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.
Eimco air locomotives were manufactured in Salt Lake City by the same company that produced the well-known compressed air mucking machine aka rocker shovel. Following the restoration to working order of the Eimco 12B rocker shovel, the Lea Bailey Light Railway was offered an Eimco locomotive on a 2-year loan from its home at the Lavender Line based at Isfield station in Sussex. There had previously been a proposal to build a narrow gauge railway on the site, but this seems unlikely to go ahead, and the locomotive’s owner was not in a position to carry out the restoration.
The first job will be to get the wheels off and re-gauge the locomotive from 18″ to 2′ so it can be put onto the rails. The locomotive is designed to be convertible between the two gauges by removing the wheels from each axle and moving a pair of spacers. How easy this task proves to be depends on how much dirt has made its way inside over the years and of course the condition of the grease which can harden over time.
As part of the Open Weekend of 14th-15th May, volunteers from the Lea Bailey Light Railway Society went to Clearwell Caves to service and run the Hunslet Flameproof locomotive No. 7446 and to take a look at some of the other rolling stock stored outside. Despite having not run since last year, the locomotive started on the first attempt, and performed several demonstration runs for visitors, much to the enjoyment of the café staff who had come to empty the bins.
Another job which was started was to cut back some of the hawthorn, brambles, and other assorted undergrowth on the elevated siding at the top of the incline to allow the rolling stock stored there to be moved for the first time for many years. We hope to be able to do a little bit of cosmetic restoration to prevent these items from deteriorating, with the eventual aim of a proper restoration in the long term, although some of the items may end up as static exhibits.
Of immediate interest however, is a compressor mounted on a 4-wheel bogie, which despite being outside for some time, has already been made to turn over freely. An end-tipper wagon will be very useful for track work here and at Lea Bailey, with an initial inspection showing that it will only need minimal repairs to some corroded platework. Of course more cutting-back will be required before these vehicles can be retrieved.
The single-bladed point leading to the siding had been heavily overgrown with grass and other greenery and a thin layer of turf had to be removed from the top of the rails. The resident artist-blacksmith MissFire was in the process of loading equipment into a large van as part of her move to larger premises, and so our work on this part of the track took place in between trips from the workshop to the van using a small 4-wheeled wagon.
Once the point was free to move — a process that also involved the removal of a surplus dog-spike — the Hunslet was summoned to push the W227 up the incline and onto the siding. Because this set of points is notorious for derailments, particularly of the WR5 locomotive, the final few yards was done by hand using crow bars and pieces of angle-iron as levers, and a not inconsiderable amount of brute force. The W227 is now clear of the running line and perhaps the sunshine will allow a coat of red oxide to be applied to protect it from the less pleasant weather that is sure to return soon enough?
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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.
Over the weekend of 9th – 10th January there was a sudden outflow of water from the mine at Lea Bailey. At approximately 9pm on the Saturday local residents reported a loud noise heard from the direction of the mine, and on the Sunday morning debris and water were reported on the road below the mine.
On visiting the mine later that morning it was found that the mine doors had burst open, some rolling stock stored just inside the mine had floated out, and much of the mine site was covered in silt from the mine. Water was still flowing in abnormal quantities. Fortunately no one had been present at the mine when the doors had burst open.
By the following Wednesday the flow from the mine had returned to a more normal level. Damage to one mine door has been repaired and the mine site made safe. No railway equipment was lost or damaged by the outflow.