Now, I don't know what your image is of an ideal Christmas, and before you get any wrong ideas, I'm not saying that this Christmas has been my ideal one either, but I've spent some time in the workshops every day this week. Indeed, I've forced myself to make notes in a diary else I'd be struggling to recall what each day comprised. Not that I shall bore you with a blow by blow account, but at least I can recall thus how it has gone together.
Perhaps I should first explain that by agreement, we had declared that Christmas Day this year was December 27th. Why? Well, this year it was turn for grandson to have Christmas in Norfolk at his mother's and he had asked that we didn't open presents until he was with us. Added to that, my daughter and her husband were stopping off for a day or two from the 27th on and hoped to witness the spectacle too. Seems as though it is equivalent to feeding time at the zoo.
So December 25th was just another day at the Briddon Country Pile, and Andrew and I headed down to the shed and while Andrew checked over the forklift and started moving pallets around to make some room, I fired James up and moved across to propel the VBA van into the shed, where Andrew was ready to load some stuff in and bring others out, in particular a workbench complete with bench drill and vice. Andrew questioned last week my comment about having bought the vice new, since to him it looked old. I was able to assure him that I did indeed buy it new, but it was before either he or his sister were born. It had had little use on the workbench in the garage at Briddon Towers (I'd had to dismantle it to get the Land Rover in) hence available for a workbench in the VBA when that was to be our engineering base at Rowsley years ago, so although a little rusty it is from lack of use rather than excess. By the end of the day the bench – now gaining a new name of drill bench – was in position but Andrew persuaded me to allow it 24 hours to acclimatise before putting volts into the bench drill.
While he continued tidying things into the VBA, I reverted to the task of seeping and vacc'ing the floor around towards the workbenches at the north end of the building, completing the job with a generous application of what we call 'cold tea', aka floor sealant. Since this area joins with others already treated it felt like getting towards the end of the job, though in truth the 'track slots' still need to be done and '3B', having been the 'ornamental pond' for many months has a considerable silt layer to be extracted. Even the area you see cleared and treated now previously had dust so thick that it gave you the distinct impression of walking on soft carpet rather than hard concrete.
Boxing Day, and Andrew hit the road first thing to go get grandson and I wandered down to the shed. First task was to get the striplight functional over the drill bench, and having allowed it its 24 hours to get used to its new surroundings, I started using the bench drill for as many jobs as I could think of. But its cable barely reached the adjacent socket, so I hatched plans for a fused spur to come off the 230V socket line to feed it directly. With the Mattersons in disarray, I decided it time to start catching back up on some outstanding jobs. The incoming 3-phase cable, for all its monstrous girth and length, had conductors no bigger than the cables coming to the wall sockets, and a few left-over metres of that had been allocated to suit it for its new position. Besides, the old cable was so big that when I fitted it with a new 5-pin 3-phase plug at Rowsley I had never managed to get the cable gland on the end to fit properly, and our inspector had been a trifle disapproving. So I stripped out the old cable, and to my chagrin, found I could not extract said plug from the end of the cable – so much force having been applied trying to get the gland to fit, that it was now well and truly wedged. Besides, the new cable was so much smaller that it would probably have never squeezed down far enough to contact its replacement – a new plug was required. For that matter, when I fitted the umbilical control to the Mattersons, up at Rowsley three or four years ago, I had obtained a 4-pin plug and socket specially for the purpose but chickened out and merely brought the cable out through a gland. Thus the umbilical had to ride round with the control panel, usually sliding to one side, un-noticed, and trapping a castor. The plug and socket were still in stock, so I decided to add this to the list of jobs. Finally I set to work to paint the floor. I opened the tin and realised that there was less – a lot less – than I remembered and I thought it might just be enough to get one coat down. I was wrong, I had to add a bit of thinners, and if you look you can see the rectangle where the thinned-down paint was eeked out.
Now, this happened last Christmas, I'm ashamed to say, and when I got back to Paintmaster in January they'd told me that their shop in somewhere had been open during Christmas week. This came back to me and it turned out to be in Hazel Grove, a mere 32 miles. So I rang them and confirmed, and after an early lunch took the van for a leisurely drive up the A6 and back with another 25 litres, then down to the shed to install the 4-pin plug on the Matterson control panel and apply a second coat of floor paint.
