If you have been reading between the lines, you might have deduced that something was afoot, but for those recent recruits or those who haven't spotted the trail of breadcrumbs, we – for this has been a joint effort involving Steph and myself at first (Andrew was a bit taken aback) – have been negotiating to take on the strange shunter (RS8) that has spent almost 25 years in the car park at the National Stone Centre.
I remember looking it over not long after it had arrived, when it still had glass in the windows and cans of paint in the cab, and clearly someone was aiming to restore it – and thought then how vulnerable it was going to be without even a locked gate between it and the outside world. And sure enough, every time we saw it again far from getting restored it seemed to be going backwards, with vandalism getting the better of it. The rad core disappeared around 2010 - all the copper piping was removed – the dynamo vanished, filters and bowls, headlamps, even a rocker box.
Then last August we visited the area again with grandson, to spy some adult who really should have known better jumping up and down on the cab roof. You could see the scenario unfolding. Ignoring all signs telling you not to climb on the loco, 'Fred' hops on, slips and injures himself. Up rushes a no win no fee claims agency and the NSC is sued for personal injury compensation. In a knee-jerk reaction, the loco is scrapped to prevent any further liabilities arising.
As it happens, Steph knew a couple that went to the same church in Matlock and who used to volunteer at the Stone Centre, and thus were familiar with it and could introduce us to senior personnel. So I phoned up their contact and followed it up with a letter, including a photo of Cheedale, which of course, was the generation of locos that replaced RS8 and the others that ICI rebuilt in its likeness.
There was a further clue in the blog just before Christmas when I admitted to a conversation with the engineer who had been involved in rebuilding it and had brought it from Dinting. Now in his 90s and not the best of health, he rang to thank us for taking it on – it was the first I knew that our enquiry had succeeded.
To be fair, I know we were not the first, and maybe we were lucky or our 'track record' carried more weight. I also had been advised that in the near quarter century that the loco has resided there, the records as to what exactly its ownership status was had been lost. (It still carries a plate saying it is on loan from the Bahamas Loco society, though this had long since ceased to be true.) Thus the delay had involved NSC staff trawling through old records, carrying out detective work and finally proving who had title. At Christmas therefore we knew that it was coming our way, but when was another matter. Eventually just before Easter we were told we could collect it as soon as we liked and resolve the last paperwork issues when one of the Trustees returned from the USA.
And you might wonder why then it has taken this long.
RS8 (as its old ICI number was) was built as a steam loco by Avonside in 1923, and converted to diesel hydraulic in 1960. Its oddest feature is the covered walkway up to the cab, which was intended to protect against stone falling from overhead hoppers in much the same way as many bogie aggregates wagons have covers over air brake equipment at the ends. But as a steam loco it would have plain bearings throughout, and bearings that had been standing, unturned and unoiled for over 20 years.
Normally we would arrange to deliver the loco to Rowsley and tow it down, but a couple of miles running could have done serious damage to bearings or axles if they were dry, or contaminated by the kind passing riffraff who couldn't resist putting bits of ballast down any orifice. So it had to come direct to Darley Dale, where our written agreement with Peak Rail specifically includes the right to deliver. But the gate access is very tight, and although we had a rear-wheel steering 40ft trailer in with the container, most low-loaders simply won't fit.
While waiting to load Cheedale, Heanor's driver took a look a declared that with a specific trailer of theirs, 'a good driver could make it in' so we took him at his word. But first move to prove it was a commercial job of mine, and a week last Friday the man himself attempted it.
And he had to admit it wasn't possible: he got about 2/3 of the way through the gateway but was about to take out the gatepost and without rear wheel steering could get no further. Actually as we observed had he made it in (forwards) he might not have made it out (backwards) at all! Had he made it and unloaded, he would have headed straight up to the NSC to collect RS8. That's what I meant when I said that we only were half-successful in last week's blog.
So, the only practical means of access was by using a short trailer with all wheels steering, what is known as a 'modular with a live neck'. Heanors put together a five axle set-up and transferred my commercial job to it. As you'll see from the pictures, this 5 axle platform is thus nearly as long as the 8 wheeled tractor unit, but in this case the tractor was on the big side to ensure control coming down Cromford Hill.
