd already had the bright idea (well I though so) of re-using the plywood pads that had located the sockets in the concrete to carry cross bars to hold the shuttering apart and in line, but these are around 1.5metres apart, so I decided that all the strips I was cutting off to reduce the 200mm planks to 150mm would be screwed longitudinally behind to brace them, or for that matter, to act as a stop when those boards that are now bowed are pressed back into line by the weight of concrete.

But with the accuracy niavity of a mechanical engineer, I had assumed that I would undo all the shuttering planks, take them back to Rowsley and get them taken down to 150mm on the LMSCA's circular saw. But an early review of our now set concrete demonstrated that with this stuff, you cannot work to the tolerance of + or – 0.25mm. Actually we could not really get nearer than + or – 20 ish, and the 150 at the Matlock end of the shed turned out to be nearer 110 (so our rails will be a trifle more proud than planned under the doors) and at the north end it is about -5, or in other words we have a slight slope, with a few peaks and troughs to boot. Ah well. I set up the old Workmate acquired from my father and with the jig saw, set about longitudinally cutting my planks down to whatever dimension gave me near enough level. Meanwhile Steph and Andrew continued the task of blinding the hard core. Apparently the normal practice is just to throw shovelfuls of sand around and then rake it level, but Steph found a better, if longer, method, was to spread it out by hand, during which she would feel any stones sticking through and could add sand accordingly.

14 901 was booked out again on Saturday, and Andrew and I went in early, firstly to load the welder so that Andrew could head over to Scunthorpe to continue the cab sides on D2128, and then grease 901's running gear and sort out the handbrake. But I had a nasty surprise when I climbed in the cab. Clearly we had had a visit from one of our feathered friends that had managed to get in the cab but had had difficulty finding its way back out. In its panic at being trapped it had proceeded to c**p over the seats, the floor and the desk. This is actually the second time this has happened, and whereas last time the prisoner had died in captivity, this one presumably had remembered how it got in and exited the same way, just leaving us its mess to clean up. By now Roy had arrived and kindly did the cleaning while Andrew greased the axleboxes and guides and freed the brake, and I mounted a document holder onto the cupboard door.

I settled down for another days driving with '901, and this time was going to do all five runs as Roy was not 100% and taking tablets which have “do not operate machinery” on the packet. The first run was uneventful save for a slightly harsh stop at Darley, and everything was fine.

Regular readers will know that in Andrew's view the last weekend of the month is where things go wrong. I can't say it has been very obvious of late, but maybe I should have paid more attention. The second run had proceeded satisfactorily, my stop at Darley had been smooth, and I was just cruising around the final curve into Rowsley platform, and wondering where to start my first brake application, when it happened.

'It', in this case, was 3 things happening in an instant. The engine stopped, the transmission disengaged and the brakes went to full emergency. 14 901 stopped with the first coach in the platform, and the rest beyond it.

Now, all new visitors to '901's cab are warned to keep themselves away from the engine stop button, and if, despite that admonition, they manage to press the red button with hip or bum, I get a 10 second warning of imminent catastrophe because the computer's “Status” light (the only thing Andrew allowed me as diagnostics on this installation) starts flashing, and as it was in my field of view as we approached Rowsley, I was sure it had not flickered let alone Roy been near enough to bash the button. Indeed, I was disconcerted to see, as the enormity of the situation began to sink in, that the Status light was not showing anything, yet the oil pressure and alternator warning lights both showed red.

My first thought was to get the train into the platform so that the passengers could de-train, so I sent Roy back to get the kettle crew to make vac and propel us forward, while I isolated 901's brake controls and pondered what to do. Remember, Andrew had gone off with the van to Scunthorpe so was probably 2 hours away. The book I keep on 901's electrics, software, etc was at home and I had no tools whatsoever apart from a small screwdriver that happened to be in my pocket. Although it was not the right tool for the job, it enabled me to open the electrical cabinet and look over for anything obvious. The computer was lit up normally, even its OK and Run lights showing steady green, and the various input and output LEDs glowing, though without my book I could not remember which was which - after all I wired this darn thing up in 2008.

I went through all the fuses – these are automotive blade types and when they fail, it is in the middle and quite obvious, but they all seemed in order. The Run relay has a manual test function, so I flipped it and heard the stop solenoid click over, yet pressing “Reset” on the panel (which would normally bring the stop solenoid on (unless there was a serious fault present) had no effect, nor did pressing start or stop buttons. Without my book, I was mystified as to what had happened.

Of course, by now I have the Guard and various onlookers breathing down my neck, and news comes through that Jackie Statham is on her way. For reasons that seemed logical at the time I put the stop solenoid on by the operating the relay manually, and with a piece of wire that has been a cab ornament for the last 3 or 4 years, jumped the starter solenoid and got the engine running.

