On a cold and frosty Monday morning, I turned up at 08.00 as agreed by a late phone call and found myself all alone. It was in the end Rob who arrived first, and after going through that time-honoured ritual, the lighting of the tool van stove, we contemplated shunting things around to get the steelwork into position for unloading, and to aid which, both Charlie and Cheedale had come down in the first place. The contractors rolled up at about 08.40, and after going through preliminaries, set up the laser level and deduced how much packing was required at each and every one of the side columns, and proceeded to place a small pipe of miscellaneous packing in the centre point of each. Now pay attention as I might be asking questions later.
Onto each pile was lowered Andrew's stools – stop giggling at the back there – and these were duly tightened down until a spirit level decreed they were level in both planes, and by virtue of the packing pieces underneath, at the same height all the way round. And that, sad to say, was about as far as things got on Monday as, in a distinct feeling of deja vu, the plant did not arrive as planned.
On Tuesday the plant arrived at 07.45, and I at least was there to see it off. The contractors made much more progress that day, unloading both wagons of the steel and starting to erect columns, though the job came to a halt when late in the afternoon the first half of the concrete panels arrived and had to be put somewhere. (I had declared, many moons ago, that we would need 3 times the area of the actual shed clear in order to lay out the materials, but sadly all my planned space has been occupied with materials (“arisings”) which have yet to leave site.)
When I had laid out a complete frame last November on the grass at Rowsley, it looked small and I doubted (but for the evidence of my tape measure) that it would span the gap between the sides on the foundations. Once the columns started to appear in the vertical it began to take on a whole new sense of scale. It was raining steadily too but that did not deter them, sloshing around in 3” of rainwater on top of the foundations: even snow came down but work did not cease
Up at Rowsley, there was some consternation when the locomotive department realised that we had run off with Cheedale, as they wanted to get Lord Phil out for a boiler wash-out, but Ashdown was adjacent and although the traction clutch is still a pain, it did the job.
Meanwhile Harvey had come down, as Peak Rail's official rigger, and he and Rob deployed the crane. The last duty of the siding had been to see the steelwork off – now it was in the way as access will be required around the end and ultimately the siding must be realigned and finished off flush, but that is for later. For now the panels were lifted aside and the buffer stop moved up to suit.
So as I said, late afternoon, the first consignment of our concrete panels arrived. As the lorry was a 6w rigid, we made no attempt to bring him on site and instead unloaded him at the entrance. Meanwhile efforts to make the Portakabin door shut were proving fruitless, and it became apparent that in their haste, the supplier had put on an interior door and the glue was unsticking itself. I dashed off to the timber merchants at Tansley and came back with a pucker one, and later that evening Rob gave us a hand to hang it, for by then Andrew was home from work, just in time in fact to join Rob in the cab of Cheedale, which propelled the empty wagons and the rail crane back to Rowsley, while I did the gates at Church Lane.
On Wednesday we not only had rain but we had wind, and although the structure was safe, with enough eve-beams and tension tubes, the next stage was to assemble to the first roof truss, and the that was unsafe in the prevailing gale. On Thursday however, the weather had calmed, and all the roof trusses, stiffening tubes and some of the purlins got in place. Charlie had taken the works train down to Matlock on Wednesday and Thursday, so the yard looked strangely deserted.
By Friday there was another man on the job, and the roof purlins were being rapidly fitted, followed by the first of the concrete interior panels. (For security and insulation, the first 2metres of the inside walls are precast reinforced concrete panels, which are quickly clamped to the inside of the columns all the way round. Should someone cut their way through the outer sheeting, the thick concrete will be something of an obstacle. Internally it makes a smooth finish and the void between will be filled with insulation). As I said a week ago, this is big-lump engineering. Volunteers arriving at Darley on the Saturday were of course, amazed to discover that the shed had “appeared” during the week, but while we are doing the floor, and such, over the next few weeks there won't seem to be much happening.
I had a chat with the structural engineers on Friday – having revised my requirements (especially where the Mattersons will reside) and clarified axleloads and such, a more affordable floor scheme should be with me within the week, and we will then decide how to split the work up and seek quotations.
Anyway, Andrew was away this weekend and I spent Saturday morning experimenting with ideas for fabricated code light enclosures for D2128, but after lunch, wandered down to Darley to inspect what a reader suggested I should dub the “Briddon Country Pile Annex” - or maybe the “Country Pile Summer house” and make sure the temporary fences I had erected (yes the pins had arrived on Monday) were still intact. Well, the pins were rather flimsy, and in the wind had bent over before finally allowing themselves to be pulled out the ground, but we'd reinstated them Friday night and they were still there. I took a number of shots for the record, and got one of Lord Phil passing by, before retiring to the warmth of the signal cabin where I photo'd it coming back into Darley, with the shed in the background.
