Sunday, 28 September 2014

Foxfield Steam Gala 2014

The pleasant September weather continues this weekend. Yesterday Malc and I visited the Rudyard Lake Steam Railway on our big bikes (his TDM parallel 900cc twin, my Moto Guzzi V2 1200cc Griso) with a view to maybe volunteering there (watch this space!).

Today was even better weatherwise, and Ivan, Malc and I set off on the little bikes (two 7hp C90s and an SS50, in contrast to my Griso's 120hp) to visit the Foxfield Steam Gala, which I last visited on 22nd July 2012 (see the blog). We stuck to the small roads that suit these bikes best; Chelford, Jodrell Bank, Lower Withington, Congleton, east of Biddulph Moor, Rudyard, Longsdon, Cheddleton, Wetley Rocks, Cellarhead, and Caverswall to the railway.

It's food for thought that on a back roads trip like this, the difference in journey time between the 7hp C90 and the 120hp Griso is only a few minutes. But the Guzzi sure sounds better!

Having locked up the bikes and paid our entrance fee we had a look round the Caverswall Road site.

The railway was built to bring coal out of Foxfield colliery (which closed in 1965) to the main line at Blyth Bridge. Caverswall Road is the railway's main site, from where passenger trains run to Dilhorne Park. Freight trains run through to Foxfield Colliery, but the gradient between Dilhorne and Foxfield is  in places as steep as 1 in 19; the steepest adhesion-worked standard gauge line in Britain and too steep for passenger trains.

As usual, please click on any picture for a larger image.

This 1947 Peckett locomotive on show at Caverswall Road (though not in steam) incorporates many advances in industrial locomotive design made during the steam era. 

Here's an old friend - the Beyer Peacock saddle tank that spent some time at the Churnet Valley Railway recently (notably at the Winter Steam Gala on 22nd February this year - see the blog). Its train comprises the restored Knotty (North Staffordshire Railway) 4-wheel coaches - and very smart they are. Malc and I saw one of these coaches at Cheddleton Sunday 24th June this year, as reported in the blog for that date.

 We boarded a vintage Knotty coach fro the trip to Dilhorne Park. The recent restoration is to a very high standard; even the slots in all of the heads of the brass wood screws are vertical!

 Ivan and Malc observing the rural countryside go by the window between Caverswall Road and Dilhorne Park

Our train arrives at Dilhorne. From here we will walk the rest of the way to Foxfield colliery. 

 Malc goes over the stile, Ivan next, as we join the footpath down alongside the railway to the colliery

Not far down from Dilhorne the crane tank, banked by diesel 'Woolstanton No.3', worked up past us from the colliery. Here's the video of that:

'Woolstanton No.3' on the back of the train 

 Halfway to the colliery is 'leg-over stile', so called because some elderly gentlemen with arthritis can't get their leg over here! We managed OK, though. When I was last here, 2 years ago, this path was far too muddy to negotiate, but after our lovely dry late summer and autumn this year it was dry as a bone. Ivan and Malc having managed it, that's all of us over.

On arrival at Foxfield Colliery we watched some shunting, including these two wagons being let down the bank without use of a locomotive. Here's a video:

Eventually the train was assembled and climbed the bank. It's headed by 'Florence No.2', an 0-6-0 Bagnall from Florence colliery, Staffordshire. She is fitted with a Giesel  Ejector, which may have improved performance but does mean the exhaust is somewhat 'soft'; a tad disappointing on the bank. The colliery head gear can be seen in the background. The video is below:

A shuttle bus was provided between Caverswall Road and Foxfield colliery. We caught it back to Caverswall Road.

By the time we got back to Caverswall Road the crane tank and train were there having worked down from Dilhorne Park 

Here's a locomotive we've met before on this blog, well tank 'Bellerophon'. She was one of six built in 1874 for Haydock Collieries and is the sole survivor. Unusually for such an early locomotive she has outside Stephenson / Gooch valve gear and piston valves.

