He made a jocular remark about my predicament and came over to me. Keeping my voice low so that his clients couldn't hear, I told him how difficult it had been to do business with his company and all the problems I had had in getting his sales staff to action what ought to have been a simple transaction. He looked open mouthed, took my name, and the next time I wanted anything, I had no trouble at all.
I began to think the same with Tata this week. The technical issue was relatively straightforward. I had specified a 200mm undercut on some sheets – that is a 200mm section at the end where the outer skin extends but the insulation and inner skin terminate so as to give an overlap to the next sheet. The Tata paperwork said that an undercut had to be between 20 and 250mm, but didn't say that there had to be an undercut, and the majority of my sheets are ordered in their final spans, so I'd specified none. (In fact the undercut ones are for the roof where the light panels intersperse.) It took only a few minutes, once this had been made clear, to add 25mm on all the panel lengths, specify 25mm undercut on each and pass the schedule back. So much for Monday.
The sales guy I had dealt with up to now passed the order on to someone in Order Processing, who came back asking me to supply a copy of my company letterhead showing my registered office and VAT number. 'I am not a company, I am a free man!' I patiently went back and explained all this – as a matter of policy I object to sending out blank letterhead. If 'real' it might be used fraudulently if it were to fall into the wrong hands: if 'digital' it proves nothing as a marvellous letterhead can be created on a computer in minutes. So what's the point? But that was as far as things got on Tuesday, and while I waited I idly investigated the Money Laundering Regulations just in case this was Tata's defence for wanting such information, or only dealing with incorporated bodies.
First thing Wednesday I threw across another e-mail and got no reply. On Thursday morning I got brave and rang Shotton up. There was no problem, came the reply, save that they were short-staffed in the ordering section and she was waiting for my order to be entered on the computer. As I'd rung she would now try and get it prioritised. Later that day I had an e-mail telling me that because of certain sheet lengths I'd specified, they couldn't fit the Moffatt on the end of the wagon so unloading would be up to me. (If I'd known, I could have reduced those sheet lengths, but this option was no longer open to me.) On Friday, the pro-forma finally arrived.
So getting the order for the cladding placed took up a week. In the meantime, I had had several entertaining exchanges with the personnel of the rooflight manufacturer. The lady I was in touch with rejoiced in the surname Breeze. Back in Thomas Hill days, I worked with Les Breeze – he had been in the Test House at Sentinel Shrewsbury, and appeared in some works pictures of Sentinel diesels taken at the factory, as well as being a demonstrator driver for them. When loco production ceased, he'd moved – with others – from Shrewsbury to Rotherham to go with the expanded Thomas Hill, and I'd heard many tales of Sentinel from him. When he retired they named a Steelman loco after him, and I mentioned this to lady Breeze in case she might be a relative. (It is a rare surname, I'm told).
It might be possible, she said, and wouldn't it be nice to have something named after me. I said that if she'd give me a discount I would definitely name a rooflight after her, but it didn't have quite the same romantic feel. No, she agreed, she had something more like the wing of a manor house in mind. But the Briddon Country Pile doesn't have a spare wing.
So after all that the rooflights are on order, the cladding is on order, and the clock is ticking.
On Wednesday, as I said, Andrew had a day off and we were going to spend it at Diddley. 14 901 was the primary target and while he got on with assembling the brake block carriers and their new composite blocks, I got set up to assemble the header tank to the casing top.
It may come as a surprise, but although I had a plan in mind as to where the tank would locate, I had not drawn it other than to get the support brackets made and had envisaged the tank mounting longitudinally with the delivery connection facing rearward and the level gauge in inlet connection forward. But as I looked at the available space I began to wonder whether it wouldn't be better transversely and in the end this fresh conviction won through. I sat on the casing tops, armed with rulers, felt pen and centre punch, marked out the 8 holes and much to Andrew's and my surprise, the holes lined up perfectly.
During the afternoon we were expecting a friendly passing HIAB lorry with some wheelsets on, but were nearly caught out (at home finishing lunch) when he phoned to say he was running over half-an-hour ahead of schedule having been unloading at Llangollen at 07.30. Charlie and James were fired up and locos moved clear, and having unloaded the wheelsets, he hooked on to all bar one of the eave beams and lowered them down to the ground, though we did have to move a couple of purlins temporarily to give him access. Later on, we lifted the first of the new eave beams into position and to my surprise, the holes lined up.
I often feel that man's second greatest invention, after that of the wheel, naturally – well OK, man's third greatest invention after (1) the wheel and (2) the flange – is the skyhook. Whatever did we do before this simple device became available? Thanks to skyhooks, the eave beams can be swiftly lifted up onto the brackets on the top of the columns.
