Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of Exodus

31 May 15

I picked the title this week and wondered whether to start off with a “hell fire and brimstone” sermon. You know the sort of thing, you can find it on obscure satellite and cable channels, with some smartly-suited guy sat behind a desk, pronouncing how Man has lost his way and only by following the word of the Lord (or his interpretation of it) in the 'good book' (pick title of yours or his choices) can we redeem ourselves and gain ever-lasting salvation. (And there's a thought, we all know what is meant by the “good book”, but what would we understand to be meant by a “bad book”?) But then sermons aren't really my style. Meandering reminiscences, technical dissertations, maybe, but sermonising on Weekend Rails? Hardly.

The AFRPS are one of those awkward so-and-so groups that hold their AGM on a Wednesday. If all their members were local, it would hardly be an inconvenience, just pop along after tea, but to get there for 7pm on a workday evening has previously been Out of the Question. But this year, for various reasons, we were cajoled into promising to attend.

In fact we got there an hour or so in advance, with the various bits to make the newly acquired MIG welder functional. While I changed the plug on the extension cable that had come with it from 5 pin to 4, Andrew set up gas bottle, regulator and flow valve onto the gas supply and advanced the wire through to the torch. First welds were a little poor (he'd turned the gas off while he fed the wire thru' and forgotten to turn it back on) but after that he started laying beads down gash bits of steel and pronounced himself satisfied. We have agreed between ourselves to refer to the three units as the Big MIG, Middle MIG and Small MIG, as rather like the Three Bears there'll be one somewhere just right for each task.

The team were working full-tilt on 1382 (it has been allocated a name but the spellings of it are not yet entirely consistent) and had sort-of had it move under its own power, albeit a merest creep as the excitation relies heavily on the engine's 24V dynamo and this, it seems, was defunct. They were borrowing the dynamo from “Arnold Machin” and should have more luck in due course.

But anyway, just before seven pm we changed back into reasonably smart garb and headed up to a conference room in one of the main offices for our AGM. The Chairman, having retired from Tata, during the year had considered himself at one time to be ready to hand-over, but had been persuaded to stay on, it being argued that (a) he was a good Chairman, and (b) that having left the steelworks employ he could not be leant on and would be even more impartial than before (pedants among you will probably declare that there cannot be degrees of impartiality, and you're probably right, but you know what I'm getting at). The Steam Loco Co-ordinator stood down due to ill-health and imminent emigration to Australia (an excuse the Chairman hadn't thought of) and as the AFRPS doesn't have a working steam loco of its own, and does not see that changing in the next few years (the Society's Tkh “Hutnick” 0-6-0T has a boiler in bits and no funds to rebuild it) the post was left un-filled. But Co-ordinators for rolling stock and diesel locos (I say “Co-ordinator” as that's the term used but in a sense they are Section heads, although the group is not so compartmentalised) changed around but the team remains the same. And finally all those who hadn't been recorded as having done the Tata Rail Traffic Induction video – which included me – sat through and completed a questionaire. It was surprising though that for all the thoroughness of the video, the one thing that went unmentioned is that every loco is radio controlled on steelworks traffic and therefore the driver might not even be on it when it moves.

Late last week Andrew received a letter from solicitors acting for Peak Rail informing him that the locos present in and near the shed were there “unlawfully” and unless removed forthwith they would be charging £35 per loco per day for storage. That they wrote to Andrew direct rather than to our solicitor (who has written to Peak Rail plc repeatedly over the last few months but without getting a response) is a trifle odd and I will leave you to judge whether the presence of Andrew's locos should be classed as “unlawful”. Nevertheless, it was decided to get them moved down to Darley Dale at the earliest opportunity.

As I have previously said, it was our intention to move things down in an orderly manner, and preferably once the building was weather-tight (leaving space therefore for all the materials that must be delivered to site before this was achieved), but in a legal position such as this needs must and on Thursday afternoon we lowered a loco back on to its wheels so that the Matterson jacks can be collected on Monday.

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On Friday, after Andrew had attended a medical appointment, Harvey C joined as Pilot and James propelled an empty wagon (Peak Rail's, but had had bits of ours on it so brought down to Darley for unloading) back to Rowsley, where Andrew met up with us. We spent some time shunting the yard (the weather forecast was for rain later, so better do as much as we could whilst the sun shone) and eventually formed a train up of seven locos, comprising Ashdown, Cheedale, a gronk, Grace, D9500, the Brush and Coronation.

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Had the rails been wet or slippery, we would have taken these in two halves, but as the track was dry I went for it one go, relying on the stiffness of some of the locos and careful, early braking to ensure stops well before crossing gates on the way. (And Andrew again riding the rear loco as brakesman if I needed it). With the rake dropped into the first line at Darley, we headed back up with James.

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Two locos were considered a serious risk for movement. Indeed, one of them – a commercial job of mine – has a failed wheelbearing and must now make the transfer by road. The other was the NB 0-6-0, which, having no engine in the front section and the Voith/final drive/jackshaft over and behind the rear axle, was considered seriously out of balance and therefore with a strong possibility of it derailing. It had thus been given a “Loco Unfit not to be moved” sticker and a Locked Safety Scotch fitted, although this had not stopped Peak Rail removing the latter by forcing the padlock. The second portion of equipment to move comprised this loco, Yorkshire “Jack” and the Midland bogie well wagon, the latter having significant buffing gear defects, being grouped together for this reason.

