Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of Strange Skyhooks

27th September 2015

It was all planned out this week. The rails were to be collected from Wirksworth on Thursday, as was the due date for the arrival of the roof-lights, which at least had the advantage of my being at the shed for two reasons rather than one (remember, it requires locos and wagons to be moved to allow access to the forklift). Did it all go to plan?

When we start repositioning the concrete panels, we will need to bed them properly with a course of bricks, mortared into place to accept some of the weight. That much is simple: we have a cement mixer, sand, cement, and even about 90 concrete bricks in stock. But we will need many more and Andrew, with is usual eagle eye on e-bay, had spotted a batch of 50 Staffordshire ones for sale at Tideswell. He'd bid for and won them (for a tenner), Steph passed me a tenner from the housekeeping and despite the fact that I had been away all day and driven over 400 miles, as Andrew was down in Plymouth, I dragged myself over to Tideswell in the evening and collected them, the left-overs from a house extension.

I was a little pooped on Wednesday morning so was having a slow start – half nine and just finishing breakfast when the phone rang. It was the delivery driver for the roof-light company. He was sat outside Darley Dale yard.

I should recap. I had been quite thorough with my delivery requirements. You will recall that I had got on very well with Mrs Breeze. We had agreed a day (Thursday the 24th) and that I would have a minimum of half-an-hours warning (but probably more) to give me time to get down and open-up. But this was Wednesday, and this was without warning. The driver decided he might be due to record a break on his tachograph.

I had started up James and was about to draw a couple of locos out of the shed when he came over to me. He had tried and tried, he said, but the turning circle on his wagon was poor and he had no chance of getting in through the gate, forwards or backwards. To be honest, if I had been there to bank him he might have been able to shuffle in, but without the agreed warning I was still busy clearing things out and being in two places at once is a skill I have yet to master. I took his word for it.

I got through to the manager next door at the Builders Merchants and he agreed to take my roof-lights off, provided they would not be there long. So we got the wagon in there and unloaded. Maybe he did have a point about his turning circle. After unloading him, the forklift driver explained that there was a back exit which he could use to save turning round. It had a barrier to protect it but with a push of a button on a little fob, up went the barrier. My driver made a valiant effort to get his wagon turned and out the exit, but the barrier got back down before he reached it. I found the forklift driver and he pressed his button again.

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Back on the phone, this time to our friendly local HIAB lorry company, I was able to tell him in the first instance that Wirksworth had instead said, rather than just take the 8 rails we'd marked, to take the lot (as they had plenty of other gash bits to make things from) which upped the weight by about 50%, and could he slot in picking up my roof-lights as he came by? He decided to bring the rails forward to today and he'd see me at about 1.30. I was all set when he crossed the level crossing with a toot and I followed him into the builders merchants. On went the roof-lights, a light strap to stop them coming back off unscheduled and they finally made it to the shed, still a day early. I returned home and wrote an e-mail to Mrs Breeze which began 'Oi! Today is the 23rd...'

Now, I would be happy to show you a picture of my roof-lights, the first tangible signs of the cladding, but frankly all there is to see is two large palletised cubes, shrouded in white plastic and with 'DO NOT STACK' stickers prominent. A notice on the end stresses that they should not be unpacked until it is time to fit, lest moisture should get in and cause condensation. Yes, I agree, if moisture can get in while they are still on the ground and fresh from the factory, what good are they up on a bloomin' roof? I am sure there is a good explanation.

On Thursday, not only had I profuse apologies from Mrs Breeze, but an even more grovelling phone call from their Customer Service Department, who professed the hope that I wouldn't hold it against them. The caller seemed crestfallen when I said I was unlikely to do business with them again, but recovered when I explained that this was almost-certainly to be a once-in-a-lifetime project rather than because of their faux-pas.

On Thursday afternoon, I decided I would convert the CAD drawings which I had used to calculate the sheet lengths for my Tata cladding order into an understandable plan for the cladding contractor. And I ended up with a sickening feeling. Somewhere along the way, despite having checked it (I thought) I had managed to omit a line of the cladding schedule from the south end. It wasn't readily obvious because the south end, having the roller shutters, has several short sheets which for simplicity I had added together to make fewer longer ones, but when I came to do a tally up, there were 16 sheets for the north end, but only 13 for the southern. There was nothing to be done that day, so I rang up Tata first thing Friday and no, I cannot add to the order, only place another one subject to their minimum order charge and another delivery cost. Oh b*****r.

