Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of points east and west

1st October 2017

Well, it looks like a mixed bag this week. Something for everyone, maybe. After all, I did promise you a wide-ranging instalment when I signed off last Sunday.

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First thing on Monday morning Steph had given me a lift down to Matlock, where I hand-delivered a letter to the Peak Rail offices. This was a 'Section 116' request for a list of shareholders of Peak Rail plc. A friend of ours tried to do this some months ago, but after stalling him for weeks, he was informed that it amounted to 89 pages and that would cost him £6 per page. In fact, under the Companies Act 2006, the company had only 5 days either to comply with the request or seek a Court order to relieve them of the obligation, and the charge they can levy is set by a Statutory Instrument (no. 2612 if you're interested) at a maximum of £95. I put a request in on the 11th, and Peak Rail replied, having they said taken legal advice, rejected this application on a couple of technicalities. This second request was therefore, an improved version of my original, but in between our friend's request and making my first, I had bought from Companies House, without any conditions and on a CD, a 'bulk list', i.e. names but no addresses, for a mere £20.

On Monday too, the oil pads for RS8 arrived, though it was a while before I got around to taking them down to the shed.

Although we did get down for an evening or two, I didn't feel as though we got much done, especially as it was too late (dark) to unload the van, and the clanking crashing banging of the tool unit still in the back was beginning to get on my nerves. After all it had been in there a week, and it was only lucky that I hadn't needed the van for something else. So about Wednesday I unloaded all the shelves (which stopped most of the noise) only for Andrew to declare that that night we'd empty the van!

On Thursday one of my regular readers, Neil W came over to inspect our progress on his turnover stand, and he made some very complimentary remarks about how far the shed has progressed since his last visit, which for me, looking at the cluttered floor space and the dust from un-sealed concrete, was hard to comprehend, but appreciated nonetheless.

After he'd gone, I continued with the installation of the last 3-phase outlet at the far corner of the building, and adjacent to it, another isolator that will control a second external socket for the IDRPG container. In the end, these two branches were connected up and bang-tested. Andrew and I had got together during the week and decided where to place the filter/regulators for the shop air supply, which will grace two of the columns on the footpath side of the shed. These are units recovered from Hunslet BAOR locomotives, and are to be mounted to plates bolted in turn to the columns. All of this has now been drilled and test assembled, but must be coated with that intumescent paint again to avoid compromising that on the columns by acting as a heat sink.

Not only did Andrew buy that large tool chest last week, but some weeks ago he had ordered an even larger one. Six foot long and resembling a large sideboard on wheels, it finally arrived on Thursday. I had been dreading this – Andrew had told me roughly how heavy it would be – and I was fearing a bolshy-delivery man expecting a fork-lift and insisting that if I didn't possess one, it was too heavy for him to provide assistance ('Manual handling regulations, gov'), me struggling to get it off the back of a 7.5 tonner and ending up with it dented and stuck on the road outside. But when it came, the driver was a friendly lady who couldn't find the Briddon Country Pile (I pursued her down the road but she didn't see me and went and asked directions at the chip shop – they didn't know either) and when she finally made it, Andrew, who was working from home, was able to break off for a few minutes and shuffle it from her curtain-sided truck to our van. Not that I could then shut the back doors, so after work hours we drove down, stripped off the packaging, assembled the castors and managed to get it in through the side door.

On Friday I had a special delivery – 89 pages of names addresses and holdings of Peak Rail plc shareholders; no covering note just an invoice for £95, for which I duly wrote out a cheque (Peak Rail seem reluctant to accept on-line payments) and posted. Curiously, the list was printed on the 12th - the day after my original request.

I had more news of RS8 on Friday, talking to Sigma 6 Workshop Manager Craig. The rectification work to the chassis is complete and painted black. That's good and bad news as it means they'll be ready for the axles sooner rather than later. But as Tarmac have a sharp intake of breath when you talk cryogenics we have formulated a plan together whereby the loose crankpin will be metal-sprayed to size at Tunstead, who will lend me an internal micrometer so as to tell them what size it must be, and then we'll freeze and refit the crankpin before the wheels head up there. As I'm booked to be at Tunstead next Thursday (to oversee a test run of the engine and discuss a bare bones restoration plan) that should kick off then.