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As I brought the two locos out of their siding, with the well wagon between James and the NB, I had assumed that the leading wagon would help guide the NB, but as I looked back after checking the road ahead, I could see a cloud of dust and Andrew's Stop signal. The leading (least loaded) axle on the NB had ridden up on a trailing point and gone over the rail. Harvey later conceded that they had had trouble with that particular spot before, the stock rail and blade being visibly higher than the opposite side. With our jacks mostly at the Briddon Country Pile or Darley, we had merely a 20ton bottle jack of our own to hand, but Harvey produced a “Duff” jack and with loads of timber and a few bits of steel plate, we began lifting and slewing.

I have always had a cautious regard for Duff jacks and their ilk. These are ratchet mechanical jacks where the operator leans on a long lever that sticks out away from the jack. Years ago I assisted in moving some n.g. steam locos with a low-loader of the old rear-wheel drop-out variety, and the driver went to great pains to stress the dangers of the type. He had, he said, been on a job with someone who had been working with such a jack, the lever had sprung up, caught him under the chin and pulled out his jaw. This story had left a lasting impression on a much-younger me, and I would rather use a Hydralite any day. But I found myself on the end of a crowbar on the Duff jack and sure enough it slipped, and I ended up with a split lip. Those of you who know my strong dislike for blood, particularly mine and especially when it is outside, rather than inside out of sight, may have sympathy for how I felt.

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Eventually the NB was re-railed, and, as this was what I believe is termed a matter of “legal duress”, we brought the 3 items carefully out of the siding, added them to Libby which we'd shunted out earlier and ran round them. Gingerly I drove over the various turnouts, and gently down to Church Lane, after which Harvey peered closely at the wheelset that had deigned to leave the rails. I went to look, and sure enough, the front left wheel was not actually touching the rails – with so little weight on it, the axlebox was sticking in the hornguide.

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At Darley Dale I decided to split them. Libby and Jack went into the second road, and I then attempted to bring the NB and the bogie well wagon in together. The first (facing) turnout leaving the main line was the most worrying, but it took that without incident. The second facing turnout, another right hander, was a different matter. It is shall we say, of rather lower quality, though quite adequate for our purposes normally, but the NB rode straight up and Harvey had stopped me with the flange on top of the rail. By now it was 7pm, Andrew had left us at Rowsley so as to see his son to bed and I had had about enough. We had cleared the crossover from the main line so rather than risk fouling the main, we reset it to the headshunt, pulled the NB back on to the track and then propelled down into the first track, where at least it was straight, parked James away and went home. On Saturday evening, after the train service had finished, we fired James up and re-arranged things. First Andrew made some effort to get more weight to act on the front axle. Although I had assumed that having a wagon in advance of the NB would help guide it, it might be that in fact the reverse was true, as having placed the well wagon out the way, the NB negotiated the right-hand turnout without hassle (but very, very cautiously!) and was parked by the buffer stops where it will probably remain for a year or two. Libby, Jack and the well wagon were placed on top, and Cheedale brought into the shed ready for attention, with James and Ashdown parked outside with the container for protection.

For something entirely different today we were on rails rather narrower. I had been suggesting that we should try out the Sherwood Forest Railway, a 15” gauge line some three-quarters of an hour away from the Briddon Country Pile, as the locos would be “grandson-sized”. It may of course be that it is already too late and he will only be interested in s.g or models of them, but I believe in exploring and expanding his tastes.

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Located between Mansfield Woodhouse and Edwinstowe, the SFR is a line on virgin ground, once an adjunct to a Farming centre but now going it alone. It starts down one side of a small valley (that is really an exaggeration, a 'dell' might be truer word) from a station named Loxley through a tunnel built out of steel sections recovered from a colliery around the bottom and back to a station named Wheldale. From here it can, and probably will in due course, run further. From just after the tunnel a branch runs back to what used to be an aviary in the Farm Park days, but has been converted into a stock shed.

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Motive power today was a scale model of a Kerr Stuart “Wren”, (itself at 6 x 9 cylinders a small enough loco before you start scaling it!) named “Pet”, evoking the names given to works locos at Horwich or Beyers. The other steam loco too is an n.g proportioned saddle tank, which has always attracted me to the line, given my long-standing n.g bias. The SFR is hardly in a tourist zone (maybe why the Farm park closed?) so aims to be a day out for families with children (and preferably small ones: two adults side-by-side is “cosy” in the carriages and 4 to a compartment requires a Method Statement to get in and out with interlocking knees). But for a day-out visit it works well, since as much space is dedicated to children's play areas as the railway, yet the fare (£2 per person over 1 year old) includes access to the slides, climbing frames and even a zip wire for younger and older children. Today was a bit cold in the wind, so our visit was limited to a couple of hours, but I think we will be back again and could spend many enjoyable hours on a warmer day. I wish it good fortune, and yes, it has awoken an old desire to build a 15” gauge diesel....

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