Saturday, 30 December 2017

Back to work

We've all grown fat over the last few days, so it's back to work to get some excercise.

The Landie was trying to hide from us behind this pile of snow. It has an iffy clutch, so we left it to one side and loaded the drill that we needed into the boot of Mike's car. Well, Skoda also built steam locos, didn't they?

A plan to remove some temporary fish plates in readiness for the imminent welders failed when we found this empty ballast train parked on top of the piece of track in question. Drat.

On top of that there was a report of a broken set of fish plates at Southam, so Nigel and Bert Ferrule went there first to effect an urgent replacement. Trains were still running today. The rest of us (11 in total) repaired to Broadway north to install a set of check rails on the through line turnout there.

The snow that we had in this part of Worcestershire has not been kind to the GWR pine trees. The snow was wet and particularly heavy.  Numerous large branches were snapped off, and one took out the Webcam as well. However, it's an ill wind that blows no one any good - a Broadway volunteer was quick to load some of them into the back of his car for firewood.

Back at the northern turnouts, heads were scratched at length over the exact position of the check rails. We spent the time during Nigel's absence fruitfully by unloading the two heavy rails off the trolley with which they had been moved through the site, and heaving them roughly into position.

With the return of the head of department from Southam, repairs effected, the situation became immediately clearer and we could start drilling.

The check rail here has been moved back into the four foot for the duration.

We were most careful to measure twice (drill once) so that the holes we drilled agreed with those already in the check rail.

This was fresh from the factory, and still had our name on it.

Then the chunky spacer blocks were slipped in from one end, and the long bolts that hold everything together were pushed through. The holes matched perfectly - result!

We still need to source some of the square blocks that go under the nuts at the other end. These, of course, are not on site but way back in Winchcombe. That's for another day then.

Finally the check rail here was tied down with Pandrol clips, in this photograph with the nicely coloured blue ones, which signify that they are reverse ones.

Chris with the puller had a distinct preference for the blue ones, as you can see. What was causing everyone to look to their right was not recorded. Perhaps someone said 'cake'?

Lunch was held in the Broadway cabin, which offered warmth, tea, and a slice of Mrs. B's sponge cake. Sadly, no inch thick marzipan icing, we'll have to wait another 12 months now.

Due to the repair required to the webcam, the footbridge was accessible today - an opportunity to show you what things look like from above now.

This is the view towards Honeybourne. The trolley loaded with tools is being pushed through the site. Naturally the handle to release the brake was a long walk away at the opposite end, but we did come here for some post Christmas excercise, didn't we?

Looking south, the newly laid track is already looking more permanent. It's already had two trains over it, the second discharging 5 Dogfish of ballast. The mini digger in the centre was used to carefully spread the modest amount dropped. We really don't want to have too much in there. You can always add another wagon load, but you can't take one away if it's too much.

Some have commented that the Broadway gang must be working until late into the evening, as they could see lights on in the building. This is not entirely correct, the lights you can see at night are infra read heaters used to dry out the rooms after the work to the walls and floor recently. The tilers for both will be with us in a fortnight or so. Quite exciting really.

Only two members of the Broadway gang were at work today:

They picked the uncomfortable job of covering the ceiling of the rooms, and the thick insulation on top of it, with fibre sheets. Supplies of both sheets and insulation can be seen on the right. They worked on their hands and knees, sometimes stretched out on their stomach as the roof space is very low at the rear.

In the times of the original station building this space was used by one Broadway employee to hide things that he didn't want the stationmaster to see.

Two of the gang split off to bolt on a stretcher bar to the turnout at the end of the through road. Another one of the multiple fettling jobs that will be needed to get this stretch of track up to fully useable condition. Smallish gangs should be able to do these; the main gang has its winter job at Toddington now. We need to seize our chance while the trains are not running - but not yet today.

With both check rails drilled an bolted own, as well as two broken base plates replaced by two brand new examples, we called it a day. The light fails quickly this time of the year - today must have been just about the shortest day we had in 2017.

