As we said goodbye to the Beast from the East, work started once again on relaying the track that was lifted back in February. The first priority was to reinstate the curve which would allow the wagons parked in the mine to access the rest of the line. The two curved rails were put back in place with five new sleepers and with a minimal amount of packing to get the correct level, the fishplates were bolted together and the rails were spiked down.
The Simplex was then driven by Nick to collect the wagons, although the honour of the first “train” over the new section of track goes to our young volunteer James who pushed an empty Hudson skip wagon round from the mine to the passing loop to allow the shunting to take place. The flat wagon was still full of bricks which had been stockpiled for our recent retaining wall project. With these unloaded we could then proceed to the other end of the line to load up components for the set of points — but first: lunch!
Richard had been busy in the kitchen and using a recipe from the Cornish Pasty Association, had produced some traditional beef and vegetable pasties — they can’t be called “Cornish” because they weren’t made in Cornwall — and our hungry volunteers were happy to indulge in another mining tradition known as “snap, “bait” or “croust”. [Having tasted one I can confirm they taste just as good as the Cornish genuine article. — Ed.]
After lunch (washed down with a cup of tea) we loaded up the component parts of a set of points that we had purchased from the North Gloucestershire Railway at Toddington. Everything except the frog was transported in one load and laid roughly on some old sleepers. The frog was loaded by itself and the use of an extended coupling bar was necessary due to the overhang at each end of the wagon. With the frog in place everything was roughly aligned by eye. We are awaiting some longer sleepers for the construction of this point, and once they arrive we can start measuring everything and getting it together with the correct alignments.
The rest of the day was spent using up the end of a tin of green paint on the container and picking out bricks and rocks from the lineside after the digger had done its job.
Following last week’s successful first move of the Eimco 24, our volunteers have turned their attention to the next project: renewing the section of track between the points outside the mine and the container. This section was laid when the railway was built in the mid-1990s and many of the wooden sleepers have rotted away after years of sitting in wet mud and mine waste. We have already completed a retaining wall to keep the edge of the embankment neat and tidy and to prevent erosion.
The original intent had been to start preparation works first, with track lifting to start the following week but as we had such a good turnout of volunteers, including Pat Clifford on a visit from Devon and Chris Crowley who braved the weather on his bicycle from Cinderford, a start was made and by the end of the day, most of the rails in this section had been lifted. It was questionable as to whether any of the fishplate bolts would come off easily (or at all) after over 20 years with no maintenance but Nick’s ¾”-drive socket set performed admirably, with a long extension bar being used to start the 30mm nuts on the heavy rail section.
At the end of the day, one curved section of track had been removed, and all of the straight rails with two exceptions: the last section which sits on a concrete pad and supports the rails coming out of the container; and the other being a removable track panel with metal sleepers which had been made to allow access by Forestry Commission contractors. These will be moved next time before the digger comes in to carry out the groundwork in preparation for ballast.
During our recent September Open Weekend, our volunteers took the opportunity to work on the temporary track which extends on to the top of the old mine tip. With four locomotives in operation (Simplex, Lister rail-truck, WR8 and Eimco 401) there was plenty of activity for our visitors to see, including the first public run of the Eimco compressed-air locomotive. Saturday was the busiest day in terms of visitors due to the Steam Up at Alan Keef Ltd. in Lea, and much of the day was taken up with running trains in various configurations and with driver-training on the Simplex for new members.
Sunday was a quieter day and allowed more time for working on the railway, which nevertheless provided a number of interesting activities for our visitors to watch. It also allowed Rob, our resident photographer, to come out from behind the sales stand and take some footage (mainly video in this case) of the goings-on. With a higher-than-usual number of active volunteers on site, the Hudson v-skip was quickly loaded with rocks and transported to the far end of the line, where a second temporary track was laid, accessed by a new addition called an easy-turnout. Manufactured by Hudson, it is made from pressed steel and fits on top of the rails, allowing a wagon to ride up and balance itself over the central pivot, before being turned by hand and lowered onto another track at almost any angle — in our case 90° to the main line.
