Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of things that did and didn't arrive

24th February 2013

On Monday I was over at Briddon Towers for the morning but aimed to be back in Derbyshire in time to meet the lorry. I needn't have worried so much, for somehow the postcode for Rowsley directed the wagon's Satnav to somewhere near Mickleover, and by the time the driver had sorted out with me over the phone where he ought to be, he'd run out of hours and had to park up. So finally he arrived in Rowsley late in the afternoon, a 40ft flat trailer with an eight-wheel tractor unit sporting the biggest HIAB-type crane I'd ever seen. We'd lifted the generator set and sundries off when Andrew arrived, having dashed home from work and changed. Off came the casing top from the NB, the 6RPH Paxman was lifted out and secured to the wagon, and the casing top refitted.

Darkness was now upon us as the lorry set off back south, and we fired up "Tom" to reposition things. Now, as some of you may know, whereas there are handsignals for shunting by day. there are light signals for such moves in the darkness. Working with Andrew as much as we do together, there are subtleties in the manner of his signals which I understand (and probably he with me) and inevitably some signals have evolved between us which are 'not in the book'. Light signals however, leave us back at the basics, and it is difficult to tell with a "Stop" indication (a red light, or any light waved wildly) whether it is an "OK, that'll do it" or an "Oh S**t!". Taking extra care the shunt was however achieved without incident and "Tom" returned to its resting place outside the shed.

During the latter half of the week Andrew was with his girlfriend and took Steph along to view progress on our grandchild. They were due to return late on Saturday leaving me free to attend an Extraordinary General Meeting of shareholders at Llanuwchllyn on Bala Lake Railway. If you turn your mind back to the late 1960s, and don't get too worked up over how much petrol was per gallon then compared to now, you may recall that prior to the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon in '69, there had been fire bombings of holiday homes, the Free Wales Army existed (though probably had only a smattering of members) the Talyllyn declared an operating profit and the Ffestiniog was fighting the CEGB for compensation for the Tan-y-grisiau pumped storage scheme on the basis of loss of profits. One might be excused for assuming then that there was money to be made at tourist railways and the Bala Lake line was created with a £10k Ordinary Share capital plus a £40k Preference Share capital, the latter set at 12% cumulative. For those not familiar with the difference - Ordinary Shares confer voting rights and if dividends are not guaranteed, there may not be a limit. A preference share is promised a fixed dividend (if the company makes enough profit) but the owner has no say in the running of the business.

And that was the rub, for after a few good years when the railway was establishing itself (it began running in 1972 and track reached the present terminus in 1975) the P&L account has been uncomfortably close to zero and some years in the red. By 1985 it had given up the policy of using full-time staff to operate the trains and volunteer operation came to the fore, but still the owning company clung on to its commercial, profit-making structure. What was being done on Saturday should have been carried out twenty years ago. Enough shareholders were gathered together to convert the company into a not-for-profit company, thus taking the first steps to make it eligible for grants and other financial assistance to take the railway forward again. Thanks in no small measure to Julian Birley and friend Toby Watkins, applications are being progressed which it is hoped will bring forth the development of a new loco shed in 2014 to replace the "agricultural barn" that has served the line for the last 40 years. Julian gave a stirring call to rally the troops emphasising the potential of the railway and what a great future it is going to have. Having spent a lot of time and effort there from 1977 through to 2001, I hope it does and maybe Steph and I will get back and help one day.

But for the present the one day of the weekend left was for Andrew and me to get out on collections nearer to home. Although Plan A had been to head to Scunthorpe, not only had the throttle cable not appeared (and enquiry late in the week revealed that it had not even been manufactured yet) but the new pulley to speed up the charge pumps only arived in the UK from Italy on Friday and it and the belts would therefore not arrive until this next week. Although I could see plenty of work we could be getting on with, Andrew determined that we would switch to Plan B which was to head to the DVLR at York and "Pluto".

After a quick check of the batteries Pluto was fired up and the oil pressures monitored. The gauge on our relief valve shows 150psi with cold oil, but more concerning was that the gauge coming off the gallery only showed about 50psi at the same time, so either the Foden relief valve is dropping it or the run-away which occurred when the oil filter canisters blew open last year may have given us some significant bearing wear. Whatever we will not know until it has some more running in service, so after warming it through for half an hour or so we turned our attention to "James".

James - the brother to Jack - is a Yorkshire 0-4-0DH with Rolls-Royce engine that had a considerable hunt such that we had the fuel pump away for attention but having refitted it, turned our attention to other locos. Today we had brought up a set of batteries but opening the battery box lid revealed it to be 4" deep in rainwater, despite drain holes I drilled in it some years ago. We cleaned out the debris and waited patiently as the holes resumed their function. While rainwater was still exiting, Andrew collected clean water and started filling the engine's cooling system, only to find a serious leak back at the cab's heater matrix, so we had to blank that off before it would hold water. I got the batteries into position and hooked up but turning on the master switch caused nothing to light up or operate. Probing around with a test meter showed the 25.1 battery volts could be traced as far as the control circuit fuse but we remembered having difficulties with the master switch before - it is an old CAV design superceeded by the more common 444 - and we suspected that lack of use has left corrosion on its contacts, leading to high resistance. Tempting though it was to start a full strip/clean/reassemble of the starter cables and switch (they are inside the cab whereas outside there was a biting wind and occasional hail showers) Andrew voted to scrub it having thus brought himself up to date with what needs doing. James is due to come to Rowsley in the late spring so it may get left for that.

Andrew has a day off on Thursday to oversee the arrival of one large and several smaller things, so expect another thrilling installment next week....

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