This end of the day shot shows the gang loading the tools back on to the trolley. The two check rails we put on are left and right of where the gang is standing.

All the rail through the station is now in, and indeed you can see a train in the distance. Just like a normal station in fact.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

The basic trackwork is in - and a surprise!

Today we took the class 20 and the mess coach up to Childswickham again, accompanied by the class 73 for a test run.

The purpose of the day was to clip up the track along the goods shed, and to lay in the last 4 rails on the through road and loop, which would finally link the two rail heads we have been working on.

Our secret mission, alas betrayed by BAG's webcam, was to enter the platforms with the entire double headed train. But first we had to get those last rails in, and there were 8 panels to clip up too.

There were two gangs clipping up, both of which can be seen here.

In the background is the 'whistling wardrobe' and the 6 Dogfish, 5 of which were filled with ballast (one had been emptied previously on another job).

Getting the Pandrol clips in looks easier than it is, mainly because recalcitrant sleepers are often far below the floating rail above, and when you try to lift them up to meet the rail, they move along a bit. Just enough in fact to frustrate the clip you were about to put in. Chris here has sunk to his knees in frustration.

At the other end of the site the main gang - here Nigel, Ivor and Stevie - were putting in those 4 missing rails. The first of the four is in, and now it has become clearer that the track in general isn't quite where it should be. It needs 'tweaking'. Steve here is giving it a go with the JCB, pushing it Malvern side, and often the subject of countermanded orders, 'now back the other way'. He was very patient with us.

Then the second rail went in, and in the picture it's just been cut to size.
You can tell that it's a cold wind out there today, because Stevie has appeared with an enormous yellow coat on. Gone are the shorts. It's official, it's now winter.

Both rails then are in, and are being clipped up, while Nigel records the moment for posterity: the through road goes right through, it's all connected up.
But not yet quite ready to run on, look at all the orange jackets in the background - they are clipping up the 8 panels.

This view of the through road, the old down line from Honeybourne, shows that it's got a straight bit in the middle where there should be a continuous curve. This will be sorted out later. The main gang is now looking at the other two rails, the ones that will complete the loop.

As we are now laying the final two rails, they can't just be slapped down, they have to be cut to size.
We've also dragged over the row of concrete sleepers near the end, which last week was still pointing in a straight line south.

While the clipping gang works as fast as it possibly can, behind the camera, Steve tweaks the end of the loop into a nice round curve, directed by Ivor. Other PWay gang members seem to have drifted off - it must be lunch time! Now where is that mess coach?

While we were discussing the last length to go in, the whole train, consisting of 6 Dogfish, a Shark, mess coach and box van, the class 20 and the class 73 slowly comes trundling up. The gang members turn around, incredulous. Could it be?

Everyone steps back - it's true, we're going to have a go at putting the whole train in the platform of Broadway station.

The PWay train looms ever closer. Ivor, front right, can't believe it. A hundred tons of ballast are slowly pushed over the final stretch, laid only an hour ago.

Here is a video of the very first train ever to reach Broadway, GWSR:

The train comes to rest in platform 1, opposite the station building. Two members of the Broadway group have come out to watch this momentous event. Look at the delight on their faces!

Here is the first ever train into our very own Broadway station, headed by E 6036. What a period scene - replica singal box from Shirley, GWR running in board and replica lamp posts, bullhead rail on wooden sleepers, spearhead fencing, Henley in Arden footbridge, and a station building with a rivetted, faithful reproduction of the original canopy. We want this to look right.

Our mess coach came to a stop right by the building, so all we had to do was get in like a normal passenger. What a strange feeling - wot, no ladder?

Inside there were 25 gang members enjoying Christmas cake and tea. A record number.