But this combination runs with a deck height of about 3 feet. So you need a much more significant ramp. Fortunately Heanor's old yard, known to the staff as the 'Enchanted garden' had such a ramp doing nothing (actually there were two, but we reckoned the other was of too light a construction for our purposes) so it was loaned to us and arrived last Tuesday. But the ramp only reached up to 17 inches, so we needed lots of packing to bring it up higher, and if RS8 was to be collected, we'd need more packing again to make its 30ft of track into a ramp. On Monday I collected a van full of oak blocks.
Through the good offices of Andy H, we obtained loan of 2 toe jacks and 8 big road cones from Wortley Top Forge (thanks guys) which Andrew collected on Tuesday. And by Thursday night the ramps at Darley and the NSC had been constructed. At the NSC we had used the road cones and tape, complete with laminated 'Please Keep off' signs to cordon the loco and the car park needed to line up with it. This sounds simple, but I assure you it has been hard work.
On Friday morning at half-nine, Heanors arrived at Darley with the commercial job, which was backed in, lined up and winched carefully down our ramp, which passed this test with flying colours. I had told the NSC that we might be there any time after eleven, and we in fact arrived at about half-past. I removed the tape and they backed into line.
We had attempted to bar the loco without success and I had had a nightmare that it was seized and we'd have to drag it up the ramp, wheels locked. The top cover on the RF25 gearbox was missing and it might have been stuffed up with ballast. We'd gone up with oil and greases, but left these until the moment of the move deliberately. While Andrew soused bearings and hornguides with an oil can, I greased the crank pin bearings, well 3 anyway, and then climbed up with a pry bar and peered into the bowels of the RF25. Yes there was ballast, but it was comparatively clear and I barred the gearbox into the mid position and knocked the odd lump of stone that I couldn't get a grip on down to the bottom.
When Heanor's winch came to tension, RS8 rolled easily – maybe it had realised that anywhere was a better place to be after 25 years alone in a car park. This was something of a spectator sport, incidentally, with NSC trustees, inquisitive locals, walkers and cyclists all watching. Apparently there will be a piece in the local paper in a week or so.
We had a slight hiccup. The ramp settled slightly as RS8 bore down on it (the sleepers are scarcely grade A) and left a step of about an inch which the winch couldn't quite overcome. Andy H, who had turned out for a day's fun and fotography (I'll have to fight the spell-checker to get the alliteration) 'just happened' to have a Tirfor in his van which got us over that.
No sooner had RS8 been secured to the trailer than a second lorry arrived. Punchard's yard is on the old C&HP goods depot at the bottom of Middleton incline, and thus only a few hundred yards away, but thanks to a low bridge he had a 15 minute drive round. I had just unbolted the fishplates -
Oh Mr Whitworth
Thanks be to you,
You came up with a thread form
That you certainly can undo.
Those Unifieds and Metrics
Will seize and fight and sheer
But oh Mr Whitworth
Yours performs year after year
when he swung in to load the track panels and our timbers for transport to Darley. It must, I suppose, have looked quite slick and professional to the onlooker. In about 4 hours the de-marked area had seen the loco loaded ready to depart and the ground it had stood on largely cleared.
But up at mission control there was a concern. We knew, having measured it 3 or 4 times, that the loco stood 11ft 10.5 inches above rails, and with a deck height of 3 feet that gave 14ft 10.5. But we had not been told that the 'rails' welded to the trailer deck added 2 more inches, putting us over 15ft.
At the south end of Matlock is a railway bridge with signs warning of 4.6metre (15ft) clearance, and the driver's (Paul) road map declared that this bridge was only 14 ft 9. Either way we were 15ft and half an inch. So the secondman (Ian) and I went to the bridge with their height stick and dodging between cars and HGVs gleaned that the southbound track of the A6 was around 16ft, and the northbound around 15ft 3, but it wasn't constant (even without road camber). The alternative was a long, long Cook's tour of Derbyshire so we returned to the NSC and set off for Matlock. I had to get in front with Andrew and do our traffic management act so that the lorry could go wrong side at the bridge.
As I walked back to the van, a window wound down on the first vehicle in the queue -
'How far's it going?'
And the window wound up before I could ask what was so bad about Darley Dale.
You could almost track where RS8 had gone. Many tree branches were well under regulation 5metre clearance, and RS8's cab roof scythed a way through, leaving a trail in its wake, as well as over the cab floor.
Backing in to Darley yard was even slicker than before. RS8 was slightly reluctant to roll off the trailer, but with a little assistance was guided down and on to the sidings. Our subsequent shunting thus moved it for the longest it had in twenty years, and to our relief, with very little distressing noises, though the buffer heights do suggest that the springs are tired.
