Saturday 30 June 2018

Twist and shout

As the temperature rises, the number of volunteers falls. There must be a correlation in there, as it was 28 degrees today and after counting all the heads in the mess coach first thing, and waiting for ages in case someone else turned up, there were just 5 of us. And that on a Saturday too.

Sizing up the problem by eye along the rails

But that was enough to do the job in hand, to wit, repair a twist at Didbrook.

This was not on a track walker's report, but was reported by the loco crews so was a bit more urgent.

Measuring the degree of twist with the track gauge.

A twist is when alternating sides of track show a dip, resulting in a rocking motion on the train.

We already had a look last Saturday, so knew the lie of the land there. In fact it has had track unevenness before, thought to be caused by a boggy piece of ground at the foot of the embankment drying out in the heat we are currently experiencing.

Deciding where to pack and where to place the track jacks.

To locate and identify the problem and its size we packed the Landie with its tools and drove out along the trackside.

We are here between the two Didbrook bridges, not unreasonably referred to as Didbrook 1 and Didbrook 2. Didbrook two was replaced with a concrete deck in the last days of BR ownership and is in the distance by the trees here.

Suspect No.1 for these twists is this boggy piece of ground below, on the Cotswolds side. As our line acts like a dam for all water coming off the Cotswolds edge (on the left here) it needs good drainage at the foot of any embankment. The wealth of fresh looking vegetation in the strip of land below suggests that it is wet down there, and that it could do with an additional drainage ditch. Indeed the next strip of land (beyond the trees in the background, by Didbrook 2 bridge) has a drain emerging on the road which was running even with the heat we have had over several days now.

Before starting work we let the first train of the day go past, the 10.00 off Toddington, on its way to fetch a large crowd of waiting passengers at CRC.

Here you can see a section of track jacked up, and a resulting void under the sleeper in the centre.

You have to shovel that sleeper free first, before packing it with stone underneath.

Not all of the sleepers want to play ball. This is some of the earliest track laid in 1983, and some of the chairs have play in them meaning that you have to bar them up from underneath.

Paul is using his body weight here (some say he is resting, but no, he is hard at work) to force the bar down and the sleeper up into the chair. The void under the sleepers is then packed, here by Neil and Bert, further back.

After an hour the CRC train came back, now fully loaded with passengers intent on a day in the village of Broadway. 2807 has just stopped at Hayles Abbey halt round the bend, as has restarted for the last mile into Toddington.

The heat had one benefit, other than the impressive tans we are all getting. As well as getting a leathery skin, you can put your mug of coffee on the rails and it will warm up again. Handy ! Mustn't forget to take it off again before the next train comes.

And it wasn't long either.

It was Dinmore Manor off Toddington, but we had already almost finished. We did the twist, and a number of fishplate dips in the next two lengths, just for good measure.

Then it was back to Winchcombe for a picnic lunch. Alas, no cake today, as Mr & Mrs B were off on holiday to the Cake district (Ed: pse check spelling)

Back at the farm, Paul showed us the special Landie exhaust as was, with a new one fabricated now under it.

Our Landie is a bit of a one-off, as it has rail wheels and a crane. It's the crane that causes trouble for the exhaust system, as it has to climb over the bottom of it, resulting in a complicated arrangement of bends and resulting welding work. But we are now roadworthy again, thanks to Paul. Neil can't believe it.

A promise of rock cakes from Bert Ferrule, acting HOD today, turned out to be a wind-up so we had to resort to a packet of double chocolate digestives. These had spent hot day in the back of your blogger's car and had to be prised apart with a knife, but they were still biscuits, so counted.

A heated (in more than one way) debate followed in the mess coach about various topics raised in Thursday's Plc AGM. This was a much cooler affair, as it was held in a room under one of the stands at the race course at Cheltenham.

With the doors to the stand itself wide open, there was a lovely breeze and we were even allowed on to the stand itself.

What a fabulous view ! We are looking at Cleeve Hill here, which has Winchcombe behind it. Our CRC station is off the picture to the left, and the line makes a big loop round this hill. When our line was built a straight line option would have been to tunnel right under Cleeve Hill, but the expense persuaded the GWR to dodge round to the west of it, resorting to a much shorter (693yds) and cheaper tunnel at Greet.

