|July 2006 news|
Usual apologies, as always, for the late appearance of any news recently - I keep telling myself that things will quieten down a bit next month...
I recently joined the Evergreens Miniature Railway, a new club about half an hour from home. What they lack in numbers (now I've joined they're up to thirteen members) they more than make up for in a friendly welcome and terrific drive to "get things done", already boasting a fully signalled 1/2 mile 7 1/4 inch gauge line and another 800 feet of raised level 5 inch gauge (with a short section dual-gauged for 3 1/2 inch gauge over part of it).
Last Saturday was a running day, Sam and I loaded up our Tinkerbell and headed over in the morning. I'm supposed to be well set up for moving big engines, unfortunately Sod's Law struck just as we had the engine three quarters loaded. I use a purpose-built steel rail ramp, combined with the two ton winch in the van. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to charge its battery recently so, with the engine virtually at the top of the ramps, the winch stopped. A hairy few minutes followed, where I had to lift the far end of the ramp, using it as a ten foot lever until, as it approached the level, the engine ran obediently into the back. Not an ideal start to the day.
Arriving at the track, things brightened up considerably. There were already plenty of people there, some engines running around and willing hands to help roll the engine out of the van and onto the traverser. It was all very uneventful (although the Tinkerbell, at a bit over half a ton, put an interesting kink in the end of the loading ramp) and half an hour later there was 20 pounds on the clock and a cup of tea standing on the nearside tank (which, on a Tinkerbell, makes an ideal tea tray). Any ideas of a gentle day pottering about were quickly dispelled when the track marshall came over to say that an engine had retired and the shortage of motive power had coincided with a rush of passengers. Blower on quick, throw a bit more coal on the fire and off we went with not much more than forty pounds on, hoping to make it up as we went along. A few circuits and three changes of passenger, "James" was gently feathering the safety valves and ready for anything for the rest of the day - the first proper day's work I've done with her since she came from the Oldown Miniature Railway.
As the morning wore on, more engines arrived, including a recently completed Baldwin "Lyn" of the Lynton & Barnstaple. I've had a couple of these kit-built engines through my hands, this is the first one I've seen that really seems to perform well. It goes without saying that there has been much tweaking and alteration of the original bits but I was impressed by the way it looked and went. I had a chance to drive it later in the afternoon when the owner and I swapped engines for a few laps.
More pictures of the Evergreens Miniature Railway
The railway is at Stickney, near Boston, there's usually something running every Saturday - if you're in the area, well worth a visit (in fact, if you're within 50 miles, well worth supporting by joining up!).
Not really news, more recent history but I took a load of pictures and it seems a pity to waste them.
Last year my 12 1/4 inch gauge Pacific went on loan to the Cleethorpes Coast Railway for their Seaside Railways Gala. They went and picked it up from Fairbourne where it had been playing and took it up to the East Coast where, by all accounts, the gala turned out to be a very good "do". Unfortunately I was otherwise engaged that weekend, but arranged to go up a couple of weeks later to collect the engine - they happened to have a crane in for a boiler lift so we took advantage of getting a free lift onto the trailer at the same time.
More pictures of our day at Cleethorpes
I hadn't been to the railway before. Chris Shaw, head man there, made Sam and I very welcome and was generous with both his tea and time, for which many thanks. We had a guided tour of the shed, a run up the line before, most unexpectedly, I was offered the chance of taking out the 11.30 with the Atlantic "Sutton Flyer" up front. Never having driven 15 inch gauge before, it was a super experience - made the Thurston Pacific look quite bijou when I got back to the trailer!
I hadn't been moved up to Lincolnshire long when a knock came at the workshop door late one night. A man stood there enquiring if I might have a safety valve for a large boiler. Asking him in, we fell to talking and it turned out that he lived in the next village and had a railway in his garden - nothing particularly unusual about that, model engineers pop up everywhere, but it became a bit more interesting when he told me it was 10 1/4 inch gauge. Oh yes, and he'd got a mile of track - would I like to pop down some time?
Next morning I was down there as fast as the Station Road Steam bicycle would convey me. The gentleman lives in the old water mill, complete with mill stream and an original, 1920s fitted Ruston Hornsby open crank engine which drives the mill machinery when water is scarce. The railway runs around the grounds, built mainly from materials reclaimed from the local potato railways which flourished around these parts in the 1920s. There is an eclectic collection of locomotives and rolling stock, including one of David Curwen's original Pacifics (sister engine to Joe Nemeth's "Robin Hood"), currently being reboilered, with another couple of Atlantics in running order.
The railway is private, but opens a few days each year for charity - the pictures are from the latest open day last month, we all bicycled down and had a grand day out (the teas are recommended).
"T.J.Thurston", the big Pacific, was due for a boiler test earlier this year. I'd just moved into the new workshop the day the boiler inspector called and the compressor was not yet wired up so we had to rely on a rather undersized electric blower for steam raising. The engine had been away most of last year, then on loan to Cleethorpes for their gala, so we filled it up and lit the fire, letting it gently raise steam while we tested some other engines. It was Ian who noticed (with that sixth sense that boiler inspector have) a slight bubbling of water from around the dome when we had 10psi on the clock. Removing the two screws securing the outer dome, we were confronted with the inner dome located on eight studs with, rather alarmingly, no nuts! While I ran round like a headless chicken doing my best Corporal Jones "don't panic" act, Ian walked (fairly briskly, it must be said) over to the tender, had a root about, found the relevant nuts and fitted them. 10psi doesn't sound like a great deal, but the plate is five inch diameter which by my reckoning had about two hundredweight of push on it.
