Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of friends and enemies, wheels and jacks

7th July 2013

Years ago, when I was working at Thomas Hills, a new competitor appeared on the scene - Wilmott Brothers, a plant dealer/hirer based near Nottingham. Now, to my mind, if you are in business and representing your employer to customers, there is only one way you can regard a competitor. He is the Brand X your powder will out-wash; he is scum, nothing he does is right and he has no right to exist. It is your job, every day (but without openly slagging him off, the etiquette of business does not allow it, that is why he is referred to as Brand X) to get out there and ensure that the customers know that you are the better supplier than he can ever be.

For if you ever start accepting the Brand X is really quite good, that the chaps that run it are actually nice fellows like you and me and taking that customer off them might be like taking the bread from their mouths, you stop competing and frankly, you're no good as a salesman. We once had a rep from an airline in the office. Every time we brought up a competitor he fell over himself telling us what a fine airline that was and after he left, we realised that he had effectively promoted all of them but not the airline employing him.

And so it was for years with Wilmotts. I firmly believed (and could cite numerous examples) that the work they did was poor, their customer service pitiful, the prices charged excessive, etc., etc. Then a few years ago, the brothers split: Mick Wilmott set up a new firm in South Wales and continued to do locomotive work. My position had also changed and he was now not a competitor but a potential customer, so I called. Actually, I found him a thoroughly nice guy. When I wanted some filters for one of Andrew's locos and normal suppliers had no stock, I phoned him on the off-chance and within 24 hours I was meeting his eldest son, Lance, at an A610 lay-by to collect them.

Sadly, Mick died unexpectedly a year or so ago, catapulting Lance into the MD's chair rather earlier than he envisaged. I was unaware that neither Lance, nor his younger brother, shared their Dad's interest in locos, so that work ceased as they concentrated on generator sets and converting diesel engines to run on gas. I happened to enquire though, when on to Lance about more filters, and soon found myself looking over their stores and in particular, negotiating to buy their Matterson jack set for our embryo shed. All this occurred of course, just after we had taken delivery of a set made by an American company, but the South Wales set was in far better condition, having been stored mostly indoors.

Andrew had also negotiated to buy some parts from the Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway, from the Sentinel 34ton loco that they had decided to scrap, and an RF11 final drive and converter were awaiting our collection. All in all we had a reasonable lorry load, and Spectrum were booked.

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So first thing Wednesday morning Andrew and I were blasting down the M5/M50, arriving at Furnace Sidings just after 09.30 to find the lorry already loaded and strapping down. We had a little bit of a look around before following it further west along the Heads of the Valleys road into Merthyr. The Matterson towers, control cabinet, and 5 pallets/stillages of parts were loaded aboard and secured and about noon we were heading back north. We were even donated a couple of spare stillages to help alleviate our storage issues at Rowsley

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While the lorry headed straight for Derbyshire, we detoured to Alan Keef's at Ross-on-Wye to collect some wheels. And here I must make introduction to another project that the fertile Briddon-brain concocted. [The spell checker rejected that and its first alternative suggestion was Brain-dead. Hmm.] Back in the late 1980s, when I was much involved with Bala Lake Railway, I had it in mind to build a narrow-gauge steam loco. The Hunslet Quarry tanks, with their 1'8" wheels and 3'3" wheelbase, were a little undersized - indeed, George Barnes frequently told the tale that the company had had a quote from Hunslet for two Port class 0-4-0STs which at the time they could have afforded, but Don Townsley put them off saying that the locos were inadequate for the climb back up to Llanuwchllyn. What I thought might be more suitable was a loco with slightly bigger cylinders, wheels and wheelbase. I had always liked the Avonside 0-4-0Ts, such as Marchlyn and Ogwen that had worked at the Penrhyn and Dinorwic quarries, and close examination of the pictures and a drawing by the very same Don indicated that Avonside had come up with a very cost-effective design. At the time, these Avonsides had all been exported and the chances of any coming back were of course, non-existent.(!) I concluded that a set of wheels and axles from a Hunslet mines loco would be a good start. This wasn't to be a replica, rather a look-alike.