This was our reward at the end of a very hot day - a Peppermint magnum, bottle of Donnington's and a diet Coke, each to his own.

Just a snippet from Broadway today, but on Friday Neil in the S&T Baguley-Drewry inspection car visited the station to take away two of the 40 or so stacks of concrete troughing stored on platform 2. The troughing is needed at Winchcombe, but it is the intention to load the remainder of the troughing on to two bogie flats and then store them up the headshunt until they are used in the stretch of track by the goods shed. Removal of the troughing will boost the appearance of the signal box area enormously.

We took a little film of the Baguley-Drewry inspection car, in case you haven't seen it in action.

You can see it here:

More fishplate greasing on Monday, do come and help us if you can.

Wednesday 27 June 2018

Why pay to go to Spain?

Why indeed pay, we have our own hot weather here. It's what we wished for all winter, so don't complain now that it's here. There was unrelenting sun today, but we found bits of shade here and there and 11 of us had a good time on the railroad.

The day started with a familiar shaggy dog story, which as you now know ends in the 'multi story carp ark' .

While waiting for the tea to be poured in the background. Peter, Rick and Martin listen spellbound as John works his way towards the distant punch line.

Having been to a recent Rail Live event at Long Marston recently, Jonathan came back with a bag full of goodies. To be fair to us all, he decided to raffle them off to those attending this morning, so we all drew a number to see what we got.

Mike drew a bit of a short straw, as he won a nice warm hat... Patience, the day will come, it will come, Mike.

We were basically working on a defect list south of Gothrington, but while your back is turned other defects turn up and one such was a loose bolt found on Chicken Curve.

Hence we loaded up the heavy generator on to the back of the Landie and headed half a mile north.

We waited for the first train of the day to pass, then cut off the nut, which had seized with the bolt loose. Another one, like last week. Strange.

Here's the new one going on, surrounded by the yellow marker paint for the old, seized on solid. A quick burp with the 'animal' and it was job done.

Or no it wasn't, because diligent eyes then found a new loose clip nearby. We had all the gear with us, so it was quickly jacked up, a thicker pad shoved underneath, release the jacks, bang a new clip back in and it was off to Gotherington.

At Gotherington Manor Lane we were all raring to go, but first to understand the hieroglyphics of the track walker's spreadsheet. Hmmmmm.

Then the train came. It was the first one ex CRC, and it was well filled (others later in the day less so, and the DMU was only modestly occupied).
Here's a nice shot of Dinmore about to enter the curve leading to Gotherington loop. We learned that this loco was running this week as it had a better ash pan, thus limiting the risk of lineside fires.

The passing shot, as the loco runs over Manor Lane underbridge. No bridge strikes here!

Then Dave consulted the runes again, and it was decided we needed to be north of Manor Lane bridge.
Half of us replaced some clips at the start of the loop, the rest were nearer the bridge on a second lot.

After crossing at Winchcombe on the two train service today, the balancing working eventually reached us at Gotherington in the form of the DMU.

Isn't that a beautiful hill in the background? One of the typical features of the Vale of Evesham, once the bed of the meandering river Severn over the centuries.

There were moments when not all of us could be employed at once, such as here when a better pad is inserted under a rail. Plenty of advice is always freely given by those that watch.

Came the DMU back from CRC, and the gang stepped aside, to be told another joke by John from the other side.

The joke was terminated early as the DMU intervened (Saved by the DMU, some were heard to say)

There was a wonderfully shady spot by the access gate, and this was selected for our picnic lunch. Rob (L) had thought ahead too, and was the best seated among us, many of which struggled with the prickly grass and young brambles.

We said 'Hi' to the crew of Dinmore as she drifted by our picnic site.

We slowly worked our way south towards Bishops Cleeve in the distance, mainly changing clips and pads that had worked loose, but also doing some ballast shovelling on a stretch with surplus ballast, where the position of each clip could not be seen by the track walker. This was the hottest bit of the day.

At 3 o clock we decided to knock it on the head, given that we had to drive back to Winchcombe, put all the tools back and lock up the site. Four o'clock saw us on the terrace of the Coffeepot, our reward after a hot day under a pitiless sun. Tea, and a peppermint Magnum - bliss !

Earlier, on Monday:

After last week's fishplate greasing session with 4 gangers, we put out a desperate appeal for one more ganger, please, all you have to do is put your boot on the other end of the bolt the man on the machine is trying to do up.

