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.
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.