Sunday, 27 February 2011

A different sort of train driving........

Several people I know though my volunteer work at Styal Mill are keen railway modellers and one of them, Mike Hunter, told me of this weekend's model railway exhibition by the New Mills Railway Modellers at Chapel-en-le-Frith High School. I decided to go along, and found it an extensive display of the art of modelling railways, filling many large rooms and classrooms of the school.

Mike's 'High Peak Tramway' layout was in one of these classrooms, and Mike invited me to 'have a drive'. It was great fun! The copy-and-paste from the group's website below explains what the layout is about, and Mike showed me how to drive trains, change points, and couple and uncouple rolling stock.

High Peak Tramway.

Hazel Grove and District Model Railway Society.

Scale 7mm/ft 1:43.5 Gauge 16.5mm

The gauge of this award winning layout is a scale 2ft 4¼in. It is set in the foothills of the Derbyshire Peak District and portrays a line built to transport stone from the quarries to an arm of the Peak Forest Canal. The period is around the 1930s when it would still be very active moving stone, while retaining a passenger and general goods service.
Nothing comes ready made in this scale/gauge combination so all the locos, rolling stock and buildings have been made from scratch or kits.
The rolling stock is modelled on examples which ran on various Narrow Gauge lines in the UK such as the Glyn Valley and Lynton and Barnstaple Rlys, plus those that were found on the quarry and trench tramways of the First World War.
Bugston Road is the newest part of the layout. Its station building and road over bridge are based on those which still exist at Irton Road on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in the Lake District.
Bugston Road also features a small plateway system for horse drawn wagons. We have not as yet produced any horses small enough to make this a working section!
Some of the buildings of Bugsworth Station are being replaced as they are between 10 and 15 years old. Our policy is one of continuous improvement, as they say in various industries.
Wagon loads of stone are represented by small chippings. These are loaded into empty wagons at Bugston Road by a conveyor. The wagons are then transferred to Bugsworth. Here the loads are automatically tippled into a narrow boat in the canal basin (the load actually drops through the baseboard into a receptacle for return to the conveyor). Hence loading and unloading is achieved with out the use of out of scale hands (usually).
The whole layout occupies an area of 8’0” by 13’ 3”. However, Bugston Road can be operated separately from the main part of the layout, using a hidden four road sector plate when exhibition or operating space is at a premium.
A scene at Bugsworth station including some of the new buildings.
The boss, Mike Hunter, performing some unknown activity. Perhaps he is praying for divine inspiration, or maybe he has managed to super glue his hands together!

The layout is divided into two operating 'areas', Bugsworth and Bugston Road (the trans-shipment shed at Bugsworth is a copy of the one at Whaley Bridge basin at the end of the Peak Forest Canal). There are two operators, one for each 'area', and each has a small hand-held controller with 'direction of travel' switch and a speed control knob. There are operator panels on the back of the layout facing the operators (who stand in the 'U' shaped space between Bugsworth and Bugston Road on the diagram) which have track plans on them, with switches where each point is (to control the point) and further switches to allocate areas of the layout to the control of either operator. There are also push-buttons to operate small electro-magnets between the rails which can uncouple rolling stock.

So a stone train might be waiting at Bugsworth to go to Bugston Road, and a passenger train to do the reverse trip. The Bugston Road operator will take control of the stone train and drive it to Bugston road, whereupon the Bugsworth operator can take control of the passenger train and drive it to Bugsworth.

When the stone train arrives at Bugsworth Road the loco and brake van are detached. The brake van is parked in a spur, then the loco runs around the train to propel it forward into the stone shed where, one waggon at a time, it is loaded with stone chippings. The train is then withdrawn from the stone shed and propelled forward into the spur to pick up the brake van. The entire train is then ready to be driven back to Bugsworth where the stone will be trans-shipped into a narrow boat on the canal.

Meanwhile, the passenger train at Bugsworth is parked in the platform while the loco runs around ready to make the return journey to Bugsworth Road.

Mike let me take the position of Bugsworth Road operator for a session and it was great fun! The group do have a timetable they run to, but on this occasion we just 'made it up as we went along' with the stone train, the passenger train, and a quarrymans' train.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stint as a 'model train driver' and if Mike and his merry men are ever short of an operator, they know where to find a willing helper!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Chipmunk has its 'Annual'

Every year aeroplanes have to have a major service, called the 'Annual'. Every third year, it's a mega service called the 'Star Annual' (which used to be known as the 'C of A', or Certificate of Airworthiness check). Our Chipmunk has her Annual in February every year; it is done by Ravenair Engineering at Barton airfield near Manchester, where the aeroplane was based from the birth of our Group in 1979 until a few years ago. So the engineers at Barton know the aeroplane well, which is why she goes there for the Annual.

It was a lovely day today, so I decided to ride to Barton on the Bonnie to see how the Chippy was getting on.

