It's been an odd sort of a week. I got up to Tunstead on Monday, the 'man' was due to come down for the meeting I told you about but he didn't show and no-one could find him, he's been more elusive than the Scarlet Pimpernel. So instead we set about lifting the gearbox to a comfortable working height and scraping all the remaining gunge off the casing. And to be honest, despite the extensive pressure washing I gave it, there was still an awful lot of solid dirt adhering to the many faces of the casing, and required liberal applications of degreaser and much scraping. I had picked up a piece of strip steel about half an inch wide which got me into many crevices I would not otherwise have been able to get into with an ordinary scraper, but despite wearing gloves, I found at the end of the day several grooves in the skin of my right thumb and two almost through all the layers of skin into the flesh. It's been a sore thumb but I'll try not to play too much on your sympathies.
Anyway, I decided on a whim to remove the cylinder heads and pistons from the gearbox: it made them easier to clean as well as giving a chance to confirm their condition. And it probably was a good idea, as I found that one cylinder had rusted and the piston assembly jammed. So come to think of it, it made sense to extract the pistons and fit new seals. On an RF11, the gearbox cylinders are chunky cast-iron lumps, but on this RF25, the cylinders are lighter aluminium castings (one having been heavily repaired at one time or another) with a thin steel liner for the piston to run on. Normally I'd use the opportunity to drill and tap the cylinder head and fit a sensor to detect the piston and thus the direction of gearbox setting, but with this I am a little more cautious because of the aluminium cylinder heads, and whereas on an RF11 I could always fall back to using the manual forward/reverse handle to detect direction, the RF25 has the locking peg but no handle. It all boils down to whether you assume that the direction control valve in the desk will always be a true indicator of the gearbox setting, or detect the gearbox itself. In the 50s/60s, the former was acceptable, the driver could be relied on to hear the gearbox change and act accordingly if he did not. Nowadays, one should detect the gearbox itself 'just in case' something goes wrong and the loco moves off in the opposite direction to that expected. Just have to ponder it out, I suppose.
Tuesday, and Andrew had the morning off to ride with his trailer up to Buxton for its MoT. I must admit he was a bit apprehensive in case it failed. The trailer fitter at the vendor explained where he had gone wrong with the handbrake (it's a cable-worked one, and after making new parts he hadn't threaded it correctly) and with the other work carried out, it passed its test without advisories. It then was transferred to a friendly transport yard at Ashbourne where it will be based for the present, ready for its first job this week. Did I say ready? Well, there's rather a lot to do and I fear it will take some time this week.
Also on Tuesday, a lorry from said same haulier headed in to collect those 2 Cummins engines that have appeared on the blog before. But he was a lot later than planned and consequently it was about 5pm before he arrived at Darley Dale, my having been passing my time as best I could waiting for him. It was also dark, and I wandered up to the gate to see him sat in the cab consuming chips, which didn't put me in the best of moods. Anyway, as it was after five Andrew was able to join me, even if the re-location of some bits we planned had to be scrapped as the daylight (absence of) and weather were not conducive. The two engines were unloaded (here's a photo I took the following day) and the lorry then loaded several spare fb rails that we had around and the oak 'sleepers' for packing, heading off to put them on the trailer the following morning.
Around about now it occurred to Andrew that we would need some 'fishplates', well not proper ones but jointing plates to link the rails together on the ramp and deck, and could I order up some more of the ones I had profiled in 2008? The following morning I hunted out the CAD drawing of the ones I had made before we collected what is now 03 901 from Lydney, and ordered up another 10 – yes that is a strange number but Andrew knew we had a few left over from last time.
That left us with the tank to finish off and whilst I collected some fittings and hoses in Sheffield on Thursday after an eye test, he went down to the shed two nights firstly to prime the tank and then to apply a coat of Oxford Blue.
On Friday I was off to collect grandson from Norfolk, but not before a return trip to the Doctors which yielded a fresh prescription for steroids to see me through shaking off this winter bug I've been struggling with. Anyway, waiting for grandson outside his school, I succeeded in head butting a tree – broke a nice branch off and grazed my forehead. I'll be graduating to cracking house-bricks next.
Saturday, and we only got an afternoon in at the shed, Andrew finishing another tie bar or two, and myself making up a short extension cable then cracking on with two more ceiling lights, although the second is still incomplete as it became too dark to read the cable numbers reliably. Still, I'm reasonably confident that another day should see me finish row A and hopefully drop a cable down and into the connector box to which the switches are already wired. Andrew went over what we needed to do to have the trailer ready – basically the hired-in tractor unit will not have a hydraulic power take off, so the tank, its pump and associated cabling must be installed and ready to work by Thursday night. I ended up with a list which included shunting the 03 out and giving it a run as it had been nominated to do a trip to Rowsley shortly.
But when we got up Sunday it was to a light layer of overnight snow, and then more of the stuff coming down. Andrew and Steph had to return grandson to Norfolk during this, leaving me on my own to go shed-ward. For a start, any idea of shunting was kaiboshed, so I set to work to fit the level gauge and filler caps to the tank, make up a cork jointing between the tank and lid and secure them together. Before that, I ran a magnet around the innards in an attempt to recover any metal filings from in the tank as the filtering is minimal, and probably something to look at again later. But for now here is the tank, pump and hoses attached, just leaving me some wiring to produce with a control switch. But then there's the matter of taking it to the railer, fitting it (including producing a hole for the drain to peep through) and laying out the rails, etc., ready to convey a loco. Not to mention taking the tip rails (both now finished) fishplates, bolts, tie bars all over to it: and the weather forecast not being especially dry. Thank heavens this is only a hobby.