I set off for Coverworld at Bramley to pick up the list of bits the cladding contractor had requested. The site is the old Glapwell colliery, just north of the A617 as it heads from junction 29 towards Mansfield. Many years ago I spent an unpleasant morning very near there. At the time Steph and I owned a Mini Countryman estate – our first car – and we had squeezed her Mum and Dad in for a trip. Crossing over the M1 I had felt something strange, but nothing untoward occurred as we headed down the dual carriageway away from the motorway. The hill at the other side however, was something else and the vibration was so severe as to throw it out of gear. We found a phone box and called the AA. The four of us hung around for an hour or more and eventually an AA man came and listened. I could start and stop the engine, no problem, but try to take power from it and the vehicle shook like a compulsive jelly. He decided one of the clutch spigots had gone, and towed me past the colliery to a garage. The garage were (a few days later) amazed. They had never seen an engine which could be started stopped and started again with impunity, even though it had a crankshaft that had fractured into two pieces.

Anyway, the supplier is part of an industrial estate that has replaced the colliery, and I collected my cleading rails, tech screws, anti-condensation sealing tape and plastic caps and made it back to Darley just in time as Mr Strange's wagon was sat waiting to unload. It was a week for things happening early as he was three-quarters of an hour ahead of time. Our weekend hire of their scissor lift was beginning. Indeed, we made a start on Friday night, Andrew revealing that he had driven one of these things while on placement with Manchester Metrolink (it was the first I knew of it, but I wasn't about to complain) but the main attack was over the weekend.

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Saturday saw us working at the north end, and basically the task was to get the uppermost purlin erected (one end bracket to weld in place, then lift the purlin up and see how many of the bolt-holes actually lined up when they had been originally marked out at the bottom of the columns) followed by fitting the little brackets to the ends of the longitudinal roof purlins and welding the cleading rails across to provide some sort of anchor point for the cladding where roof and ends meet. The target was to complete that end on Saturday and the southern end on Sunday. Given that we had had a head start before Saturday began, it should have been easy, but it took us all day.

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Meantime, an e-bay lot of bricks that Andrew had bid for on Tuesday (but lost) came back on a 'second chance' basis and I had accepted. These were reclaimed concrete bricks, so matching the new ones I'd bought (as opposed to the brick-coloured Staffordshire ones from Tideswell) and very cheap, what's more they were on a farm near Barlow, not many miles away. We wrapped up Shed work at 5pm, put the locos away and at 6pm arrived at the farm to collect. The vendor was obviously a bit of a joker. As we climbed out he declared we must be here for the 'wood', but when he saw my face presumably took pity. We loaded all 230 concrete bricks into the van, learning in the process that they had come from a property he'd renovated at Darley Bridge, which is on the west side of the valley barely a mile from the shed, so the bricks were retracing their journey. I tried to redress the balance as we finished, looking straight-faced while saying 'Hang on, that's only 229'. But I was obviously in the presence of a master, as he merely suggested I might like to take them out and count them again.

One of the nice things about this blog is the way people offer kind comments or outright help. Having said we must think about hiring a Stihl saw last week (yes I spelt it wrong), I got the offer of loan of one from an HST member and I was very pleased to accept. We were down at the shed early this morning, moved the locos out and had made a start on the south end when a van arrived, and the Stihl saw was left with us complete with fuel and spare blades. Looks like that job will be happening sooner rather than later.

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I suppose I should explain that my role in all this steelwork has been very much a ground-based one. For starters, the instructions on the scissor lift declare that in the open air only one person plus tools may ascend. (Indoors up to four may do so, presumably the wind-resistance of people makes the difference.) For seconds, should there be a technical problem while he is up there, the emergency manual lowering valve is located at the bottom – if we were both aloft, we could be stuck until Mr Strange returned on Monday to collect the machine. So I have spent much of the weekend moping around at the bottom, dreaming of how it will all look with cladding on, passing the odd forgotten part or tool up via ropes and making sure the mains cable doesn't snag as Andrew scissored up and down.

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Oh, and talk to any passing enthusiast, like the one with camera and note book on the footpath this afternoon:
'Is this a new shed for the Heritage Shunters Trust?'
'Oh, I had these all down as HST locos.'
'- 'Fraid not'
'Are they all Peak Rail's then?'
'Er, no.'
'Pete Waterman's?'
'No: they're mostly Andrew Briddon's'
'Oh, I've heard the name,' he said in a tone that made me think he probably hadn't.

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