As ever, please click on an image twice to see it full size.

My Bonneville at Barton today, outside the club house

The Chipmunk on jacks in the Barton hangar

The undercarriage legs have been removed so the mountings can be x-rayed for cracks, as they have to be every year

The Gipsy Major engine, 4-cylinder air-cooled, inverted, 145 bhp at 2,000 rpm from just over 6 litres!

Jacks support the front end, while a trestle holds up the tail

Tail cone removed, revealing the two tailplane struts which brace the trailing edge of the tailplane to the rear bulkhead. These also have to be x-rayed after a set time in service as they can corrode internally, and failure of a strut would be fatal for the occupants of the aeroplane. Note also the tail wheel suspension arm between the struts, also braced to the rear bulkhead

The left hand flap removed for checking

Right hand side of the engine. carburetor and intake manifold in black, exhaust pipe at the bottom, silver-painted oil tank bottom left, right hand magneto between that tank and the engine, starter motor above the oil tank

Our Chippy wasn't the only interesting aeroplane in the maintenance hangar. In the other back corner was this lovely Tiger Moth

In Barton's main hangar, next to the maintenance hangar, a twin turbine engined Sikorsky S76C helicopter belonging to Peel Holdings was parked until its permanent home over by the Police Helicopter base is completed

Here's a bit of Barton history! This Cessna 150 used to be on the Lancashire Aero Club fleet back in 1978, when it took me on my first solo flight. It has been privately owned for many years and has always lived at Barton

This Miles Gemini was hidden away at the back of the main hangar, behind some microlights. This aeroplane, too, is no stranger to Barton but has lived elsewhere most of its life

Over in the Harbit Hangar was this other Barton resident, a Pitts S2B. This aeroplane used to be owned by airshow display pilot Brian Lecomber. Brian wanted to leave the fuselage sides clear of the aircraft's registration so his sponsor's name could be applied there (Dunlop Tyres). But the Civil Aviation Authority insisted he use full size characters to display the registration. However, they said nothing about the spacing between the letters so Brian registered it G-IIII which, with minimal spacing, fitted onto the tail!

It was a lovely sunny day today, the first this year when it was warm enough to sit outside in shirt sleeves. So I enjoyed an al fresco bacon butty and cup of tea at one of the garden tables outside the Barton clubhouse and had an interesting natter to some old Bartonians!

It was sad to see the airfield so quiet on such a fabulous day; years ago it would have been buzzing! But that was when Lancs Aero Club held the lease; today it is owned by property giant Peel Holdings. Increased costs and ever-growing restrictions over the decades have taken their toll on UK GA. We old gits agreed that we were the lucky ones - we enjoyed GA in the glory days of the 70s, 80s, and 90s when Barton was our playground, nannyism and 'elfin safety' were pretty much non existent and costs, especially fuel, were far lower.

There's still a lot of fun to be had in flying; but it won't be on Barton's hallowed turf. The future is in modern technology; composite structures and up to date engine technology, and operating out of farmers' fields.

However, those modern designs are light and therefore not stressed for aerobatics. And they can be a bit bland. So maybe while the boring and expensive-to-run old US iron, the Cessnas and the Piper Cherokees, die off there will still be folk aerobatting Chippys and Tiger Moths.

Monday, 21 February 2011

First 'Planet' duty of 2011

The railway at Manchester's Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI) opened for its 2011 season last Saturday, 19th February. Today was my first rostered day as fireman on Planet this year, so I decided to take a few photographs.

The morning was dismal and damp, becoming a little drier in the afternoon.

Click on the pictures below, then click again, for full-size images.

09:15, Lighting up! Diesel-soaked rags (from the bucket; you can see the splashes of diesel oil on the footplate and firehole doorway) on a bed of coal and the first pieces of wood burn in the firebox, before more wood (on the right) is placed on top, followed by a scattering of coal once the wood has 'caught', followed by more coal as the fire gets stronger

'Planet' on the disposal plate where we light her up. The green electric locomotive is used to move the train until 'Planet' has steam up. Beetham Tower in the background

The train is then moved to the inspection pit near the station for preparation

Peter Brown, Matthew Jackson (Railway Officer and today's rostered driver), and Colin Cooper (today's rostered Operations Manager) in the pit working on Planet's cylinders to cure a fault

By 10:00 the fire is looking healthy so we should be ready on time for the passengers at mid day

And here they come, filling the coaches for the first trip of the day

Vital brew-cans keeping warm on the firebox back plate, 85 PSI of steam (she blows off at 90).... Ready to go!

