Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of Mercs and miles

2nd April 2017

I have had the feeling over the years that a lot of railway enthusiasts also have a partiality to Land Rovers. I used to put this down to them being the nearest thing to a loco on rubber tyres, but then in the 1980s I discovered minilok, and realised that they had a long way to match up. You'll know if you've stuck with this blog for any length of time that we've had two Land Rovers, a short wheelbase that lingered in our garage from about 1986 and finally was sold when we left Briddon Towers, and a long wheelbase Defender that Andrew bought from RMS Locotec and finally left in a container for the USA. But once you've owned a Landy, not possessing one leaves a hole, and when Steph declared she'd like another in place of her Micra sometime, we needed no further excuse...

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But it's been a packed week this week. It started, as most weeks do admittedly, with Monday, when I set off south to Ilkeston to collect our meagre winnings from the auction. Then I hit the M1 back north to Sheffield to collect our repaired Hydralite and then over the Woodhead pass to Manchester and on up to Bolton to collect some traditional pigeon hole type racking. The van came back quite heavy and rattling and banging all the way (but no 'coo-ing'). The racking – which of course was bought through ebay, but you didn't need me to tell you that, did you? - had been acquired for no better reason than it ought to fit in the gap between the racking we bought through ebay from Dudley (left) and the racking we bought through ebay from a firm in Oldham (right). And so it does.

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Late on Monday a message came through. You remember that I said last week that I had been pipped in the last few seconds to something on e-bay on Friday? Well, it was a rolling Land Rover chassis, with V5, but the auction winner had backed out and instead we were offered it. So we said yes and added yet another project to the list. (It won't, ironically, be the first Land Rover to be worked on in the Geoffrey Briddon Building, but that's quite another story...).

I had a meeting planned on Wednesday at 10 o'clock for the man from Tarmac, bringing with him an engineer from the quarry to discuss exactly how the job of overhauling RS8 was going to be handled. The Tarmac man – Reg – arrived ten minutes early as I was still shunting RS8 out from the adjacent siding, but his engineer – Craig – had had difficulty finding the site. As Reg had accidentally left his mobile on his desk back in his office, poor Craig had no contact number, so after twenty minutes Reg rang the switchboard and left them my number to call in to, and within a few more minutes Craig, who had been sat outside Rowsley station, arrived at Darley Dale and insisted that he'd been here at five to ten at the station car park entrance but not seen Reg's car nor our shed! Hey ho, I had prepared a couple of summary job sheets under the main headings and we went through them.

While it would be nice to have had minibus-fulls of apprentices turning up at Darley Dale, from a cost-efficiency point of view it would subtract a lot of man-hours in travel time. Therefore the plan has been devised whereby we strip it at Darley Dale, send the bits either direct or via a local shotblasters up to Tunstead, and the loco will be reassembled in the very workshops where it was transformed from humble saddle-tank into customised diesel-hydraulic over half a century ago. Tarmac have already given orders for the area, now no longer rail connected but with track still in place over the pit, to be cleared in readiness. Although Cheedale has come from Great Rocks Dale (Tunstead) to Rowsley in the southerly direction, this must be the first s.g. loco to go from Darley Dale north to Great Rocks Dale since the original line closed in the '60s.

There was a 'do' on a Ted McAvoy's at Dove Holes on Wednesday, and I already had a party of 4 booked to visit the shed in the afternoon after Ted's finished. But the event must have been bigger than I thought because at lunchtime I had a text from an old friend (and regular reader) Stuart to ask if he and a few others could pop in on their return journey. Well I hadn't anything else planned that day so I readily agreed, returning rather earlier from lunch at the Briddon Country Pile and congratulating myself on having taken down a full 4pt carton of milk that morning. I did the full tour, and as the trains weren't running viewed the long siding from the main line side, in the course of which I found a watch lying by the sleeper ends. Sadly not the Casio that escaped out of 14 901's window while I was second-manning in 2014, but likely lost in much the same way. Instinctively I reset it from GMT to BST – no, I don't know why either.

Now, Stuart, as a kind, generous, dedicated reader, knew exactly what our donation tin looked like, so sought it out and he and his colleagues (which incidentally included his son, who, with his father on a visit to see me in the YEC offices about 17 years ago, I picked up and sat on my knee: I would not attempt that today) were about to depart, and I waited at the gateway for the second party, now swelled to 6, and taking an inordinately long time to drive from Rowsley, informed me that they had made a donation and left the tin in a prominent place where the next group couldn't fail to see it.

