On Sunday November 30th, the Big Shunt One Phase One day arrived. We have waited impatiently for this day: organising it was complex, with the need for a large team, appropriate rail panels, a cleared yard, and transport. However – it went very well indeed, exactly as designed in the Method Statement (yes, I know – but we have to do these things).
Luckily, we had the rehearsal under our belts, so the twelve volunteers knew what to do. First, we assembled the three rail panels across the yard, and levelled them (not an easy task on such rough ground), while the second team put in the doorway track panel. At this point we had about 80 feet of (mostly) Southwold Railway rail in one piece – a historic first. Each panel is about 12 or 15 feet long, so is pretty heavy when assembled. Then we – very carefully – pushed Coach 7 down the slope through the temporary building aperture, and then (after a few checks) across the yard. The coach is almost 32 feet long, and the yard not much wider, so some adjustment had to be made, to get the coach coupling into the opposite fence. After some creaking from the rails – and a great deal of creaking from our backs (6.5 tonnes, on four wheels with grease axleboxes, with twelve people, is on the edge of possibility), we succeeded.
We were able, for the first time, to have our lunches inside the coach in full daylight, which was a novel experience – earlier, we had tried out John’s new 12V internal lights, which worked very nicely indeed. It was good to see the entire coach out in the yard for the first time, and to see the work on the underframe (the axleboxes, thanks to Chris and James, have been de-greased, wire-brushed and primed on one side, as has a good part of the frame itself).
So then, refreshed with very large amounts of tea, sandwiches, and biscuits, we tackled the move of Van 40 (which only weighs about 1.5 tonnes [!]). But, even after all our efforts, the coach was only about 6 feet from the doorway – and the van is 10 feet long. We don’t yet have a turntable or even any pointwork – so sheer hard graft and patience had to suffice. Basically (though it’s easier to say than to do), we successively lifted, slewed, and gradually moved the underframe through 90 degrees, while at the same time lifting it off the rails, and trying not to damage the studding which joins the rail panels together. The rest was (relatively) easy – rolling the underframe over wooden “rails”, and then turning it again through 90 degrees into its temporary resting place.
The hardwood timber for the body frame was then carried, piece by piece, onto the underframe, and secured. The whole thing was then tarped over, for collection on Monday.
Then, of course, we had to take all the rails apart, and return the yard to normal for Monday morning. But – as we had such a large and well-motivated team, we again re- stacked the Bressingham rail more into like-with-like (my experience of working on various heritage railways has shown that that’s what you tend to do – stack, de-stack, re-stack, and again stack rails – and, if you have them – sleepers and chairs as well). The Bressingham rail – essential for this and future shunts – was highly assorted – between 20 lb and 40 lb, and variously curved, so we are gradually getting it well sorted and paired.
By the time the rain started, we had everything back under cover, and yet more tea put us in a rested mode for the (in some cases) long dark rainy journey back home. The workshop is very roomy without the underframe in it – but that won’t last long. Big Shunt Two will be bringing our on-loan Motor-Rail locomotive from its Wenhaston secure storage into the workshop. Although we have another wagon underframe to re-gauge from 2 foot 6 inches to 3 feet, we thought that a locomotive would make a nice change (and there’s not the room for both). So – next time – we’ll be moving two items of stock, at 6.5 tonnes, and 3.5 tonnes, respectively – which, as even the lighter item cannot be manhandled on and off the track, should be – “interesting”.
The Trust is very lucky in its ability to attract strong, competent and well-motivated volunteers for this kind of thing – so actually building the SR will be, in comparison, a doddle.
On the following day, we had an easier time for Phase Two (I know that sounds a bit military – but then, railway engineers were traditionally mostly ex-military men – the problems are similar). Richard Cowles from Lowestoft (who we can highly recommend) made short work with the HIAB of lifting the van underframe onto his flatbed artic. We then all de-camped to the SOLD workshop in Lowestoft, where unloading was just as easy: as it got dark, we replaced the tarp so SOLD can unload at their leisure. I admit to feeling a bit like a parent who sees their child leaving home, having seen the job right through from removing the first stubborn nut to this point. But Van 40 will be back (as, I understand, is increasingly the case with children as well). And we now have other items of three-foot-gauge stock – including the Motor-Rail locomotive, and Open Wagon 41 – to think about and plan for.