Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of principles and wasps

16th August 2015

Apologies if you had trouble finding last week's blog. Poor old Bill Hyde has had his work cut-out trying to ascertain what has been wrong, and whether it was 'my' fault or some corruption that had crept into the database, but for a while the entry from what is now two weeks ago disappeared again, and last week's entry could not be found under either 'Latest Post' or 'Blog' but could be found by going through 'Categories' (down the left). I guess from the number of people on the site many of you must have popped back in later to see if things had been restored. And they were - eventually.

There has been a mixture of emotions at the Briddon Country Pile this week. On the one hand, grandson returned to his mother's on Tuesday (but he's back later this week for a longer stay) but from Monday there has been a sense of being 'de-mob happy' as Andrew handed in his notice at Porterbrook. I should perhaps explain at this point that 2015 has not been an especially happy one for Andrew, having been off work for some time with 'work-related stress'. Eventually he began a 'phased return to work' and Monday morning had been due to begin with a 'Review meeting' which he pre-empted by passing out his letter of resignation. At the moment, he must still work out his 3-month notice which is a rather strange stipulation to my eyes – anyone who has direct face-to-face contact with the company's clients should go on 'gardening leave' once they have resigned. Yes, technically you are still paying them to work for you but they are bound to tell your clients that they're leaving - if only to introduce their successor if you have one lined up - the client will gain an alternative impression of your company than the one you'd like them to have and certain less-principled salesmen (I'm not for one moment including Andrew in this) might even be priming your customers to follow them to their new employer, so he'll be there until November, but the atmosphere under which he will operate must surely be more relaxed.

After all my grand ideas of getting work done during the evenings, a combination of weather, and me being out and about quite a lot put paid to all bar one brief session where we moved the '14, brought the forklift over the bridge and flipped the second 12 metre crane beam over into position ready for drilling.

During the latter half of the week Andrew got a call from (another) top-flight heritage railway as to whether 14 901 might be available for hire and since it is our understanding from statements made that Peak Rail will not use the loco again (I am afraid the circumstances behind this must remain private) Andrew was willing, provided it was not wanted too soon. Terms were discussed and agreed in principle and there it was left.

Our original plan had been to go to Scunthorpe on Saturday, but when I got home on Friday evening, having taken 5.5 hours to cover a distance that ought to have taken 3.5 (Oh how I hate driving anywhere on Fridays and Mondays) I was a bit over-tired and slow to get going on Saturday. Andrew was anxious not to let Toby down, but a phone call to said gentleman revealed him to be not in a fit state to do much anyway (apparently he had spent time at a local hostelry imbibing falling-down water the previous night) so we cancelled the drive and instead headed down to Darley.

Heavy rain during the week had left large pools in the tarp we have strung out over the workbench, and rather than try to lift the tarp and send the water everywhere, I had the bright idea of using a piece of small bore hose to syphon it out. I blew through the hose (which I found strung over Ashdown's buffer) but Andrew offered to do the suck as my lungs have never been that great:-
Doctor 'You don't smoke do you?'
Me: 'No'
Doctor: 'That's good, with your lungs you wouldn't keep one alight'.
Anyway, it seems the hose might have been used at some time for diesel and my blowing through had not removed it all: I am assured it is a taste that lingers.

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Instead of progressing Pluto, Cheedale or the shed structure, Andrew had decided that we better get back to 14 901's cooling system in anticipation of the possibility that it might be required. A suspicion that turned into a reality when a phone call came in to let him know that the railway's Board had just approved the hire. Whereas he had been thinking along the lines of putting the cooling system together with the old cooler in situ and then changing it afterwards, it suddenly made more sense to swap coolers now and so out came the compressor mounting base, one of the two frames that locate either side of the cooler and having drained it of oil, the cooler itself.

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After a lot of cleaning one of the old cooler's mounting feet was removed and fitted to the new cooler (which mysteriously only had one) and in it went. Actually that sounds simple, and it was, in so far as the act of lifting it with slings from the forklift is just a matter of careful movement up and out. But, it did strike me that for all one thinks highly of Swindon and its products, their detailed thinking leaves a lot to be desired. Why do I say this? Well, if I was designing the installation of a transmission cooler, it would be a reasonable assumption that one might need to be changed out at an outlying depot without sending the loco back for a full rebuild, and therefore extracting the cooler should be straightforward. Yet, when it comes to it, the cooler cannot come out unless one of the two frames is removed first (and that in turn cannot come out unless the Voith oil pipe flanges have been disconnected) and the convenient external drain pipe for the cooler down to a gate valve was neatly shaped in a series of bends such that it cannot be lifted out through the hole in the running plate (the gate valve is too big anyway) and so the cooler must be detached from this drain pipe by undoing an Ermeto fitting in a restricted space. Of course, if you are a young, inexperienced draughtsman, it might seem logical that you could do this having first 'drained the oil out'. And do you get 100% of the oil out through the drain? Well perhaps, if you leave it for a few days, but more likely you get about 95% (which in our case was just under 20 litres) and the other 5% makes its escape once you've detached the drain pipe from the cooler...