This Christmas cake was something special. Last year we really enjoyed the thick marzipan - the thicker the better. This year Mrs. B excelled herself, and the marzipan was so thick that there were shouts demanding the disc cutter, nay, even a chain saw. Marzipan fest! Steve has quickly secured the first piece, a corner position which is nearly all marzipan, and very little Christmas cake.

This was all washed down with plenty of tea, while your blogger took a quick look round the station, with a train in it.

Here are the Dogfish loaded with ballast, just underneath the footbridge. What would we do with them?

Over on platform 2 you could see the two locomotives facing south, ready to trundle back out again, if only the signal was off.

On platform 1 (with everyone still drinking tea inside) you could see the class 73 in front of Broadway signal box. No one about....

But not for long. Time for a group photograph:

Here we all are, looking rightly proud of ourselves. Not forgetting those who work on Wednesdays, we'll find another way to register their achievement. It takes all of us to build an extension.

The class 73 then came off the train, leaving D8137 alone in charge of the ballast. Once the class 73 was well out of the way, it pulled forward back over the bridge, and then started to reverse back into the station again, this time with the hopper doors open.

Here is a video of the ballast train discharging its load into the former down line from Honeybourne:

The ballast drop was done very carefully, one hopper at a time. It's very important not to get too much ballast down between the platforms, as once it's in, it's very difficult to remove.

There's now a nice and neat line, not too big, in between the rails. Steve will spread it out with the mini digger next week. Now that's dedication.

The last job of the day was to lay in the fourth rail.

Chris is cutting it to size with the disk cutter. He ran out of disc with only a few mm to go, for which he had to take the machine round to the other side and start again. Oh well.

The final rail was then spun round. Being second hand, there is always a good side and a bad one, and we need the good one facing inwards.

The sun is now starting to sink lower, giving a very orange light. This final overview shows you the turnout completed, and all four final sections of rail in and clipped up.

At the end of the day we gathered up our tools in a pile, and then reversed the empty ballast train up to it, for loading into the box van.

Weary but elated, the Pway gang split up and started their journeys home. A handful took the train home to Toddington. Here are both diesel locos taking power and setting off into the setting sun.

In three months time you too can travel along here. Are you coming?

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Merry Christmas

Well, we are having one, we hope you have one too.

Today saw the gang celebrate the year's work with a Christmas dinner at a secret location that those who helped to build Hayles Abbey Halt rather grew to like: Hayles Fruit Farm. See, they even spell Hayles the same way as the GWR did. We like it there.

The merry gang can be seen here eagerly awaiting the first course. In the foreground is a raffle we held, with the proceeds going to the Sally Army. The zimmer frame visible is no pointer to our average age (although....) nor to an industrial accident, but an accident in a far more dangerous place - the home ! Poor old John had an awkward stumble on the bottom three steps of the stairs, and badly broke his ankle. Sadly it in no way hindered the stream of appalling jokes. (long may they continue, really)

An interesting thing about the fruit farm tea room is the lovely view over the valley in which the ruins of the former abbey lie (those abbots knew where to build OK) and right in front is the bird table, with two unusual visitors today - a nuthatch, and a great spotted woodpecker. Their arrival was most distracting when speaking to your table neighbour.

During the excellent meal - here is a grilled salmon steak on top of buttered mashed potato, garnished with vongole, accompanied by jugs of Hayles pear juice - we were entertained by Robert with a quiz. He puts one together each year, not only to test our knowledge of railways, but also to remind us of some of the hilarious moments we had over the last 12 months.

Robert in full cry

Sample questions that were put to us by him:
- What is Britain's highest railway station?


- What underground station is the next one north from Euston?


- Which feeble excuse was used by one volunteer not to turn up one day? Was it:
a. I had to wash my hair
b. I had to take the wife shopping, or
c. I wanted to watch the budget speech.

The answer was C ! Would you believe it. We will try very hard next year to make our days more interesting than 'c'.

Bob very skilled on the accordion
A bottle of fizz for boring you with tales of rails and food.

