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.
The main site at Lea Bailey was open to the public from 11:00 to 16:00. The attractions included:
Our Simplex / Motor Rail 21282 and Wingrove & Rogers battery-electric locomotives in action
Our EIMCO 12B rocker shovel on display
Display of our two recently arrived battery-electric locomotives.
Freelance motorised skip wagon ‘Skippy’ from Alan Keef Ltd.
A Lister Auto Truck from Brian Faulkner
Alan Keef Ltd had announced that the planned ‘Steam-Up and Open Day’ would not be going ahead as originally planned on 19th September 2015 — however, the decision had been taken for the best possible reasons! Managing Director Patrick Keef explained:
“The culmination of a large project in Europe in conjunction with other major project work and the wonderful news that my fellow Director and sister Alice Basey will be having a baby around the same time as the Open Day, together with two family house moves, meant we had to review our priorities. The Open Day is a huge attraction for enthusiasts, customers and friends alike and we will of course miss seeing everyone, but we felt very strongly that if we couldn’t commit to putting on the very best show we could, we’d rather postpone it and instead plan an even better event for 2016.”
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.