There arrived a letter this week and I'm going to show this complete, as received, because it illustrates the level to which Peak Rail politics can descend. Firstly you'll note that it is typewritten, with no senders address, and no signature – just a typed name of Alan Whitehead. The envelope it came in had a typed label stuck on with my address, and had a Manchester postmark.
Such a letter like this comes as no real surprise: the only wonder is that it has taken this long to happen and that it isn't signed 'Friends of Peak Rail'. (For those unaware, a vile letter under that 'nom de guerre' went to a group connected with Henry Frampton-Jones, the PRA Director whose re-election at last year's PRA AGM made Mrs Statham demand a re-count. He subsequently found his position on the Board untenable and resigned last November. As an aside I hear he is currently seriously ill in hospital.)
I have no intention of debating the author's comments point-by-point, though would gladly do so if he had seen fit to provide a return address, but such people are so often fixed in their views that they do not want to engage in anything that might question their sanctimoniousness. Sadly this sort of thing is only re-inforced when the PR magazine 'Peak Express' operates under a Board mandate that it may 'only portray Peak Rail in a positive light'. Under such circumstances, the 'Peak Pravda' as it sometimes referred to contains no criticism and gives readers only one side of the story.
But there is one point that I am going to explore, because it is pivotal to the reason PR is in this mess. There is a theme being perpetuated in the letter that there was a 'gentleman's agreement' covering the excess use of Austerity 0-6-0ST Lord Phil. Indeed, there was even a rumour on the back of it that came to our ears accusing Mike Thompson of Grinsty of 'raping a charity'. Emotive language like this does little to improve relations between the parties and even less to effect rational examination of the facts. So what are they really?
This 'gentleman's agreement' revolves around a reported conversation between Mrs Statham and Mike Thompson wherein he agreed to additional steamings of Lord Phil (owned by Grinsty Holdings) in exchange for use of the shed at Rowsley (by Grinsty Rail). The trouble is this 'gentleman's agreement' (to save my poor finger tips, let's call it a GA) was not it seems part of the original defence produced by PR to the Grinsty legal action. At the case management meeting last September, Judge Webb was critical of PR submitting a radically different defence and effectively adopting a wholesale change of position at that stage. What did he mean? Well, the GA was only introduced as an amended defence when it presumably became apparent that PR's original defence was 'weak'.
That such a GA was being asserted to over-ride the terms of a written contract was further criticised by the Judge.
That such a conversation ever even took place was categorically denied to me by Mike Thompson.
That such a conversation, if it did occur and thus turns out to have been worth £105,000 or more to PR, was not put on the record, even just a 'Following our discussion, I just want to confirm that we agreed...' is poor administration on PR's part at the very least.
That such a vital piece of evidence was not originally a cornerstone of the PR defence, but only subsequently remembered and submitted as an amendment causes doubts to be raised in the Judge's mind.
My sister, now retired, ended her career as a High Court Judge. After we won our case against PR in 2016, our solicitor suggested that we had in fact 'won' before we even went into Court; me and Andrew versus PR's Mrs Statham and a £200/hr or so solicitor/advocate. (This was a Small Claims Court where solicitors seldom attend as costs are fixed below levels where their hourly rates are covered, to make proceedings informal and affordable.) Anyway, I rang my sister and she explained that if one side produces a clear consistent story backed by documentary and other evidence, whereas the other side is vague, changes its story part way through and/or suddenly produces vital new but uncorroborated facts, it is difficult not to go into the hearing believing the first - on the balance of probability - is giving a reliable report but the other is not. A reasonable person might conclude that that was Judge Webb's view in the Grinsty case.
PR is scarcely squeaky clean in all this even if such a GA was ever made. We had a GA with Mrs Statham (which I confirmed by e-mail but in typical PR style, went unanswered) which was subsequently reneged, and I know I am not alone in having had that. So the pot's calling the kettle black.
But back to the letter. Who is Mr Alan Whitehead, if indeed, he exists at all? He is not a shareholder, his is not on the PRA membership list I possess (which I admit, goes back to 2015 from an earlier battle with the Matlock Office so if so he's a member of less than three years standing) and I have yet to find anyone who knows of him. A friend suggested we dissect the name. For Alan Whitehead go to 'a white head' – perhaps someone with a head of white hair?
It would not surprise me if we get more such letters, all with a suspiciously similar theme and presentation. It all smacks of a knee-jerk response to the greater exposure brought about by the PRAG website, which has already started trawling further shareholders to our side. But when all is said and done, I am reminded of the old lawyers' adage:
If the facts are agin you, argue the law
If the law is agin you, argue the facts
If both the law and the facts are agin you, make a personal attack.
Meanwhile the Peak Railway Association AGM notice has finally appeared declaring it to be Sunday February 11th. Yet again the verbal undertaking made by the PRA Board at the AGM two years ago when they changed the dates for submission of Directorial nominations has not been honoured. But then it was not minuted either, despite a request from the floor.
As for this week? Well it's back to Tunstead tomorrow (assuming the snow has left Buxton open) and then up to the profilers for his 'fishplates'. And if all goes to plan, this trailer starts to earn back the money it has cost. See you next time.