Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of clocks and conflats

1st November 2015

I can't believe that 2015 is five-sixths over. I normally find this time of year depressing – the clocks go back, and suddenly the weather seems to be colder, the days massively shorter.  Maybe if we kept the clocks the same the winter would never get a toe-hold.

We've been keeping an eye-out for insulation deals on e-bay. As part of the planning approval, as much to minimise noise emanation as heat retention,  we must fill the void between the concrete panels and the cladding with insulation. It would have been nice to pack all this in to place just before the cladders screwed on the outside layer, but you can't have everything – we will instead slide it in behind our repositioned panels as we go along, and as soon as there is roof over that bit so that it cannot get soaking wet.  

On Tuesday I had to go to a well-known diesel depot in central Crewe, and seeing a reasonable offer from a firm in Newcastle-under-Lyme, took advantage of it as a means of filling the van on the return journey. The deal was on 'lots' of 10 rolls – I was tempted to take two lots but was unsure whether I could get them all in the van. Anyway, I wasn't feeling brilliant Tuesday morning – from time-to-time I suffer from a  build-up of ear wax and I had no hearing in my left and my right wasn't A1. Nonetheless I loaded the van, got to Crewe about lunchtime, had a brief look around (I was there some months ago to see Riviera Trains, but they've moved to Nemesis and the resultant big-open space is being marked out for a new carriage shed)  and then headed back down the A500 to Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Ten rolls of insulation were duly presented to me in the yard outside, 2 packs of 4 and two loose rolls.  I don't think the guy thought my van was big enough. He was right, how on earth I had thought that I might get 20 such rolls in I have no idea, but I managed to force 9 into the back and the tenth took the passenger seat, though I doubt if any passing police officer would have taken too kindly to the obstruction it made to my sight of the near side mirror.  Anyway I made it back and unloaded the van. Trains were running for half-term and I decided to stay a while and get a job or two done.

For the last 12 months or more, whenever we have wanted a power supply to the shed area we have deployed an extension cable from the Portakabin, over the back wall and on to a workbench. But now we have a full height and clad north end wall, the only route is for the extension cable is through the side door, and it barely makes the threshold. Worse still, when it rains, until the guttering gets fitted, the rain pours off the shed and forms large, deep puddles by the walls, exactly where the extension cable runs out. It would not be a healthy environment.

Back when the drainage and foundations were dug (January last year) the contractors proudly put in a second duct from the back of the building across to near the Peak Rail Association's 'Conference Room'.  This wasn't on my drawings and I wonder whether they misread the drawings and made me a present of it to cover up their blunder.  I was more concerned at the time that it might form a route for rodents to access the shed – so I have kept both ends covered.  Now it presented the obvious solution, and with a  length of wire-armoured cable to hand, I created a semi-permanent extension cable that plugs in to the Portakabin and comes up in the shed, and will remain our main source of electricity (other that is from the occasional generator) until the shed electrics are fitted up and signed off.

By Wednesday I could not hear properly in either ear, and the drops were having no effect. On Friday morning I got to see a doctor at the surgery who confirmed both my ears were well and truly blocked (gee whizz) and that I needed syringing. This has happened once before, thirty years or so ago and my then-GP proceeded to get out the kit and do it there and then, with a syringe the size of a mastic gun. But technology has improved, and now I must make an appointment for a practice nurse to do it.  I went back to reception – no appointment available until next Friday.

I stood my ground – I've been putting drops in for days, I said, and the medication said if not sorted within 3 or 4 days, see medical advice. I was self-employed, I added, I can't speak to customers, I can't hear them on the phone, and I have an important meeting next Wednesday. The former was not entirely true, but the latter certainly was. By refusing to accept 'no' they agreed to see me later that afternoon, and a nice practice nurse set too with a sort of miniaturised pressure-washer. She eventually cleared my right ear, but my left remained blocked, or rather, eventually I could start to hear bubbling and then sound came through, but she could still see a large block of wax that obstructed her view of my ear drum. I return next Friday for a second pressure wash.

I have gone into this because I suspect that block of wax has been resident in my ear for months, if not years, and apart from demonstrating how the NHS has advanced in that time, I am left wondering whether that hearing test at Scunthorpe, where my left ear showed up badly in one particular frequency band,  might have been due to some natural insulative characteristic of the 'wax.

So there was no progress on the shed during the week, as the contractors popped in first thing Monday merely to uplift equipment that they needed for jobs elsewhere.  I am not concerned by this – it helps to co-operate with them and gave me time to stock up on fixings that are required so as not to end up with hundreds of Tek screws that I have no use for.  The rain also revealed that we have a leak from one of the rooflights up that part of the roof they had already erected.  But they were back on Saturday and I was down first thing to set them up and leave them to get on.

