Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of pins, cones and urns

26th November 2017

They said last week's was a little disappointing - wha'd'they want? Blud?

At the beginning of the week we were off looking at a possible acquisition for the collection, and I was hoping to be able to report it all today, but although we think it is all agreed, we have yet to see any paperwork from the vendor. This may be considered a little strange as up to last weekend they were saying everything had to be out in double-quick order else it would go for scrap. So I won't tempt the patron saint of whichever preservation is watched over by and leave that aside for a little while longer.

But I will just throw in here that as we returned to Darley Dale, on a whim Andrew decided to swing by Rowsley and saw a low loader had delivered 'Ring Haw' and that D8 was acting as shunter with HC 'Jennifer' waiting to depart. This too is a trifle strange, as PR management had proudly declared to the shareholders in June that 'Jennifer' was at Rowsley until the end of the year. I made some calls: and was told that 'Jennifer' was leaving PR early by mutual agreement.

So instead we'll wind forward to Thursday and my weekly Tunstead day. For this week was to be crankpin re-fit week, and an engineer from Midland Cryogenics was coming to freeze it in.

You may recall that Tarmac themselves were very apprehensive about somebody coming on to site with quantities of liquid nitrogen – after all, it sits at around minus 192 degrees C which is seriously cold. But Craig, the Sigma6 MD, is ex Stocksbridge steelworks and was more familiar with such practices. I almost said 'laid back' and that isn't fair: safety is paramount as the engineer found after he arrived for 10.30 only to have a site induction (video and question/answer), then be escorted down to the Sigma6 workshops and then have a further local induction plus go through the Risk Assessment/Method Statement to which Sigma6 had made a few tweaks.

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Our wheelset had been moved up to the doorway – and Buxton was cold on Thursday – and turned to face outwards so that we were but 3 feet inside. Sigma6 is located in an old section of the quarry, and access to it is via a steep ramp and I could see the Tarmac van leading his VW Crafter down and around to us. He backed up a few feet away and we got the introductions over and moved into to Craig's office to go through the local induction and procedures.

After all of this build-up you would be expecting something absolutely high tech, wouldn't you? There ought to be hundreds of flashing LEDs on a screen and needles pointing at numbers with big red sectors at their extremities. True he did have a couple of stand-alone signs proclaiming 'Danger -192 deg C', but he didn't need those as we had already put concertina barriers all around our wheelset.

Instead he produced a bucket. Not just any bucket. This was a Jotun intumescent paint bucket with a handle on. He asked for a couple of wooden blocks to elevate it – so as not to burn the concrete – and solemnly placed our brand new crankpin (I'd taken the brass washer and collar off but left the taper pin in) in the bottom. About a third of the rear of this big Crafter van was taken up by an insulated pressurised tank on a frame. It was the sort of tank you sometimes see storing propane near factories. And just like a propane tank, it had a hose pipe and a tap to control it.

Neil – our engineer – did have a rather spectacular thing to decant liquid nitrogen into though. If you've ever watched Time Team, you'll see them pick up a shard of pottery, identify it as part of some Roman/medieval urn, and mysteriously the part orientates itself and morphs into the original pot, with round base, thin long neck and two handles matching on either side. Neil had got it, and proceeded to decant liquid nitrogen inside – well I assume he did, but all I could see was a jet of thin steam-like vapour wooshing out again.

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With Liam taking photos outside the barriers, only Neil and I were allowed inside: and as others were standing by to watch, Neil poured liquid nitrogen, like a slightly thick water into the Jotun bucket until the crankpin was immersed. Initially it disappeared in a cloud of vapour, but after a few seconds it cleared. And the 'water' was 'boiling'.

Well I'm not sure how else you can describe it. If it had been a potato in splendid isolation in the middle of a pan of water on a hob, that's what it looked like: except that there was no hob, nor gas flame underneath. What was happening was the very presence of this warm – well it is if you are at minus 192 - lump of metal in the midst of this liquid caused great agitation and convection currents just like boiling. But here, our warm lump of metal was exchanging heat into the liquid nitrogen, and some of it boiled away. So every now and again Neil would top it up from his Roman/medieval urn and make sure it was all immersed. And we stood and watched.

Neil had explained that we waited until the liquid went smooth, at which point the metal was down to the temperature of the liquid nitrogen. Now his idea of smooth was not mine – mine had been that of motionless, placid. His was that instead of boiling and circulating, it merely shimmered on the surface like a cool mountain lake: well I suppose it had still to be trying to cool surrounding Derbyshire.