Bob entertained us with a rousing 'Pack up your troubles in the old kit bag' (What troubles? We are zooming ahead!) and some Christmas carols. The singalong 'Away in a manger' was however completely torpedoed by the arrival of the cheesecake, and the choir of 27 fell silent, except for a general munching in the room. Pearls before swine...

Before we go, here's a track update from Broadway, fresh off the new camera. It's a picture taken only this morning. If you half close your eyes the track is in, isn't it? Just a few more yards to go, and quite a bit of clipping and fettling. We will continue with this on Saturday.
Is that a ballast train there in the background? Hmmmmm.....

Sunday, 17 December 2017

The southern turnout goes in

A great day yesterday! A new camera (actually a smartphone, as not only the blogger's camera was suffering from dust, but so was his mobile) and a new turnout at Broadway. It's the last one, we are almost there now.
The day started in great style. The mess coach was coming to Broadway at last. Traction was to be the class 20 D8137. The snow had melted again, but it was cold, minus 3 degrees. The class 20 lived in a nice dry shed and, having been pre heated, it started immediately.

Here 's a little video of it outside the shed, an excuse also to try out the camera's controls. If it's a bit wobbly, promise to do better next time. Not enough fingers for everything you have to do, and it was freezing.

Dimore moved off shed with a huge plume of steam, to position itself to haul the ECS to Winchcombe, where the Santa visits take place. Once that movement out of the way, we coupled up to the mess coach and tool van, and propelled through Toddington station up to Little Buckland LOO, then increasingly slowly over the recently stressed 1000m of CWR, over unballasted track and up to the top of the Childswickham Road bridge, where further progress was prevented by the extension train wagons, being unloaded and loaded again for removal on Tuesday.

We took this proud picture of our arrival:

Gareth (second man) and Richard (driver) pose with D8137 on the Childswickham Road bridge, at the start of the Broadway goods yard. Never been here before.

The ground was frosty still as we screwed down the brakes and shut down the loco, which would pick the train up again at the end of the working day.

The train could be clearly seen from below, here looking east towards Broadway village. We hope it will generate some interest for our opening, now just three months away.

The Class 20 whistling away to itself, the tool van and the mess coach parked on the Childswickham Road bridge. It was to be a warm base for the day for the PWay gang with frozen fingers. Tea and mince pies awaited us.

Then, off to work. Last week (camera failure) we laid in the switches, which represent about one third of the work on a turnout. Everything was covered in frost. Although the timbers - here one is being brought in by Alan in the Telehandler - were numbered, you couldn't read the numbers as everything was white.

As more timbers arrived, you could begin to see how the two tracks diverged. Here we are on timbers 29 and 30, out of 51 required. They were laid out roughly, then aligned and measured for distance apart. This has to be precise, and it was all written down before this turnout, from Laverton South, was taken apart and brought up here.

As the two ends of the railway advanced towards each other the room for manoeuvering became scarcer and scarcer.
Alan just managed to squeeze in here with the next timber, but now he's facing the wrong way. Someone move that Landie please!

Ultimately the available room became too small for the Telehandler, so the next idea was to get Stevie to lift the timbers in. Made of jarrah and with 4 base plates, you can imagine the weight. There's no way we can move them by hand.

Stevie found himself in an inceasingly awkward position, trying to get in as close as possible so that he could reach as far out as possible. The gate posts are now in the way.

What gate posts? No problem for Stevie. With the positioning of the turnout here, the road up the embankment (indeed created by Stevie himself many years go) needs to move along a bit. The entrance on to the trackbed is now about 10m further south.

Looking north you now get this magnificent view of double track right through the station, and disappearing out of sight to the left towards Honeybourne.

The whole thing still needs tweaking, remember that this is not the final position of all the track. Did we really lay all that in just a few weeks?

What a long way we have come: road bridge refurbished, station building erected, footbridge centre span put up, replica signal box constructed, 5 signal posts put up, over 400m of platform wall built. We're not quite there yet, but what an achievement already.