After Darley I headed up to Rowsley with no particular plan in mind, and decided that on Sunday I would come in and give 14 901 a fire up and warm it through.
I was still watching the Cross Country Skiiing from Sotchi, and thinking how 3 skiers following each other along two closely-spaced grooves in the snow made therm look like a narrow gauge train, when my phone rang and I found myself requested to have the 14 out in time to take the 11.15 train as there was a problem with Lord Phil. It was just turned 10.30. A quick wash and shave and hunt for my official train-driving gear and I headed in to Rowsley.
Now, the last time 901 was used was its last rostered day of the season in 2013, back in October, and although we have a list of jobs that we want to carry out before the season starts, the weather and lack of lifting facility at Rowsley until the JCB is back, plus these minor sideshows like D2128, the shed, Tom, etc., etc., has meant that the list has remained just that. Worse still, a loco that is left unused, especially during the worst of the winter, cannot be expected to work perfectly first time. Nonetheless, aided by Roy Taylor, who has now passed “his rules” and so can not only be my secondman but also remind me where the TSRs and signals are, we set to to check it over. I struggled to open the door next to the priming pump (which is “on the list” to be stripped and de-seized), pumped up the oil, and to my surprise, the batteries, after a moment's hesitation, cranked the engine and it fired.
In the rush, we might I think be excused for not noticing that someone had left 14 901 coupled to the Falmouth Docks saddle tank sat under sheets. It was about 11.10 when the air pressure was sufficient to move off and when I opened the throttle, expecting it to be a “little stiff” it became obvious that something was holding us back – a 28ton 0-4-0ST with its brakes on.
It is easy, of course to buffer up and toss off the screw-coupler. But not when 14 901 is feeling cantankerous. You cannot leave a loco alone and unloved and expect it to be good natured when suddenly you want it to come to somebody's rescue. 14 901 refused to reverse. The time ticked on. I tried moving away in the hope of “bouncing back” on the drawhook springs but just succeeded in pulling the screw coupler tighter. Eventually, the air pressure in the cylinder overcame 4 months of rust/stiffness in the Hunslet box and 14 901 condescended to buffer us up. I dropped off the saddle tank, the 14 went back to forwards and we set off for the platform. I thought that would be it for now – with a run up the track the oil in the Hunslet box was sure to get thrown around and the gear selector would get its share. At the top end of the station I was reassured when it changed reasonably quickly, and again at the crossover at the south end. But up to now the loco had only been on its own, as I buffered up to the train, like a show jumper at a fence, it refused.
Well, that's not entirely true. I had buffered up, I thought, and reversed the box ready to set off when I got the request to close up tighter as they couldn't get the screw on the carriage. Having destroyed the vac ready to get the bag on this meant re-charging the vac before the loco brake would release, but 14 901 didn't like this and refused to go back to forwards. Eventually after coaxing we buffered up again, got the coupling and vac on, and 901 refused to go back to reverse.
Pity the poor driver at this point. While silently pleading with the loco to do what you want it to, you are being bombarded by questions and requests from your secondman, four or five assorted members of the station staff, and a gaggle of passengers and on-lookers. There is a lot to be said for locking the driving compartment door, pulling down whatever blinds or sun-visors you might have for privacy and screaming. It wasn't helped when the engine suddenly stopped, but eventually (and by now it was 11.45) it all got sorted out, and if I did set off with the markers on but no headlamp, it was a minor issue.
14 901 was still as stiff as a board and I knew it would take the first run before things warmed up and freed themselves. Another annoying little thing I had noticed was that one of the pressure regulators that control the vac train valve had shifted, so we were running with a slightly higher vac pipe and first application was a little different to normal. I found out a how much on the first run, pulling up short at Darley Dale, although I consoled myself that this was probably because everything was still rather stiff.
This time of year Peak Rail only runs as far as Matlock Riverside, and the last time I brought a train in there was 2010, and it was only 4 coaches. Today was 5 but I had it in my head that there was plenty of room, and pulled up gently and smoothly, to be told that we were probably still fouling the top end of the loop. Today was becoming such a good day. Once the passengers had de-trained I pulled it forward another carriage length, uncoupled and ran round.