On Thursday I was again down at the shed, finishing the Matterson-mod, and making up a junction box ready for the branch for the bench drill, which carried out most of the drilling tasks. Later in the day Andrew popped in and started manufacturing the 'tips' for the ramp rails that will be the kit on his trailer. Most hauliers manufacture their tips by simply gas cutting out large sections of the web on FB rail, hammering the two remaining pieces (rail head and base) together and welding, but in a more elegant solution (and because we don't have the kit to do it their way) Andrew is fabricating them out of parallel tapered profiles with 100mm flat underneath and a rectangular section bar to go on top. The two profiles are held apart by short pieces of tube that serve to surround the 3 holes through which tie bars will hold them to gauge.(In the picture you can see one across the bench and another up against the wall, but the top 'rails' haven't been fixed on yet)
I was out Thursday night but got home well before the snow, which fell in the early hours and into Friday morning. Again I stayed at home socialising until after lunch, then as Andrew and grandson went off somewhere for quality time, I adjourned to the shed and was plodding along at my own pace. Apart from some commercial jobs ready for early next year, there was that new piece of cable tray at the south end of the building. I had pre-fabricated this some weeks ago, and clamped it in place the previous Saturday, but had put off installing it as it meant working up a ladder, not one of my preferred occupations. But today I took my courage (well I would say in both hands but if this were true I'd have had nothing to hold on with) and ascended the ladder, drilled the purlins and bolted the traywork in place. Originally there had been but one cable here, to go over the roller shutter and feed the emergency light over the south personnel door, so I had laid it in SWA (single wire armoured) and tie-wrapped it to girder clamps going up the end column. But then we'd added an external socket to feed the container, so a second cable had gone the same route in easier-to-handle SY. To cap it all, the Building Inspector asked for another emergency light at that corner, and I acquired one several weeks ago, but not yet mounted or cabled. Clearly a more appropriate form of cable protection was now required, hence the new tray. When I released the two cables, the SY condescended to fit the route of the new tray; the SWA, on the other hand, proved to be a few inches too short. I had hoped to break into this cable just once, to feed the new emergency light and the striplight over the parts washer at this corner of the building. Now it was apparent I would need two breaks, and a new, longer piece of SWA in between.
On Saturday morning I met the postman with two packages for me – for on Wednesday I had ordered up a new 3-phase plug from one (e-bay) supplier and a fused spur from another. Off I went down to the shed and finished the power cable on the Mattersons, installed the fused spur, broke into the 230V feed and connected the bench drill. Back up the ladder, the new emergency light was fitted to the column adjacent to the roller shutter door from where it can illuminate all the way down the side of the shed in the event of a power cut. The junction boxes at each end were installed and a piece of SWA amply long enough cut and made off from one to the other, but it was too late in these relatively short days to disturb the original.
And so to today, but my first task was a run over to Alfreton, for Andrew had acquired a few further pieces of parts racking from an e-bay vendor. A couple of years ago I took the old van to Dudley one evening and loaded it with about 30 pieces of stackable boxes. When I say loaded, it was a shoe-horn job, every one I could possibly squeeze into the back of the van I did, but that still left me 3 or 4 which had to sit on the passenger seat/footwell of the van for the ride home. In the shed this was made up into 4 bays, mostly for pipe-fittings, but as the number didn't quite divide by four the two centre sections are one level taller. Andrew had recognised that this vendor had 6 more pieces of the same stuff, and having won it, I had been delegated to go and collect, 11am sharp.
So, that completed and after a quick bite to eat, once again it was power off and up the ladder, cutting into the old SWA, connecting it at both end junction boxes and the branches to the adjacent lights. Powered up and everything functioned ok, and a third bright green LED now casts an eerie glow over the proceedings. I couldn't resist knocking out the MCBs again as the darkness fell, and the effectiveness of this new luminaire is impressive, I could indeed walk with sufficient light not to trip over the numerous obstructions (tidying must proceed) and I began to wonder whether another mounted at the opposite corner of the building might not be a bad idea. Not this week though.
So, with barely a couple of hours of 2017 to go, I suppose I should indulge in one of those retrospective moralising reviews of the year. Years ago I was quietly critical of a group (I won't name them) who had taken on a loco restoration project and seemed to spend all their time and funds building a workshop to carry it out. What actual work they did was concentrated on the tender, the 'complicated bit' up front was left as it was. In my eyes they were afraid of starting the work so anything that they could classify as 'preparation' was a substitute. Maybe I was being unfair – we have deliberately backed off loco work during 2017 in order to get the shed nearer finished and better organised. Admittedly for the first 2 months of the year much of my time was spent at Longcross on Murder on the Orient Express (d'y'know I still haven't been to see it? Leave it much longer and I'll have to wait for the DVD...) but from March there have been no major interruptions yet I have felt some satisfaction from completing cabling, shelves and the like. In May we had unwelcome visitors that set things back a bit but thanks to razor wire and PC Tammy that seems to have stopped. But there has been considerable progress on RS8, and plans for the New Year should see more loco and rolling stock work carried out.
Out in the real world, as one of my readers put it 'limpet-like dictatorial one-party leaders with dubious business practices' have been deposed'– Mugabe and Jacob Zuma for example. Perhaps the days might be numbered for another.
From Andrew, Steph and I, then, the very best wishes for the New Year to you all. We'll have some surprises for you, I'm sure, in the near future.