We took a ride behind 'Bellerophon' , once again in the vintage Knotty stock up to Dilhorne Park and back. Here's another view of the surprisingly rural scenery on this former industrial line. 

Back at Caverswall Road we prepare for the ride home. Malc with his and my Honda C90s, Ivan's SS50 behind them.

We rode back the same way as we had come, stopping for fuel at Chelford and for a lovely pint of Sam Smiths bitter at the Bird In Hand, Knolls Green.

So ended yet another great day out on manouvres for us on the little bikes.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

AVLR 'Tracks to Trenches' WW1 event

This weekend the Apedale Valley Light Railway (AVLR) near Newcastle under Lyme held its 'Tracks to Trenches' event to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War. The event concentrated on transport and logistics of the 'war to end all wars', and probably narrow gauge railways' finest hour. Me, Ivan, and Malc fired up the little bikes to go have a look, routing via Chelford, Jodrell Bank, Clonter Brook, Somerford Booths, Brownlow, and Kidsgrove.

As ever, please click on any picture for a larger image.

Malc and Ivan on arrival at Apedale this morning with the little bikes parked in the exhibitor area with some larger machines. Malc and I were on our Honda C90s, Ivan on his Honda SS50.

We had been invited to park our bikes as exhibits, so were able to ride directly into the AVLR site and park in the motorcycle exhibitor area. 

 AVLR resident Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0WT "Wee Pug" of 1916 in the station

 Visiting from the Greensand Railway Museum Trust on the excellent Leighton Buzzard Railway is Baldwin 4-6-0T "Yankee" of 1917

 AVLR resident Kerr Stuart 0-6-0T  Joffre  of 1917 on a freight train

Another view of the Joffre

 Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0WT of 1930 from the Statfold Barn Railway

The Joffre again 

A vehicle which is a cross between a traction engine and an early lorry, a 1917 Foden steam lorry. It has a horizontal traction engine boiler and cylinders driving a 'lorry' rear axle.  

 This Kerr Stuart "Wren" 0-4-0T of 1918 from the Vale of Rheidol Railway once worked at Driffield Army Camp

 This French Government Baguley "Inspection car" of 1918 is from the Statfold Barn railway

This Rolls Royce armored car is from the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor estate 

This is a 4/5 replica of a Mk4 WW1 tank. The original had a 12 litre petrol engine, but this replica has a more reliable 2.5 litre Ford Transit diesel engine. The 3 colours on the flag represent the mud of the battlefield, the blood shed by countless soldiers, and the green fields beyond. 

Much effort had obviously gone into preparing this event, including digging these WW1 trenches, complete with duck boards and other details 

The Vale of Rheidol's little Wren again... 

...a truly minimalist steam locomotive 

'Wee Pug' on a freight train 

Joffre in the station roads having uncoupled from a freight train 

The Baldwin 'Yankee' in the station 

The Hudswell Clarke, a business-like little engine

The Yankee, cylinder drain cocks open 

 German Imperial Army Railway Henschel 0-8-0T "Brigadelok" of 1918 from the North Gloucestershire Railway

The Hudswell Clarke once belonged to Surrey County Council Highways Department. I wonder why they wanted a steam locomotive? Silly question! Doesn't everyone want a steam locomotive?

By the time we were ready to leave the bigger bikes had departed to be replaced by a type of car that was part of my childhood. Above, my C90, Malc's C90, and Ivan's SS50 find themselves next to a 1937 Ford Model Y . My father's first car in the early 1950s was one of these, and I can still remember it quite clearly. Looking through the windows of this one I am amazed how tiny it is - narrow seats and not much leg room. People must have been a lot smaller then.

Here's a video I took of the WW1 tank on the move:
Click here

Just after I took the above picture we fired up the steeds and headed home along the same route as our outward journey. Except we deviated very slightly to the 'Bird in Hand' at Knolls Green for a pint, in celebration of yet another great day out.


Saturday, 13 September 2014

Salt of the earth!

