Monday, 28 November 2016

Brilliant weather

A 'brilliant' 12 volunteers turned up on site today, to make up for the hours lost last week when we were completely rained out. The sun shone brilliantly, but there was no warmth to it, and a thin wind kept us on our toes, urging us to keep moving. Sitting outside (we are talking 28th November here) was just about do-able, if you had a hot cup of something between your hands.

Your blogger missed the early morning 'craic', tea and doughnuts, as a quick visit to the office was needed to deposit a cheque received for replica lamp post sales. Result!

Arrival at the Hayles platform found a large crowd of eager builders attacking the platform with trowels, drills and ratchet spanners, corbelling, pointing and fixing on wooden planks to the outside wall. Things were going swimmingly.

Paul was setting out the top row of corbelling on several bays.

The pallet of bricks in the background was brought up to the platform wall and was used up with amazing speed. Luckily we have another pallet of them in reserve.

Rick spent the day on a single job - pointing the top row of corbelling.

It's very slow and pains taking, but very worth while as you get a lovely, professional look on the brickwork.

Afterwards, the excess mortar is washed off with water and a soft brush.

Here is Paul - again, he seems to get into every picture - laying corbelling bricks on a different section, while Lyndon next to him is filling in the top row with mortar to make sure that all is set solid, and that we have a good base for the slabs.

On the subject of slabs, we are taking a greater interest in these and today a small party of 4 split off to go to Winchcombe and sort out some more using the Telehandler.

At 11.30 they were back, expecting lunch. This seemed a tad hungry, so we pointed out the early hour for this request. Jaws dropped. Wasn't it 12.30, after all? No it wasn't, we still had another hour to go, Paul hadn't started cooking yet.

After some head scratching, the penny dropped. It was Dave P who made the bugle call for lunch, and he'd read the little clock in the Telehandler, which was still set for summer time! The other three didn't question the time, but happily obeyed their rumbling stomachs....

Another Monday, another mouse in the trap. As the bait is always gone, it seems that another mouse has clambered over the top and safely finished it off! We need to find the back door into the container they are using.

Earlier, a large Chinook flew over at low level. They are not pressurised like most aircraft, it even had an open window at the front!

This one suddenly appeared over the crest of the Cotswold edge, swooped low into the valley and then chop-chop-chopped over the railway pretty much at treetop level, as you can see from the branches in the bottom corner.

Always very impressive, this.

Trackside now, Tim was working on completing the top row of corbelling on two further bays. We are just under half way with the corbelling now, it's coming along very nicely. Notice also the planking in the foreground, which at this point was almost finished.

In this picture Jim H is bolting down one of the final planks.

This part of the project seemed to go really quickly, because by the end of the day the big planks were all on, along the whole length of the platform, and only a couple of off cuts needed to be added at one end for this job to be ticked off on the list.

This overall view gives a good idea of the vigour with which the corbelling and mortaring as attacked today. It's all happening here. It's a pity we had to stop relatively early, but it's getting colder now, and a frost is announced for this coming night, so we needed to cover up the work and give it a chance to go off.

Another trackside view here, this time showing the corbelling team putting up a wooden strip which helps to achieve the correct level for the first row of bricks.

Here is the end of the day shot (well, 2pm, when we stopped making mortar and yours truly had to divert to a ballast drop at Laverton) and you can see quite clearly that all the planks are on, and this now looks like a platform made entirely of sleepers! Such subterfuge, don't tell anyone.
Most of the corbelling activity has been in the middle and at the far end, with the nearest, southern, end still to be started.

The houses in the distance are those of the little bijou village of Didbrook, where Lucky the Dalmtian lives. This is the nearest village to the site, Hayles Abbey having just the abbey and one or two houses nearby.

This is a view from 'Didbrook 2' - the second bridge out of Toddington. This bucolic scene of Didbrook village shows the farm, grazing sheep outside the door, the church and behind it the towering Cotswold edge. Isn't it lovely?