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I didn't sleep well Friday night: not sure why but I was tossing and turning much of the early hours, and woke up to my alarm at half-six having had a couple of hours at most. This was unfortunate as I had a full day ahead of me, starting with accompanying Andrew to pay the balance of the money on the low-load trailer and list a few things required to get it through MoT. Then it was back to the Briddon Country Pile and Andrew took the van down to the shed, where Toby and Charles were expected.

Eventually, and a little unsure as to whether my plan should have been kiboshed from the outset, I set off in the Golf for mid Wales. I passed Brownhills, Telford and Shrewsbury and before I got to Welshpool it had started raining, which did little to make me feel any better. My plan had been to go over to Tywyn, and for the first time this century attend a TRPS AGM which started at 3.30, but leave after an hour to dash up to Llanuwchllyn for the Rheillffordd Llyn Tegid shareholders meeting, which began at 5.30. It was the sort of insane antics I used to do in my 30s, like when I attended a 16mm modellers 'do' in Coventry, a TR Marketing committee meeting in Tywyn and dropped parts in at Llanuwchllyn in a day trip from Briddon Towers.

I passed the W&L to see 822 in steam at Raven Square, and the other Beyer Peacock at Llanfair Caereinion, but still believing my original plan was possible I didn't stop, and pressed on through the deluge. I arrived at Machynlleth at ten-past-three, and as I crossed the Dovey bridge arrived at a decision. Left was the road round to Tywyn, and even dashing over the short cut by Llyn Barfog I wouldn't get there for 3.30. (Back in 1971 I nearly hit a Land Rover head-on on that road!). Right was the A487 up the valley to Corris and beyond. I turned right.

Back in 1970, when I was still reliant on public transport and a good pair of boots, I had started from Machynlleth and walked the route of the Corris all the way to Aberllefenni. Forty-seven years later and I was retracing that, but neither the weather nor novelty was as good as my memories of that solo holiday. The lower section of the Corris was a roadside line, but over the years road widening has encroached so that now, unless you know that the second fence marked the railway boundary, only the occasional station building, like a generous bus-shelter but set back, still remain. That at Escairgeiliog though, has had attention and now enjoys a Corris-esque station nameboard, an improvement on my memory of it from that sunny day in 1970.

I was so hoping that there would be activity at Maespoeth, but it was quiet and closed, so I carried on and dropped down the hill into Corris to see the station there. I have been once since the restorers laid fresh track there, and heard of their plans to re-create the Corris station, but as yet there is nothing fresh to be seen on the ground, and as my mood was falling with the rain, I turned around and returned to the main road.

My first holiday in this area was 1963. From the back seat of my parents car I had seen many wondrous things as we had driven this road. Just north of Corris was the Braich Goch slate mine, then still active, and I had looked above and below and seen inclines and shelves with tracks on, and that combination of grey slate and brown rust of abandoned artefacts stuck in my mind and fired my imagination. By the 1970s it had changed. The main road had been re-aligned and much had been destroyed. Aberllefenni at least was still active and the hillsides covered with evidence of past prosperity. (In fact, back in '63, my parents had decided that just once on the holiday they would do something, go somewhere that didn't include n.g. railways and unwittingly drove to Aberllefenni just as a farm tractor towed a rake of wagons to the cutting sheds from the mine half-a-mile further on!)

The rain continued as I drove away from Upper Corris, over the pass and dropped down into the valley above Talyllyn lake. My demeanour was now a bit sombre, and I carried on up through the Talyllyn pass to Cross Foxes, dropped through Brithdir to Bontnewydd and up the valley to Garneddwen and Llanuwchlyn, spotting the odd bit of remaining trackbed from the GWR Bala- Ruabon line.

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At Llanuwchllyn though, the rain had eased a bit and I wandered around the station yard without getting too wet. The last train of the day returned with Hunslet 0-4-0ST Holy War, currently the only one of the 'Quarry tanks' at Llanuwchllyn fitted with a cab. Even Maid Marian has been running cabless this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its acquisition from Dinorwic, and tanks George B, Alice and Winifred have never given their crews protection at all. Personally, I prefer them with cabs, and think that a driver and fireman stood in the open may hark back to the early days of railways but is one facet of 'authenticity' that we can do without!

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Lastly I saw Bob Davies parked up for the night. This is a 4wDH built by Baguely Drewry that my YEC rebuilt and sold to Bala twenty-three years ago. If I was becoming a bit morose (It's that time of year, remember) thinking of this did little to improve it. But it was good to see it actually operating once again after a recent overhaul and repaint.