Amid clouds of steam and smoke 'Planet' departs the station

Passing the original Liverpool Road station site on the left, 1830 warehouse on the right

Approaching the Ordsall Lane platform where I will get down to change the points. The main line between Deansgate and Salford Crescent is on the left, the gates out onto the main line are ahead

Matthew waits while I change the points so we can reverse down the 'Pineapple Line' adjacent to Granada studios

Propelling the train down the 'Pineapple Line'

Looking back towards the junction we have just left. The line coming in on the left is the one we have just left; from the station to the Ordsall Lane platform

Approaching the end of the 'Pineapple Line', where we will reverse again and re-trace our route back to the station

Heading back towards the junction. Note the third rail to prevent the train coming off the viaduct and falling down the drop to the left if it de-rails

What every fireman wants - an even, thin, intensely hot fire with no holes in it. Keep it like this, firing little and often, and the engine will steam nicely

The last train is run at 16:00 or soon after, then the train is driven forward to the disposal plate where I throw out the fire (which I have carefully managed to be minimal by now, yet man enough to get us this far) and rake the ashes through from the firebox to the ash pan. I keep the blower on while doing this to suck the dust forward through the firetubes and prevent it covering me on the footplate! I also put the injector on to fill the boiler with water for tomorrow's crew.

Once the engine is fully disposed, the electric locomotive is attached and train is moved into the museum's Power Hall for the night. Final 'flight deck' checks are: gauge glasses isolated by their isolation cocks (otherwise, if one cracks, it will fill the power hall with steam), regulator closed, cylinder drain cocks open, injector and blower off, loco out of gear, hand brakes on, scotches (railway version of chocks) in.

Next Friday, I'll do it all again!

Friday Edit: No rain, even more passengers, and I had a few goes at driving this lovely engine.

As one powers though the 1830 station, regulator wide open, hair flying in the wind, exhaust beat barking ever more quickly as 'Planet' lifts up her skirts and flies as she gets into her stride, it is so disappointing to have to shut the regulator and start braking for the stop at the Ordsall Lane Platform. One is tempted to cry "next stop Lime St" and burst though the gates onto the main line! But the catch points would get us before we could do that.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Rolling Ravens...

Our Stockport Walkers walk yesterday from Whaley Bridge in the Peak District took us up high onto the side of Chinley Churn, along Cracken Edge. Several birds were slope-soaring in the rising air generated by strong wind blowing up the hill, among them a pair of Ravens. They were zooming back and forth like jet fighters along the hill face, wings outstretched and unflapping.

Every so often one would croak, then flick over in an instant in a rapid 360 degree axial roll. Then usually flick back instantly the other way!

I wonder if they do this just for fun? It sure looked like it!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

RIP Ken Olsen

Ken Olsen, who has died aged 84, drove the second great wave of computing, taking the industry from large mainframes to networks of smaller, cheaper minicomputers that could be used by small companies or scientists and engineers. Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), which he co-founded in 1957, grew into the world's second-largest computer company, with more than 100,000 employees and a peak turnover of $14bn. In 1986 a Fortune magazine cover story called Olsen "arguably the most successful entrepreneur in the history of American business".

Just six years later, however, he was forced out of the company. The market had moved on to microcomputers such as the IBM PC, launched in 1981, and DEC was rapidly being left behind.

The Guardian, 9th February 2011


He was our leader when I worked for DEC 1979 to 1982 (I started in IT with Burroughs in 1970). Those were heady times - before the PC and when the industry was realising there was more to IT than the mainframe. Minicomputers were in the ascendant and DEC easily outshone the likes of Data General in that market. We were second only to IBM in the industry, and gaining. It was only a matter of time before we toppled IBM and took the top spot.

I started with PDP11s and welcomed VAX VMS as a world-beater. There was an upstart company called Sun but no-one thought they'd ever come to much (UNIX and TCP/IP? Pah! Student stuff! ISO OSI 7-layer model was the gold standard in comms, and Olsen himself famously described UNIX as 'snake oil'). Then there was that IBM PC; A toy compared to a Vax! As Olsen himself said, it wouldn't come to anything.

In fact, it totally changed the world of IT. It did for DEC, IBM morphed itself into a services company instead of a mainframe hardware supplier (very clever move, that) and poor old DEC ended up being taken over by Compaq; a PC maker! Compaq was later swallowed by Hewlett Packard (HP - never a front runner in the heady days - they made electronic instruments and printers).

I left DEC just before the PC revolution to join a small software house called Systems Programming Ltd (SPL, an offshoot of Manchester engineering company Simon Carves). SPL, an anarchic and fabulously fun place to work, was taken over by Systems Designers (led by Phil Swinstead, pilot and classic car collector and probably not up to running the UK's first stock market listed software house). SD surprisingly took over Wavendon-based Scicon (BP's IT arm, a much respected company with a lot of technical expertise) to become SD Scicon, and that was in turn taken over in 1992 by the then mighty leader of computer services companies, the US company Electronic Data Systems (EDS).

Just after I retired 3 years ago, EDS was itself swallowed by... HP!

Full circle!