Chris and I visited the Lion Salt Works at Marston, Northwich about 30 years ago, while it was still a going concern. They produced pan-dried salt and sold it; we bought a packet and a 'Lion Saltworks' salt holder. Lion is the last surviving pan salt works and it closed in 1986 whereupon it was purchased by Cheshire County Council to prevent its demolition. With the help of a lottery grant of £5m and a similar amount from Cheshire West Council it is being restored and will re-open next year. But only as a museum, not as a working salt works.

As part of Heritage Open Days 2014 Lion Salt Works was open today to allow people to see progress so far, and most impressive it is. Malc and I fired up the little bikes this afternoon and headed down there to take a look.

The pan salt process involved pumping natural brine from the Cheshire salt beds (one at 300 feet down, the other at 150 feet) laid down by long ago evaporated inland seas which covered the area at different times many millions of years ago. Ground water erodes the rock salt to form brine, and it is this which is pumped to the surface by steam engine and 'nodding donkey' pump (latterly an electric pump was used instead) and stored in a tank. The brine is fed to large iron open pans in wooden pan houses. The pans were heated by coal brought from North Staffordshire by canal and the over a period of several days the water was boiled off to leave the salt crystals in the pan. The salt was then dried, crushed and ground in a mill, and bagged for dispatch to customers by canal or rail.

General layout of Lion Salt Works. The steam engine (in the blue building with chimney) pumped brine from below ground into the storage tank next to the narrow boat on the canal. From here it was piped to the pans in the wooden pan houses (wood so it wouldn't corrode in the salt-laden atmosphere). From the pan houses the 'dogs' of wet salt were moved to the stove houses where the hot gasses from the pans passed through flues under the steel floor to dry the salt dogs, the gasses and smoke exiting from the smaller chimney. The salt was then ground from solid blocks (the 'dogs') to consistency for table or preservation use.

Our Honda C90s parked in the bike rack at the salt works while Malc retrieves his 'snap' from the top box

A stove house refurbished as the visitor centre, seen from the tables where we had our snap 

The steam engine, a single cylinder horizontal, and in front of it the electric motor which later replaced it 

These are rare now; a railway salt wagon. Hornby Dublo model railways used to produce one in yellow, with a grey roof, and 'Saxa Salt' in red script on the side shown below.

Hornby model salt wagon

An iron salt pan, made of riveted plates so plates which corroded away could be replaced. The brine was piped into the pan and coal furnaces beneath it boiled off all the water over a period of several days. As the salt crystals formed they were raked to the sides using the rake shown, and packed into elm wood (later fibreglass) 'salt dog' molds to go to the stove house for drying. Later, the pans were heated by oil firing.

Furnace doors under a salt pan

Wet salt being packed into 'dogs' from the pan, back when the works was operating

The remains of the stove house. The channels were flues for the hot gasses from the pan furnaces to heat steel plates forming the stove house floor on which the salt dogs were stacked for drying.

There were tours of the site, and this is our guide standing by a 'dog' of dried salt. The salt mill is behind him, where these dogs were ground

The salt mill. Salt dogs were introduced at the top, and ground to powder which exited the mill by the chutes, to be bagged for sale. 

The brine tank, showing signs of corrosion and subsidence of its brick base, where new courses have been inserted to keep it level 

The 3-tube 'Cornish' boiler which powered the steam engine. It was in daily use until as late as 1980.

The composition of Northwich brine. Modern vacuum process salt works purify the brine before evaporation to extract all but the sodium chloride. Pan salt such as that from Lion Works contained the other salts and trace elements which gave it distinctive flavor. 

It's good to see projects like this going ahead, celebrating our recent industrial past and educating future generations. Hats off to Cheshire West Council for having the initiative to make it happen. We'll be back next year to see the finished museum.

And if anyone has any spare time - they are looking to recruit volunteers to run the place when it opens officially, next year.

Malc and I fired up the little bikes and headed home - via a refreshing pint of excellent Sam Smiths bitter at the 'Bird' at Knolls Green on the way.