When the Annual General Meeting began, it was in stark contrast to the AGM of Peak Rail I attended 3 months ago. For one thing there was only seven of us including Directors and General Manager – I felt like I was gate-crashing a Board meeting. Some comparative figures though might be illuminating...

  Rh LlT Peak Rail
Length 4.5 miles 3.75 miles
Turnover, 2016 £276k £397k
Employees 4 4
Wages and salaries £106k £92k
Profit before tax £24423 £8572

The whole of the meeting was very positive and attitudes buoyant. Traffic had climbed 34% in the previous 2 years and 2017 looked like being 6% up on '16. At Llanuwchllyn, a grant had been secured from the HLF to double the length of the carriage shed and make it into a visitor activity to see some of the out-of-action locos and historic rolling stock. Plans were afoot to bring the second platform back into action, (it was installed by the GWR in the 1890s but had been unused by the narrow gauge save for one or two events when a miniature railway had been laid upon it. To access it in today's environment, the railway has its eyes on a footbridge.) But it is at the other end where most of the good news came from. It has always been the railway's intention to extend back into Bala, the present terminus (since 1976) being at the old Bala Lake Halt on the opposite side of the valley. The old administration at Llanuwchllyn never managed to achieve it despite high hopes, now the current Board is well on the way, with parcels of land acquired and others in negotiation. Bala wants the railway in its bosom and there doesn't seem much that will stop it extending at last. Credit must go for a lot of this to Julian Birley, but he would insist that it is by no means him alone.

The meeting was over in less than an hour, but I stayed on a while talking to the General Manager, telling him a few tales about the old days and explaining the story behind Bob Davies.

Andrew meanwhile, had coerced Toby and Charles into assisting him in further rearrangement. Ben R was down too, and between them, visitors and tea they managed to get another piece of heavy duty racking out of the VBA and into the container, as we continue the plan of tidying the big lumps away and clearing the shed floor. Bits of stuff from our garage have been conveyed down there and other less-appropriate items brought back from the container, including an N gauge layout that might just be of interest to a certain grandson.

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Sunday, and at long last we made the trek down to Castle Hedingham, with the fuel pump for 14 901. At 150 miles or so it is a trek, and on top of the 300 plus I did yesterday, I ought to feel worse than I do. The CVR was in the midst of a 'Thomas' Event, day 2 of a 4 day event (finishes next weekend) to mark the end of the season. Star was the Llangollen's Thomas, but CVR's resident 03 was turned out as Mavis and a bubble car as Daisy. Despite some atrocious overnight weather (I presumably followed it back from Wales) the day was quite successful though quieter than yesterday.

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We were able to park the van right next to the loco and stick the batteries on charge whilst Andrew manhandled the pump into place. It was a 50/50 chance when Andrew connected the pump drive since the timing needle is underneath an intercooler and impossible to see. The SRPS had put marks on the other side but they've worn off. So when it came to it and it cranked with no sign of life, Andrew swapped the pump 180 degrees, checked the lines were bled through and eventually the DV8 spluttered and died and spluttered again but came back eventually to fire on all 8.

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With the air built-up I was delegated to check the loco ran up and down in the short space available. Our pump man had found a valve in the hydraulic governor had stuck and that this was related to idling. It is now considered a strong possibility that the occasional 'cut-out and refuse to restart' that has given us grief at Churnet as well as Colne, and once or twice in the past on Peak Rail, may have been this valve sticking intermittently prior to jamming permanently. But the hydraulic governors are well and truly obsolete and the only mechanically governed version that Rolls fitted (apart from the external Woodwards) was from a german manufacturer that later got bought out by Bosch. But for the present the 14 is back in action, better than it has been for some time and we'll await reports from the CVR when next it is out in traffic.

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So that's about it for the week. I've been east and west, the 14's been fixed, the shed work has progressed and I've been wallowing in nostalgia and enthralled by a railway that is getting better and better. In the plans for this week is of course to see the new engine for RS8 come to life and see what Tarmac have done so far. Andrew will be agitating to get everything ready for a working party on the trailer, and collect those two Cummins engines. And then grandson should be with us next weekend too. No time to sleep then. G'night.

More in this category: Of a tale of two specials »

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