Monday, 21 November 2016

Grim weather

I guess that describes it for today. Five degrees centigrade forecast, and rain all day long. The tail end of 'Angus' swept over us today, but 6 of us hoped for a few drier gaps in the weather.

When we arrived at 08.30 rain already stood in the fields and we had to park some distance away to get some hard standing to be sure of getting home afterwards. While changing into wet weather gear at the rear of the car, the driving rain got in first and you ended up wet, inside wet weather gear. No fun.

We decided to give the weather a chance to improve, and had some cups of tea in the dark container. The tea was hot, and and the atmosphere somehow 'Christmasy'.

Doughnuts were off the menu today due to problems with the supply, but instead we had mince pies. We then checked the mousetrap left last week, and booked a success for the day - we caught the mouse that had been eating our washing up sponges! The faint of heart look away now:

The timeless design of 'The Little Nipper' proved its worth once again. You can't improve on a  winning product. This little rodent won't be getting any of our mince pies. Having stopped up all the holes in the floor we could find, we are hopeful this will also be the last one we catch.

There followed a discussion in the dark about laying the slabs. Those laid at CRC2 and Broadway were handled by external contractors with special 'scissors' type grabs, but they are not available for us, so we need an alternative. This eventually led us to abandon any ideas of work at Hayles, and move on to Winchcombe, where the slabs for Hayles are currently located. We decided to have an inspection.

We want that one out first...
Half the piles were accessible, but unfortunately the other half was hidden behind several stacks of newly arrived building materials. Problem moved on to next week, too wet to think about this today.

The second pile of slabs was indeed out in front, so we tested out the MO for moving individual slabs around, creating piles with bearers (none at the moment) and getting familiar with the weight and the bars we will use to move them around.

The Telehandler was available today, so Dave jumped in (great volunteering you might think, but it is dry and has a heater) and manoeuvered around some of the slabs under the careful direction of Julian.

Of interest to us was the condition of the underside, to see if it could be used if the top side was too badly spalled.

Dave lifted the slab up high, and we peered underneath. Looked good though, this is definitely and alternative if the top is too much below par. These slabs are all of natural stone, and some have suffered from 100 years in the weather.

A further, very heavy rainstorm caused us to break off this job - there is only so much rain that you can take, even with the right clothing - and we moved into the PWay mess coach, where Paul cooked us a modest but filling lunch of bacon baps. The cooker produced quite a bit of heat, but it collected into a hot cloud above waist level, so that when you sat down, it was cold again. Bizarre. And while we ate, our trousers steamed away in front of us.

A plan to resume slab arranging (sorting good from bad, and restacking the good) was abandoned as a further heavy downpour opened up just as we were stepping outside after lunch. At 2pm we headed for home, wet, and a little frustrated.

On the way home a glimpse of headlight was espied just north of Stanway viaduct, and yes, it was the tamper out again on its second day.

It was slowly making its way past the ballast loading area at Stanton. Fortunately it is warm and dry inside the tamper, and the operator, in the rear and facing downwards to see the tines, would hardly be aware of the driving wind and rain.

The tamper is also due out tomorrow, and it looks like it will then be able to complete the existing extension section, from Toddington to the north end of Laverton loop. The Jacker / Packer is due to arrive tomorrow, and will do some work on the section just north of Laverton bridge, where there is a dip in the newly laid track. When this is sorted, the tamper should be able to proceed on to the more recently laid part of the extension.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Lucky the Dalmatian

Another one with a radar for food is Lucky, the Dalmatian.
Lucky visits us every morning, accompanied by his master from Didbrook, and times it beautifully (wisely?) with the issue of tea and doughnuts.

First he checks the tea....

Then he checks for doughnuts...
Bingo! Paul has one.

But Paul is hard hearted, and Lucky is left empty handed (or should we say 'empty pawed').

Finally Dave cracks and tosses him half a doughnut, then the other half. They are gone in an eyeblink.

After the obligatory half hour of tea, we set to work on the platform wall, which is looking very solid these days. The weather was mild, and once again we were lucky enough to work outside in the dry, almost in the warm.

