On Friday, as I told you, Andrew and I were due our medicals to satisfy Tata that we weren't about to expire on their premises, so leaving grandson to the tender mercies of Steph, we headed over to Scunthorpe. Mark, Geoff and Charles were there before us, undertaking a major refurbishment of the Society's portakabin, replacing rotten wood with sound (and more substantial) timber and rectifying a major leak in the roof which for the last few years has required the strategic positioning of a large waste-basket whenever rain was expected. Andrew went for medical first, and I wandered around admiring this and that until it was my turn. Andrew assured anyone who'd listen that he failed the medical but a thick brown envelope had rectified that problem. I went up, filled out my forms and was duly examined by a nurse who used to live alongside the RHDR near Lydd. My claim to fame was clearing out a large number of redundant Wickham target trollies from Lydd ranges, but anyway -
In summary, my blood pressure was slightly high (but it goes up just as soon as someone puts that black band around my arm and starts pumping it up!) but my weight was OK, my eyesight got through and my hearing was, with the exception of one frequency on the left hand side, well above average for my age. As Andrew confirmed afterwards he'd had the same occurrence on the left hand side, we blame the machine. Now I suppose someone will tell us we have to go through rail driver/shunter training – and I used to train drivers and shunters on industrial set-ups!
While I was away, Andrew had loaded a number of things into the van to bring back, and checked the water pump groove on 03 901. As you may recall, the pulley on the water pump failed last year, we changed it but couldn't get rid of the screaching sound, so changed the belts, and still couldn't. Yet examination last time showed that the belts were rubbing one another, which shouldn't happen. Of course, I had done the natural thing of replacing like-with-like, but although the belts on the engine when we received it were 'A' section, the grooves reveal that they ought to be 'Z'. So I'll call up a new set before we go over again.
By agreement we were to spend Saturday down at Diddles – sorry the Geoffrey Briddon Building – working on 14 901. Andrew returned to his love of pipework, completing the 1inch de-aeration line which goes from bottom to top of the cooler group by the filling point, with a tap at the top which we hope will further enable easy filling of water and escape of air. He then moved on to cleaning off the compressor base, swinging it back in the loco with the forklift following it with the compressor itself. There now only remains one Rolls' cast elbow to rejoin the block and the oil cooler to make the cooling system complete, plus relocating the hand-operated priming pump before we can think about running it again.
For me, I set myself up on the workbench with the header tank. First set-back was the discovery that we had no spray primer. Yes we could have brushed the brackets but it takes much longer to dry and would have prevented installing them that day anyway, so other than checking that the bolts all lined up, they were left for next time.
The outside end of the tank, which will face the cooler group, has the sight gauge and fuel inlet. The fuel overflow line is on the right hand side. On the original tank, I had the inlet and outlet on the same level, which later worried me in that as the fuel cascaded in, it might be aerating, so this time I have sited the inlet about a quarter of the way down. The disadvantage is that I must insert a ball valve on the output of the fuel filters, otherwise changing a filter will empty a quarter tank-full over an unfortunate fitter! A failing on the first tank too was that in my innocence I assumed the fuel could not flow in any faster than it flowed out, so 1/2inch lines served for each. I was wrong, and later discovered the sealed tank was actually pressurising! The inward line is still 1/2inch but the return line is ¾ right into the tank, and a breather on the tank lid will show if the level overtops.
The float valve wants to be away from the incoming flow, so I've put that on the same face as the inlet. Here's the other side of the tank to illustrate. The float valve came without any seals (the sight gauge came with some nice turquoise washers) so I'll put an o-ring between it and the tank wall before finally nipping it up.
With work resumption on the shed getting nearer, we have re-issued the notification to the H&SE and, ever-taking my legal responsibilities as Principal Contractor seriously, I renewed the signage. My original prints were only expected to last 4 or 5 months (like that dirty great PVC banner) and I thought my signboard was waterproof. It wasn't and they all washed away until bits of bleached, crumpled modge were all that remained. The new ones have been laminated, but the sun will bleach them again, given time.
Which reminds me, we had a panic during the week, the owner of Station House – with whom we get on well enough – rang me to say 4 lads were on the yard area. Well 3 were on the footpath and one had climbed over and was noseying his way around the gear on the MR bogie well. Andrew was not long home so we dashed down, but they had left and gone into the Whitworth park. Rob S used to tell us that the only trouble down there was summer holiday evenings.
Today was an excuse to continue grandson's education, and after getting ourselves sorted out, we headed off to the car park at the National Stone Centre, roughly mid-way between the Middleton Top Engine House and the Steeple Grange Light Railway. Over the years that the Briddon family has toured this neck of the woods, we have been saddened to see the state of the 0-4-0DH 'RS8' (a forbear of Andrew's 'Cheedale') once an Avonside 0-4-0ST of 1923 which Tunstead works rebuilt into a diesel hydraulic with a SCG RF25 gearbox, CO10000 converter and Rolls C6 engine in 1960. Given that this was contemporary with the first Sentinels, you might wonder why they went to all that trouble, but dieselisation of industrial railways was in full swing and demand probably exceeded capacity. Besides, the Tunstead drivers had clear views of what they wanted (pun intended) with a very high cab floor level and sloping casing.
But as I say, it was once reasonably complete – now the radiator core has gone, all the copper pipework has been ripped out, as has the dynamo and the converter filter bowl. And despite signs saying not to climb on it, the gentleman depicted climbing down below had just been standing on the casings and other parents could be seen assisting their children climbing up the steps. It is an odd loco with a peculiar pedigree, but surely it deserves better?
