Weekend Rails

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Of well wagons and coach parties

Of well wagons and coach parties

26th October 2014

The clocks have gone back, the atmosphere has turned distinctly autumnal, and on the final run of today's trains with 14 901, I turned the headlamp from “Day” to “Night”. Darley Dale looked almost Christmassy with its station lamps lit as we went through south bound.

But I am getting ahead of myself. As I said last week, we had something due in last Thursday but I didn't tell you what it was. Now I can.

As you all know, it is not unusual for us to trawl the digital dungeons that are e-bay. Some weeks ago, Andrew landed on a page and did a double-take, for there was a standard gauge bogie well wagon.

Back in the days when I operated Yorkshire Engine company out of Long Marston, we had had access to what was called a “warwell”, which was a 50ton capacity well wagon built in the 1940s for carrying tanks to and from the invasion ports. Massively built, with diamond frame bogies and jacking screws over each rail, you would buffer a rake of them up to a special buffer stop (there were several at 'Marston, although it was not really an armourments depot. Each had concrete ramps up to the ends and drawhooks set into the concrete so you could literally couple the warwell to the 'stop) and your tanks would drive up the ramp, onto the first wagon and bounce down and up the train to the farthest empty warwell. Actually, writing this reminded me of a tale I was told, probably on a day at Kineton, of an upper-class officer on a tank losing an argument with the NCO in charge of loading a rake of warwells. It was nightime, but the buffers end was lit. Getting all huffy with the NCO, the officer ordered his tank forward, and the NCO watched as it disappeared into the gloom, down into the first warwell, up the far side and down onto the second, up the far end and down into the third, and so on until it merged into the night. Then there was a crash. The upper-class officer had neglected to count the wagons and had driven straight off the far end onto the track...

But anyway, this warwell we had access to was frequently used to move chassis of locos around the site, or to be more specific, moving a chassis out of the way while we worked on something else. On one occasion, we loaded a complete 60ton 600bhp Steelman 0-6-0 (less wheelsets so about 53tons) as I had promised the 5199 group that they could rewheel their GW 2-6-2T of said number that weekend; but the Steelman had to be shunted very carefully as the nett CofG was distinctly higher than a tank. Consequently Andrew has had aspirations of acquiring a Warwell (a) to give us flexibility at Darley Dale and (b) for additional fun with the Warring 40s events in the future. (No, not driving tanks off the end, the owners wouldn't be impressed).

So as I was saying, there was this bogie well wagon on e-bay. The vendor's name we recognised, it was a gentleman we had met before. Years ago he was running a petrol station near Chester and had a Hibberd Planet 4wDH loco parked there. It was one I had owned in YEC days, in fact had once been shunting at Cheriton terminal on hire from YEC, and having come from Tees Storage in Middlesborough, was known to us as “Teesmaid”. Later still he had had a load of spare parts for sale and we had won them from him on e-bay and met up with him again to collect.

So we followed the advert up, indeed, I was speaking to him as we drove across to Apedale in September. He remembered us, and as a result we were promised 'first refusal' as he wanted to see it preserved and our credentials were established. No it isn't a warwell, but after consulting with Dr Ben Riley and a site visit to Crewe, where it was standing, the deal was concluded for a Midland Railway bogie well wagon the sole survivor of two built in 1913.

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How had it survived? Well, our suspicion from the modifications made to it is that it was retained to transport Sulzer engines from Crewe to Barrow in Furness, where Vickers' shipyards held the contract for rebuilding them for BR. In those days, Crewe was the centre of diesel loco overhaul, but that was then, and today Bombardier is clearing out of Crewe works. The bogie well wagon had been parked up on a siding for a number of years (it could be spied on Google Earth) but our wandering enthusiast had seen it, and agreed a price with Bombardier to save it. He had no aspirations of doing so himself.

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Apart from inspecting said wagon, Andrew also found various items which were no longer required, including 4 loco stands. These too were acquired from Bombardier, with two earmarked for Darley Dale and two for Dr Ben.

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Once the paperworks on all this had been processed, a date of the 23rd October was agreed with Peak Rail and all parties notified accordingly.  For myself, I was not planning to go to Crewe, but aimed to  be at Rowsley to see it off.

