Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of thermostats and Secondmen.

20th April 2014

So here we are again. The tourist season has burst into bud and the trains have been running betwixt Rowsley and Matlock. And has 14 901 been doing its stuff? You'll have to read on to find out.

Actually the 14 has been giving us some worries this week. The loco was out again on Tuesday, and its temperature was uneven, to say the least. Andrew was at work, but determined that he should bear his share of my woes, I took to texting him as the day went on. Thus I can now review the performance of the day – the first run saw us back at Rowsley with an engine temperature of 88 degrees C, but on the second run, I logged that we were at Darley Dale, with the engine having peeked in the 90s coming up to Redhouse and now hovering at 90. But on the 4th run of the day something settled down again and we cleared Redhouse with the engine at 80 degrees.

Andrew took the view that this was almost certainly thermostats sticking - I was not quite so sure, considering that if the thermostats stuck, there was no reason to think that they might suddenly decide to function again. Nonetheless, on the basis that the last 2 runs had been without problem we agreed to leave things alone and see how things went over the weekend.

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Down at Darley, the turnout that splits between the second siding (our “long term storage” siding ) and the third track (shed access line) had been lifted and replacement crossing timbers laid out, but work had come to a premature end when the track rod on the JCB parted. So Rob and I made our separate ways to Sheffield on Wednesday morning – him for a replacement track rod assembly and me to get the speedo fixed on the van. Fortunately, Rob got the JCB fixed in time to move some of my delivery of sand and concrete foundation blocks when they arrived Wednesday afternoon from Travis Perkins, especially as I was by then heading for South Wales to fix a loco.

With the work done on Thursday, I travelled back making a couple of stops on the way. First was at Cynheidre, now the base for the Llanelli and Mynydd Mawr Railway. I have a history with this place – back in the 90s, after the colliery closed, I acquired an EE Stephenson 0-6-0DH in rough nick from here. At the time there was very little left save some of the rails it was sat on, and anecdotally as the low loader arrived to collect it, a group of “itinerant scrapmen” who were about to cut it up moved aside with a less than contented expression. Anyway, I remanufactured the loco as a radio controlled shunter for Sheerness Steel, and it is now part of the HNRC fleet.

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Whether this association I have of Cynheidre and nefarious activity is archetypal or not, the fledgling preservation group have a couple of good secure buildings that other groups would die for but I suspect the numbers of volunteers are quite few. The track leads away north round the site as part of “Phase 1” but has clearly been down some time but not yet ballasted nor fit for passenger use. I would have liked to have seen their Sentinel 34tonner, but maybe next time I'm down that way they'll be open.

Motoring back over the Heads of the Valleys, it was tempting to detour and see the Brecon Mountain's extension, but I didn't have that much time to spare and wanted to stop off at Furnace sidings. Having obtained permission, I wandered round photographing everything, but really wanted to see how they were treating Beverley – after all, I put a lot of hours into that loco. Beverley has retained her blue coat of paint that Andrew spent so much time applying, but has gained red “go-faster” stripes and lettering that purports her to be a loco for the South Wales Division of the NCB. Bev spent her working life around Derbyshire pits, but then who cares, it's only an industrial! Put a fictitious TOPS number and paint scheme on a BR loco and watch the indignant photographers let fly.

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Andrew had Friday off, and after dealing with some essential matters, we headed down to Darley, grouted in the last column and started laying out the foundation blocks. I had produced a plan on CAD which ought to tell us exactly where each block should be, allowing exactly 10mm of mortar between them. But on my plan I had started at the north western corner. On Friday we commenced at the south western corner, and the northern direction blocks, by the time we reached the column by the access door, were about 150mm adrift to my drawing. Oh well, it was only really to ascertain how many I needed.

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14 901 was booked again for Saturday and Sunday, and as things had apparently settled down on Tuesday I hoped for a quiet weekend, to let Roy (passed as a driver on D8) get plenty of time on the throttle. We had Dave Lee with us as Secondman, which made my presence one of 'supervisory'. Of course, 14 901 decided to be as awkward as on Tuesday, with the temperatures running steadily into the 90s. Despite all this there was a fairly jocular air on the footplate. One of the problems with being at the northern end of the train is that the station cafe at Rowsley is towards the southern end of the platform. Thus the loco comes to rest, you switch the necessary bits over ready to be towed back to Matlock, pick up the staff 'hoop' to take back to the kettle at the other end and by the time you are on the platform, every passenger is ahead of you and half of them are making a bee line for the cafe. In one of those footplate conferences that I think nowadays also get referred to as “toolbox talks” in some strange places, we decided that the scope of duties of the Secondman should include being thrown out of the cab as the train entered the platform so that he could be at the front of the queue with our order!

But on our first outward run, the Stationmaster at Darley had mouthed “I have a bit of paper for you” as we departed, and I was left the whole run to Matlock and back to wonder what it was. Could it be some sort of enquiry about the shed (Andrew had seen unauthorised visitors wandering around a day or so before) or maybe a writ from some solicitor acting on behalf of “concerned residents of Station Road”?

When we got back to Darley I hopped off the loco and went to find him, to be presented with a business card. If you go back a couple of weeks, you may recall that I initially sent the enquiry for my requirements for blocks, sand, DPM, etc by e-mail to a builders merchants (let's call them “M”) sited on the opposite side of the track, and had chased it up two days later to be promised a quote which never materialised. Travis Perkins thought it quite amusing that they would be delivering right next door to a competitor, M. But with the natural laws of coincidence in play, who should have been in the said builders merchants as TP delivered but M's Managing Director. Apparently he did not see the funny side and issued his Chief Salesman with instructions to get to the bottom of it and make sure that any further material came from M “no matter what the cost”. The salesman had somehow found the Darley Dale Stationmaster who now passed on his card. I shall ring him on Tuesday – I am rather looking forward to it.