The onlookers assume it is fixed. No, the engine is running but the computer is not playing and traction control is not there. I can maintain air pressure and control the brakes, but that is pneumatic and all I can do.

Jackie arrives and we have a conference on the platform. Propelling the train with '901 idling is out of the question. A phone call reveals that no-one can get across to start up Penyghent within an hour or so. The last time this happened, Cheedale was called and although unable to make vacuum itself, could control the train brake with vacuum from the other end. The only mistake was to try and let the steamer bank as Cheedale was rather slow – all it did was push the converter into overheat which caused the engine to shutdown. So with my expertise in driving, maybe we can do better this time. A quick phone call to Rob (out collecting some Midland artefact on behalf of Dr Ben Riley, and at that moment having a cup of tea at Shackerstone) revealed that there ought to be enough fuel aboard so I leg it over to Cheedale and fire it up. In a few minutes Cheedale has shunted the disgraced 901 onto the loop road and is hooking up to the train in its place. We're all set for a novel , if rather slow, return service to Matlock.

Or rather not, as our troubles are not over. Twelve months ago Cheedale happily operated the vac from the train pipe, but in the intervening time something has happened and despite the best efforts of “Lord Phil” at the other end, no vac can be created. To prove the pint we detach Cheedale from the train pipe and immediately vac is created.

Now, in hindsight at this point I should have suggested somebody runs me home to get my book and my box of electrical bits, but instead the decision is taken to make this the last train of the day, to get those passengers who started at Matlock back there, and return ECS as we cannot take passengers without vac braking functioning. A sad decision and one that makes me feel very guilty, but Cheedale trundled down dutifully to Matlock and although its picture was taken from numerous angles, could not earn a penny on its return journey.

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This return was a touch slow, and had the novelty of being non-stop from Matlock to Rowsley. The signalmen at both Darley and Church Lane had oodles of time to get the gates open and the signal cleared, there was no need for a station stop, all I lacked was Express headlamps. In fact, so slow and steady was it that I even allowed myself a driver's eye view while actually driving!

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Back at Rowsley, I took 901 and Cheedale back over to the loco shed. Steph had been alerted and had driven in to run me home, where I picked up my book and my electrical box and returned to Rowsley. My test meter was, naturally, in the van at Scunthorpe, where Andrew was concentrating on getting the remaining pieces of cab side re-plated. Of course, with the schematics in front of me it didn't take long to find the fault. Light dawned when I heard the internal relays in the computer's output card clicking. The computer operates these relays on its internal power supply, but the power that comes through them to operate the things in the outside world all went through one 5 amp fuse, which I had inspected earlier. I looked at it again, and with more certainty as to which it was I found that the link had fractured right at the side (which probably means it was a mechanical failure from age/vibration rather than an overload, since its combined load at the time should not have exceeded 2 amps). I put in a new fuse, fired it up and all worked normally. Morals? Maybe I should leave a copy of the circuit diagrams in the crew cupboard (which we seldom use) and wire up a set of fuse verification LEDs inside the cabinet. But as this fuse has operated for over 5 years its replacement may last us until the loco's next overhaul anyway.

Today it was back to Darley after some light rain had finished. Andrew had headed off to Bury for the final 14 celebration gala group meeting before the event, leaving Steph and me to carry on with shuttering and sand blinding. Up the far end of the yard the p-way gang were out adjusting the panel of track that is form our headshunt, and other things on the track up there.

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It was a day when we were beset with visitors, from volunteers wandering to and fro to the p-way gang, Dom Beglin showing his wife what it is he has been helping us on, some escorted lady taking pictures of the wagon at the end of the siding, someone after some old sleepers for a garden project, etc., etc. The works train is down for the next few days, and has brought with it the rails ready to go inside our shed and the parts for the new turnout that will connect them. Even Charlie has had a sprucing up while at Rowsley as a volunteer who seems to like painting things has given it a fresh coat which should see it through until we have time to give it a thorough overhaul. Finally Andrew got back and after being prevailed on to get his overalls and boots on, the sand blinding was completed. He returns to work this week which means it must be evenings or fall back on Steph and me to get the DPM, the Fillboard, mesh and remaining shuttering ready for the next pour on Friday.

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Some walkers on the footpath this evening asked me if I was getting paid overtime as I settled the first pieces of Fillboard into position around the foundation blocks, then looked agog when they realised that I wasn't being paid but was actually paying for all this. If you'd told me last year, when we dug that test hole to find out what the ground was like underneath, that twelve months later we wouldn't even have a roof, let alone floor and rails in place, I think I might have abandoned it there and then. Steph suggested this afternoon that we should rename it the “Briddon Bankruptcy Building”. Ah well, you only get to do something like this once in a lifetime.

More in this category: « Of paperwork and platework

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