Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of tracklaying underwater

Of tracklaying underwater

7th December 2014

Firstly, my apologies to anyone who had difficulty finding last weeks' entry – once I've uploaded it I normally check it by going to Categories and finding it on the current quarter's list. This I did and all appeared normal, but then Andrew complained it wasn't “up” and when I checked on the “Blog” or “Latest Post” headings it didn't show: in fact it did show on the RSS tab (upper left) so that was but 2 of the 4 places which you normally should  find it. Whether it will happen again this week, I don't know. It may be a side effect of a recent “security mod” or just summat quirky. Either way if it happens again, try one of the alternative routes just in case. Of course if it does happen again this week this public service information will be of no use at all as you won't be able to find it...

In terms of progress on the collection, the week has been rather minimal. In truth, there has been a lot going on, but some of it was related to my commercial work (which I do not report on here for reasons of confidentiality) and other parts of it very negative. I may go into this a bit farther in next week's blog, or I may ignore it if things calm down and  return to “normal”.

At the beginning of the week  Charlie took the works train down to Matlock Riverside so that the platform could be flushed clean of leaf mulch and any other debris, so making it ready for use if required. For although Santa trains are booked for the main station, Santa might terminate at Riverside if they are a loco down and service trains will anyway up to Easter.  Steph was returning from Sainsbury's and keen to test her new camera, so here's the result.

DSC02432 blog

Meanwhile I checked with the profilers whether my order was on schedule to discover that they hadn't got it – which seemed a trifle strange until I checked by Sent box and couldn't find it there either.  Oh well, it was hurriedly e-mailed up and was ready for Friday as usual. Included in it were more rail fixings for the shed area, additional brackets for the end of the roof purlins on the shed (ready to support the side sheets at their tops) and pipe flanges for the revised cooling system on 14 901. Then there was the pipe delivery from BSS: I got a  phone call to say the lorry was waiting outside the gates at Rowsley but by the time I got there it had gone. Fortunately it was only because someone else had let him in and he had unloaded by the time I got there to sign his delivery note.

The M10 fine pitch nuts arrived and so I was able to part-assemble the handbrake relay shaft for the 03 – all in all I was almost looking forward to heading alone over to Scunthorpe, getting the handbrake back working and wiring up the tacho head but it was not to be. For as the week wore on the plan for Andrew's young son to come and stay for a  few days was dropped as it seemed he was a little under the weather, so instead of my “free” weekend it was going to be business as usual.

I said last week too that we were close to bringing a loco into the shed area, and it was expected to be a commercial job, the machine concerned arriving at Darley on Thursday. But so far getting it to start has defeated me (“poor cold starting” being one of the known defects needed to be rectified but  so far it has been something of an understatement!). And while waiting for batteries to recover, Andrew and I set about  laying the rails in the shed.

To recap, the “track slabs” in the floor are roughly 6” below the general floor level, and theoretically are level. But being by first experience of laying concrete  in many years (Talyllyn North Carriage shed extension  c.1967 and a new garden shed base at Briddon Towers in 1979 being the modest prior attempts) it has in reality been found to have a  longitudinal slope. That would be OK if it sloped down towards Matlock, but it doesn't, the slope faces Bakewell. And as there is still no sign of a roof on the building, the occasional Derbyshire rain maintains an inch or three of water in both track slabs, gradually shallowing out at the Matlock end. As at a couple of weeks ago, the track at the back had been laid out and connected to two flatbottom rails that brought the line into the shed, but that left two pairs of 114 lb fb to be bolted down to complete the line.

So while we were waiting for batteries to recover, Andrew and I made a  start. At roughly 5ft spacings, there are pairs of sockets cast in to the concrete with M20 bolts sticking up, sometimes above the water, mostly just under the surface.  I have a stock of rail fixings, comprising a base, a clamp and a taper washer, and if all goes to plan (or put it another way, provided I got the pads holding the sockets into the wet concrete within + or – 3mm of their correct location) then clamping the rails to these will hold them to gauge – near enough. The bolts are of course, too close to be unscrewed with the rail in place – the head overlaps the foot, so into the freezing cold water (we had scraped most of the ice off the surface) went my fingers, unscrewing each bolt and placing it on the floor adjacent, whileI knelt on the cold, wet concrete alongside.