So anyway, 901 limped through the day with the engine running uncomfortably hot, and with a bit of banking assistance for the last two runs that at least enabled Roy to ease off the power. But as soon as tea was over Andrew and I dashed back in to Rowsley. We had, after all, another DV8 engine in the Brush 0-6-0DE (ex Tyne & Wear Metro via Channel Tunnel and Round Oak Rail, now that's rail journey and a half). So in the darkening evening we recovered the thermostats and housing from this loco, and tested the 'stats by placing them in a pan of water on the mess room stove. But a look by torchlight on 901 indicated that the housing was different, so a straight swap of the complete assemblies wasn't possible.

Too bloomin' early this morning we were back at Rowsley. Draining the '14's cooling system was no problem, but revealed that the loco was running on plain (if a bit rusty) water, despite the fact that it had been fully anti-freezed three years ago. Anyway, we discovered that not only did the thermostat housings look different, the thermostats themselves were a different design, so swapping them was not an option. The thermostats themselves, subjected to the pan-on-the-messroom-stove test seemed to open very late – that is to say, the Brush's, stamped 88 deg C, had begun to open even as the water appeared to reach boiling (we had no thermometer to go by) and 901's, marked at 74 deg C didn't seem to open much sooner. Although Andrew was for finding some suitable pieces of steel to plug the bottom of the housing (and so force the coolant around the radiator matrices rather than the by-pass) we persevered with the stats, looking for a way of tweaking them. In the end I “adjusted” one and both of them seemed to be responding earlier than when first tested. By now it was getting on for quarter past nine and we were due to start up at around 10.30 to be away on the first train at 11.15.

We plodded on getting the stats back in; new joints made and everything reassembled and coolant tight. By ten Roy Taylor had arrived and started prep'ing the loco. I fired up Cheedale as where we were parked the water hose wouldn't reach, and shortly afterwards we moved 901 down and started re-filling the system.

Sticking out the top of the casings is a 2” BSP screwcap, which is the filling point. It is nowhere near the radiators (well it is, but not in the sense that it enters a header tank) and immediately underneath, narrows down to a 1” pipe. So we started refilling from the hose at 10.20, but it was not a case of turning the tap on and watching it rush in. Andrew balanced on top of the loco's casings, calling for a little more or a little less on the tap as the water trickled in. And it wasn't much more than a trickle. We had started that morning collecting over 100 litres of coolant before deciding it wasn't worth saving and dumped the rest. Now the whole system had to be refilled and all through a 1” pipe through which the displaced air had also to flow. (Apparently, the loco should have had an additional de-aeration tap fitted as a mod – D9500 has it, but somehow D9524 must have been away that day). It wasn't helped by the fact that our one working coolant level gauge, having initially refused to move from full when we drained the system, had finally decided to admit the truth and moved to Empty. But now, no matter what we did, it stayed showing Empty.

By 10.50, in an effort to stir things up and eject any trapped air pockets, we fired 901 up and allowed the engine's water pump to circulate things (we already knew we had water above the cylinder heads). But water still went in and air still came out, and the two flows were frequently incompatible. Finally at 11.05 Andrew declared that he could get no more water in (but our coolant gauge still read Empty) and we removed him and the remaining tools and Roy and I set off for the platform, getting hooked on with just enough time to raise the vacuum and go.

At this point I was still in my hivi overalls, though if Superman needed a phone box to change persona, I had least had a loco cab and enough time before we got to Darley. We had no rostered Secondman, so it was just Roy and me, so I took the first run to see how it behaved and Roy took the rest working on the principle that I could supervise him at driving and he could supervise me at being a Secondman.

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Now I didn't realise that Secondman is actually more fun than driving. We all seem to use the eastern side of 901 for driving ( I prefer that side and all my trainees follow my lead) which is the “wrong side” for the platforms at Matlock and Darley Dale. Thus for starting off the Secondman provides the driver with a running commentary...
“Guard's looking at his watch”
“Stationamster's checking for any late passengers”
“Guard looking at watch again.”
“Guard's got that green thing on a stick out”
“Right away!”

And of course, the Driver has to stay on the seat, after all, that's where the controls are put and to be certain, there's that pedal on the floor to ensure he doesn't go for a walk. Not so the Secondman. On the contrary, the Secondman's job is to assume that the Driver is not only glued to the chair but blind to boot. Thus the Secondman can survey the scene out the window and report that the next Crossing is clear, and anything else about the scenery, animal or vegetable life, or walkers that may be relevant to the train's operation and making the Driver's life bearable as he remains, imprisoned on his chair with a hand on the throttle and a foot on the pedal.

But best of all, he gets to hang out of the side of the loco to deposit or collect the staff. Well, I say staff, it is of course a large hoop with bits hanging on it. I used to play quoits years ago as a beach game. You don't see them now, but they were rubber rings about a foot in diameter, and you'd stick a bit of driftwood in the beach and try to throw the quoits over the upturned stick, rather like American's with horseshoes. I wander what I'd score for landing one around the Darley Signalman's neck? But despite the temptation, I meekly hold it out, kneeling on the floor of 901's cab and afterwards call to the driver -
“The token has left the building”
- as we sail over the level crossing.

I have come to the conclusion that Roy is very jammy. Three out of four runs today we have emerged from under the bridge at Darley to find the level crossing gates ahead already open, and the signal either off or cleared within a couple of seconds. Never happens for me when I'm driving.

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