As I said, we were off again on Monday, and this time in an unusual direction. I picked Andrew up and we drive together westward to Llanyblodwell, arriving a couple of minutes behind Andy H, who had driven eastward from a brief vacation in Penrhyndeudraeth. I had loaded up both the generator and battery charger, but also a pair of of batteries, which, after a slight crisis over a corroded battery terminal, enabled Claire to start up.
Claire was one of 3 Hudswell 0-4-0DHs that Andrew owned. Originally when the Shropshire Collection was sold in toto, a few locos were not required. We returned to inspect two, but couldn't make our minds up as to which was the better. So we offered a price for one, or a bit more for both, and Claire and Grace joined the collection. Only later when we researched their histories did we discover that Grace had been the last s.g. HC diesel to be completed. Later on news came through that a third of the same would be scrapped if no-one came forward, and having by now been quite impressed with the two Andrew had, Beverley was added.
Claire was got running at Long Marston and for a while RMS Locotec hired it for Plasmor. After it came to Peak Rail (we did incidental footage on it before filming Scrapheap Challenge) but then moved on to Snibston. The HC braking could be quite fierce, and on one occasion, they claimed, the brakes 'failed' (they never had before nor since) and we were told to remove it – to this day I suspect it was an icy rail and Claire had simply locked up. Anyway Claire came to the EVR, where it was used as works loco but we had trouble with the front left hand bearing running hot, traced down to a worn-out oiler pad. EVR staff claimed that it couldn't be driven down the line without the converter overheating: so I took it and a works train all the way to Duffield and back, monitoring the converter temperature throughout. Yes, it required a bit of care (we planned to change the converter cooling as we later did with Beverley) but it did us no favours and the loco was moved again, this time to Llanyblodwell.
Then in 2010 Andrew decided that he had too many locos in too many far-flung places, and a downsizing was put in hand. Kimberley, Claire and Jana, all housed at Llanyblodwell, were sold. Wind the clock forward and Claire, now sporting green livery, was advertised for sale in 'Old Glory' magazine. Apart from claiming the loco was built in 1967 and had a turbocharged engine (it was ex works in late 1970 and the Cummins is supercharged) it was unmistakably Claire but the loco had changed hands without honouring the previous owner's promise to give Andrew first refusal. Anyway, Claire was repurchased and as the site at Llanyblodwell is inactive (since the two main Cambrian groups have buried the hatchet and now look to be within striking distance of creating a real railway into Oswestry) Andrew had decided we ought to think about recovering Claire and the one 'loco' he still has there, the part-Hunslet, part-Thomas Hill 0-4-0.
But a side effect of the volunteers no longer doing much at Llanyblodwell, and the appearance of another group – the Tanat Valley – who have bought the Nantmawr branch up to and into the quarry, is that the loading area is under TVR control and requires extra liaison, plus the undergrowth along the line at Llanyblodwell has not been cut back.
With Claire started up we proceeded slowly along the loop line, me driving, the two Andrews armed with loppers snipping away at branches that might cause damage to paintwork or glasswear. By the time we had cleared the loop turnout and returned to the turnout for the Nantmawr branch, Mark H had arrived and opened the gate.
Parked on the other side was a 'Palbrick' wagon, a special that BR developed for safely transporting palletised bricks. It had been parked as a gate guardian and Mark struggled to pull the brake lever to 'off' and stow it. We should have guessed – the brakes hadn't fully released, and the combination of dragging brakes (only one wheelset rotated) and crushed vegetable matter combined to exceed Claire's adhesion. One thing we hadn't brought was a 6ft crowbar, and no amount of hitting the rigging with hammers in strategic places appeared to make much difference. Eventually, although Claire's sanders weren't delivering, Andrew hand-sanding got me away and I approached the LMS coach chassis that has resided on the loading area since Allelys delivered it from Chinnor some weeks before. Here was our next snag. The Palbrick didn't have a 3 link at the end facing the carriage, and the coach chassis had none at all. Claire's chains were, in true HC fashion, permanently fixed.
