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.
For our Open Days on 9th and 10th May we had not one but two air-powered machines — our own Eimco 12B rocker shovel (which can now propel itself under power) was joined by a visitor in the form of “Issing Sid” (Hunslet 9902 of 2009) from Statfold Barn Railway. Sid is a modern-day replica of a 19th Century compressed-air locomotive designed to work underground without the noxious fumes created by a steam or internal combustion engine.
Saturday 9th was a public open day welcoming local visitors and enthusiasts from farther afield. Sunday 10th was set aside for a visit from the Narrow Gauge Railway Society following their AGM at Perrygrove Railway the previous day. Visiting Clearwell Caves was Gareth’s Clayton battery-electric which joined our resident Hunslet 7446 as well as the long-term restoration projects such as the W227 and large Hudswell-Clarke 0-4-0 diesels.
The Forest of Dean has always been a “working forest” and that means at some point something has to be done with all the trees to prevent the whole area reverting back to the wild. To that end, the Forestry Commission has an ongoing programme of thinning out mature trees in order to give the others more room to grow, and also allowing daylight to reach the forest floor which in turn encourages plant growth.
A local contractor has been using the Lea Bailey site as a base for part of this work and the trackbed of the former Mitcheldean Road & Forest of Dean Junction Railway is an ideal roadway to gain access to the woods beyond. Our volunteers have relaid a section of track with steel sleepers and replaced the fishplates with one bolt per pair (compared to the usual four) for ease of removal and re-fitting. This means the large forestry machines can cross the track without causing damage. It will probably prove useful in other ways, for example as a handy unloading point for visiting locomotives at open days.
The Forest of Dean — and indeed the Lea Bailey area — gets a mention in the famous Diary of Samuel Pepys, as this extract from 20th June 1662 shows:
“Up by four or five o’clock, and to the office, and there drew up the agreement between the King and Sir John Winter about the Forest of Dean; and having done it, he came himself (I did not know him to be the Queen’s secretary before, but observed him to be a man of fine parts); and we read it, and both like it well.
That done, I turned to the Forest of Dean, in Speed’s Maps, and there he showed me how it lies; and the Lea-Bayly, with the great charge of carrying it to Lydney, and many other things worth my knowing; and I do perceive that I am very short in my business by not knowing many times the geographical part of my business.”
Our volunteers have not been idle whilst this work was going on (although it was fun to watch the forestry machines at work on our tea breaks) as more progress has been made on the siding. One of the large wagons with side-opening doors has proved useful for ballasting although when fully loaded it is rather heavy! Being somewhat less than fully-charged, our WR5 needed a helping hand on the steepest part of the track. Several large rocks which were getting in the way have been broken into smaller pieces and shifted by rail to a rapidly-growing stack at the end of the line.