Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of mobile mixers and forklift fixes

15th March 2015

After a slight hiccup in communication, which resulted in me sitting around most of Monday afternoon, I set off for Langwith to collect the newly-ebayed cement mixer. It was though waiting for me on arrival, swiftly loaded into the van, and I set off back for Darley Dale with it in the back and I thought, unlikely to 'go anywhere'. It is a cross-country trip up hill and down dale, and all was well until, braking steadily on a downhill with a sharp bend at the bottom, a car coming the other way came wide around the bend and onto my side of the road. I braked hard.  There was no collision, but the mixer set off down the van, toppled over and sculpted a new dent in the toolbox.

Years ago – well March 1972 to be precise – I collected my second 2ft gauge diesel, a Hudson-Hunslet 20hp – from a contractors yard in Wakefield. It was the final stage of one of those mad weekend jaunts that you get involved in when you're young and foolhardy.  Meeting up with a friend in north London (in those days I lived in Surbiton) we had driven up to a gravel pit in Lincolnshire in a hired Ford 3.5ton lorry, there to collect four 1.5 cu yard Hudson side tippers which were destined for the Talyllyn. From Lincolnshire we went to Stafford to meet up with another member of the “team” but misjudging consumption and the availability of fuel late in the evening had us cruising down much of the Talyllyn pass with the engine off (to save fuel) and watching the air brake gauge in case it fell low enough to put any spring brakes on. It was over this weekend I learnt a method of hill-starting which has served to get me out of trouble on a couple of later occasions, as the spring-apply/pressure release parking brakes can be a little awkward in such situations. The technique was to release the parking brake while holding your right foot on the footbrake, left foot on the clutch, right hand reaching down to operate the throttle pedal  and with left hand on the steering wheel, you can just see forwards.  Yes I know it might be frowned on by a driving instructor, but when you've stalled the darn thing 3 times and traffic behind you is beginning to get impatient, there is a  time for doing it by the book, but that is the time to improvise.

Anyway, on the second day we went west from Tywyn (actually it was probably still Towyn in those days) and arrived at Wakefield – unfortunately an hour or so after the crane which had been waiting to load us had departed back to depot. Of course, no mobile phones in those days. So day 3 had us back to meet the crane, the loco loaded, and simply placed on two piles of timber so that the loco sat on its axleboxes (it was a chain drive so the boxes were external) with the wheels clear of the floor. And that, declared my driver, was all that was required, though he threw a couple of ropes over just in case any passing patrol car might investigate and disagree with him. And in truth, there the loco sat for the 200+ miles down to Surrey, swaying slightly on its springs all the way.  If we had been involved in a collision? Well, no doubt someone can tell me just how many g's are required to overcome the friction of timber on timber under the loco weight, but I rather doubt whether we would have cared either way. As it was we came through London (no M25 – though why we didn't take the North Circular I don't recall) just after a local football match had finished, in traffic chaos thanks to a power cut taking the traffic lights out for several miles, and arrived, just as evening descended, in Farnham where the loco was to be unloaded.

Now, one thing I had not mentioned was that on this design of loco, the brake was a tramway type – namely a steel shaft had a chain wrapped round it that pulled on the brake linkage. The brake shaft passed vertically through the one-piece cast frame of the loco and presented the driver with a four-spoked wheel that looked for all the world like it was there for steering, but no matter, as on this machine, having been stood in this contractors yard for quite a few years, the brake shaft was at one with the frame. (Years later I got it to turn by removing the casing sides, gripping it with a Stillsons and about 10 foot of scaffold tube...)  Fortunately (or unfortunately) it was seized in the off position, and unloading the loco at Farnham was to be a somewhat  less-professional affair – i.e. no crane, and self-drive hire lorries do not come equipped with winches.