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Andrew was supposed to be running grandson back to his mothers on Saturday, but plans got changed so he was able to join me later in the morning. I had already shunted 14 901 out of the shed and we therefore moved the hacksaw and compressor to one side so that we could position the two panels that we had not had time to do last weekend (and Andrew had been too tired to tackle on Monday evening).  With that out the way we moved over to the Conflats, and continued unloading the  ballast-rails that adorned the tops. Some of these are fit only for scrap, but with scrap price at a very low-ebb (usually this time of year the price rises, reputedly because Russia cannot export through a frozen Baltic) and following the  closures of Lackenby and the plate mill at Scunthorpe, both of whose production utilised a significant proportion of re-melted scrap as opposed to virgin, imported ore, it is not worth weighing it in at the moment. Besides, someone has asked to borrow some to stand a coach on somewhere.

Under the rails the wooden conflat floor fell to pieces – indeed, just barring the rails off became perilous as standing on what seemed to be timber crumbled at the touch and your foot went through.  After various options had been considered and priced – from s/h joists, other sources of reclaimed timber, birch ply and even chequer plate, we had decided on a cosmetic floor of 1in. planking, which had been delivered on Friday, once again through someone advertising on e-bay. It will do for now and be re-done when the wagons come in for more attention in the future. We finished in the early evening twilight by cutting various redundant bolts, and the buffer fixing bolts, temporarily replacing them with M20s.

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This morning we were down reasonably early. Some weeks ago we acquired some Oleo wagon buffers which would be ideal for these wagons and where their duties will be,  but to our consternation, the hole centres were slightly different. Andrew set too to slot the holes and we trialled the first buffer in to place (and took it off again) before we had to break off for lunch.   While he and Steph set off with grandson, I returned to shed the for the afternoon.

Regular readers may recall an incident earlier this year when a clock fell off the wall at the Briddon Country Pile, and brought down a couple of pictures, one of which was the print of the Hudswell-Clarke 0-4-0ST which I subsequently scanned and published. I was convinced that clock came from my father's, as he had a 'thing' about clocks. He had an anti-clockwise clock, and even one that slowly lifted a ball-bearing from a pile at the bottom to the top of a runway. A fresh ball was delivered each minute, to roll so far down until it crashed into others or the stop. When the fifth ball was delivered, the mechanism toggled, sending one ball down a track to the next level while the other four returned to the pool at the bottom.  When the 12th ball arrived at the second level, the process repeated, one ball going to the third level (hours) and the other 11 following the four from higher up back to the pool at the bottom. The piece de resistance was of course mid-day or midnight, and our two children tried to be there when it did, as first four, then 11, then 12 balls crashed noisily back to the bottom and the whole process started up again. Sadly that clock wore out before he died, and although my sister took the anti-clockwise clock, a couple of his others came to us.

Now, we have one of those 'Ah yes, I remember it well' moments, for I was convinced that this particular clock – the one that fell of our wall – came from Dad's , but Steph thinks it came from her Mum's and none of us can recall where in Dad's house it was, if it was there at all. But Steph thinks that even if it was her Mum's, it was because my Dad had bought it as a present, so although it is nothing special, it now is attached to a purlin on our end wall and will keep us appraised of the time as we work in the Geoffrey Briddon Building.

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With that and a couple of other minor tasks out the way, I got back to the conflats, cleaning off the ends and giving them a coat of Rustoleum yellow.  By late afternoon, with the darkness coming up, I fired James up and put one of the wagons inside where Pluto had been. I was anxious not to contact Ashdown's buffers with the still-tacky Rustoleum on the headstocks, so carefully put the wagon just inside, and then had a fight getting the Tightlocks to disengage before putting the other across to the other road, but outside. By the fence, a local resident, 5 years old and named Theo, watched avidly with this mother. I stopped and chatted, answering his very pertinent questions as best I could.  I couldn't help thinking he was about the same age that Andrew was when he first drove a loco.  Talking of which, this is Andrew's last week with Porterbrook – he finishes on Friday with a  goodbye party then takes a week off before starting with a  freight operating company that sounds like it ought to be a fizzy drink.

When I came to run the roller shutter down - by now distinctly twilight - it stopped dead with a crash. Yep, the remaining Tightlock was just sticking out far enough to catch the bottom edge of the door. Must I fire James back up again? Nah, what are forklifts for?

Oh, and sorry that pictures are a bit below par this week - the trusty Canon's batteries were flat and I had to use the Vivitar, which doesn't cope so well with poor light.


From Mark Hambly

Just wanted to say, from the perspective of being a regular reader of "Weekend Rails", that the building really is looking grand and an achievement you should be very proud of.
Looking forward to the WE readers' open day in due course!
Intrigued as to the next installment of the Conflat story in terms of their intended future use.

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