This week has seen a considerable amount of work going on, in front and behind the scenes.
For a start there's the shed, and for two evenings Steph and I joined Rob at Darley to start laying the wallstones that form the bottom of our walls. There are but two courses, the first mortared direct to our foundation blocks and the second on top of the first but with the Damp Proof Course in between. We succeeded over two evenings, in putting the first course down right across the north face and up the western one as far as the personnel door, plus the first section of the second. Just after we had started on the second evening, to our surprise a rabbit climbed from inside the shed, under our concrete panels, took one look at us, leaped over our newly laid wallstones and ran lickety-spit for cover in the undergrowth behind the conference room. It mystifies me that despite all our activity (from foundations to flooring) that we found rabbit droppings on the DPM while we were installing the mesh re-inforcement and now find bunnies running around our construction site without so much as a hard hat. Steph reckons that we must have built the shed on one of their tracks – I'm wondering whether in fact we have created the only plentiful supply of clean water hereabouts!
Early in the week I had a meeting with a potential cladding contractor who is quite keen to do the job, based not too far away and whose budget price is much better than our previous best tender. This is encouraging but a quote from another manufacturer of cladding material was not, and we must in the final analysis put on our “Quantity Surveyor” hats and work out an accurate list of cladding sheets and flashings as the two big manufacturers (Tata and Kingspan) will only quote against cutting lists, not outline drawings. So yet again we find ourselves taking on civil engineering roles.
Meanwhile the Works train did not make it to Darley this week – Rob offered to bring the bits of steelwork down on a trailer but having looked ahead at commitments we had (which included Andrew doing an overnight to superintend an e.m.u works move) there didn't seem much point.
During the week Andrew had acquired some nice and (comparatively) new duplex gauges which he planned to use in '901's desk. The four extant pneumatic gauges in the panel were all 0-14 bar, which when used on train pipe or brake cylinder ranges (0-4 or 5) doesn't give much needle movement. The replacements are scaled 0-10 on one needle and 0-7 on the other, giving much better readability. I had the job of swapping them over, having first re-labelled one for each side, and celebrated by installing the new speedo for the No.2 side of the desk, which up to now had only had the dead class 47 one. This new speedo has the aluminium backplate, and as it works satisfactorily, I must in due course open up my first one and substitute an aluminium backplate for the temporary cardboard one.
Oh, and you remember that I hinted last week that 901 might be out to another gala? Only today it was announced that it is spending the 30th -31st weekend running out of Loughborough. Looks like I shall be exploring some new rails – I must admit the only time I have travelled on the GCR it was only running as far as Quorn!
Some time ago we had to pull both Ashdown and James out of action because of leaking water pumps. We had a spare RR pump for James which went out for repair, and because of the length of time it had been in, extracting the old one and replacing it with the new took up a considerable amount of Andrew's time while I had been out driving. In the end, it became necessary to get Ashdown back into operation and this was achieved by a service exchange one for the Gardner. Both pumps having finally been fitted, we filled them up with water and to our chagrin, James' pump proceeded to leak out faster than before! Andrew took the pump back off today, but Ashdown is back in action, at least.
For reasons best known to the rostering department in Matlock, 14 901 and I were rostered for both days this weekend, which did not please Andrew much as he saw it as cutting severely into loco work time. On Saturday, after a quick trip to Chesterfield to collect a tired Andrew back from his overnighter, it was Roy and me, and we started our first run with a passenger, a former BR driver out of Coalville shed who had turned up with a large bag full of workwear. In between our duties we were discussing the merits and demerits of the various classes he had driven, from 20s to 58s. He came out with an interesting opinion, which I had always thought was likely, that a 31 was poorer than a 24 or a 25, in that it dragged around all that extra weight while still only having the traction of the BoBo.
There was a very well organised children's birthday party on Saturday. They had the end coach – next to us – reserved for them, and joined the train at Rowsley, went to Matlock, and back to Darley Dale, where they de-trained and headed into the adjacent park to let the kids run around and wear themselves out. This whole plan was laid out on a printed itinerary passed out to the guests' parents, and which I read through a carriage window. When we came back into Darley next, they were to rejoin the train, sing 'Happy Birthday' and cut a very large birthday cake as we took them back to Rowsley.