The lorry was backed into two ditches which sloped the deck a bit towards the ground – a length of prefabricated track was placed between the back of the deck and the track  beyond, and a Hudson tipper bucket  squeezed half-way down so that the track was not completely unsupported. (Thinking about it now,  with many s.g. loco moves behind me, still makes me whince. But I suppose I am just older - a lot - and wiser - somewhat).  The loco was lowered off its wooden plinths, propelled to the rear of the lorry, and launched down the pre-fab track. By now incidentally it was dark and we were working by various car headlamps.

Actually, as the first two wheels came into contact with the ramp track, they had enough leverage over the end of the lorry to lift the far end and to my horror I saw the rails return to ground but now out of alignment with the track at the bottom. It was by then as the saying goes 'committed' and as the loco's second axle found the ramp the track lifted again but this time bounced back into line.

Now 3tons of Hunslet with no brakes on a gradient of  maybe 1 in 7 accelerates quite rapidly even on a ramp of only 20feet or so. It raced out of the headlamp-lit area, but its arrival at the bottom of the ramp was dramatic as the buffer beams, which would normally be only 2 or 3 inches above rail level, were scarcely expected to deal with a  sudden change in gradient like ours and a shower of red flame and sparks confirmed its landing. We chased after it. To finish the story of that loco, I never got it going at Farnham, but it moved on to Llanuwchllyn and there we succeeded, but as the spur we were on was not then connected to the main RhLlT track, we pointed it up the yard and drove it along the rock-hard roadway....

Anyway, back to Monday and on arrival at Darley I unloaded the mixer and could not resist giving it a whirl. It appears to work reasonably satisfactorily but has an inch or more of old cement in the drum which needs extracting, mainly with a hammer and chisel. That aside, it should serve its purpose and saves borrowing the usual one which, under present circumstances, might not be readily forthcoming.

On Tuesday I headed off for a round-robin with a  long list of places to go to, from the profilers for a further batch of rail clamp fittings, my oil suppliers, fabricators, hydraulic pipe suppliers, etc., etc – it took up most of the day. But with the new stock of clamps I set about securing the rails we had laid in position last weekend, and, later in the week, positioned the last of the rails on the east side track, which now runs the full length of the shed. James was started up and given the chance to travel all the way up, before transferring across and propelling the other resident forward a bit  so that both are currently sat on the western track.

Dom Beglin was back at Darley on Friday continuing the work on the lever frame at the exit of the yard, but reckons that it will be the end of the month at the earliest before it can be completed.

But I had been at Darley first thing Friday to meet the inspector who was to give our forklift an inspection so that it complies with LOLER regulations. He found a  few things that we need to attend to, a few more that are advisory (like it doesn't have a  reverse alarm or a flashing beacon, but then we'll be inside and working together with it anyway), but for the greater part considering its age and the work that we have already carried out, pronounced it fit.

The weekend arrived with a conflict of intentions. Plan A was to head over to Scunthorpe and do some work on 03 901, but Andrew was up a bit late and was due to be going out in the evening, and as the weather forecast wasn't too bad, we proceeded under Plan B to Darley Dale and carried on with some work there. Today, Steph joined us, and she and Andrew braved the metalliferous jungle that was once the interior of the container, bringing out all manner of things from wallpaper steamers to Cindy dolls houses. Some of our racking was deemed too badly distorted for further use, and brought out for a planned scrap skip, some of it, where we had put bracing bars, had bent sufficiently  that even the bracing bars had adopted new shapes, and sections of racking refused to return to the places they had toppled over from, but by the end of the day access to the nether reaches of the container had been restored, though a car load of bits, books and damaged detritus had been extracted for recycling. I meantime, (lest you think I have had my feet up watching others work) had been swaging hydraulic hoses, pulling through, numbering and crimping wires, etc. on a loco for a  customer.

I had hoped that we might make a start on purlin brackets and the like, since there is still a significant amount of work for us to to before the cladding can be applied to the building. We really do want to see this completed during the year, and start to get some benefit on the many thousands of pounds spent so far.

So it only remains to thank the number of you who sent messages of encouragement following the story in last week's instalment – I will get around to answering you individually in due course.

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