We did get a result to this appeal, but not the one expected: one fewer !

After hesitating whether to give up or plough on, the latter option was decided on. Three of us on site then. Luckily the machines were all out from last week, so all we had to do was get them on to their trolleys, using these wheels.

We're now out of Chicken Curve (lovely, with its 120ft lengths) and well down the long Defford straight. Annoyingly, this was laid with short 45ft lengths, thereby multiplying the number of joints we had to handle. We set ourselves a lunch time target of reaching a tree with a nice shady place under which to have our lunch.

The spot we were aiming for is the smaller bush on the right. It was the site of a concrete bin for gravel for shovel packing, left over from BR days. We sat on the rim of it and chewed our snap.

To our amazement we were suddenly the witnesses of nature's hunting party, to wit a little stoat after a large rabbit. The stoat followed the rabbit 5 yards behind along the other side of the track, the rabbit crossed over and ran back towards us. It vanished in the long grass; the stoat carried on running towards us when it suddenly realised we were there. It reared up, looked at us in astonishment, and it was gone. The rabbit escaped.

An internet search afterwards taught us that stoats do chase rabbits, and that the tactic is to tire them out, whereupon they jump on the back and bite it through the neck to kill it. The big lump - 4 times the size of the stoat, is then dragged back, bit by bit, to the stoat's nest. Check it out on YouTube, there are several examples of what we saw.

We had never witnessed the like of it before, until at Manor Lane 2 days later, we saw part of the chase again! It must then be quite a common occurrence. Not enough to influence the rabbit population hereabouts, there are millions of them.

While working along the track, we come across remnants of toilet paper 'flushed' down the carriage toilets.

We don't really have an issue with that. The remnants soon disappear, see bottom left of this photograph. The wet toilet paper hits the ballast at speed and pretty much disintegrates. Paper is also a natural product, so it soon bio-degrades.

Not so wet wipes. These are the devil's own work, they are not bio-degradeable. We came across several instances where people had flushed these down the toilet. And here they remain, on the trackbed, for all to see. And for a very long time indeed too. The reason is that wet wipes are made of plastic. It doesn't say so on the packet, nothing on the packet gives you any idea of what a wet wipe is made of. It's an artificial fibre, one that lasts forever.

So please don't flush wet wipes down the toilet, not at home (where they cause the fat balls that we have seen in the press) and not on our railway either. They are indestructible. Better use a paper Kleenex tissue, if you must. They are not good at all for the environment, they are a 'single use plastic' and we would rather not find them on our track.

Rant over, a quick snapshot at Broadway.

Here's a typical scene on the platform just after a Cheltenham train has come in. It was taken on Tuesday. Busy, isn't it? This is so good to see, it means cash for the railway, and we need a lot of it for the many infrastructure requirements that we face.

One of these is protection for our bridge. It was struck by someone once again a few days ago. First impressions are of a low speed impact, but what is so hard to understand about this giant sign we have put up? We are still getting them every 60 days on average, sign or no sign.

The good income generated by the opening of the Broadway extension is going to be spent, inter alia, on bridge protection beams here. We would rather spend this money on new loco messing facilities, or a carriage shed, or the completion of platform 2 at Broadway. But if someone gives our bridge a really hard whack, and they have done several times in the pass, we could end up with suspended services until the damage has been formally assessed. So bridge protection beams are an investment.

The good news is that the process for erecting the protective beams has started, and we see here a team surveying the area for that purpose. Meanwhile, another articulated lorry speeds on through.

We will resume progress on fishplate greasing next Monday, so do try to help. We are aiming for Toddington, and will get there, by hook or by crook.

Saturday 23 June 2018

That Thomas

Only 8 people volunteered today, perhaps as a result of the Thomas magnet? Our first thought was to do stone blowing at Manor Lane, but that needs more people than 8.

Plan B was to change 2 rotten sleepers, right by the mess coach. Not too far from refreshments during a hot day.

Today was unusual, because it was Thomas weekend. There were two class 37s out, Foremarke Hall and of course the little blue engine.

Here is the Green Goddess extracting one of the rakes from the sidings at Winchcombe.

The second man on D6948 looks back to make sure that the rake is coming out cleanly.