An email between two PWay oldies this morning mentioned that of course all this track had been laid by the younger ones, those under 70 years old.

Yes, but mostly over 65 !

This umbrella is here is a bit hopeful, because it is far too cold for it to rain. Us old crocks are doing pretty well though. Many have been here since the early 1980s, and we're putting their photographs of those early days on the 'early GWSR' collection on Flickr:

Early GWSR on Flickr

The chap with the umbrella held a pilot's licence and took several pictures of the nascent railway from above -  we will put those up as well, during one of the dark winter evenings at home. Well done John, still going strong!

Then it's time to use that mess coach. You don't have to announce that twice, we all clamber on board in a trice.

In side the atmosphere is warm and fuggy, it's all those kettles boiling and giving off steam.

It felt like a real privelege to tuck into mince pies and tea while sitting on top of the Childswickham road. Wonder what all the drivers underneath thought of the new train on the bridge. Broadway GWSR is coming!

Next is an important piece, the crossing itself. This was dragged up from the far end, and on arrival was found crammed full of indescribable muck and ballast stones. Better to poke it out now, with shovels and fingers, before we lay it in.

With the crossing cleaned up, we were in a position to lift it in, bit by bit.
No, the concretes in the foreground are not for another turnout for that loop to the next bridge, they will be slewed over to the left. Pity though. Maybe next year.

Here it is, pretty much in position. Now comes the tricky bit, which is to get it to sit on the base plates - not yet possible in this picture. There's going to be a lot more head scratching over which way the timbers have to be shifted to get everything to match up. Then it's just a short hop to the plain track laid in all the way through the platforms from Springfield Lane bridge, out of sight round the bend.

While we were working on the crossing in the middle, other teams were tidying up behind us - clipping up, drilling and fitting fishplates, or as in the picture here, with Steve and Pete fitting an insulated stretcher bar to the two switch blades.

Mike proudly bears today's masterpiece down to the mess coach.
For lunch Nigel produced Mrs. B's masterpiece this year: A juicy jam sponge equipped with a lucky dip of Smarties on top. When it was cut up, the fastest among us got a slice with four on, while the unlucky ones at the back got a slice with only one. Better luck next year, guys. Or, as Darwin put it, survival of the fastest.

With the switch basically in, Steve could concentrate on laying the few extra concretes we need to join everything up.

In the foreground are timbers 50 and 51. They're all in now, and the frost has melted so you can see where you are in the puzzle.

While a gang clips up the first check rail on the right, the second check rail is being brought in on the left.

In the foreground Pete and Tony are fishplating the end of the turnout to the plain track at the southern end.

As the light started to fail at the end of the day the turnout was basically in. We couldn't believe it ourselves really. What a professional team.
The orange of the setting sun has caught the signal box windows and the back of the bracket signal.
We're not quite there yet - we are still not connected to the plain track, and the whole caboodle has to move over to the Cotswolds side a bit. There's also a lot of clipping up to do by the goods shed, and more fishplates to fit. Plenty more to do then, but we are going to meet our promise of getting the track down by the end of the year. How's that for efficiency!

Here's a view at the same moment - with the setting sun - looking the other way, towards the south. This is clearly a turnout now, but there's more still to do.

The through road, leading from platform 1. Or the down line, as once was. On the left there was once a siding; on the right, the up line and a second siding on top of this wide embankment.

As it was getting quite dark we packed up the tools and most left for home - back next Saturday, the 23rd. Three stayed behind to take the train home.

Lots of atmosphere in the cab of the class 20, with Richard at the controls and looking ahead out of the window.
The 'whistling wardrobe' crept along at walking pace until we were back on the operating section, and then opened the throttle under the road bridge - you have to have some fun !

The class 20 pulls into a lit but deserted Toddington station, to drop off the token before going on shed.

What a great day we had. Same time next week, guys?

NB: there is also a bridges blog update today: 

Bridges blog update