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Now, one of the things I learned this summer, when laying concrete, is to use a vibrator to make it set harder. No, I don't mean one of those things you buy from Ann Summers, but a much bigger lump than goes on the end of an air line. We never got round to using it at Darley (it took us so long to spread the stuff out that it was tending to have set before we'd finished) but I was aware of its anticipated effects. On my (currently) weekly visit to the Northern General Hospital on Wednesday, I was given an ultrasound examination of my lower abdomen. And d'you know, think the vibration had a similar effect on my bowels. Suffice it to say that after all the anticipation, I did not make it to Rowsley - or anywhere outside come to that – on Thursday.

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I believe I said last week that we had planned to carry on with blockwork on the 25th, but events conspired otherwise, with me rostered and Andrew looking after his son, it didn't seem quite fair to leave it all to Steph and Rob so we put it off.

14 901 was booked out both Saturday and Sunday with me and Roy and it has been quite fun. On the negative side the set was back to 7 coaches, which means that 901 is off the platform end at both Rowsley and Matlock. From our point of view it was the last weekend with 5 return trips – from the end of October it drops to four – and the last one of the day has, you may recall, been the most problematic, as it is/was an extremely tight connection at Matlock with the East Midlands service, with only a two minute stop allowed at Darley.

Saturday was the last day of the illuminations at Matlock Bath this year, and one reason for returning the 7th carriage to the rake was that the last train of the day had a large party booked on, breaking their journey to Matlock Bath with a steam train ride. This party was so large that no less than 4 of our rake were reserved for this last departure, and with the two dining vehicles locked off anyway, that left just one coach for the general public. As we rolled back in to Rowsley at the end of trip number four, the platform was filled with people, and 3 motor coaches were in the car park. On these occasions you get a little apprehensive as you bring the train into the platform, lest anyone gets too close to the edge, so we drove in gently. The passengers were all brought on board in an orderly fashion, and dead on time at 16.13, Guard “K” waved his flag and with “Lord Phil “ at the front and us dragging up the rear, we set off.

As usual I was watching proceedings from the cab of 901, and a slick station stop it was too. Since it takes almost 2 minutes for the Darley signalman to open the two big gates, return to the box and pull off the starter, pick up the token and get back to the middle to pass it to the departing loco, you need to be giving the “ready to depart” signal to him almost as soon as you arrive and you don't really want anyone joining the train.

Stationmaster “B” had given the “ready to depart” signal to the signalman, and the gates were opening, Guard K was poised by the van door with his flag in his hands, when onto the platform came three or four people. Stationmaster B hastily intercepted, and after a few words turned and gave a clear “Stop” signal to K. By now the three or four had grown to 6 or 8. K was clearly unimpressed and threw his flag on the floor in disgust.

The 6 or 8 swelled to twenty or thirty, and as the reserved carriages were the rear four, they had to be shepherded all the way up the platform and into the train, and no amount of cajoling or pleading seemed to make them go any faster. Our two minute station stop must have grown to 8 or 10 before finally the green flag was waved and we set off for Matlock.

At Matlock, I got off the loco and walked up to the platform.
“Was that it?” asked a woman whom I recognised had only just got on at Darley.
“Yes,” I answered as diplomatically as I could “ you got on half-way down”
“That stupid driver” she railed, “just ignored his satnav and didn't know where he was going”.
I recalled the face of what must have been the coach-driver, smiling with relief as he stood by the crossing gates at Darley. I wonder what they said to him later.

There was another birthday party for a 4 year old on the train today, shame no cake for the loco driver(s) this time but I suppose you can't have everything. I know he or she must have been 4 as the guests all got off with balloons so adorned. One child clearly hadn't got that good a grip and from the platform we watched the balloon rise and twirl in the cool breeze until it disappeared into cloud. There had been a minor crisis first thing – the pump that delivers the water for “Lord Phil” wouldn't start and there were all sorts of ideas like swapping the locos end from end so that the Austerity could collect from the north end tank wagon, but it all turned out to be that no-one had checked whether the pump engine had any petrol in it and once refreshed, off it went, filling the saddle tank and watering the grass at the same time. Down at Darley a working party continued work on the turnout in the yard and later were seen reinforcing the fencing alongside the footpath to discourage the trespassing that occurs from Redhouse to Warney Brook. Autumn in Derbyshire.

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