Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of blocks, boxes and bunnies

8th June 2014

Who in their right mind nominates Friday the 13th as the day to start laying concrete? Well, we have, and to be honest, it'll be touch and go if we're ready in time.

It's nigh on quarter to ten as I start writing this, in part because we were on site this evening at Darley until 8pm, but I shouldn't be writing this chronologically backwards so let me return to the beginning of the week...

Most of this week, Rob has been at work on the track at Darley, where the creation of a new turnout (“I haven't done one of these for a while”) has been gradually coming together to form a headshunt for us. The blades were of course already there as a catch point, but as the week has progressed the point has appeared from a kit of parts, but one of those kits where the bits don't quite fit right from the box.

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For myself, I have been in several times as materials arrived for the concreting. Having finally made friends with builders merchants “M”, vast quantities of DPM and “Fillboard” arrived. The local timber merchants delivered half a mile of shuttering ply zipped into strips 200mm wide. A firm specialising in bespoke bits of reinforcing stuff for concrete took my order and told me it would be ready Wednesday morning. Now, the 14 was on roster Wednesday, but not to be outdone I gleefully set off early and went over to Clowne, some 20 miles away, to arrive at half past eight in the morning to collect it all. But the motorway was snarled up southbound so I came back down various B roads to Chesterfield, and made it home with just enough time to swallow a cup of tea, collect my train driving outfit and head in to Rowsley.

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Roy had already prepped the loco and as it was now a bit after ten and all seemed ready we fired it up, although I was somewhat surprised to see neither the forward nor reverse direction lights indicating as I had left it the previous Saturday set in forwards so that I could check out the defective tail light easily.

One of the weaknesses of the 14's is the Hunslet gearbox. A unit designed and built solely for the D95ers, it has all the usual features that I have come to expect from Hunslet boxes. Gears that seldom if ever actually line up when the selector shaft moves across. Latches that hold the selector in engagement that then stick and refuse to let it come out to change. Straight cut bevel gears that make a steady whine all the time they turn (spiral bevels do not), and the whole lot reliant on a splash feed system whereby oil in the bottom of the box is thrown up and all over by the gears at the bottom, and caught in tin trays suspended inside which direct the oil to where it will do most good – hopefully.

On the original locos, there was an “inching device” - an air cylinder acting on a ratchet which pushes the input shaft round in order to get it to engage. That was missing when 14 901 came to us and I was not bothered about replacing it. Indeed, the biggest problem we had had was back in 2008/9 the selector shaft was completely seized, and we spent a whole weekend with a pump and a hydraulic jacking head forcing the selector to and fro until it freed up. It jammed again when it had been at Gwili for a month or so, but since then, it hadn't been a problem.

Until Wednesday that is. With air pressure sufficient, I started pressing the buttons in the cab which, via the computer, activated first a valve to lift the selector latches and half-a-second later, a second valve to admit air to the cylinder which ought to push the selector shaft in the appropriate direction.

But nothing moved.

I was already a little fraught having had to drive hard to get back to Rowsley in time. I did not need a problem like this suddenly put the proverbial spanner in the works. After a few minutes of repeated trials and tricks, none of which had any effect whatsoever, there was nothing for it but to take a closer look, so we shut the engine back down.

The gearbox is located directly under the cab, and in fact a piece of floorboard lifts up by the desk, but immediately under the floor is the main propshaft between the engine and the Voith, so accessing the gearbox with the engine running is not an option.

It was soon obvious that the selector was not quite in forwards, so the appropriate detector (inductive proximity ones which I fitted) wasn't “seeing” it. I went back to the van, dug out a trusty pry bar, and forced the selector shaft over a bit. With the floorboard still up, we re-started the engine and operated the gearchange and to my relief, it now proceeded to work. It even enabled me to show Roy what was actually happening when the gears failed to engage but without the “inching device”. The computer is aware that no direction is engaged, so while still holding the direction button (to maintain the air in the cylinder) the driver presses the “Voith engage” button and whereas the computer normally latches the valve to hold the Voith in, for this condition it brings the Voith in only so long as the button is pressed. Converter No.1 fills, the propshaft, having no load on it, rotates ten or twenty degrees at which there is a clunk and the gears drop in to mesh. This he knew, and was entirely proficient at doing, but it was the first time he could see what was going on “down below”. (Actually, at least one other 14 owner has seen this in action and is thinking of modifying his loco to do the same. Patent applied for).