Today was an operating day at the Middleton engine house, not on steam of course, but on compressed air. The 1829 Butterley Engineering installation comprises two beam engines driving a common shaft and until 1963 hauled wagons up and down the 1 in 8.5 incline (from 1926, maximum 2 loaded down and 5 empty up as per the LMSR instructions on display). While the machine is running, you are free to walk around an upper gallery, which certainly enables you to get up close and personal with the beams, running at about 11 strokes per minute.
After a little while they stop it, and you can come into the lower reaches and admire the machines even closer. The only major modification during its working life came with the change from chains to wire rope. The rope tended to slip, so an additional grooved idler wheel was installed to provide greater contact area. That doesn't sound like much, but that idler is virtually the full height of the beam engines.
That's me pictured (below) through the idler wheel, trying to look all cute and angelic.
The engines operate at a mere 4 or 5 psi, and even that made the floor shake. The operator explained that with steam and the extra benefit of condensing the steam as it hits the cold cylinder, creating vacuum and drawing the piston back at the end of the power stroke, the engines would run at up to 40 strokes per minute – which must have been really something! No wonder James Watt, accreditted with inventing the steam engine, actually used his patents and influence to hold back steam development, fearful that high pressure steam (which then only meant 5 or 10 times what he was making use of) would be a danger to mankind.
Going down the Middleton incline is a litle easier than going up, and a quarter of a mile further brought us to the 18inch Steeple Grange Light Railway. Back in the mid 1970s, I was seriously looking to build a 2ft gauge line in the Peak District, and though I didn't consider the branch from Steeple Grange I did try for what would have been a similar set-up on the trackbed of the Hoptonwood branch at the bottom of the Hopton incline. But it needed a quarry area to work and Tarmac, I think it was, turned me down flat. At the time the quarry was derelict but last time I passed it is in use again.
Anyway, Steeple Grange was celebrating its 30th birthday this wekeend, with as many locos out as possible and there was even a cake, with iced manrider and battery electric loco running around the outside. As an 18inch gauge line they have a number of mining locos of that gauge which are battery electrics, but several i.c. locos, including 'ZM32', the former BR-owned Ruston built for Horwich works. ZM32 and I have met before, at Rich Morris' house in Kent when its odd gauge was a nuisance and it was to be regauged to 2ft. There is a Lister here, which I didn't realise until later, was another I'd met in the past, this time at Clay Cross, where the Spun Pipe plant passed product from stage to stage on railways each with a loco. This particular one was bought as a kit of parts and assembled at Clay Cross on 2ft gauge, but now as 'Lizzie' is running with an uncharacteristic casing.
But another loco struck a bell, for no less than 2 Hibberd 'Y' types are here, 1881 ( again one from the Rich Morris fleet in the past) but another, much later one (4008 of 1963) with a Lister engine which resulted in a peculiar casing design. Now named ULLR, it is not long restored to operation. Back in 1971, on a late night gricing tour in the days when there were rail operations to be griced in North London, 4008 was working for a firm called Sanders & Foster. The light was failing when we got there and the loco was in its shed, and this (below) was the only photo I got. And if I can be allowed to name-drop a little further, not only is that Rich Morris' shoes and trouser leg creeping in on the left. But Andrew Wilson, he of the 'Wasp' self-built motorised trolley and assiduous collector of useful bits for the TR, over on the right.
The lines over which the SGLR run are both s.g. industrial spurs off the C&HPR. The main line starts roughly north west and then turns sort of due west and parallel to the C&HPR up to the former Hoptonwoodstone quarry (not the same quarry as the one I referred to) high behind Middleton village. The initial climb though is a fearful 1 in 27 or 28, and the combination of that, mining locos which are seldom fitted with sanders and the close rock walls of the cutting combine to make for poor rail adhesion conditions. A big brake tender provides train air for the manriders, but ZM32 provides assist by banking, even though both may end up slipping together. For this it carries a device with a distinctly nautical air.
At present the line goes roughly half way, just over a 'new' road to an industrial estate, which, as it is closed at weekends, does not pose any issues with marauding 38ton lorries and miniscule 18inch trains, although just in case, the Give Way signs face the railway(!). Beyond here the trackbed has been degraded by removal of stone for building purposes and requires much building up (this time last year we offered them some surplus from Darley, but they never took us up on it).
Back at Steeple Grange, a second line goes off due west and alongside the CHPR, before turning slightly away into an more recent quarry, but nonetheless abandoned. Being much flatter it does not require train brake, so two adapted skip frames and a 1.75ton Clayton called PETER (what, after me? I don't think so) suffice. A lecture on the stone and appearance of fossilised remains was not to grandson's taste, so we came back fairly soon.
All in all it was a most pleasant interlude and landing at the SGLR at the time of cake-cutting was a bonus. The Chairman, who has apparently had the job for the first 30 years, insists he will not be there at the next 30th as he hopes they will have found someone more suitable by then! It all made me ponder. I have this hankering to build a 15inch loco after my visit to the Sherwood Forest line – maybe with a bit of care I could make it 15 or 18inch gauge interchangeable. Pete Briddon. Have loco, will travel.
Have a good week.
From Mark Hambly: Hello, I'm a regular follower of Weekend Rails. Interesting to see within your most recent post the Stone Centre Avonside. It has certainly deteriorated further (i.e. had more stolen from it) since I last saw it. I did suggest to the committee of the the Industrial Railway Society some time back that the IRS should "sponsor" a cosmetic repaint of this (and potentially other un-loved plinthed industrials). I and others were willing to liaise with the Stone Centre and to do the paint job but sadly the IRS committee did not seem to share my interest on this occasion and seemed to be of the view that it would eventually be scrapped and so there was little point. Oh well