Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of shunters recesses and mission creep

27th December 2015

I am writing this having just returned from Christmas spent at our daughter's house in Darlington, and as we went there on Christmas Eve, there has in truth been not all that much put in to the collection during the week.

But all is not lost. The adaptors for 03 901's exhauster drive propshaft have been re-machined and were collected on Wednesday – I need to countersink some holes but we can have another go at installing the whole lot when next we get to Scunthorpe. The hydraulic oil tank for Charlie – to run the converter on – has been cut and carved to take a level gauge, return line and breather/filler so will be ready to go into the loco shortly.

At home I have been preparing drawings so that I can order up profiles for Charlie as soon as my supplier gets back to work (and assuming that he's not underwater by then) which includes considering exactly where to put the new electrical connection box. Indeed, when you consider that the only place for the hydraulic oil reservoir is in the right hand side of the cab (but the charge pump and return line pick-up points are on the left side of the loco) and the likely best position for the connection box is on the right hand side of the engine (but the Thomas Hill relay control unit which it must connect to is in the left hand side of the cab) it becomes apparent that the loco would be better with some of it mirror-imaged – if nothing else it can keep multi-core cables and rubber hoses well clear of the propshaft. But I do not have the time nor inclination to re-arrange too much at a time. That is equivalent to what the military call “mission-creep”. (My other favourite military expression, picked up from a certain Depot Railway Superintendent 20 years ago is “Never interrupt an enemy when in the midst of making a mistake.”)

Just before I was due to set off for the north, I had a phone call out of the blue from a former engineer at ICI Tunstead. We talked about the various locos that were there during his time – strangely although he could remember 'Harry Townley' (the second of the two 40ton Vanguards and initially delivered at 'RS244') he could not remember Cheedale (which was a year earlier and 'RS233') even though his tenure spanned the period. He also told me of the unfortunate death of a shunter. It seems that at one time Tunstead took 'common user' wagons to load stone. This seems strange today when most wagon fleets are dedicated to one particular commodity and customer, but at one time of course BR or its predecessors would produce a string of wagons to carry your load in the same way a 40ft artic might roll up to your door today. And of course such wagons might arrive with the residue of their previous load still aboard, from straw or other packaging material through to – well I think he mentioned an almost complete toilet bowl.

So ICI would allocate men on to empty the wagons and prevent contaminating their stone, and they would park another wagon very close by to collect the debris which they then shovelled/threw into it. Not all ICI locos then had 'shunters recesses' - in other words the shunter when he rode on the loco did so by climbing upon the first step but such a perch left him completely outside the normal load gauge. The shunter sadly was thus foul the 'debris wagon' (which barely cleared the wagons as it was) and did not survive the encounter. Thereafter all ICI locos had to have shunters recesses fitted (and when it came to the Steelman locos for Billingham that we supplied from Hills in 1984, like the Janus' before them, the first step had to be much nearer the ground to aid climbing on when 'ground' was below the ballast shoulder). I have encountered certain railways where 'riding on the shunters' steps is banned' and I find it irritating that someone who pictures a shunting loco as being an industrial steamer where the steps are almost at the edge of the running plate has created a 'safety rule' for a problem that had been addressed on locos over 50 years ago. Couldn't they at least say that 'riding on shunters steps is only permitted when the shunter is within the outline of the loco'? Or is that too much discretion for the shunter to be allowed?

Having returned from the north with a bit of a detour to collect grandson to be with us for his third birthday, Andrew and I popped down to the shed tonight to check that all was well. The 'ornamental pond' is almost a mud-bank – the north of the country may be disappearing under flood water but the track sections within the shed continue to dry out. We checked the cab roof sections on Charlie to establish the required pieces of insulation required (the old roof lining has largely disintegrated and needs renewing throughout) and had a quick walk around outside to check that all was well. Andrew has a day or two off this week (he is working from home for the other days unless he gets called in) so we might get a bit of time in before next weekend, who can say.

This is the last entry for 2015. The Geoffrey Briddon Building is at last a building rather than an aspiration (though much internal work is still required) and we are at last able to reap some benefit for the many hours and £000s put into it. We need to see the structure through to completion in 2016, and catch up on the arrears of locomotive projects that were stalled while we concentrated on it. Andrew is still unable to determine which loco comes in first – well after our current workload on 14 901, Charlie, Cheedale and Pluto is progressed anyway – whether that be Libby (where much of the work is finished but maybe we ought to give it a re-profile while it would still take a light skim) or Grace (which requires a full strip down and rebuild to 'museum standard' while at the same time vac fitting it for Middleton). There again there's James which would look the better for a rubdown and repaint at least, and Jack, and maybe something else that is as yet barely on the horizon.

So from Andrew and me, hope you all had a good Christmas and will have an even better New Year. Come back in 2016 and see what we've been up to.

More in this category: « Of a Charlie Striptease

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