That face looks familiar... hey, it's Dave F, one of ours! No wonder we are down on numbers today. No doubt we will see him when there is cake around at lunch time.

With the loco vacating that bit of the yard in front of us, we were finally able to get going with the job. These sleepers, marked with an 'X', don't look too bad, but we watched them pump up and down when a train ran over them, so they are indeed coming out. Neal makes a start with digging away the ballast.

Then another class 37 arrives (37 215), it ran right over our work area so we had to stand aside. Now you can see two of these beasties in the same picture. We all agreed we like the sound of their 12 cylinder 'Vee' type engines, also known as 'tractors' in view of the agricultural roar they sometimes produce when accelerating.

So that was a blue one going over our work site, now this is a green one a few minutes later. Each time we downed tools and stood to one side. Not much progress here then.

With the green one gone again, the road was free for the next interruption - that cheeky little blue engine. We stood to one side again.

As soon as Thomas's train had passed we jumped back into the four foot, and not liking the look of another sleeper a few yards away, we decided to yank that one out too while we were at it. Here is the gang working on both at once.

Then, out came the next train heading back north again. Heck! Can you see a bit of a theme developing here?

Once this train too was clear, we managed to pull out the two rotten sleepers. While some look OK from above, they have been marked as life expired by the track walker and it is therefore somewhat gratifying the see them fall to pieces when you do finally pull them out. We weren't wasting our time then.

Mid morning the first Cheltenham train arrived, headed by Foremarke Hall with its Thomas type face on. Maybe 'George the GWR engine'? The actual Thomas had retreated to the siding in the PWay yard for a short time, until it was his turn to star in the show that was organised between service trains.

The best view of proceedings was from C&W's little sitooterie*, from which trains could be observed at leisure while sipping tea from under a parasol. Yes, a C&W parasol. It was brought out first thing in the morning.

These people know how to look after themselves...

* A Scottish term

As soon as the Thomas train had passed the work site, it was the turn of the class 37 to shunt out to just beyond the bracket signal  - precisely the spot where we were working.

After changing ends, the crew took it back into the station, so vacating our area again.

Quick! Get that replacement sleeper in. We found two innocuous looking second hand sleepers, pegged their old holes and shoved them in under the track.

Back came Thomas, we stopped again. Thomas was shuttling up and down between Winchcombe and Toddington, performing at each station before moving on to the next.

Having dragged the two sleepers in and redrilled them, we hit a snag. The bolts would not go in. The 'animal' got so far, gave up, and then was unable to get them out again. We had to resort to the old fashioned 'hand spanner' to undo them and scratch our heads over the reason for the non compliance.

Eventually it emerged that the replacement sleepers were hardwood ones, and this required a larger section drill. The holes were drilled again. The bolts would still not go down. This was a mystery to us, and it was not resolved. What we did do however was search the yard for more worn bolts, and these did eventually go right down, with a lot of insistence from Bert on the 'animal'. After a spot of packing the ballast, it was job done.

Thomas meantime was having a well deserved rest in the yard, with his crew looking on as the safety valve began to blow.

Thomas seemed to be waiting for Foremarke Hall, another visitor to our work area for a few moments at a time.

During some idle hours for the two Growlers we managed to photograph them next to each other. Two generations here, with different colour schemes.

After our lunch we had several slices of Mrs. B's excellent sponge cake left. Such left overs are usually hoovered up by Dave F here. By waving the remnants of the cake out of the mess coach window, we hoped to tempt him back into our fold, but the diesel draw was too strong.

You can see that Dave was tempted though. Nearly. Nearly !

At Broadway on Friday two of us had a relaxing time attending to outstanding jobs on the station.

Number one, pending for a long time while we got the length of the door plates right, was the 'BOOKING OFFICE' on the outside of the front doors.

As these are exterior plates, we have used 'clutch' type screws to prevent unkind visitors removing them, even though they are replicas.

Then, on to the end door.

This was once the entrance to the Gents in the original station, hidden by the modesty screen being built here. Today it is the kitchen door, so we have equipped it with a 'PRIVATE' plate, also a replica of a pre grouping original. The woodwork for the modesty screen is in the course of manufacture; it's half way done but Neal has a lot on his plate at the moment (not cake, we hasten to add).

More fishplate greasing is pencilled in for Monday, if we can get 4, or better still, 5 volunteers. Please try to help.