Group 2 had come up from South Wales and Bristol in two cars, and I carried out the second tour of the day and finished handing out the loco-lists I had left over from the Phoenix Railtour visit. The group included Pete Nicholson – who writes the classic traction pages for Railway Magazine, and occasionally remembers to read this blog. The group organiser did make a disparaging remark about the appearance of RS8 to me, but I think realised a moment later – as I deliberately turned my tone of voice down on the thermostat – that it had not been a very diplomatic thing to say! As the tour finished, I swallowed any pride and said that if they could find it in their hearts to put a penny or two our way, they'd find a donation tin in the shed. They filed in without complaint, walking straight past the 'prominent' donation tin Stuart had left out but found instead a baby-food tin that Team Frod left months ago. Never mind, every penny helps.

Reg rang through during the afternoon, could he come back on Friday and as Tarmac wanted to develop publicity, would we mind if 'Discover Buxton' came to see us. Now, but for the fact that I had been directed to their website a few months ago I would almost certainly have retorted that I was unaware that Buxton had gone missing, but it is in fact a voluntary organisation that promotes the history of the town through tours on a converted milk-float and produces a pod-cast every six to eight weeks. Netta, the organiser, rang me half an hour later and arranged that she and her sound-recordist-man, Mike (yeah, what other name could he have?) visit on Friday.

Thursday was occupied with trying to earn a few bob and contemplating what to say, not say, and how to say what I felt I could say, on Friday.

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As I had left RS8 out over by the shed there was no reason to shunt on Friday morning and I was ready long before Reg arrived, and seeing Dave L., the Darley Stationmaster, on the platform went over and handed in the lost timepiece. I was gossiping with him when Reg arrived, complete with photographer, to record the condition of RS8 for the planned website that will trace its restoration back at the quarry. Steph had re-arranged her day to join me as her part in the story of securing RS8's future was just as important as mine. Reg and his photographer departed just after Netta and Mike arrived, and we spent the next hour or more recording the story of RS8, not to mention that of Charlie and its part in Murder on the Orient Express, Andrew's collection, the origin of the diesel engine, the building of the Geoffrey Briddon Building and so on, but must all be edited down to maybe 30 seconds in the next pod-cast. I promise I will give you the links to the new Tarmac RS8 website, and Discover Buxton's podcast, as soon as I have them.

So, the re-birth of RS8 is beginning, and I daresay I'll be allocating one day a week to going up to Tunstead and overseeing progress. But in the meantime I've got to do some measuring - the rear engine mounts are the obsolete Metalastik type that must be replaced with new brackets and current a/v mounts, there's an instrument panel to draw up, a new mounting for an exhauster to replace the one that went missing long ago, electrical and pneumatic schemes to draw up, and if all this is to happen, RS8 itself must be stripped and away by the end of May – Team Frod have already been called to arms.

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Friday evening Andrew collected a long wheelbase Sprinter van for the weekend and on Saturday morning we set off with a few bits and bobs for Wansford. Andrew had bought a few things from Dave H, including a block for a Rolls-Royce C8, and as they were really a bit too much for our smaller van, the higher capacity Merc was the choice. Included in the hoard were a couple of very high powered 24volt alternators which I have in mind for another loco project ( a suitable traction motor arrived - in bits- some months ago) and a torque converter and engine flywheel destined for Swanwick Junction, so our return route was round that way to unload at the machine shop. On returning to Darley Dale, we spent an hour in the shed getting things moved so as to be able to access the front of the shed with the forklift on the Sunday morning to unload the heavier lumps from the Merc -

-and another heavy lump which arrived on the back of a car recovery trailer on Sunday morning with Toby up front. This was a Rolls-Royce C6T which had been stored at Toby's Dad's but was getting in the way, Getting all this off took rather longer than planned, so it was 11 before we headed off in the general direction of Wales. Our first call was at a little hamlet up a long, twisty, steep and narrow lane north-west of Corwen. Here we collected a length of heavy section RSJ from somebody's front lawn and then headed back to Llangollen.

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For some months now an engine turnover stand has been sat waiting for us at Pentre Felin sidings, on loan from friend and regular reader Neil W. By the time we got there it was getting on for 3pm and loading involved scaffold planks, toe jack and Tirfor. It was getting on for 4pm before we hit the road back east.

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By the time we got to Darley Toby had returned – or limped – with the Land Rover chassis which was duly unloaded after which we set about unloading the Merc. For the moment it is stored outside, the Merc swept clean and ready for return in the morning. Just another weekend in the wonderful world of Briddon.

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Finally. I have had several people tell me that they haven't had reply to e-mails sent via the Weekend Rails website. We have now got to the bottom of it and found a number of messages stuck in limbo. So my apologies if you have been expecting a reply but not seen one – I will catch up in the next day or so.

More in this category: Of gifts and gears »

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