Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of beams and vans

26th July 2015

This week, the van seems to have decided that I have been taking it for granted. And maybe I had, but it's rather like owning a loco. I coined a phrase once 'you never notice a loco until the day it isn't there'. I used it in copy for a leaflet at Hills promoting our loco hire services (I've got a proof but sadly it never went into print) and reflects the fact that unless you are so flush with funds that you have two of everything just in case, then when your one-and-only breaks down normal routines get severely disrupted.

It started on Tuesday, when, out of kind consideration for it, I took it down to the local tyre and exhaust suppliers to get the tracking re-checked. Actually, it's not all that long since it was done (March) but Andrew was adamant it was pulling and scuffing the front tyres, so I took it in, and sure enough it was 'out'. Feeling benevolent, I told them to re-balance the front tyres while they were at it, since it has been producing a lot of vibration at 60mph or more and if the tyres had scuffed, well, there's no reason to believe they'd scuffed evenly.

That's when the trouble began – removing the wheels revealed firstly a broken front spring, and secondly that the rubber covers on the cv joints were split on both sides. I told them to get on it with it, and ended up spending the whole afternoon there. It had its positive side though – I already knew that Nicola, who is in charge, used to live on the same street that the Briddon Country Pile graces, but now I also know that she was off to Welland this last weekend as the family owns a Fowler steam road engine that was at the Rally there.

Anyway, after showing the van all this consideration and rectifying its defects, you'd think it would be grateful. But it seems not.

Thus, confident that the van was fit and contented, I headed out to a customer on Wednesday, and as I traversed the M1 on the return, revelling in the smooth way it cruised happily at around 70 without the violent shaking heretofore, I glanced in my rear-view mirror and saw what I took to be smoke. Over the next few miles I watched carefully, and it became apparent that every time I got up speed or throttle, grey smoke appeared in my wake. On a modern engine, with all the complexity of electronic engine management systems, this should not happen.

I was on a promise to stop at Tesco in Alfreton to collect a couple of things and pay in cheque at the bank nearby, and as I turned off the A38 on came the low fuel warning light, which was a clue as I had glanced at the fuel gauge not 20 miles earlier and it had been over quarter-full. It wasn't smoke trailing behind me, but escaping fuel.

I pulled up in Tesco and glanced underneath – already a pool of diesel had formed and more was dripping off, and blobs led from the car park entrance in an incriminating trail. I phoned the AA, and a nice engineer called Steve diagnosed that one of the fuel return hoses had lost the will to live. He had suitable hose in his nice new van and fitted me a new set.

Andrew had arranged to take Thursday off but the planned event fell through so he declared we should do some work down at Darley. His initial plan was to get the first 6-metre long crane beam drilled, before moving on to 14 901, but instead having rotabroached the holes with the mag drill, he persuaded me that it wouldn't take long to get it into place.

The support bracketry on the side of the columns, on which the crane beams sit, are just below the maximum height of the forklift, so in theory we could mark the centre point of the beam, align the forks equally at either side, lift it up and on to the brackets. In theory. In practice our forklift does not have a side-shift attachment (something we still scour e-bay for) and despite approaching it at a slight angle, I could not guide the beam sufficiently to one side to clear the door column adjacent and then get it on to the bracket. (This description simplifies the problem. To get the beam anywhere near meant the forklift being positioned right on the very edge of the bridge over the tracks, and as the bridge length is only marginally longer than the wheelbase of the forklift, and the ramps either side are sloped, to stop in that position, with a 600+kg beam way up in the air, required very careful ascent of the ramp right up to the moment when stopping was essential if not to go careering down the other side, sending the beam crashing into the VBA outside.)

So after a while it was up, but needed moving longitudinally in the Matlock direction before it was safe to remove the forklift. That took up most of the afternoon, and was finally solved by means of a pull-lift off the portal frame of the building and a lifting-eye in an unoccupied hole for the crane rail. Indeed, it took up so much time that although safe it was still not fully secure when we headed home for tea.

On Friday, after work, we returned to the shed and found a present awaiting us. Our contractor-designate for the cladding had finally lived up to his promise and dropped off the parts for a scaffold tower which will assist us in accessing the ends for the last purlins, and sides for changing the eave beams. How he had got it onto site is still a mystery, but we put it inside the shed area for security.

IMG 0549 blog

Back aloft, we installed nine of the dozen nuts and bolts that secure the beam, and of the remainder two which didn't line up were old holes that were almost, but not quite, in the right position and couldn't be readily opened out. Andrew was tickled pink with the accuracy of his drilling (as well he might, I have quoted the 'hardest job in engineering' bit before though) and we discussed quite how best to fit the second beam, which is the 12metre length to span from portals 2 to 4, and is already drilled and waiting. For the moment, it still looks like a HIAB lorry job. Balancing 12metres across the 1m wide forks and then taking it that far up may seem like what tight-rope walkers do, but in this case it is virtually the reverse and a good gust of wind could easily destabilise the forklift. An alternative scheme to lift the beam using two chain hoists off the portal frames, then pushing it into line with the forklift, was only discounted for being too much like hard work. Still Andrew looks up at the beam as tangible progress and the second 6metre beam for the Bakewell end of the shed will probably be drilled in the near future.

