Following the Grand Tidy Up in February, we decided to take the opportunity to do some groundworks around the site. We are certainly not short of shovels, nor of enthusiasm, but the nature of the work to be done would have taken several months of Sundays, so we enlisted the help of a mini-digger with a skilled operator for the day. Your generous donations at our Open Weekends and annual Membership Subscriptions make projects like this possible.
One important job was to level the top of the mine tip area following the removal of a large quantity of stone and the re-positioning of the two halves of the ex-Sharlston pit wheel. This will allow better access for HGVs and more space for our volunteers to park their cars on a Sunday. A hole was also dug in the centre of the steel ramps giving us the start of an inspection pit, although we will still need to do some work later to line the sides and bottom, as well as putting in some basic drainage. A future project will see a second track running down from the points outside the mine to the top of the tip which will pass across the pit.
As well as some general tidying up and levelling of the ground, the digger was also put to use in widening the gulley at the Southern end of the line. This area was previously used to hide a stockpile of rail (now recovered) and we intend to lay some rails into here in order to demonstrate our Eimco 12B rocker shovel on open days. The bank leading to the top of this area has been graded to allow visitors safe access to watch the Eimco in action.
Editor’s Note: This post was first written as a draft, but only published in December 2017. It has been backdated to the beginning of March, when the events described took place.
⚖ There are some things that are just too heavy to be moved with a Tirfor winch, and the Lea Bailey Light Railway has a large collection of these things. Despite the term “light railway” being part of our name, a lot of the old mining equipment in our collection is of a heavy-duty nature and therefore requires a little more than man-power for mechanical handling. The first items to be moved were two sets of 3-car articulated manriders, which would have originally been used to transport miners underground from the bottom of the shaft to the working face. Using this method instead of requiring them to walk saved time to allow more productive time per shift, and also allowed each miner to put more effort into mining rather than walking. The long-term aim is to restore one set using the other as a source of spare parts, with leftover steelwork being made available for other projects.
👷 Another ex-mining rail vehicle consists of two 4-wheeled bogies which were originally connected in the centre and used for carrying heavy materials. It is envisaged that the running gear such as wheels and bearings can be re-used to make a couple of useful works wagons for the railway. We also have a different kind of manrider, which would have used a 4-wheeled chassis or short bogie vehicle, but currently consists of just the top section. It is hoped to mount this on one of the old wagon bases from Euroclydon Tunnel once the frame has been restored.
⭕️ By far the largest and heaviest objects are the two halves of the old winding wheel from Sharlston Colliery in Yorkshire. This was actually the “spare” which was kept on site in case of any damage or mishap to the original, which was used to haul coal and transport miners up and down the shaft. After the colliery closed in 1993 one half of the original was mounted on a brick and concrete plinth as a memorial to all the miners who had worked there.
📅 The eventual aim (subject to planning) is to mount the two halves of the wheel — one on each side of the entrance — in a similar fashion to the one at Sharlston. In the short term, however, the site looks a lot neater, and we can now start work on the next phase of clearing the top of the old mine tip. This in turn will allow a small workshop and more siding space to be installed, and bring about further restoration of our railway and mining heritage.
Most of the Heritage Railways in the UK have a period during the winter when they carry out maintenance, and ours is no exception, although we don’t have any scheduled passenger services to suspend during this time. During our last public Open Weekend in September 2016 one of our wagons developed a fault with the wheels siezing up, and had been upturned at the lineside awaiting investigation. Two volunteers, Nick and Richard, waved their magic spanners over the axles and fitted some new grease-nipples to the sealed axle and bearings, before adding some fresh grease and turning the wheels by hand until they rotated freely. Once rolled over right-way-up and re-railed with the help of Nick’s hi-lift jack, the wagon was given a run up and down the line with the Simplex and can now be pushed along easily by one person.
During the restoration to working order of the Eimco 401 compressed-air locomotive, one minor fault that needed ironing out was the ride height of the front wheelset. Each axlebox has two coil springs which give a small amount of up and down movement over uneven track. However, after its original working life and several years of sitting out of use the springs have lost some of their resilience. Ideally we would replace them with a brand new set but we don’t appear to have an Eimco dealership down in Cinderford, and working to a budget a brand new set would use up valuable funds. Add to this the time taken to manufacture a custom set of springs, and the necessity to have the locomotive stored in its stripped-down state, the most elegant solution was to fit spring spacers — a tried and tested modification used by many 4×4 off road vehicle owners to increase ride height.
Four pieces were cut from the end of a length of round bar and de-burred using a file before being inserted into the spring pockets. Nick’s hi-lift jack once again proving useful in getting the chassis of the locomotive to a suitable height for the job. The new batch of wooden chocks can be spotted in several of the photographs, with their custom paint job provided by a garden colour shade called Pick ‘n’ Mix which makes them easy to spot in the green of the Forest or the grey of the stone ballast.
Work on excavating the old mine tip continues, with several more loads of large rocks being moved to the end of the line using the WR8 battery-electric locomotive “Murphy” and 4-wheeled flat wagon. The remainder consisting of smaller stones and dust is being moved using a Hudson v-skip wagon and tipped next to the passing loop to extend the embankment which will allow an additional set of points to be installed. This in turn will allow a permanent track to be laid onto the top of the mine tip once the temporary track is no longer in use.