Tim and Lyndon continued with the third layer of corbelling. They finished off two more bays today.

John took over as chief mixer today, and almost completely emptied a dumpy bag of sand into 'Minnie'. The mortar was gratefully received by three teams below, on corbelling (two teams) and on block laying (one).

We profited from the mild weather with a decision to close the gap in the wall on to the platform. Who knows if it will start to freeze next week?

Paul T and Paul M laid the blocks in rapid fashion, and after a decent interval yours truly and Dave filled the holes with concrete from above. That now completes the block wall. Access to the platform is now vial a small ladder, the path to the southern end being blocked by the creosoting line for the planks.

Into every life a little rain must fall, and so also into ours - at mid day, a heavy drizzle caught us by surprise (too busy working to look at the sky). We hastily covered the brick laying work up, parked the genny and tools under the bridge, and made a dash for the container.

Whereas it used to be standing room only in the container, there is now actually room to sit 11 volunteers, mainly because the huge pile of planks once stored in there is almost used up, or at least taken down to the platform for cutting and creosoting. The kettle is on the boil, and a heated argument starts over whether it's OK to use the tea money for a bit of petrol  for the mixer. Blows between two protagonists are narrowly avoided, and Paul emerges as victor and secures the money for more doughnuts, and today, sausages and baps for lunch. Phew.

While the teams are brick and block laying, Neal and Dave spent the day on planks, which you can here see being drilled through, so that the holes are all in the same place.

Dave being left handed, Neal brought in a  little wrinkle for him to use when drilling, a drill bit with a left handed cutting thread. Works a treat!

Minnie the mixer behaved badly today, threw a wobble, and a wheel fell off! I ask you, such behaviour. We shall have to tempt her into submission with an extra helping of cement dust, which she likes to use to blow smoke rings at us.

No trains again today, things are very quiet and the tracks acquired a thin layer of rust during the day, the result of the lunchtime drizzle no doubt.

At the end of the day, the platform looked like this. The blockwork is finished and the gap closed. Corbelling is making steady progress, and a third pallet of blues was delivered, and opened. John is painting the planks, while Neal and Dave spent the day cutting and measuring, so that on the woodwork all the planks have now been cut to size, and all the uprights bar one fixed into place. Next week all that remains here is to screw them into place.

A tempting meal of peanut butter was left on a little wooden platform for Mickey the mouse... there was no sign of him this week (last week we plugged the obvious holes in the container floor) - but next week we will know if he came in for his final meal or not.

Monday, 7 November 2016

A cold blow

An (almost) ice cold start today, with one degree showing on the thermometer on arrival at Hayles. Yet two volunteers were already there (at 8.30am!) and sitting in the sun, enjoying an early cup of tea.

Given the low temperature, we decided to delay the start of corbelling for an hour or so.

The planking team got to work immediately, and we see members here, creosoting and cutting the planks to equal lengths.

After a decent while, Minnie the Mixer was fed with sand and cement, which she soon spat out into the wheelbarrow.

For the rest, she behaved herself, and gave us 8 barrows of mortar for corbelling. Well done, Minnie!

Down on the trackbed, Jim gave corbelling lessons, as we felt we needed more working parties on this job, before the real frosts come.

Jim goes into the finer details of the art of corbelling, while Julian and Dave look on, spellbound.

No passing trains today, alas. It normally adds that bit of extra interest.

The southern half of the platform wall was addressed by the planking team today

They laid out the uprights, and measured up the spaces to make up individual bays, each one to be fitted with 4 planks.

Jim made up a spreadsheet which records every stage of the process for each bay, which he numbered.

Lunchtime came all too soon today, and with it an annoying discovery: we have a small rodent guest in the container. We hadn't left any food around, but that made no difference, as it took a fancy to our washing up sponge. Who could have guessed? Now we will have to hide that as well. We plugged the obvious holes; next week we will set a trap baited with peanut butter, which did the job at CRC2.