Obviously as we went up the yard I was apprehensive that the loco would stick again, but for the rest of the day ( a wet one which finally began to dry out late in the afternoon,) there was nothing much unusual except that passenger numbers were surprisingly good.

There has been though a change to our routine. While out on D8, Roy had had the misfortune to run over a rabbit, of which large numbers are now roaming the Rowsley yard and fields up and down the line*. This one had been on the track at the top of the bank just south of Redhouse, and had been unable to decide whether to go left or right and finally stayed motionless until D8 splatted it. He told me roughly where this had taken place, and we now remove our caps as we pass by – in fact I have started thinking of it as the Bunny Bank.

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(*Quite a few black rabbits too, those of you who have read Watership Down might like to ponder the significance, if any).

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Steph and I had had a plan to put some more foundation blocks in around the shed on Wednesday night, but I was too tired and the weather, although better, still meant that there was standing water in and around where we would be working. Thursday however was hotter, and after a quick inspection showed that the concrete had dried, Steph and I made a start around three in the afternoon. At that point there was some 15 metres of blocks still to lay. Andrew joined us after work and as we could see the end, we decided to push on and finish it. It was a pleasant summer evening, fortunately, as the work took us until 9pm and by the time we had packed away, we were leaving at 9.30.

14 901 was out again on Saturday, so Andrew left me to it and took the van over to Scunthorpe, armed with his big MIG welder and some 3mm plate. The object of the exercise was to cut out and fill the corrosion in the cab sides, which I gather has been largely completed, save that Toby, Stephen and Ashley (and I suppose I shall get into more trouble if I fail to mention Toby's girl-friend Jade who has also been involved) have discovered a couple of new 'oles as they continue needle gunning D2128's cab. Imagine if you will, Andrew concentrating on welding the thin metal plate carefully into the cab side aperture, while a steady stream of paint flakes descend on his head from Stephen, needle-gunning the cab roof. Shame I wasn't there to see it.

Nothing untoward with 14 901 to report. Darley Dale 'box though, was manned by the Operations Director with a trainee. The first run back (me driving) something went awry and we came to a stop at the home signal, which would not pull off. Eventually we came forward under a yellow flag. On the next run I was playing Secondman, and knelt in my usual fashion holding the token out for the signalman to take. It is simple enough, just hold your arm out, pointing at the centre of the hoop, and, as I am holding it merely resting on the tips of my fingers, as it encounters your shoulder it leaves my fingers. I can't recall seeing a signalman (the trainee) visibly shaking with nerves as the moment of exchange approached! During the afternoon the Stationmaster at Matlock approached us as a NNR member had been enquiring whether we might have a diesel spare for next weekend, indeed, if I understood it right, he had been thinking of '901, which is rostered next Saturday anyway and we have too much on for additional trips to Norfolk, however delightful. I passed over a couple of phone numbers for HST Trustees, but hear this evening that D9531 is being sent from the East Lancs.

Which brings us round to today, and after dropping the welder off at Rowsley, we made a determined start on the formwork. The first problem was to extract the rainwater, which took up a couple of hours despite my new submersible pump being more efficient than the railway's. Meanwhile I was drilling, cutting and screwing pieces of plywood together and Andrew was banging in steel pegs to support said plywood. Then we had to “blind” the bottom with sand (to stop any stones puncturing our precious DPM under the weight of concrete) check the plywoods were all level and lay in the DPM sheets, sticking them together with Radon gas-resistance double-side sticky stuff. Sounds easy? No, it is hard work and not helped when the heavens open part way through and drench everything you've just been trying to drain.

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As we came to an end this evening (exhaustion setting in) we got the first sheet of reinforcing mesh in but there are about 5 to go in in this track section and 5 more as a second layer, all to be wired together and with “Z” bars sticking over the top to connect to the mesh that must be placed in the main floor areas. And we have barely started on the second track. Sanity would suggest that we postpone this Friday a week or so to give us time to get it finished, let alone the Met office warnings of heavy rain over the next few days. But then sane people don't get involved with this stuff in the first place.

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