The Lea Bailey Light Railway Society has been invited to exhibit the Eimco 401 air locomotive at the Ffestiniog Railway for their Quirks & Curiosities II event in 2017. The first event took place back in May 2010 and a number of the more unusal types of narrow gauge locomotives and rolling stock were assembled in the yard at Porthmadog Harbour station. The event will take place over the weekend of 28th April to 1st May 2017.
One of the more unusual vehicles was a sail-powered rail car known as “Spooner’s Boat”, but we believe the Eimco will be the first compressed-air locomotive to run on the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. The previous event also featured a Model T Ford and Series 2a Land Rover 109″ pickup, both from Statfold Barn Railway. Obviously a compressor will need to be provided on site to recharge the Eimco’s main air reservoir, but one interesting way of providing the air could be to couple up to the air braking system of one of the larger diesel locomotives. Any current or new members interested in coming up for the weekend please contact the Webmaster.
It has become a tradition in recent years to produce a calendar highlighting some of the events and milestones that have passed in the previous year. Twelve photographs have been selected from 2016, printed in full colour on glossy card, and spiral bound complete with holes for hanging. The cost is £7.00 each, plus postage which varies depending on location. Collection in person is free of charge. To order yours please use the contact details below.
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.
We will be holding our second Open Weekend of 2016 on 17th & 18th September at our Lea Bailey site. The main attraction is expected to be the first public running of our Eimco 401 air locomotive which is on loan to us for two years. Also running will be our Simplex diesel and WR8 battery electric locomotives, plus a visiting Lister rail truck. Three further locomotives in various states of restoration will be on display, plus we aim to give demonstrations of our Eimco rocker shovel.
New for this event is our Driver for a Fiver: donate £5 (or more if you wish) and you will receive practical instruction to operate one of our locomotives. This includes complimentary membership of the Lea Bailey Light Railway Society until the end of the year.
Open from 11:00 to 16:00 with refreshments and sales stand available on site. Not been before? Here’s how to find us.
Other nearby attractions include the Steam Up at the works of Alan Keef just up the road at Lea Line. Locomotives and rolling stock are built and maintained here for use around the world including Lydia for the nearby Perrygrove Railway near Coleford which will be hosting its 20th Anniversary Gala with 5 steam locomotives running.
With the wheelsets for the Eimco 401 back on site and re-gauged to 24″ the next task was to get them back into the frames. To say they were a tight fit is an understatement. Both sides had to be raised equally to avoid the axle boxes jamming in the horn guides. The wheelset nearest the driver’s position — which we have taken to calling the rear of the locomotive — was the easier (or least difficult) of the pair due to the presence of the adjuster bolts which are used to tension the drive chain.
The springs on the front wheelset are a bit “saggy” and may end up being replaced, but as a temporary solution the locomotive has been levelled with two wooden packing blocks. Once all the bolts were tightened up the faces of the tyres were cleaned with the aid of a grinder and polished with emery tape to remove any high spots and prevent them from rubbing on the frames. All that was left to do was slide the locomotive slowly onto the rails and park it up in preparation for the next task.
Before a pressure vessel can be tested with air, it needs a hydraulic test to verify the structural integrity. If there were any leaks or weak spots this would show up by the egress of water and avoid the risk of an explosion. Of course to fill the tank with water the air needs to be removed so a special air bleed pipe was made which required the locomotive to be tilted over and a small hole dug underneath in order to fit it.
The water was pumped in using Nick’s petrol powered fire pump from our own supply which flows out of the mine and is crystal clear as long as nobody has stirred up the silt by walking along the drainage channel! Once full, a special pump was used to pressurise the system to 165 psi which is 1½ times the working pressure of 110 psi.
After verifying the pressure reading and visually confirming that there were no leaks we were able to call in a professional to carry out the necessary pressure test and visual inspections to certify the pressure vessel (see video clip below). The next job will be to connect the drive chains and test the air motor which was blanked off for the test.
If you were a mine operator then a compressed-air locomotive such as the Eimco 401 would be a very useful thing. Most underground mines would already have a compressor to power the air tools and the 401 was designed to be easily convertible between the two popular rail gauges of 18″ and 2ft. Of course “easily” would be dependent on a number of factors, such as a fully-equipped heavy engineering workshop, skilled workers with experience of the task in hand, and a programme of regular maintenance and cleaning. Carrying out the same job outdoors in a forest on a locomotive that has been stored out of use for some time is a completely different kettle of fish.
Before any attempt could be made to remove the wheels, the drive chains would first have to be disconnected. A build-up of old grease and a layer of dried mine-waste was certainly not useful! Even with the chains out of the way, the wheels would not come out without a fight. The wheels are fitted to the axles with a set of spacers which can be removed and re-installed in two different configurations depending on the gauge required. They are “outside” the wheels for 18 inch gauge so to convert to 24 inch would require them to be re-fitted “inside” the wheels. Of course to do this one must first get the wheels off the axles. Even the largest sledgehammer and heavy block of wood only managed to move one wheel about an inch in an afternoon so a different solution was needed. Our local narrow gauge railway engineer Alan Keef was given the task and apparently the ex-Simplex wheel press required abround 40 tons of force to get the wheels off!
A number of compressed-air fittings have been obtained and are stored off-site ready for use. Another important job before the locomotive can run will be to hydraulically test the pressure vessel and have it certified by a professional inspector. Our volunteers are working on this behind the scenes, and we are having a special fitting made which will let air out as the vessel is filled with water in order to carry out the hydraulic pressure test.
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.