Now first thing that morning I had brought with me a flat plate with a hole in, and a M20 bolt and some washers. I had tried this in place earlier and tightened it by hand, and even this had drawn the crankpin into the wheel centre such that when I undid it, we had had to tap with with a hammer to get it out again. But even then the crankpin would not go 'home' by the distance you see in the photo. Now we were at the moment of truth, and according to the Method Statement, the customer – me – would use the free-issue gloves to reach in, take the crankpin out of the liquid nitrogen and insert it into the wheel.

OK, I admit it, I wasn't that keen, but I blame Neil for passing the time telling stories, including the one of the guy who reached in and took too long and the gloves froze on his fingers, leaving burn marks on his wrist (no I didn't quite follow it either but I wasn't about to ask for a detailed anatomical explanation). Neil sensed this, and asked if I wanted him to do the insertion. With a final instruction from me to ensure that the big end of the taper pin pointed to the centre of the wheel, he dived straight in with both hands, out came the pin and straight into the wheel centre all the way home. I still had a role to play, hurriedly bolting up the retaining plate on the back. (Oh, the pin is on a 1 in 100 taper, or so it appears. In these cases, there is a tendency, as the pin warms up, for it to try to press itself back out. So the tapped hole and retainer prevents this).

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And yes, it did seem like an anti-climax. Much more dramatic was when Neil poured the remaining decanted liquid nitrogen onto the rough car park, which promptly disappeared like dry-ice in a disco. For now there was nothing to do but leave it to warm up, while Neil made his goodbyes and headed off back to the West Midlands.

After lunch, the pin was still covered in frost. Pondering what else to fill in the time, Liam and I decided it was time to refit the converter, and I had brought up bolts and a spare drive ring. I have, in the past, attempted to fit a converter with the clutch plates loose, and a bitch of a job it is. So nowadays we start by tipping the converter on its end, clutch plates uppermost, then drop the spare drive ring over the plates – it's a broken one so isn't much use otherwise. Getting it over both plates ensures they are in line, but before taking it off, you nudge it to and fro until you can see it is absolutely central, each gap is even all the way round. At that point you engage the clutch to lock it all solid.

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As the clutch is about to go in, hidden in the back of the flywheel is a bearing into which the input shaft must engage, so last task was to emery the shaft for any scratches or high spots and then grease it. With the overhead crane the converter headed towards the back of the engine and went so far in and stuck. The danger is to try drawing the converter in on the screws – too much risk of bearing damage. So we brought it back out, cleaned off the grease, looked for any blemishes we had missed and then tried again with similar results. Before a third attempt we dug out some more emery cloth from the stores and gave the shaft a thorough rubbing. This time it slid in to within 2 or 3mm, so we used the setscrews to pull it the rest of the way. Oh and I should here thank Lee, another Sigma6 machinist and Land Rover fan, who came over to give us a hand on the 'lift the back of the converter to level it' function. Afterwards as we admired the fitted converter, we were congratulated for 'making progress' and Liam realised how true it was that you fit one large lump and people view it as a great step forward, take hours fitting many more but much smaller pieces and no-one notices.

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I had promised myself that Friday would be kept free to catch up with some admin, which included issuing an 'update' to the PR shareholders that have registered support – overtly or covertly – following the mailing I put out to selected shareholders a month ago. Even now, incidentally, I am still receiving letters returned by the Royal Mail for shareholders who have gone away. I find it hard to believe that so many people can have suddenly disappeared without leaving any forwarding addresses, after all it was barely 6 months ago that PR mailed all shareholders so wasn't the shareholder list correct and up-to-date then? Oh, and if 'David' – who e-mailed me through this website on Thursday – would like to get in touch again? I would so like to know how he ends up with an e-mail address of Oker, Derbyshire. It almost inspires the first line of a limerick -

There was an old lady of Oker...

I nearly forgot. Highlight – well not really – of Friday was Andrew going in to Chesterfield for a minor op on his left arm. He's been suffering for a while with a numbness and lack of grip in his left hand, diagnosed as a trapped nerve. So Friday late afternoon, under a general anaesthetic, the doctors had a dig around and hopefully it's all sorted, though he cannot drive for at least two weeks. Steph and I had just sat down to fish pie when the hospital rang to say we could come and pick him up. Ah well, duty calls, a quick scoff and off we went.

Saturday, and the IDRPG were down in force, determined to make progress on 1382 as it might have an invite to a gala if they can have it running and vac-fitted in time. So no pressure. I had woken up with a headache and as Andrew was 'out of it' headed down alone about nine-fifteen expecting Toby to have been there since nine. He wasn't, and I had time to top up the heater with kerosene and fire it up for the first time this winter before any of them showed.

