Saturday 4 August 2018

Back to Stone Lea Pont L'Arche

A good crew of 9 today and work in the shade for us. Good news, it was still 28 degrees today.

A slight change at Winchcombe to start with, as we are now running three trains in this busiest part of our season, so here comes the class 47 to pick up the third rake, parked next to our mess coach.

We were off to Stanley Pontlarge again, to finish off the twist that we part repaired last week.

For this we needed a supply of chippings, from this pile of 6 dumpy bags recently delivered.

Our little Landie will take them out to the site, together with all the tools. Well, should do, plucky little thing.

The issue was that there isn't that much room on the Landie and we had already loaded the compressor on to it, as well as all the tools. Where to put that dumpy bag of chippings?

The answer was to split it into smaller bits, so you see us here filling these handy rubber baskets that we use on the PWay.

Two of us then drove to the site via Gotherington Skew bridge, meeting Foremarke Hall on the way at 3 Arches bridge. The rest car shared to the nearest underbridge, and walked up.

Everything was unloaded at SPL, and a group started digging out the ends of the sleepers in preparation for stone blowing a considerable length that had dipped in front of this very close group of young oaks.

With everyone hacking away at the sleeper ends, it looks like a row of convicts on a chain gang. Well, not that far from the truth either. The hope was that we could blow the stone chippings under from the open end of the sleepers, and save ourselves a load of digging.

The class 47 we met earlier then turned up, the second train of the day to go down to Cheltenham.
We had the impression today that the trains were not that well filled, strange. Maybe a coincidence, but there is a Prescott Hill climb event practically next door this weekend.

Our quick fix with the chippings suffered two blows, unfortunately. The first was that the chippings would not go under far enough from the ends of the sleepers, so that we had to dig out far more of each sleeper, to include both sides of the rail.

The second issue was that the stone chippings delivered were rather bigger than expected, and (initially at least) did not blow well.

The answer to that was to pack them under by hand, a very laborious process, particularly in this heat. Poor old Tony was noted to have turned a shade of bright crimson, but he is well, fear not.

After a few sleepers had been packed by hand we tried again, and it turned out that you can stone blow these larger chippings, but you need a much bigger void under each sleeper for them to go in. 'Luckily' the dip in the track was so that there were indeed big voids in the middle of it. The air in the supply tube creates a venturi effect near the mouth, so that the chippings gradually fed in by Hayden here are sucked in and then blown under the sleeper. It's very satisfying to see the voids quickly filled with tightly packed ballast. The sleepers didn't move when the next train ran over them, we noted happily.

This section, relaid on to a bare trackbed by our pioneers in 1994, has bullhead rail on concrete sleepers. This is quite outdated today. Note that the GWR had already moved on to concrete sleepers at the end, with this chair cast in November 1945, just a handful of years before the company was nationalised.

This comparative picture shows the two sizes of chippings we had.

In the foreground is the correct size, more like gravel really, if you can imagine that.

Above the the oversized basket of chippings, which are clearly much bigger.

After a while the three trains that had gone south all came back again, one by one, and every hour. What a regular timetable! Easy for the lookout of our gang.

Here is 4270, back in operation and running very silently, we thought. In excellent condition therefore.

We managed to avoid the sweltering heat and potential sunburn today, as we were working in the shade under the trouble making oak trees - so they do have their uses.

Here we are having our picnic lunch in the cool.

Mrs. B's excellent sponge cake, with a deliciously fresh fruit filling today, was revealed after lunch: Ta - dah! It's a 50p contribution though, and none of that bothersome small change either if you please, we want a nice, single 50p piece in the box.

Bert Ferrule started to sweat here, as he only had small change but still wanted his pieces of cake. What to do? It occurred to us that the stack of small coins, with an angular 20p piece on top, might be converted to a 50p coin by the passage of a train?

OK, just three bits then...
Jim was hopelessly ensconced in a rather rickety folding chair and couldn't get up, so Dave played hostess and passed round the supply.

After lunch we completed the stone blowing, back filled the sleeper cribs and headed off in single file for refreshment at the Coffeepot.

While putting back the tools, Foremarke Hall accelerated past us on its way to Toddington.

Broadway bits

Work on the new car park has really started in earnest, and progress is rapid.

At the Childswickham end the broken concrete has been sorted into a pile on the right, ready for collection.

Meanwhile, the pile of material on the left (principally ex Little Buckland bridge repair) is being loaded into lorries, one of which can be seen leaving the site here through the future car park exit.

In the middle you can see that the surface removed last week is being replaced by fresh stone and rolled in.

Seen from the station road end (the future entrance) you can see the area of stone rolled in, and even some concrete edging stones in place on the left.

At this end cars will park at right angles to the embankment, stretching right down to the trees in the distance, with an interruption in the middle where there will be a stretch of green. Beyond the trees the car park will be a more normal, square shape.

On the same day, by the Childswickham Road bridge, 4270 drifted in with its train of maroon Mk1 coaches. Farmers have been making hay with this good weather, or rather straw, which has turned a wonderful shade of gold after the brief spell of rain we had.

On a subsequent run the heavy duty 2-8-0 tank rumbled into the station itself, framed by one of the replica GWR lamps and the replica Shirley box.

Indoors, work was continuing on the fireplace. Last week, it was trial fitted. A peep through the window late on Wednesday revealed that Neal had put in the slate hearth, so what could he do today?

Here's the hearth in pace, and Neal is just bringing one of the two uprights for fitting into the slots carved out right round.

The upright is pushed into the slot, which is filled with tile adhesive. At the top is an additional, mechanical, attachment, which prevents it from rotating forwards.