As station staff at Darley were thin on the ground, and the loco was nearer than the guard, I hopped off and opened a coach door to shepherd them in. Putting my tongue firmly in my cheek I said -
“Don't forget a piece of birthday cake for the driver”
- as the first ones boarded, unaware that it was the guest of honour and his Dad. A moment later a little face reappeared at the door-
“We won't” - he said, but I thought no more of it other than to get them on and let us depart Darley somewhere near time.
A few minutes after we'd stopped at Rowsley the father came round with large slices of birthday cake for me, Roy and the three on the kettle – and very nice it was too!
In charge of the kettle on Saturday was Jan Ford, a very interesting lady with her own blog (here) who unlike most drivers on Peak Rail drops the vac pipe entirely on arriving at Matlock, until, in her words, 'we have received the token and are thus in charge'. On one trip though she forgot to shut off her brake valve. So when we got the right away I instinctively released my straight air brake without checking the gauges, but instantly knew that something wasn't right. I glanced down and this time saw the vac pipe at 0. Jan must have noticed about the same time, but with 901 having a belt-driven exhauster, we'd have been ages waiting for it to draw out at idle so it was a case of straight air back on, Voith out and rev the engine to speed up the suck machine!
I wasn't looking forward much to today though. For Roy was guard and I had Paul as secondman. Not that I have anything against Paul, rather that it meant I had to drive all 5 runs, whereas with Roy we share it out between us. Not only that, Sunday is Palatine day so I must be on my best behaviour in stopping and starting so as not to launch the soup into passengers laps.
In fact, my first act of the day was to head in to the cafe, where Pete Fisher was on duty again. Yesterday he had pronounced that the insults there were free, so today I walked in and ordered two teas and a bag of insults. Pete apologised that he was temporarily out of stock, but got some freshly delivered later.
But back on the loco the brakes weren't co-operating from the outset. For starters we couldn't get more than 18” but eventually Roy pulled the strings (again) and we recovered to over 20”, which probably means that a release valve was leaking but wasn't audible. But I was having problems all day, as no matter how I tried, I seemed to get braking more severely than I expected. With a motored exhauster or two you can evacuate the pipe quite rapidly – indeed, I must admit to a sneaking admiration for the large ejector on the kettle – but with 901 there's nothing for it but to rev up, which causes you to drive against the brakes but does bring them back off quicker so you can have another go.
And then there's Darley Dale crossing. Southbound the gates are opened only when the train is ready to leave. Northbound the signalman is supposed to spring into action when the train runs over the treadles at the top of the climb at Redhouse. There is a whistle board there for the Redhouse footpath crossing, so just as we get to the treadle I am on the hooters with an extra few toots at the end as I know how well the sound of 901's horns travels. But twice today I ended up coming to a stand at the home, and at least once we came out under the bridge to see cars still going across the crossing.
Of course, in an ideal world I could arrange to go a bit slower, so instead of breasting the top at 22mph, maybe ease back to 17 or 18 and give the old codger a bit more time to get around the gates on his Zimmer frame, but if I do I'll be rolling into Darley a minute or so behind schedule. In contrast, the Church Lane crossing is not so bad – the signalman there can see us starting (I gave him an extra tune – da,da,di.da – “here comes the train” – just in case he had nodded off today) and us crew can see him opening the gates. By the time we're crossing over onto the main line from the loop, he has disappeared and a moment later he can be seen through the box windows pulling first one lock lever, then the protecting signal, and we can let the train roll along at about 9mph (the limit is 10) until we've got the signal, and then the token from the man himself. That is all except the last run of the day, when the signalman, anxious to get off home, has already put the shutters up on the south end windows and we can't see where he has got to!
But in the end we got through the day, with no reports of spilled soups or coffees, and 901 was put back to await another turn in a few days. Andrew and I discussed how he had got on with James and Ashdown, and made our way home. Tomorrow Andrew has a day off and is spending it at Scunthorpe to progress D2128, whereas I am helping the works train down to Darley, followed by more wallstone-ing and maybe some “real” work in between. Maybe.