By popular demand, bacon butties were on the menu again today (Paul gave us options, and this is what we chose) and to add extra interest, each butty was also decorated with a slice of cheese.

The bacon butty judging panel then assembled outside and considered carefully. One panel member was less happy with his 'bacon butty with extra mouse'.

In the afternoon the plank fixing team bridged the gap left for track access, and started on the last southern section. Great progress here. The corbelling, first layer, has reached from the gap all the way to the northern end, but with some courses still to go here and there. Generally we do one course at a time.

The corbelling teams placed quite a challenge on the mortar and brick supply teams, and at one point a former chairman's sports car was in grave danger of possibly receiving a slight scratch from a wonky pallet of bricks. Julian saved the day here, removing each brick with great delicacy, so as not to cause a collapse (a bit like the game of 'pick up sticks').

Paul T was on drilling but later in the afternoon became puzzled when his drill began to run slower, and slower, and even slower.

The generator was checked, but nothing wrong here.

Paul pressed harder, and harder, and even harder, but to no effect. The drill refused to go any deeper.

Finally, the panel of experts now assembled behind him offered the solution: the drill was going round in reverse.

Near the end of the day, the platform looked like this. Planks laid out, corbelling going 19 to the dozen at the far end. Great progress today, also made possible by the excellent weather.

Other heritage news

The Hayles Abbey halt reconstruction being led by our Heritage Group, we can report the successful acquisition of a rare GWR yard lamp through a member of the group.

What is a yard lamp then?

GWR cast iron lamp posts came in 3 sizes:

No. 1: 6' 1 1/2'' above ground. For lighting platforms
No. 2: 8' 1 1/2'' above ground. For lighting larger platforms/roads, with ladder bar
No. 3: 13' 6'' above ground, for lighting larger areas, typically railway yards, with ladder, platform and hexagonal top.

Your chances of finding an original one decrease with the size of the post, so we are very lucky to have been offered one for sale, in particular with its ladder still attached, which is quite rare. Below is a drawing of one on the left, and the actual post we acquired, in situ, on the right.

You can see that the post is equipped with its original ladder, but has a non - original top.
A top to the original shape can be obtained from a specialist manufacturer, and we are currently looking into this. It should be much larger and hexagonal, as in the drawing.

A site visit to a private station was made 2 months ago, to ascertain the work required to remove it from its current location, where it had become surplus to requirements.

Then task looked somewhat daunting when a substantial bed of concrete was discovered around the base.

To our delight, the owner felled the post for us, and even took off the concrete jacket. Brilliant!

Here is the post ready for transport.

More headscratchings ensued with the recovery team, as it lay on a lawn, out of reach of the recovery truck we planned to use. This was kindly provided at cost by Paul, a supporter of the railway.

The post weighs half a ton....

It couldn't be rolled because of the platform attached to it.

Once again the kind former owner helped us out, by moving it up to the fence with the help of a friendly JCB driver. This enabled our lorry, equipped with a short HIAB, to reach over the fence and pick it up. Peter and Terry, supported by lorry owner Paul, picked the post up on Saturday. The operation went very smoothly.

What is the most suitable place for a GWR yard lamp on the GWSR? The Toddington loco yard of course! Here the post is being unloaded next to a pair of 28XX boilers, where it will be stripped and repainted.

By lunch time, the operation was complete, and the post up on a pair of blocks ready for treatment. Behind it is the boiler of 2874, recently removed from its frames.

Mark and John of the loco dept. have been most helpful. They have some shotblasting work coming up, and the post can be treated at the same time, which will give it an excellent, rust free future. We also agreed on a representative location for the post:

It will be situated in front of the recently erected water tower, here on the left of the photograph. It will not only look the part, but actually play a useful function, as this area is not currently lit. Services are also nearby, so it all comes together nicely.

We'd like to thank Mark and John of the loco dept for their help, Peter, Terry and Paul for the use of the lorry and help with the recovery, and last but not least, John for extracting it on his own, and moving it to the fence, which removed two big logistical headaches for us. Thank you all!