On Friday, after Andrew got home from work, we retreated to Diddley again and with the skyhooks, lifted two further eave beams, but although the holes for the first aligned correctly, the second was thwarted by the beam itself being too long. We clamped it for safety and left it there. The last of the old eave beams also came down to the ground.
On Saturday it was the AGM of the Maid Marian Loco Fund at Llanuwchllyn. I couldn't go last year as I was rostered on '901, but this year was clear so I headed over. The weather in Derbyshire was wet and windy, and although Andrew got down to the shed later in the day, he couldn't get much done, so I didn't lose out on much.
Coming back after probably an interval of two years, it is inevitable that you see changes but so much remains the same. Of course, on the one hand, the whole management and structure has changed, with new and younger manager and engineer and Julian Birley wandering around. On display in the foyer are the plans for the Bala extension, with little invites for you to contribute a bit of spare change to the cool £3m it is estimated to cost. And the plans are prettier but much the same as we have dreamed of since 1976 when the line first reached its present terminus.
It was George Barnes' plan to swing left through today's platform, cross the field and the lakeside road that runs parallel, over the old bridge and then over the newer road bridge by extending the piers at one side enough to give a right of way, then follow the embankment that contains the lake around to the wooden café that the railway owned at the north-eastern corner of the lake. But such a location did not please the businesses of Bala, who saw it drawing people away from the town centre where they could share in the tourist-pound. A few years later Ove Arup were engaged and identified four different locations for a station in Bala with slightly differing routes to get to them.
But they all needed to cross the field and that field was owned by someone who had a life-long antipathy to the railway's chairman and maintained it against the railway long after the Chairman had died. Besides, the summit in Welsh tourism had passed and the railway's profitability was not strong enough to raise the finance.
A quarter of a century later and it's back again. But this time, the railway and road will share the existing bridge piers, and cantilevered fabrications will provide the pedestrian ways at each side. The railway no longer owns the café and the planned terminus is set back from the main road through Bala, and at the western end of the High Street alongside a large car park. The railway is no longer the conventional commercial company it was (it was in fact the first company registered in the Welsh language after a change in company law permitted it) and could therefore be eligible for grant aid.
With Julian Birley (he who got the NNR reconnected to Network Rail at Sheringham) involved, there has been an increase in the slate railway presence, from Hunslet 'Winifred' through to a rake of Dinorwic slate wagons which live in a dedicated lean-to to the carriage shed. First thing to strike me on arrival was a Penrhyn coal wagon, and although using some obvious Penrhyn components, some of the ironwork and timber is new, but nonetheless a pleasant change of wagonry.
Normally on MMLF AGM days the Maid herself is out to play, but Alice was out as the engineer was doing 'adjustments'. Strange to think that the Maid's boiler, built in 2006, is newer than certain more recent manufactures to the Hunslet Quarry tank design! Just before the AGM started, Alice re-appeared with 4 fully-loaded coaches, and I had to admit, more passengers aboard than I have seen on many a Peak Rail train of late.
There was not much to report on the MMLF AGM, save that the committee slightly outnumbered the ordinary members, but the group continues to be dedicated to the loco and better at raising funds today than it was a decade ago. Plans for a new book and DVD on the Dinorwic quarries and their locos were being formulated.
Today the weather was dry and bright, and we headed down to Diddley. Andrew's welding mask promptly packed up, putting paid to some plans, so instead we fished the skyhooks out of the container and set about fitting the new eave beams. In the end, one beam had to be brought back down because its holes didn't line up (the one in fact I had known was probably a bit out and had attempted unsuccessfully to slot) but three had be be shortened by 3 or 5mm which is very curious as the beams at 6metres, ought to be exactly the same as the column spacing. So despite my misgivings, when I had suspected that all the holes were around 3mm adrift, 7 out of 8 were OK and the problems surrounded the accuracy of steelwork fabrication/assembly by others!
The HST were having a gala up at Rowsley so we had expected a few enthusiasts to wander down the footpath or hang out the train windows, and sure enough it happened, though not to any great extent. A passer-by claimed to be doing research for a building required by the NYMR at Pickering (I naturally offered my services as a consultant) and another, having been told by some HST member that 'other locos' might be found at Darley Dale, was so polite that I invited him round our side of the fence and gave him a quick tour.
Towards the end of the day, we mounted the clamp-on brackets to the columns at the Matlock end of the building which will carry the uppermost horizontal purlin. The skyhooks were called on to lift the first part of this purlin, but we came to the conclusion that one of the heavier duty skyhooks might be required.
Thus as the countdown to making the shed into – well, a shed – gets under way, we are well on with the jobs that we must see through to be ready. In the short term it may delay a few jobs on Cheedale or 14 901, but it has to be the best strategy before the winter. Come back and see how things progress.
From Michael Bentley:
A shed is born!
Good to hear the sheeting is on order. Now to get it fixed and the whole secure, soonest...before winter comes to fall. Well done...