The future for RS8? Left to our own devices, the short run will be some conservation and serious work would have to wait its turn – but others have previously expressed an interest, and we would be happy to see it progress sooner. Who knows. See below some of the state it has got into. In the meantime we'd love to see photos of it at Tunstead and Dinting: there are a few on the net, but there's bound to be others somewhere.
First thing Saturday morning we zipped in to the yard to meet up with Punchard's lorry to take delivery of the track panels, and move the ramp out of the way. The rain started part way through but cleared as we headed over later to Cheddleton to meet up with 14 901, get to know the staff and site and complete the service and sundry works. We had released 14 901 from Darley with the main parts of the service done but we had a number of issues – working our way around the grease nipples, etc., so started it up and put it over a pit for a couple of hours.
The Tkh 'Hotspur' and 33102 were top and tailing a 7 coach rake, so passed by from time to time, taking water each time as the Tkh is somewhat limited capacity. The fan drive reservoir was also due for a change of oil, though draining and refilling is a strange affair as it comprises a cylindrical tank with a tube up the middle and sight glasses on the inner and outer cavities: I can't see any logical purpose that serves other than to try to ensure that the oil is sucked on a FIFO basis, and certainly not worth the faff of being only able to drain the inner compartment yet fill from the outside. Maybe when it comes back we'll give it a make-over, certainly the other 14 in Andrew's collection will be re-engineered from the outset.
But the rain started – heavy – and the yard began to look like one big puddle from end to end, and with a list of things still to do tomorrow before commencing driver training we packed up and departed, over the minor road from Chedddleton that leads to Apsford crossing and Bradnop. About half a mile short we came over the brow of a hill and found the road flooded ahead. Not being local, and it not obvious just how deep it actually was, I pulled over in the hope that one or other car would come through and prove it passable. But no such luck - after two had turned around and gone back Andrew volunteered to investigate and walked forward into the flood, to discover that his rigger boots definitely do not repel water. But after squelching up the verge and poking a stick, he came back insisting it was only 6-8 inches in depth and good to go. And so it was.
We were back over to Cheddleton first thing this morning, and though our flooded road contained only washed-down gravel, and Ched' yard had returned to normal, it was raining again. While Andrew attended to that gearbox latch that we'd put back hastily at Darley and proved not to be working properly, I set to work to finish the replacement floor board in the right hand doorway and thereafter began the great education for the four initial crew members, aka Nick, Chris, Dave and Martin.
All of them had read and clearly digested the manual I prepared a few years ago, and although there was some admission that the thought of a PLC had worried them, in practice it had proved to be quite straightforward. For myself, I only drove it 20 yards or so, then demonstrated the deadmans was working, and how to reset after it, then they began to take to take it in turns up and down up and down, with me merely contributing the occasional pearl of wisdom. At lunchtime we took the loco up to the end of the bay platform to be nearer the café (it was raining again) and when tea had been consumed and the heavens stopped precipitating, we had an audience of volunteers and passengers and I began to do the 'guided tour' of the loco, starting with the Rolls-Royce badges on the manifolds.
Of course, somebody has to expect to find another engine in the back, so open up those doors and show them the Voith and the 'big open space' surrounding it, and explain how that big lump takes you from 0-15 in first converter, and so on. One volunteer declared that he programs PLCs on machinery for a living, and I was happy to explain some of the basic language I work in, though a little cautious in case he were to demonstrate any shortcomings!
Having clocked up 6 miles or so of journeying from yard to bay platform, my trainees felt confident of their basic knowledge and we parked the loco up, ready for possible shunting duties during the week, though I have been booked for Friday to return and do some further training with carriages to get the 'feel' for the loco with its belt-driven exhauster. Finally we had a good look over 0-4-0DH 'Brightside', an early Yorkshire like the 02 class, and similar therefore to James and Jack. But on this prehistoric version, the converter fluid filter is after the charge pump, rather than before, and the cooler pack is under the sump. I had already supplied an alternative filter assembly for the old obsolete one, but there were issues with the charge pump that we investigated and I'll sort out some bits to rectify. Oddly enough, the stop solenoid arrangement is exactly the same as on RS8, which I suppose is logical given the age of the two locos' engines.
So that's about it for an eventful week and I can now contemplate going back to 'work' for a rest.
From Mark H:
Pete, Great news indeed, and a really interesting insight into moving locos by road. All the best.