Combining the useful with the pleasant, we decided to break for lunch and give the cement the time to go off.

Outside the DMU drifted to a halt under the footbridge, and we heard the unusual noise of a heavy duty helicopter.

This one (a Puma?) was one of a pair that circled Broadway repeatedly. With the door open, you can look right through it.

Talk about flying at tree top height, you can't get much lower than that.

After lunch, the other upright was fitted, then the centre piece across the top that unites them.

Finally, the piece de la resistance, here are Neal and John fitting the mantlepiece into its slot on top.

And here is the replica GWR slate fireplace, now fully assembled.The fender, an original found buried on site, sits on the slate hearth, which itself is just proud of the floor so that the oak effect floor covering can fit under it. We still have to make an ash pan for it. That is a consumable item and did not come with the package, but we have the skills to make one, so that won't be a problem.

At this point we would like to thank the select group of financial contributors that made this piece of our 'living history' possible. We did not waste your money, just look what you helped us to achieve ! There is no better way to donate money than for something that you can see, to which you can point and say: I helped to create that! Thank you all, you know who you are.

Taking a step back (and climbing half way up a ladder) you can see the new fireplace in its context, with the period style lights on too.

We still have to fit a picture rail here, and in the booking office.

Looking the other way, you can see the wall against which will be located the counter, with the kitchen in the room beyond. The counter will be made by our craftsmen at C&W and will be inspired by an example seen at Kidderminster SVR.

Behind the counter C&W propose a sort of triptych, a mirrored panel embraced by a set of decorated shelves left and right. That would be great.

Training for new staff for our Broadway cafe is under way - we were served tea at Winchcombe today by two hopeful candidates. Our verdict: Not bad, for a first mug.

Finally, we have taken delivery of the first 6 of 12 scripted bench ends at Broadway. These will be used in sets of 3 to make 4 authentic ten foot benches in the 1904 style. Painting is under way here in the Broadway shade of 1904 GWR brown. The new benches will double the current seating capacity at the station, which at times, we noted,  has been fully utilised by our passengers. They shall not stand!

By the way, our heritage team has been to Usk station goods yard to start recovering the old weighbridge house there, so if you want to read about that, check out the blog entry for it here:


  1. Just to put the record straight - I complained the other week that the railway was contravening planning requirements by leaving lights on overnight. In fact these lights are infra-red for the security cameras and are invisible to humans - and bats. The web cam sees them as well. Any intruders beware - you're not invisible in the dark!

    1. Planning and lights? Thought that was anti social behaviour and any action could only be taken after the owner didn't act on a complaint! The back of our house is lit up like a Christmas tree every other night!

  2. Oh, and another thing... Jo, you mentioned last week that a clock would go nicely over the fireplace. I wonder if the GWR sited clocks in such places? I'm thinking that the large variation in temperature between having the fire roaring away and when it is out would make keeping a mechanical (pendulum) clock to time quite challenging? Any thoughts?

    1. I would have thought it would be OK, esp with the fusee movement of the GWR clock such as in the booking hall. My mantlepiece at home does not get hot.

    2. On further thought - there are countless mechanical clocks on mantlepieces the world over! So as you say, probably OK!

  3. Love the cafe. From the paint scheme to the lights. And of course the fireplace. Very nicely done. Is there any news on the footbridge steps? Thanks.

    1. Bo from Missouri,

      Is that Missouri, from across the pond? If so, have you had the chance to visit GWSR?

    2. Yes. Missouri USA. No I haven't had the pleasure of visiting the GWSR. I read all the blogs though.

    3. Bo from Missouri,

      Hopefully one day you can make the trip over to see all this. When you finally do, you'll be in for a treat. Make sure that you give yourself perhaps three to four weeks to visit the UK, because time will fly when you visit and you'll wish you had spent longer coming over.

      This railway, just keeps getting better and better. The volunteers are just truly amazing. Everybody is just so friendly as well.

    4. Thank you. Maybe I'll meet you one day!

  4. The footbridge steps seem to be ensnared in bureaucracy, but small 'steps' are being taken.

  5. i hope that there will be disabled spaces in the new car park at the station end

    1. There are already some disabled spaces by the station building, but if you're concerned, remember it's the council's carpark, not ours.

  6. The fireplace looks excellent. A very good job!

    Bullhead rail on concrete sleepers was laid quite extensively into the 1950s. The Dean Forest Railway has a few miles of it - as does the West Somerset Railway. Network Rail was selling some off recently, but is closed for maintenance at the moment (I half expected to see an announcement about rail replacement buses!) so I don't know if it's still available.

  7. Glad that the diesel gala was a resounding success. I keep wondering though, with talk in the press of pollution, how long diesel engines will be allowed to run. Then comes steam engine emissions! I hope that I may be dead and buried by the time it takes effect.
    The fireplace in the Refresh. looks fantastic!
    Regards, Paul.

  8. Those white power sockets either side of the fireplace spoil the appearance of the room. You can get brass ones, which would be a vast improvement!

  9. The fireplace and reception room already looks stunning. Great job Neal and everyone involved.

  10. How many vehicles will the car park be able to accommodate? Will the green area house the pay and display ticket machine? Enjoyable blog as ever, thanks. Richard

  11. great report Jo , the fireplace is so good ,well done Neil C and others .I would have thought angled 45' parking would be safer as width is restricted and narrow due to preservation of embankment .At least ,they can exit one way down to Childswickham Road .
    Daily M .( Fishplate basher and fastest greaser !!)New trousers needed .

    1. John Mayell,

      I'll second that, great photographs as well.

      Nigel Black's photo album set can be found here;