With the rockpile substantially reduced, there was space for another pair of rails to be added. Once laid and tested the wagon was refilled and emptied several times with the haulage being shared between all four locomotives, including the Simplex which is the heaviest currently on site.
On the following weekend we changed our usual working day from Sunday to Saturday, partly to allow a visit to The Brewery Tap afterwards to discuss the previous Open Weekend and to discuss plans for the next one (13th & 14th May 2017). Our volunteers split into two teams with one group shovelling silt out of the shed into a U-skip and hauling it off to be tipped using the WR8 battery-electric locomotive, with the other group loading rocks into the V-skip and using the Simplex. Two separate tip sites (one on either side of the main line) were accessed using the portable turntable.
Two videos were produced at the Open Weekend, the first from Saturday 17th September and the second from Sunday 18th. Both were filmed by Rob Needham.
Getting the big corrugated tin shed at Lea Bailey into a fit condition to be used as a workshop is somewhat of a long-term project, so a quicker way of getting somewhere reasonably secure and out of the weather is to get another container. Where to put it? If it was placed next to the existing container, then some of the surplus rails and bits of steel could be used to bridge across between the two and make an undercover area for other essential activities, like enjoying tea and cake on a Sunday afternoon.
With the two halves of the pit wheel out of the way, a further investigation of the top of the old mine tip revealed a large quantity (several lorry-loads) of stone, ranging from dust and pebbles right up to boulders weighing over a ton. It’s not a leftover from the days when Bailey Level was mined for gold or iron — it’s the wrong kind of rock to be local to the immediate area — but we suspect it to be quarry waste which was brought in during the early days of the Lea Bailey project to be used either as hardcore or as building material. We intend to utilise it for both of these purposes!
Because most of the stones are dressed on at least one face, we want to turn the rockpile into a stockpile and use it for future building projects. We have a railway which serves us well for moving bulky materials, but it doesn’t quite reach the loading area. Lacking a spare set of points, we decided to utilise the removable section of track which was put in place to allow Forestry Commission contractors to access the woods around Lea Bailey for clearance work last April. Over a couple of weekends, a curved section of track (also designed to be removable) was made up using some steel sleepers and the Jim crow. It rests on wooden sleepers set into the ground but it is not spiked down, allowing it to be lifted out once the fishplates have been unbolted. The rest of the temporary track leading to the rock piles will be left in place until the works have been completed.
Our regular volunteers have been busy during the winter months, working on a variety of projects. The old pit wheel (the “spare” from Sharlston Colliery in West Yorkshire) has been moved with the aid of a Tirfor winch to allow the top of the mine tip to be cleared. This will allow another track to be laid alongside the existing container.
A replacement body for the Hudson v-skip tipper wagon has been obtained from Alan Keef Ltd. which will allow the old one to be repaired, and the replacement is good enough to start using it straight away. There is a lot of rock to be moved from the top of the mine tip, mostly quarry waste which can be sorted into large (for building material) and small (for hardcore).
Meanwhile the WR5 has been placed onto a flat wagon so it can be moved around easily until there is an opportunity to fix the suspected worm drive fault. This also means the WR8 can be moved into the container with the Simplex and hopefully it will be running by the spring.
As part of the original preservation project at Lea Bailey in the mid-1990s, a steel tank was delivered to the site. As is common at Freemines in the Forest of Dean, things are re-used for something other than their original purpose (the Haywood Drift Mine near Cinderford uses one as an entrance) our example had been modified by having a door cut in one end and drainage slots in the bottom. By a happy coincidence, the door was just the right size to allow our battery-electric locomotives to enter, and the only modification needed was to cut two slots for the rails and wheel flanges. Of course the tank would need to be moved to a location that would allow track to be laid into it — luckily we had a Tirfor winch available which would do the job, albeit rather slowly!