By now the gearbox was co-operating and apart from a few noises that I didn't remember from last year, all seemed to be settling down. We made a spirited run back up to Darley, were advised that Lord Phil would be waiting at Rowsley but we'd do a second run top-n-tail to ensure that the problem (a wash-out plug that had reportedly “fizzled” on Saturday leaked profusely this morning) was OK. And sure enough, Lord Phil was sat on the access road. We ran round to the south end (so that Lord Phil had the north end by the water tank) and after grabbing a tea and a sandwich, off we went again.
On our return to Rowsley I was for dropping 901 off and leaving them to it, one or two of those noises were mysterious and I felt uneasy. But they (at the kettle end) wanted me to stay on, and to make sure of it I found I had the Operations director, Gordon Bennett, along in the cab. He kept asking questions which fortunately I could leave Roy to answer, but I felt like I was under scrutiny the whole way and tried to do my 'bestest driving'.
We had just stopped in the right place at Matlock when the engine died. At first, as Gordon was stood in the middle of the cab (where one's bum is in close proximity with the stop button) I thought he had accidentally caused a shutdown, but cranking the engine had no effect. After a couple of failed attempts, I took the large adjustable spanner which had happened to come along for the ride and cracked the drain line on the header tank. Fuel promptly came out. On a couple of previous occasions (Elsecar in 2009 and Butterley in 2010) we have suffered from a fuel blockage, of which we remained unaware until the header tank ran dry. But thorough cleaning since had removed that problem and the fact that fuel was there, the stop solenoid was on and the throttle linkage in order left me baffled. I admitted defeat, isolated the exhauster and the train brake valve and let Lord Phil haul us back.
Rob Sanders and I had a phone conference while we stood at Darley to agree what to do. While the kettle took on water at Rowsley, I legged it smartly over to Cheedale, got the air up, brought it across and followed the steamer down the loop to the crossover. After they headed down and brought 901 back, I headed over the crossover, took over the 14 and hauled it back to the sheds while they dropped back on the train and took it out with hardly any delay.
901 was still unpleasantly warm under the casings so I changed from my train driver's outfit into my hivi overalls and like any true Englishman, went off to seek a cup of tea.
I have often told the tale, that one of the first jobs Andrew and I undertook when we first got or hands on 14 901 was to go over what it was and what had been done to it. In the battery box were a collection of batteries of different shapes and sizes, one of which – an ordinary 12v car battery – was connected to a small twin wire- domestic house type – which went up to the desk, through a switch, and headed on into the engine bay, and disappeared into the left hand fuel tank. I pulled on the wire and out came a garden fountain pump. This was the previous owner's idea of a fuel lift pump, yet there was a perfectly good gear pump, belt-driven, which had been disconnected and its pipe sawn through. We concluded that this engine had a problem lifting fuel for start, so one of our earliest tasks was to reconnect the belt-drive pump, but feed this through the filters and up to a small header tank, which then gravity fed the engine fuel pump. Excess fuel was intended to return back to tank by a drain line, so maintaining the head of fuel.
Originally I put no provision in for internal inspection, but more recently we cut a new lid, drilled and tapped securing holes, and re-sealed the tank having given it a good clean out. Coincidentally we began to notice a fuel leak, which we thought was a hose from tank to pump.
With 901 cooled off, I removed the inspection cover of the header tank and dangled my fingers inside, still expecting to feel air. Instead I found fuel up to the drain pipe level, as it should be. Returning to the cab I happened to press the start button, and 901 cranked and promptly fired, somewhat to my astonishment. I returned to the casings to inspect what was happening, and found fuel cascading over the top of the header. I dashed back and shut down.
A whole new scenario now presents itself. Presumably through some quirk of pipework diameters and bends, the drain line is sufficiently restricted to prevent free flow of the returning fuel to tank (which explains why you often hear fuel dribbling back after shutdown, I hadn't thought much of it). So presumably too, the tank was filling and pressurising, so maybe our mysterious leak is fuel under pressure forcing its way out between cover plate and gasket. And possibly too (as Andrew observed during a further conference call at 5pm) if fuel was pressurised at the pump, it might be overcoming the pump seals and finding it way into the sump. Which is all very interesting, but doesn't explain why it shut down in the first place.
Of course, a new header tank was on the list of things we wanted to do this winter (the new tank is still in its wrappings in the garage here at the Briddon Country Pile), to ensure that 14 901 gave her best this summer. Along with the new coolant hoses, a service (to flush out the contaminated lube oil) swap the Voith oil cooler for our overhauled spare, free up the door catches, touch up the paintwork, and so on. But the weather hasn't been kind and our opportunities limited. What we need, is a shed of our own...