I am sure you have all seen pictures of gangs of p/way workers armed with rail tongs, bringing a length of rail in to place in the days before mechanisation and cwr, and doing their very best to resemble a millipede in the process. Fortunately our rails were not as long nor had as far to go, since all we had was a strop, a dee-link and a couple of crowbars.  Once in position, I had to find the socket holes by probing the murky freezing cold water with my finger, placing the base into position, and then screwing the remaining pieces into place, although most times I had to re-probe the water to find whether the baseplate had stayed over the socket and for that matter, where either of them were.

Years ago when I ran Yorkshire Engine, I got a sub-contract order to manufacture a 762mm gauge target trolley and install a railway for it run on at MoD Warcop, on the other side of the A66 to the railway. The trolley was to be hauled up and down by a wire-rope winch, so there was little of particular interest in the vehicle itself, which used a pair of ex-NCB tub wheelsets (but Andrew found me a pick of it anyway, which I have scanned for your edification). But for the track I provisioned enough traditional “Jubilee” track parts (steel sleepers, bolts, clips and flatbottom rail for the non-cognoscenti among us) and sent up my Foreman (who was ex NCB underground) together with a contractor who was also ex NCB underground track man.

Warcop trolley blog

I delivered the materials to Warcop by lorry, but had not been told just how remote the location was, but no matter, the Army provided a JCB to move the materials up to site from the lorry. The sleepers and smaller parts went easily into the bucket, but how does a JCB handle 30ft rails? Simples. Balance 3 or 4 at a time across the bucket with roughly 12ft sticking out each side and set off up the hill. Now on one run, a rail started to become unbalanced and a squaddy involved in overseeing things tried to get the driver's attention. But having shouted to no avail, he picked up a clump of clay and threw it at the JCB, scoring a bulls-eye on the windscreen. Unfortunately, the said lump of clay had half a house brick inside and got the driver's full and undivided attention by passing straight through the windscreen and landing in his lap. The JCB went off to Penrith for a new 'screen and wasn't seen again for 2 days.

As I said, my guys were used to assembling pre-fab track in collieries, and their technique was simple. Lay the rails out in position but on wooden blocks, which gave enough space underneath to slide the pressed steel sleepers into position and push the cup-square bolts up from underneath and add the clips and nuts on top. When all sleepers are in place and the track gauged, knock the blocks out and the assembled panel falls on to the ballast in almost the correct position to bolt up the fishplates and move on.

Anxious to make up for delays occasioned by the departure of the JCB, a group of squaddies were delegated to assist by making up panels. They laid out sleepers on the ballast, placed the rails on top,  and then tried scooping the ballast out under each sleeper so that they could get the cup-square bolts through from underneath...

I think I will not be “done” under the Official Secrets Act if I reveal that the target trolley was to be shot at by Milan anti-tank missiles. And when I say shot at, the truth is that the trolley carried a scale plywood silhouette of a tank which was the real target, but the average trainee squaddy knew that if you hit the trolley underneath, then you could all go home for the day. But sooner or later the Officers figuered this out for themselves, so the trackbed had been provided with a bund a couple of feet high on the outside of the track (which was a  sort of ledge across a hillside) to protect the trolley.

Warcop track blog

At the end of the first week something over half the track was down, but my guys returned for the weekend and went back up first thing on the next Monday. It had rained heavily, and the sight that awaited my guys was their track starting dry then disappearing into a lake like a  lifeboat's slipway. The MoD engineers had dug the trackbed and the bund, but failed to check how level it was and whether a drain might be a good idea. The JCB dug a hole through the bund so the job could be completed.

We have no bund, and while Rob's submersible pump will, if coaxed, reduce the level to about a half-inch if you are prepared to wait, no amount of sweeping the water with brushes will have any effect on it other than to cloud it further. In the end, we got both the first two rails in, fishplated (including the missing pair outside) and largely bolted down, but promised ourselves that once the roof is on  and the track slab has finally dried out, we will lift the rails and re-sit them properly.  

So although the entrance track to Shed Road 2 is still not ballasted, the view is that a loco brought gently the down will merely settle a few sleepers into the clay so all is ready to bring one in, but alas the customer's loco has yet to be it, as the combination of cold wind, alternating sun. rain and hail were not conducive to effective fault-finding.  For the moment there is where it stands, an extra piece of interest to distract excited children from their forthcoming interview with Santa as the trains pass by.

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