Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of being stuck in 2nd gear

11th January 2015

I imagine many a newspaper or magazine columnist has been in the same dilemma. Deadline drawing near, the keyboard sat ready and absolutely nothing coming to mind to write about.

For what has been achieved on the collection front this week: well quite honestly, things haven't moved much forward.  The little forklift was in action last weekend, and early in the week a Cat manual for it arrived from an e-bay seller, and is probably worth its price simply by the fact it has a wiring diagram! For the main 3 things that need attention – the wiring, the tyres and some longer forks – have taken up some time but as yet nothing to show for it.

At the moment, the forklift is sat on the two big (relatively speaking) front tyres which once upon a time were “slicks” (no tread pattern) but are now to say the least worn and with some chunks missing. Andrew has spent some odd moments in contact with suppliers and priced up replacements, which will have some sort of tread to suit the slightly less perfect surfaces of the shed. The forks, at 4ft long, are slightly too short to be reliably lifting something from the middle of a loco (which, at 8ft 6 wide, means a span of 4ft 3 at the centre line) a 5ft fork would be better.  We can either tackle this with a pair of 6ft forks all the time, or stick with the existing and get extension pieces for when we need the extra length. But when you weigh up the pros and cons, longer forks from the outset would seem to make the most sense.

All of this is a little bit of a sideshow, since neither of us possess a forklift truck  (FLT) licence and a new national scheme is in place so that everyone who drives forklifts should have an appropriate licence and be on the register – a sort of DVLA for FLTs. For myself, I have owned and driven forklifts for years , indeed, one of my readers assured me years ago that I was a better driver than the employed ones at a certain MoD depot. I cut my teeth as it were on an old battery electric one. In the old days, before solid state controllers gave you the ability to drive a DC motor in much the same way as a model train, your throttle pedal toggled a series of contactors which introduced differing resistors with a  sudden surge of power that could be un-nerving. Not that that really applied to my first, which was either deficient in battery oomph or needed its motor re-winding. Outside the then-unit I leased for the business, there was a slight downhill slope, and having driven it out, it proved unable to get itself back in. There was, on either side of the door, a substantial RSJ set vertically out of the concrete – either to stop mis-aligned lorries hitting the walls of the unit, or for the leasee to provide his own anti-ram-raid bars, I never knew – either way you can see one of them by the target trolley in December's blog Of tracklaying underwater.  Thus the vendor of said forklift came over with large lorry straps, and using these RSJs, effectively catapulted the forklift back into the unit. It never left again until I had a separate loco workshops and transported it down there.

Incidentally, apart from the target trolley, the little unit at one time housed a Wickham trolley belonging to ICI which  I rebodied, repowered (to Kubota) and converted to hydrostatic transmission. I was pleased with that job – I flex-mounted the body structure and consequently it was very quiet and exotic inside. We used to hold meetings in there. Then there was BNFL's minilok – a road-rail locomotive for which I was agent in the UK. It came in only for a  couple of weeks – to have its UK oval buffers fitted and a couple of minor tests before it was accepted for delivery to Sellafield, but we had a lot of enthusiasts around during that  time and I put a few hours in “demo-ing” around the estate yard.    There were also two n.g Simplexes. The first was a plate frame that we acquired as part of a  collaboration with Cummins to repower one using an Onan engine, as Onan had just been bought out. But the power unit (a 4-cylinder) was too long so instead we acquired a girder frame Simplex of greater width. We had got as far as getting the engine in when Cummins decided that the particular Onan engine was uneconomic to manufacture. Both locos went down to the works. Much later the girder frame was sold to Chasewater (this was after the company was liquidated) but the plate frame was removed by person or persons unknown and I later saw a photo of it in the Stoke on Trent area.

Anyway, back with the old battery forklift: it went down to the “works”  which  was flat and more spacious, as the forklift's direct mechanical steering (no power assist) made it hard work all round. But its rear (steering) wheels were close together in a  style you don't see much nowadays, and because of the mass of the beast (all those batteries) it put down a  lot of weight on them. At the works there were a number of ducts in the concrete floor to carry services around, and covered with lightly re-inforced concrete covers.  The weight of the rear wheels was too much,  and a loud report and the forklift sitting down at the back was commonplace. We replaced broken covers with steel  plates, but the forklift had to go. The vendor had gone out of business so we scrapped it and bought a gas-powered Toyota instead.

I put many happy hours in on that. Admittedly, its propensity to run out of gas at inopportune moments was a bit of a drag, but we got extension forks for it, and even lifted Cummins 855 engines into locos. This really was asking it to do a job above and beyond, for although rated at about 1.5tons (whereas a dry 855 was about 2500lbs) that was at a distance of maybe 24”, whereas I was lifting an engine into a loco at , yes, 4ft 3. Can you imagine the leverage? It was of course, a four man job. One to drive the forklift, one to guide the engine into place and drop a bolt or two to position it, and the other two sat on the back to provide extra counterbalance weight, and even then it would tend to lift a bit...

Towards the end of YEC, we had moved to a  different unit and felt the need for another FLT, and a newer battery electric one came available from another firm on the estate. I had barely got the charger wired up when forced to put the firm into liquidation and although it followed me to RMS - it never ran again. Pity really, I was offered it but couldn't think where to put it. RMS had a large diesel powered one that was a bit of a cow to start (low compression) but after that was OK, I used it occasionally if in the works over a weekend, especially in the time when Libby was stored for Andrew as a favour and we would do some work on it. As an aside, we had one occasion when as we came to return home from RMS on a  Sunday evening, the gearchange linkage on the Land Rover failed, and left us stuck in  2nd gear to drive from Wakefield to Sheffield., some 20plus miles.   Nevertheless, I took it down the M1, which was scarcely going to endear us to the Sunday evening London-bound rush as we monopolised the slow lane with the Landy thrashing along at 20mph, which I believe is technically an offence. Of course I free-wheeled it on the downhill sections as it went faster than foot-to-the-floor in drive. It was on one such drop, with speed having crept up to around 35-40mph, that we were passed by a  Police patrol! As it was they carried on into the evening gloom, but what if they had found us going uphill?

So I have been classed by the FLT instructor as “experienced” which means a  two-day course rather than a 3 for novices, and day 1 is booked Tuesday coming. With Andrew partaking as well.

Andrew has had our grandson up for the weekend, so I was not really expecting to get much done, which at least means I am not disappointed as the sum total is nothing! There is no hint of us being provided with a shed key for Rowsley so we are currently unable to access our property there: let us hope the matter gets resolved before we feel the need to get on with 14 901. Next weekend too is problematic, for Andrew has important exams for his CEng on the Monday so will be swatting (or had better be) all weekend.

So that's about it for this week. I started with nothing to write about but have managed to rabbit on for a  while as usual. Apologies for the lack of “rail” interest. I promise to try harder.

More in this category: « Of hot and cold Of horns and pipes »

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