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Toby delegated jobs to everyone bar me, and hopes I had had of help with aspects of miscellaneous outstanding shed work duly evapourated, but not my headache, made worse for Toby and Charles concentrating on welding, hammering and grinding 1382's nose cone to restore it from years of tin-worm attack. Andrew had picked up a large quantity of nuts and bolts in linbins off e-bay this week, and had not had time to unload these properly so had left them all just inside the door – I solemnly transported them all up to the nuts and bolts racks, though clearly this lot exceeds our present storage capacity. There were still 3 cardboard boxes from an earlier purchase of the same waiting to be unpacked. This at least I managed to distribute – mostly – into the various pigeon holes appropriate.

Toby had arrived in a well-laden Sherpa van containing loose parts from another loco the IDRPG have clubbed together to purchase, and will no doubt feature here in the future. But for now the parts were destined for their container and to make that easier physically, I needed to move the train forward, so Charlie got a brief run in between showers.

Back under cover, I decided a task I would like to do (as opposed to one I was telling myself I ought to do) was to set up and cable the string-switch for the LED striplight over the work bench: the cheapy Wilko one that I had proved I could fit to the Unistrut. So I got on with this, balancing on workbench and such, taking the main feed cable back to the distribution box. Steph brought lunches down, accompanied by Andrew with his arm hidden within his sweater, and who stayed around for an hour or two to direct progress.

Finally I repositioned the Terry-picker right into the corner and managed to get the basket up into a position where I could reach the upper part of the last column that still required its dose of that intumescent paint. Phil G had arrived later in the afternoon, the original plan being that he and Andrew and I would go up to the low-load trailer today and carry out the work under Andrew's watchful eye, but a week ago the NHS in Sheffield had rung to say they had a vacancy and could fit me in for a colonoscopy on Monday morning (27th). I have these every couple of years or so (he says nonchalantly) as apparently my bowels have a tendency to produce polyps which can turn nasty, and a bit of discomfort now is preferable to a potential diagnosis of bowel-cancer later. But preparatory to inserting a camera 'up below' the medical staff would prefer it if your bowel is clean, so you get sent a quantity of heavy-duty laxative that mixes into 8 litres of foul-tasting drink which must be consumed to a timetable starting about 4pm on the previous (Sunday) afternoon, so trailer work was 'out' (and as it worked out, pain from the wound arising from Andrew's operation would not have made it pleasant for all-concerned).

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So Phil stayed the night at the Briddon Country Pile and found himself on a bit of furniture removal, and after a slightly later start than planned Sunday morning, we returned to the shed. My first task was to power down and cable up the result of yesterday's efforts into the distribution box, afterwards bang and function testing it with satisfying results. Andrew had muttered about us measuring Track two so that he can decide the ideal combination of locos to shunt there (we did – between showers – 122feet absolute maximum to foul excluding the PCV) and about throwing sheets over the Sentinel cab and another loco whose cab window was smashed by our young, unwelcome visitors during the spring. We didn't get around to that – but I did get it into my head to proceed with further efforts to seal up the PCV's cab, and by dint of jig-sawing and Surforming, re-constituted the driver's sliding windows on the exposed (footpath) side of the vehicle. But after breaking the jig saw blade, and concluding that my spares were all back home, the other side has had to be left.

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Meanwhile I set Phil onto bits of RS8's brake rigging that needed to be split apart, and he reminded me that I had muttered about getting up and finishing the last section of intumescent paint on that column that I couldn't get at from floor or Terrypicker. So I dragged the latter aside, set up a ladder and tackled this last bit, while Phil moved on to drilling the split pins out of the nuts the secure the springs on RS8's buffers.

As I was so involved, up a ladder and slapping on thick, quadruple cream, Andrew rings to ascertain if we had a power cut at the shed as well as the Briddon Country Pile. I commiserated, we didn't. But after 4pm, when I was due to start drinking heavy duty laxative, I said cheerio to Phil and drove home to a darkened house lit only by a couple of battery luminaires and a few candles, the latter recovered years ago from the Royal Victoria Hotel where Steph's parents once worked. At one point I thought you might get nothing but a 'sorry, normal service will be resumed - ' type message and this edition left until tomorrow afternoon. But Western Power Distribution restored power about seven-fifteen by which time my first instalments of laxative were working their way through.

And having thus lowered the tone of this missive about as far as I would wish, I'll bid you all a fond adieu.

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