Weekend Rails

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Of cladding and conflats

25th October 2015

Seems like I've been all over the place this week. I've been down at the shed most mornings opening up for the contractors at an hour at which I am normally just about to contemplate a slice of toast, then dealing with sourcing fixings and other minor crises. In between times there's been two wagons arrived and developments on a couple of other fronts – but I suppose as usual I had better take things in order.

As at last Sunday night, it was my understanding that the contractors would continue their efforts by assembling the south end, the one with the roller shutter doors in, because this was the most 'technical', but it was also the one with the 3 missing sheets. So it was somewhat of a surprise that, after opening up and leaving them to get on with it, I found that the north end was being put up. I should recap here that the requirements of the planning application were that the sheets should come down to around 300mm above ground level. I had always expected we would have to 'match' the builders merchants next door, which has stonework up to about 3m before cladding and my original drawings envisaged this. But the planners thought otherwise, including an initial stipulation that the walls that peeped out from underneath, rather like '.. in olden days a glimpse of stocking..', was to be in Engineers blue brick, which is just about as alien to railway structures in Derbyshire as you could get. But anyway, we sorted all this out and when I ordered the cladding sheets I allowed a margin in their length to ensure that we would not be too high.

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The contractor put the sheets up as they came, so their bottoms are slightly lower than anticipated, but I didn't worry about it, so happy was I to see something physical at last. For the ends, I had also allowed a margin, partly because I was not entirely certain just how accurate my CAD drawings were as regards the slope of the roof and my proficiency in laying out the sheets (or rather the electronic rectangles that represented them) on such drawings. The nett result of all this is that one of the end sheets ended up a touch short, but once the barge boards are on it will be hardly noticeable. A much more complicated issue arose when they did, later in the week, start on the south end.  Because the weather, generally speaking, comes in to the British Isles from the south-west, but the valley lies north and west, whether it becomes funnelled or not the south western corner of the shed is likely to be the first recipient of the wind and rain, so the overlap of each sheet to the next needs to point away from this.  When it comes to the physical attachment of sheet to purlin, the sheet which is to be overlapped by its neighbour needs to be on first. With my electronic rectangles (actually not rectangular when finished on the ends, but trapezoidal, but then you lay them on as rectangles and cut them to profile in situ) I had started from the left and worked my way across to the right. That was OK on the north end, but at the south end, I should have worked right to left.

That wasn't a show stopper,  but had I performed the lay-out correctly it would have resulted in different lengths and been easier to progress, as it was, it was not helped by the fact that although my contractor's personnel knew that there were 3 sheets missing that were coming on Friday, it had not sunk in that there were in fact 7 sheets and thus that they had a spare 28 linear metres of cladding in order to rectify any boo-boos. Once this was clarified progress was easier and by the end of Saturday only the south end wall and a bit of the eastern side remained to be clad.

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But I am getting ahead of myself.  My contractor was anxious also to put the guttering up, arguing that he was not willing to leave the job half-done, it would reflect on him. I had, over the last few months, spent quite some time on guttering and guttering pricing. With a roof area (when I have one) of around 220 square metres, there is an awful lot of rain to be collected.  A local expert had told me that I needed a gutter of no less than 125mm diameter, and such comes both in plastics or aluminium. Apparently the mistake people make is to skimp on the brackets, with the result that the weight of snow brings it down, or in worst cases, it bows under the weight of water and falls down. Anyway, quotes using various well known brands kept coming out around the £640 to £800 mark.

By Tuesday, the contractor suggested I speak to his contact at Twigg's in Matlock and, using his name, get a quote with his discounts applied. I did, and was disappointed when initially they quoted some £880. I told them I'd had much better, around £650 from an on-line supplier, whereupon the man took advise from colleagues in the office and came back with a revised quote of £612 using a 115mm extra deep (i.e. slightly elliptical profile) guttering from the same manufacturer of our rooflights. I told him to go ahead, and charged it to my credit card. Fifteen minutes later he was on the phone, I thought 'oh s**t the credit card's maxed out' but no, it was to apologise that the computer system had refrained from giving the “correct” discounts and he revised the quote down – to £345.    Such an occurrence has happened far too rarely in the construction of this building.

On Thursday I was on tenterhooks. We had acquired from Boness a pair of conflat wagons, which had been due for collection on Wednesday afternoon but late on Tuesday the transport company said the previous job was running late and it would be first thing Thursday.  Andrew had burnt up the phone lines trying to ensure that someone would be in at 07.30 to see him load, and the SRPS lads had (hand)-shunted the wagons out in readiness but as I was due to go to a party that Thursday night I did not want to see them arrive in the late afternoon and be hauling them down to Darley when I should be showering, etc.

