Weekend Rails

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Of Cheedale and conflagration

10th April 2016

Some weeks ago Andrew was approached by a well-known Wickhamophile regarding collecting and providing a temporary home to a Wickham-ish trolley that was otherwise going for scrap as contractors cleared the former MPD at Buxton. As the prospective owner hadn't the time to organise collection and there was a deadline, Andrew popped across and determined that if it could be wheeled down the track, there was an easy location for it to be HIAB'd on to a lorry and brought down to Darley Dale.

Arrangements were made for it to depart at 08.30 on Thursday morning, so allowing for half-an-hour to load and half an hour to drive down, I reckoned that he might be here as early as 09.30 so was down at the shed in good time (Andrew of course, having made all these arrangements, delegated things to me as he was at a meeting in London for work).

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When he hadn't showed up by after half-ten, I began to wonder if things had gone wrong: highest on the list of possibles being that he had gone to Rowsley rather than Darley. In fact, he had been in Buxton for 08.15, he told me when he finally arrived, but the demolition contractors didn't arrive until a quarter to, and then seemed to consider that a first mug of tea, followed by a second, took precedence. In consequence he declined my offer to put the kettle on, and was unloaded and away within ten minutes as he was trying to catch up on his programme. So the trolley is here, and while it should be useful to us whilst it is here, its manufacture is definitely not of Ware standards, and the fact that it has different pattern wheels rather suggests BR Buxton-built with Wickham bits.

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Cheedale's new silencer arrived during the week, and became one of the first deliveries to be made direct to Darley as I anticipated being there on another matter. Strapped to a pallet and swathed in miles of cling film, it was labelled as weighing 250kg, which the driver and I proved incorrect as we lifted it into the workshop between us.

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One of the major tasks with Cheedale is to re-mount the cab. I'm sure I've told this tale before, so skip this paragraph if it sounds boringly familiar, but during the 1970s Hills' were working on in-cab noise reduction to meet MoD requirements and adopted – so far as I know a first – flexibly mounted cabs. But initial trials showed a problem – cabs mounted with conventional rubber mounts, when trundling along on rails with dipped ends, tended to set up oscillations which drivers complained gave rise to nausea. Hills' reaction was to change to a different material, a rubberised cork which came under the brand name of Neo-k-tex, which solved the problem (though probably didn't give as good a reduction). The MoD locos were fitted with this as they entered traffic in 1976-7, but we were still arguing about the merits and de-merits long after I started work there in '78.

Now, Cheedale was finished in '79 and we knew after we first started work on it in 2013 that the cab mounts had sunk. Our first clue was that it proved very difficult to remove some of the instruments from the panel, the reason being that the desk itself tends to stay put while the cab around it sinks and the instruments were more of the cab than the desk. (Actually, it was a disconcerting feature on new TH locos that the desk appeared to shake around in front of you as you drove. I used to explain to prospective customers – not entirely truthfully – that the desk itself wasn't shaking, but you were shaking around it, which was sort of right.) But anyway, this clue led us to look at the cab on the outside and realise that the air-gap that should be under the cab was non-existent, i.e. the cab had indeed settled on its mounts.

Neo-k-tex as a brand is no longer available, but rubberised cork is a widely used material, indeed, I used to buy it in 1/8 inch thicknesses for model railway track underlay, and getting a suitable thickness was not a problem. The metal components used in the mounts were also badly corroded, so over a period of time we'd built up cork and a fresh sets of profiled mounting pieces, but with one snag. The cork discs, of which 4 were needed per mount, so sixteen in all, are 80mm in diameter and 12 thick. This was going to take a considerable time to cut with the traditional Stanley knife, and let's face it, trying to cut a 40mm radius with a straight blade wasn't going to be pretty. The 22mm hole in the middle could be created with a our wad punches, what we needed was a 80mm wad punch.

So a couple of weeks ago I passed the problem on to our favourite machinists, and late last week collected a section of thick-walled tube to which they had machined a taper to a sharp edge, to be used like a giant wad punch. And on Friday night Andrew and I prepared to go into production.

But first, we had to harden it, otherwise it might lose its edge very quickly. So first thing to do was heat the tube up with the gas until it was dull red. I had seen all this in the past when I worked at Stanley Tools and used to take visitors around the Ecclesfield hammer factory (now a Morrisons supermarket). Claw hammers in particular were fun to watch – the hitting face you heated up, then quenched in water to make it really hard, whereas the claws were quenched in oil to give them a little more resilience, after all, you don't hit with the claws, but try to bend them, as they extract nails. We decided that oil-quenching was more appropriate and Andrew set about heating the tube up, while I held it at arms length with a Mole wrench.

A few feet away was the bottom of Cheedale's now displaced oil bath air cleaner, and in the centre of which was a clear pool of oil. Thus when Andrew gave the word I darted over and thrust the tube into the oil. I did remember wondering what exact grade of oil we should have for quenching as the tube entered and a large cloud of fumes arose.

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Then WHOOMPH! My arm was engulfed in flame. I'll admit this was a teensy-weensy bit disconcerting, and not unnaturally I withdrew my arm with some alacrity, and a moment later dropped the tube onto the floor, re-interpreting the perfectly machined circle by stylising it with a short flat on one side. Realising that despite the conflagration, none of me had caught light and not even my blue nitrile gloves had been singed, I returned to the urgency of quenching the tube, picked it up and pushed it back into the oil, which erupted in flame again.

Andrew, who had at least got proper welders gauntlets on, took over and twice more a burst of flame came out of the oil cleaner: now we were over the shock it was becoming something of a party-piece. But the tube was cooling and from its change in colour – it was now blackened all over – we deduced that it was hardened, if a little deformed. We left to cool while considering the replacement air cleaner.

As we left it last week, you saw a picture of it on a bracket that we were contriving out of unequal angle. During the week I had been trawling through Flickr, and come across a photo of 261V, a Thomas Hill 0-6-0 with which I had had much contact over the years. Built new for stock and sold to what was then BSC's Tinsley Park works, when that closed and Hills sent me in to select 4 Sentinels for purchase as hire or resale locos, I picked 3 Sentinels and it, arguing that it was more modern and a better (welded) frame. And for several years it was out on contract until its engine failed. After I'd left Hills, it was dumped at the end of the siding at Kilnhurst and a third party arranged to buy it for me at YEC. And so it came to me again, and this time I put a Cummins 855 in it and some monstrous light boxes (I really should have just bought a set of BMACs but I had grand ideas) to comply with the Railtrack lighting standard. I then sold it to Marcroft for their contract at Shotton (not a happy period) and it passed later to Imerys, first at Quidhampton and later to Cornwall.. This picture showed an air cleaner mounted on the casing side with its outlet facing the cab, and seemed the obvious answer for Cheedale. (Did I mount it that way on 261V? A good question, I don't remember. I suppose I had better look up my pictures and see). I had already considered 3 other places it might go within the casings, each requiring the air intake to come up through the casing top, but Andrew rejected all 3 while agreeing to the '261V solution'.

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By now the tube was cool and with Cheedale's jacking bracket and some timber we set too to press out the 80mm discs. And the tube cut them easily – just keep pumping the jack until the unmistakable sound of timber cracking revealed the cutter was through the cork. Then the 22mm hole was punched with the wad punch and we were in business, and the first cab mount was duly rejuvenated. Indeed the hardest job was lifting the cab sufficiently to get the various parts in, and this is one of the two accessible corners.

Continued here

More in this category: Of pipes and other things »

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