At the time the WHR(64) were thinking of building an 0-8-0D for operating the line north to Pont Croesor, and a deal was eventually struck that saw me acquiring the wheelsets, axleboxes and springs from two 3ft gauge Hunslet 0-6-0DMs in Booths, and taking them to Porthmadog, 4 for them, and 2 for me, to be re-gauged.

I won't go in to what has been a long and involved story, but suffice it to say that the project rather got stalled as other events got in the way, and we ended up with springs back here in Derbyshire, axleboxes and wheels at Keef's and axles at Ruddington. Not much progress for twenty years, and apart from a brake column from a Ruston 165 (which I kept from the clutches of a certain M Hart who wanted it for Gervase), that was it. But young Andrew insists that we are going to see it through, and that we will shortly have the space to build it, and in the expectation that the axles will at last be finished and available, we needed to get the old crankpins out. Four cast wheels in the back of the van made it sit down a bit, but we headed onward.

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By six pm, we were back at Rowsley and so was the wagon. Unloading it didn't take long, but transferring the Mattersons from outside into the shed and positioning them roughly ready to accept a particular loco took us until 9pm.

I was back at Rowsley the following morning to show off "Tom" to a senior member of the AFRPS, who, at age 18, rode the Sentinels at Normanby Park. He assumed that they had all been scrapped when the steelworks closed, but I was able to assure him that many survived to go on to Tinsley Park and Ravenscraig and one or two are around even now. I showed him over the dozen locos of Andrews currently at Rowsley, while both Charlie and Cheedale were in action sorting stock out and preparing to shunt one road completely in order to place the ex-Darley sleeping carriage right at the far end.

As an aside, Briddon Towers went on the market last Monday, when we signed on the dotted line at a Sheffield Estate Agents. The 'For Sale' sign did not get erected until Friday, which was a good thing as I was still clearing stuff out and fillering a hole in the kitchen ceiling. We have had one offer already.

The weather got hotter this week and we headed over to Scunthorpe on Saturday in bright sunshine. Toby and friend had painted all the running plates on Beverley in black, leaving me to run two wires out to the front headlight and sleeve a connection I had put in to the t/c switch. With that completed, we fired the loco up, and Andrew made further adjustments to the control valves in the desk before taking it out for a warming run up and down the yard. Here it is, with a Hunslet BoBo passing in the background for good measure.

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Late in the afternoon, with Janus "No.1" in tow for load/insurance, Bev set off for a proving run around part of the plant. Last time we tried this, the Janus brought it back dead, this time Bev completed the circuit unaided. We headed back via Briddon Towers to complete painting the kitchen ceiling and tidy up ready for further viewings.

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Sunday and after sorting out the van we headed in to Rowsley. Like boys and toys (and the fact that it was a b*** sight cooler in the shed) we hooked up the Mattersons to their control panel, checked all the limit switches and tried each jack in turn, eventually putting the lifting beam in at the buffer stop end of the track. There are a number of little things to sort - like the power plug on the 3-phase supply is cracked and needs replacing - but basically it is sound and functional. But the sun outside made other work very tiring, and although we unloaded and transferred a number of the loose parts from the pallets into the VBA, we kept breaking off for liquid refills. I went to start James, and found a wasps nest has appeared just behind the radiator top tank. I have never liked wasps since one stung me when I was about 5, so decided to start it up anyway and give them a headache. In hindsight, we should have grabbed the empty road in the shed vacated by D8 to carry out a FTR and prep the 14 for service, but I fear the heat compromised our thinking processes.

Things will be a little peculiar over the next few weeks - for Andrew's SO and mother of our grandson fell and broke her wrist last Monday and complications have made things worse, so she will be in hospital for another week. So we will grab odd days and I may be left to soldier bravely on alone without the Young Master to keep me on the straight and narrow. For now, Friday is set in stone, but you'll have to wait and see what is going on.

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