Leaving Andrew to carry on with his new pipes, I wandered around the back of the shed armed with a pair of secateurs intent on clipping back a bit more of the undergrowth that is spreading rampant where we must erect scaffolding and cladding in – I hope – the none-too-distant future. After a few minutes of clipping I began to be aware of a surfeit of wasps and – a bit later – realised that there must be an underground nest entrance right where I had had my foot. Having been stung at the age of about five, and still having the memory of the insect on my leg (short trousers at that age) cold-bloodedly making its mind up and then inserting its sting into my young, tender flesh, I have since maintained a strong dislike of, and have no qualms of seeking retribution on, all their kind. Besides, as 'principle contractor' I have a duty of care to protect my forthcoming contractors from such pests. For now though I left them.

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Amongst the parts that I was in any event collecting during the week were the compressor and the carriers for 14 901's brake blocks. The compressor is not actually the one that came off (we have several in bits at the moment and this is one of the better ones re-ringed and generally sorted) but it should rectify the oil carry-over that we were aware of last year. The brake blocks meanwhile were close to worn out anyway, and one had cracked through the ear (you didn't notice when the brakes were applied as the crack closed up, unfortunately it was spotted with the brakes released and we had to weld it up before it went to the East Lancs, but welding large castings is tricky and it subsequently broke again). A conversion to composite blocks is on the way. For one thing, some of my industrial customers confirm that as well as being smoother and quieter, they can measure the benefit in extended tyre wear. Charlie has had composites on since 2008 – in fact the same set has been on since 2008 although prior to that it had gone through good quality ferrous blocks every year.

Sunday morning had Andrew popping over to the Churnet Valley and when he returned, we had an early-ish lunch and went back down. Steph came with us and started painting the door on the Portakabin – we renewed it 18 months or so ago as the supplier had put on an internal door which rapidly succumbed to the weather – but never got around to applying primer or paint.

While Andrew resumed work on the cooling system pipework, I disabled the forklift. Actually I had been aware for a while that there was a large steel piece which formed the anchor for the lift chains and it had two holes through with sheared-off bolts and a clamp which was meant to keep said piece clamped to the main lift ram was some way lower down and no longer secured to it. (Surprisingly our LOLER examiner, who spotted several things we were unaware of, overlooked this one.) I took the piece over to the bench and extracted the old bolts, drilling the holes out to clear M8 and reassembled the whole thing with spacers so that it is altogether again.

Andrew was still happily piping away so I spent a few minutes with a can of fly and wasp spray seeking retribution around the back. Trying to spray a departing wasp in full flight isn't easy – the pests are fast and don't fly in a straight line, but the tired, returning ones are all headed for the same place so maintaining aim and squirting as one came in on final approach was effective and satisfying, but the can wasn't big enough. So I brought a barrow load of soil around and filled the area in.

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Steph had moved on to paint the brake carriers (parked on our upturned 12 metre beam) and I climbed up on 14 901 not to admire Andrew's progress but to consider what to do about the start contactor, which had packed up late last year and I had had to start it for the last day or more of service with a piece of wire. Its replacement had already been sourced – a better quality one and to reflect its investment, a plastic enclosure to house it in, as its predecessor, one of Durite's better products, looked like it had been underwater. After pondering alternative locations, and anxious to get it in place without waiting to make up new brackets or mounting plates (after all Andrew might want to test his new pipework with a running engine) I drilled new holes to the engine mounts and secured it there, although two wires that feed the starters themselves wouldn't reach and had to be extended.

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My other tasks to get 14 901 operational concern the new fuel header tank (in stock but awaiting bracketry) renewing conduit and wiring damaged when the compressor base was being removed months ago back at Rowsley, and, since I have always intended that the new header tank should incorporate a level switch, to give the crew some warning of imminent conk-out, to add this into the system. Finally there's a floorboard to renew and a few other tasks, but as you can see from the picture, the main pipes are now all in, and only a cast engine elbow and the de-aeration pipe remain to be added before we can refill with water. And believe me, it is a far neater job than when Andrew bought it.

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About six pm we fired up a couple of locos and brought the ex MR bogie well wagon in and loaded some more pallets and stuff with the forklift, in order to free up floorspace. This is a chore that we are stuck with until we get time to prepare the ground outside and lay some more concrete so that it can venture outside. A final tidy up and a bit of self-congratulation on the amount of work achieved and we're locking up at nearly 9pm.  We might start late, but we still get a full day's work done.

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