Saturday morning had Andrew with a prior engagement and me with a compressor to collect, or rather swap, since we had pulled out that from 14 901 last thing the previous night. The 14's compressor had been known to be passing oil, so it was decided to get it in for attention ready for when the loco is returned to operation. The van had been performing well, until, that is, I had set off on the journey back to Derbyshire when there was a 'ripple' in the power, on comes the Engine Management warning light and it goes into 'limp home' mode. I plod on, cursing when I get to the slip road onto the motorway as with reduced power I cannot accelerate adequately to match the speed of other vehicles. Then some miles further on I get another momentary glitch and the engine dies, but after a couple of minutes it condescends to restart and, taking it very gently, I drive it back to Derbyshire.

Although the EMS warning light is still on, I have recovered a little bit of confidence in it by the time I have reached the Country Pile. Now, I have installed PLCs on a number of locos and hope to do so again, and you would think that I am not phased by the electronics on an EMS. I'm not, but I am frustrated by a system whose sole communication with the owner, operator and responsible human in the vicinity is a single warning light that says 'I have a fault and nothing you can do is going to change that'. At least on my systems it will tell you what the nature of the fault is, and, if you choose to override it, that is your prerogative, after all, you are paying the bill, and what was detected can be downloaded by any investigator later. I do not possess the necessary hardware/software to interrogate the system on the van: that is only to be had by a reputable garage or passing AA man perhaps.

Anyway, there's nothing to be done on a Saturday afternoon so we headed back down to the shed. First task of the day was to rig a tarp from the back of a loco cab and over the wall to give us a temporary covered area over the workbench and sundry other bits that would benefit from being dry. But to our surprise, a call came through from the compressor repairer (since they had said that it would not be stripped until later in the week) with the news that at some time, there had been water ingress which had caused one piston to pick up, damaging rings and bore. It explained the oil carry-over, but presents an additional problem to be overcome before 901 can be brought back to life. Not downhearted though, Andrew started assembling more bits of the 14's cooling system, starting with the filler elbow at the top (which will have a 1inch bleed pipe to the bottom, with a cock to be opened while filling and closed for running) and the cross connection at the bottom, where the two sides of the cooler group join together.

IMG 0552 blog

IMG 0551 blog

The big lump in the middle of the pipe is a large diameter tee, from which a 3inch diameter pipe will go under the transmission cooler and up to connect with the ports on the opposite side. By having a 3inch common connection splitting into two 2inch pipes to either side, Andrew aims to avoid the restriction inherent in the previous arrangement. For myself, I had two bags of nylon bushes so started to remount the wiper motors on Cheedale to render them isolated from the cab, getting only two complete as it had been a late start. The threading machine was out in action again, but the dangers inherent in having to put everything away and under cover for the lack of a shed roof were reinforced when, while the two of us were carrying said threader back to the VBA, Andrew tripped over a telegraph pole, dropped the threader and ended up with a grazed arm and a lump on his leg.

To cap it all, the van refused to start. The EMS warning light stayed on, it would crank, run for a second or two then die away. We spent over half an hour, even cracking open the fuel filter to check all was well (it felt like fuel starvation, and the EMS warning light might be nothing more than a detector on the filter header – how would we know?). In the end we phoned Steph and she came down to pick us up. After eating, we returned. The van fired up, and travelled almost half way to the gate when it died again. We pushed it back, locked it up and left it there for the night.

Sunday's forecast was for rain but it was a bright sunny morning when we got up and we made a quick sojourn in to Rowsley first off to see a couple of people. Then it was back to the shed and get ready for some visitors, for representatives of a heritage railway were calling to view one of Andrew's locos for possible loan. By the time they arrived the rain had started but we did the business and retired to the Portakabin for a cup of tea and a chat. After they'd left, it was the turn of David L, the Darley Dale Stationmaster, to view progress. He'd been around once before, some time last summer when there was no track, no locos and probably not all the floor, and he was effusive in his praise for what we had achieved, and went away better able to answer questions from visitors on the station. But it was too late to tackle much else, so we cleared up and prepared for an early bath.

Last of all, I tried the van. It fired up as normal, no EMS warning light, and I drove it home. And that leaves me with a dilemma. Do I take it in to get the electronics diagnosed and ascertain what was upsetting it? Do I trust it to work normally again and assume it was just having a hissy-fit? Tune in next week, as this blog marks its 5th anniversary, to find out.

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