It wasn't a terribly successful day, the blower wasn't up to the job so the engine sat there sulking at about 30psi for the afternoon before we gave up.
Next visit from Ian, I had the engine all ready to go, plenty of draught, dry kindling, good coal. We couldn't fail...
Lit up, had a cup of tea, got about 50psi on the clock when a rather ominous plume of steam started to issue from under the base of one of the safety valves. Shovelled the fire out quickly and let it cool for the rest of the day before putting a spanner on the offending valve to remove it. With no force at all, there was a rather faint "click" and the top of the safety valve parted company from its threaded stem, which was left in the boiler, to be picked out later when everything was cold. Examination of the broken bits showed a crystalline fracture - the idea of it coming off at working pressure was not terribly appealing.
Pictures of the old and new valves
I scrapped both valves and made up new bronze bodies, very similar to the originals although with greater wall thickness in the centre, waisted, section.
On the third visit, we finally got the steam test done.
99% of customers are wonderful (give yourselves a pat on the back) - courteous, patient (and sometimes you have to be waiting for me to attack my correspondence), often with interesting nuggets of information to impart. A few are, at times, a little trickier to deal with. Some verge on impossible. Just so you don't think it's all playing trains and endless pots of tea here, let me give you a little insight into one of the more frustrating episodes...
I had a call recently from a chap, nothing unusual in that as he has emailed regularly over the last four years enquiring about a variety of engines (though never quite getting round to buying anything). He wanted a small traction engine or wagon - something about 2 inch scale. As usual, I had a PoP in stock, there was also a four inch scale engine needing completion. Great excitement followed, the 2 inch requirement was promptly forgotten, could he have some pictures of the four inch engine? Yes, I told him I would take some pictures in the workshop and email them on. Two hours later I get an email complaining that the pictures haven't arrived yet. Then another a couple of hours later telling me that it's important to check there's nothing major missing. Worried that our man might blow a fuse waiting, I finally (after rather a long day in the workshop) got some pictures processed and put on the site at 9 that night, fully expecting a call the following morrning. I waited in vain until, three days later, an email arrives saying that he didn't want a traction engine any more, he'd prefer a small boiler to drive some stationary engines and had seen one on the website...
Now I did have a small vertical boiler on the site, brand new, professionally built and stamped up with serial number, date and test pressure. Next email confirms an interest, provided it would pass a pressure test (and he didn't want the drawings that were with it, so could I keep those and give him a reduction in the price please). Back down the workshop, blank it all up, give it a 200psi hydraulic test (all fine, as expected) and write up the paperwork. Phone him back, we agree a price, I drain and dry the boiler, pack it, weigh it for postage, write an invoice and put the carton on the shelf ready for the promised cheque to arrive.
At which point I get an email saying actually, the boiler won't be big enough for his engines, sorry for the bother.
As I said, it's only 1%...
Latest gadget in the workshop is an ultrasonic cleaner. I've used a friend's for many years and always been amazed by what a good job it does of getting dirt out of tiny little places, I've often thought it would be ideal for cleaning injectors. Ten years ago the things were horrendously expensive - they have come down considerably but I was finally tempted at Harrogate Show by one that, in addition to being a decent price, looked nicely made.
It's proved to be excellent at cleaning injectors - I keep the main bath full of water with a small amount of detergent in as a coupling fluid, then a small jar of descaler sits in that. Five minutes transforms a grubby, sulky injector into one that is positively begging to squirt.
It's also been good for cleaning taps (where it gets all the accumulated rubbish from the threads) and all sorts of small boiler fittings. And my glasses have never been so clean, they get a daily dunk.
Very pleasant place Lincolnshire, quiet roads, friendly people and an afternoon on the beach at Skegness is only half an hour away. However, it must be said that we don't have that many steam railways here.
The one standard gauge line we do have is the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway - the family went recently for a day out en-route to kite-flying at Cleethorpes in the afternoon. They have a short length of line running from Ludborough Station, originally part of the East Lincolnshire Railway, built in the 1840s connecting Grimsby to Louth, later incorporated into the Great Northern thence to the LNER. There is a splendid signal box, built as a recreation of an original building and usual small shop and buffet. The day we went an 0-4-0 Peckett was busy shuttling a couple of coaches back and forth with a seemingly endless stream of passengers waiting to ride.
As with all volunteer run railways, one cannot fail to be amazed at quite how much is achieved within modest means. I thoroughly enjoyed myself there - if there is one criticism, it would be that, in common with many preserved lines, the sidings full of forlorn "projects" rather detracted from the beautifully maintained station and signal box. It's always a difficult balancing act to sort out the junk from the heritage!
11th July 2006
April 2006 - Progress in
the workshop, visit to the National Railway Museum, visit to Woody Bay
January 2006 - Moving to new units, grit-blasting my hands, shiny Romulus
October 2005 - Stamford SME, Sam starts the restoration of "Pendle Witch", Casterton Working Weekend
August 2005 - New workshop, Thurston Pacific back from Cleethorpes
May 2005 - Berkely Light Railway, dodgy boiler certificates, full-size ploughing engines at auction
January 2005 - digging
October 2004 - initial planning for the garden railway
July 2004 - Fowler ploughing engines in Yorkshire
May 2004 - Moving the workshop, a 9 1/2 inch gauge garden railway
Apr 2004 - Holiday in Shropshire & The Severn Valley Railway, LNER liveried Black 5
Feb 2004 - Refacing a Tangye slide valve, new acquisition 10 ton Aveling roller