But at half-past ten, as I was in Sheffield, a call came through that the lorry was passing York and would reach Rowsley around 12.30 to 1pm. It transpired he had arrived at Boness late the previous afternoon,  Boness lads were on site seeing something unloaded so he had been able to load up and secure around 5pm and hit the road at 04.30.

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At 12.45 this dirty great artic rolled in to Rowsley. With an 8 wheeled tractor unit and one of the biggest HIAB-type cranes you have ever seen, this normally handles Portakabins and containers so railway wagons were a novelty for the driver. Within 35 minutes the two wagons were on the track and he was cleared up and ready to leave. The buffer stop had been removed that morning for Reid's, who were coming in to collect a carriage destined for Shackerstone, and I assumed they'd been and gone, so wandered off to find Harvey C who would be my shotgun for the run up with James.

We drove down to Darley Dale gossiping as usual, and while he got sorted out in the 'box I went to start James. By chance, I had asked Andrew if he knew how James was off for fuel and he assured me that it was well up, but I checked it anyway and realised it was anything but. No time to rectify that, I kept my fingers crossed and we were soon bowling up the line to Rowsley. It was all the more awkward had James conked out, because Reid's were running late and hadn't arrived but were due any time.

I suppose I should add a bit more about these conflats. They are not your common or garden conflat. Built in 1958 and 1959, they were selected in BR days to be made into match or barrier wagons, by having their buffers and hooks removed at one end and 'Tightlock' couplers substituted.  The Tightlock is bigger than the carriage knuckle coupler, being more akin  to the AAR-type, and used on a number of e.m.u.s. Maybe at one time they were to be found delivering new emus from BREL York to Southern Region, but latterly they were shielding Scottish emus from around Glasgow into St Rollox for repair, hence ending up at Boness when they were deemed surplus.

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As barrier wagons there was a  risk that in the event of an emergency braking, they would either be bounced off the track by the emu behind or would themselves override the buffers of the loco in front, and to prevent this and make them fit for speeds up to 45mph, BR added around 5 tons of old rails secured together and down to the deck. For our purposes these are superfluous, but they have resulted in the timber deck underneath being totally rotten.

So, we got to Rowsley with my fingers quietly crossed (about fuel), collected the two wagons, coupled them together and did a  pull-away test to check the Tightlocks had indeed engaged. Sitting at the south end of the station while Harvey reset the crossover, I was alongside the plant yard for the cycle-way works. Currently the footpath from Rowsley to Church Lane is closed for upgrading to a new cycle-way,  and a dumper truck was returning for another load of what looked suspiciously like MoT type 1 stone.

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Farther along, the works could be seen, with a small roller compacting it.

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Fortunately, James made it back to Darley without incident, and I showed Harvey C progress on the shed before running him back to Rowsley.

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First thing Friday, I was still recovering from the party when sure enough the phone rang to announce my delivery was outside the gates at 07.45. When I got down there, I was surprised to find it was on a 4 wheeler, not an artic, and he was able to back in so that unloading the 7 sheets manually was straightforward.  Later in the day Twigg's arrived with the guttering, the first parts of which were installed on the eastern wall on Saturday.

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Andrew and Steph were away first thing Saturday morning to collect grandson for half-term, so initially I was watching the contractors start work before heading back home to have the kettle on for their arrival. After lunch we headed back down to the shed, I had some work to do so left Andrew to start removing the old rails from the tops of the conflats, but later we teamed up and returned to concrete panel work. Although it had been our intention to deal with the south east corner, it was too late in the day so instead we opted for the middle bay of the north end – the panels we had tried, and failed, some months ago and resulted in the declared need for a Stihl saw.   

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These were successfully repositioned, and you can see from the photo just how much is recovered: enough to add a set of parts racking without encroaching on the main area. But it would have been so much easier to have done all this before the cladding was fitted. As it is, the old 4ft forks have been fitted back on the forklift being both better rated (at their extremity) and controllable.

During the week, Andrew had acquired a proper dispenser gun for the sealant that goes between the two panels – it's like the conventional sealant guns but on steroids: the wrist action though is heavy going.

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I went down alone this morning with the intention of doing some work on 14 901 – I had picked up a length of 5 core multi cable during the week but had not been able to feed it through the conduit, but when I got down there decided that a bit of tidying up of packaging from cladding sheets etc was more important. Part way through our daughter and son-in-law arrived for a guided tour – they had spent the night with us but were on their way to another engagement.

After heading back for lunch, we returned and decided to crack on with the south east corner, as with a diagonal brace it needed to be done before roof works complicated things. But to get at the corner required moving 14 901, the compressor, hacksaw and a large rooflight package, and I was apprehensive, with the clocks having gone back, whether we really had the time before dark. As it is, the side panels are relocated, not without problems that didn't affect us at the other side, but the end panels are still off and we must pop back in tomorrow evening (hope for decent weather) to finish it all off.

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