Having checked that the tank was not attached to the supports (it wasn’t), a “trial pull” revealed that the tank would indeed move, so the end of our newly-laid siding and its buffer stop were duly removed again ready for the new resident. Setting up the Tirfor was a simple matter of finding a straight route and attaching a strop to a strong tree roughly in line — luckily there is no shortage of those at Lea Bailey. As there is no “steering”, the winch must be attached to a different tree in order to change direction. Crossing the track was a matter of laying another temporary track panel over the top of the rails to allow the bottom of the tank to slide into position. Winching the back end in laterally completed the job with the happy accident of rotating the tank just enough to align the door into an upright position.
With the tank in position it was time to lay the track. A quick check of the available spare rails coupled with a measurement of the inside of the tank revealed a slight mismatch. All of the rails were too long, or you could say that the inside of the tank was too short. Options were considered such as cutting the ends off the rails, or making a two small holes in the end of the tank, but in the end we managed to winch it a few inches away from the rail joint in order to make room. Once the rails and sleepers were connected up and ballasted (plus some steel sleepers for the inside) it was time to test it for real, starting with the WR5 as the smallest locomotive and working our way up to the WR18. A tight fit and you have to remember not to lean out! Unpowered locomotives have to be pushed by hand to the door before being hauled away by the Simplex because the door is too narrow for it to fit inside.
A secure door will be fitted before storing anything inside other than un-restored locomotives and rolling stock.
During March the regular group of Sunday volunteers set about re-laying the back siding behind the tin shed. When originally laid, the basic levelling had been done by Pat Clifford in a hired mini-digger, with the rest of the work being done by hand using shovels. Because of the levels and gradients involved (nothing in the Forest of Dean seems to be flat) many of the sleepers had to be dug into individual “pits” which was far from ideal. Therefore, we lifted each section of track in turn and removed the soil from around and under the sleepers, allowing ballast to be placed underneath for drainage.
When relaying, the sleepers were spaced out more evenly and a little work was done with the jim-crow to ease out the curves. Fishplates were greased and the spoil which was removed was tipped next to the loop to finish off the re-grading work which will hopefully prevent the ballast rolling off the edge of the embankment. A makeshift buffer stop was constructed by inserting a length of rail into a deep hole and backfilling with rubble. Hopefully this will not prove too difficult to remove as we plan to move the old cylindrical water tank into this position for use as a battery-electric locomotive shed.
Winter track renewals — January & February 2015 ?>
Using up the last of the new sleepers, with the exception of a few saved for finishing off the long siding behind the shed, our hardy volunteers set about relaying the section of track between the passing loop and the curve leading to the mine. The original sleepers used to construct the railway 20-odd years ago were ex British Rail standard gauge timber sleepers cut in half and most still retained their cast-iron chairs for holding the rails, simply turned over “out of sight and out of mind” as the old saying goes.
Working one rail-length at a time the sleepers were changed and the opportunity was taken to dig down and lower the hardcore base on the trackbed slightly to allow a decent thickness of ballast underneath the new sleepers. This improves drainage, keeps weeds down, and allows the individual sleepers to be “jacked and packed” to remove dips and hollows in the track.
During the digging stage, a large number of whole bricks were found, these being part of the hardcore that was used to build up the original trackbed for the narrow gauge line to be constructed. It was suggested on more than one occasion that the gold mine could easily be re-opened as a brick mine! Whilst the track gang was busy lining and levelling using the MK1 eyeball, Rob was using the disc-cutter to separate the chairs from the sleepers. These were reserved for future use, with the better sleepers being kept for jacking blocks and the old chairs saved for a future project.
The jim-crow was used to improve the lead-in to the curve and once the trackwork was complete it was duly tested by the Simplex and also the Eimco rocker shovel operating under its own power thanks to Nick’s portable compressor.