Nothing for it but to pull the Palbrick back through where we'd just fought so hard to get and park it on the 'GWR' side of the junction while we repositioned the carriage. Fortunately the wheelsets both rotated in that direction and this was therefore completed without incident. (I should perhaps add, for anyone who might think shunting through undergrowth a trifle cavalier, that I knew that under CRS auspices, the turnouts and plain track had almost all been relaid around 2010, so sleepers and rails were sound, if a trifle hard to spot.)
We then went back for the Palbrick and managed to get it back on to the first part of the Nantmawr branch, where it can once again prevent any marauding ghost locos from sneaking up the line.
Claire returned for the 'Hunguard'. In its original incarnation (though built by Hunslet it was for the BAOR and returned – with wagons – for storage at LM, but we had MoD permission to use it to give the wagons occasional exercise) , we operated it under YEC auspices at Long Marston and it gained the name – inevitably – of Adolf; applied in black marker pen. Then I had a contract which involved commissioning engineers visiting from Krauss-Maffei (Munich), and the locos they were adding their kit to were being shunted in and out by a loco clearly named Adolf. Yep, in Fawlty Towers mode 'we think we got away with it'...
The chassis of the Hunguard is still 3m wide though, and as we brought it up to the loading area with Claire, Mark had to make an emergency modification to the fence before the Hunguard did! By the same token this loco cannot be delivered to Rowsley, or rather, if it was sent south from Rowsley it wouldn't clear the platforms at Darley Dale. So the transport arrangements for delivering it to Darley Dale (where we will trim it to UK widths) are somewhat more complicated than normal and will not take place until the second stage of our ramp has been fabricated. When the Hunguard was originally acquired, it still had some of its Hunslet cab and casings but the cab at least was full frame width and cutting it down was an exercise which I'd be loathe to do even now. But then in 2005, while at RMS, I got the chance to remanufacture a Vanguard 0-6-0DH – known as the Black Beast – and the original superstructure was duly scrounged and tacked down ready for a future project. At the moment the Hunguard doesn't have a power unit – it once had the same transmission as in the 03 and we have another on the shelf, plus an 855 with no home to go to. With 350+hp and a top speed of 30mph, it could be quite an interesting loco, and may be the first to have an m.u. system that matches up with the PCV.
Anyway, with the locos secured and ready for collection Mark invited us up to the Quarry for a cuppa and an inspection of some of the Rich Morris equipment now in safe-keeping there. When I had last been at Llanyblodwell there had been various dmu carriages sat in the yard, but these I gathered had moved up to Nantmawr, where the quarry is open to visitors. So we made our way up and started by finding one or two n.g. bits that I hadn't seen since I went to Rich's house at Longfield in Kent in my teens.
But farther up is the monorail collection. Now I had heard about this but never realised to what an extent it was. Metalair had manufactured over the years a monorail system for movement of construction and other materials in hard-to-get-to places. Their basic system had changed little but the details of the powered units – mechanical or hydrostatic drives, for instance – had, and arrayed over a considerable area was a mind-boggling collection. It would be unfair to compare it to Barry – it hasn't been there that long for more than a little restoration work to have taken place and it would seem that all Rich had done was to paint on them their serial numbers and where they had worked.
Rich had though, commissioned the world's (only?) steam monorail loco using the same system, and it and his carriages were to be found in a container. In due course it will be operated on a track around the quarry. But for now two or three of the diesel powered monorail locos are functioning, and we were offered a go. So here's first Andrew, then me, trundling up and down a short length of monorail track – so from standard gauge to no gauge in an afternoon. The gearboxes were intriguing. Once I began to get my head about how they operated, their potential, or a version of them, as transmissions for miniature locos was apparent and I might well drop my planned petrol-electric scheme for that 7.25inch loco of mine in favour of a petrol mechanical.
We'll see. But for now, as we've been sharing a Briddon family weekend at Center Parcs and haven't been anywhere near the shed, that'll be it. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.