Work of many kinds is produced from the Building Department yard at Christow, the smallest and only part of the station trading estate so far to have been acquired by the railway.
The main workshop building, the shell of a 1930s Great Western feed store brought in one piece from Ivybridge in 1993, is used to work on larger projects, while what should be the site office, a converted insulated 20 ft. container, provides a temporary, warm and secure workshop for the smaller jobs.
The site office is entirely adequate for a lot of work. Machines and furniture can be moved around on their wheels to make whatever space is needed. The Felder combination woodworking machine, weighing a ton, can be manoeuvred to suit different functions and workpieces.
Nevertheless, it will be a great benefit to the railway when the main building can be fixed up properly in G.W. style, with its sliding doors leading onto the platform on Scatter Rock No. 2 siding.
The E. & T.V.R. claims to have a wider range of abilities and a greater breadth of knowledge, relative to the size of its staff, than any other railway in the country. And, judging by the standard of some of the work turned out of bigger places with far better facilities, ample size and resources are no guarantee of quality.
The railway specializes in the classes of work that it needs to do for itself. This capacity is available also to other railway operators and those in the hobby railways who are discerning enough to realize that the expertise they want cannot be obtained cheaply.
Other more general work is also taken in, for which the railway is well equipped. Undemanding work is, however, best given to jobbing tradesmen, for the railway is unlikely to be able to price competitively in this field.
The station is something of a shop window. It is hoped, though, that "shoppers" will be able to differentiate between the work done and that yet to be done.
Along with the usual mix of small works and the endless round of maintenance jobs, the railway has the following projects in hand:-
Repair and re-erection of the Christow pumphouse for use as an exhibition annex.
Construction of motor trolley shed.
Repair and alteration of "boiler end" of loco, D2269.
Production of four pairs of new doors for covered wagons, 78642 & 78651.
Overhaul of FERRYVAN 889027.
Repair and alteration of G.W. brake van for Mr. N. Dudman.
The following have been recently outshopped:-
BEE 2309 — commissioning of new autotruck.
GANGCAR 194 — rebuilding of motor trolley and trailer.
Four Permaquip trolleys ― general repair and conversion.
Secure site cabin fitted out as a temporary booking office, complete with repaired furniture.
G.W.R. platform bench.
B.R.W.R. Single Independent Disc ground signal.
Commissioning work on the railway’s “new” autotruck, BEE 2309—done like most jobs, in many instalments—was completed in 2011. This vehicle replaced BEE 2247 which had been in service since 1982.
The new truck was supposed to have been supplied with an aluminium floor but came with the usual pressed steel plate, spot welded to the frame. On the model it was understood had been ordered, the aluminium floor was held down by the drop sides and could be lifted up to give complete access to the engine and underframe. The steel floor had only a poorly fitting hatch.
The fixed headboard and rack, and the floor plating, were removed. A new headstock and a detachable steel and plywood headboard, incorporating a full-width ladder rail, were made. A one-piece detachable plywood floor with aluminium edging was fitted.
Numerous other modifications were made to equip the truck for railway service. A letter was sent to Piaggio, translated into Italian, pointing out some of the design improvements made in a British workshop so that their production line could be altered. No reply was received.
The truck was delivered wearing Empire Green, one of the three colours available—those of the Italian flag.
Failure in traffic
The new truck had been performing well and commissioning work was in progress when an outright failure occurred, luckily only three miles from shed and at a refuge. Coolant pouring onto the road appeared to be coming from the pump. After being towed back to shed and dismantled, a complete seizure of the pump, driven by the timing belt, was confirmed as the fault.
The firm in Darlington that supplied the truck had closed down. Fortunately, Robin, the former boss, had taken on the Piaggio business as a sideline and was able to provide parts. But this was late July and the factory in Tuscany was preparing for its August shutdown. When the new pump arrived, the timing belt in stock was found to be the wrong one. It was mid-September before the truck went back into service.
Either it was a faulty pump or the timing belt had been over-tightened during factory assembly; the checks that had been made were looking for slackness and the tension was assumed to be correct as it was. The tell-tale sound of impending failure was like stone chips hitting the frame (probably coolant being expelled through the bearings), which is not much use as an indicator when it’s the season for dressing the roads.
This has greatly burdened the operating costs; the material cost of the repair was not too great but many service station tools had to be obtained. The diesel Ape is more expensive to buy and maintain but uses much less fuel than the petrol one. Whether this will be enough to tip the overall costs in favour of diesel is yet to be determined.
(PWM 2831 & Trailer No. 755)
Describing the work on the railway’s Type 27 trolley as a factory rebuild, as what the factory would have done had the trolley been returned there, to distinguish the class of repair, is somewhat hypothetical, for Wickham’s would actually have had no option but to condemn it as beyond economic repair.
It is hard to believe that such a vehicle was still in service with the nationalized railway. Dear old British Rail could scrap locos and rolling stock prematurely, writing off enormous capital sums, yet allow a forty year-old wreck to carry staff on rail at a time when new substitutes were available and the safety regime was tougher. It is also a wonder that a non-standard 1949 trolley should have been kept when newer types were scrapped or sold to private railways.
The trolley must have suffered several severe collisions; even the roof was crushed. Frame and body sections were broken and buckled. The front wheels were so out of round that the trolley hopped along the track. The sand boxes had been smashed; springs had broken; bearings had failed; many parts were missing; every remaining part needed attention. Almost at a glance, a Wickham inspector would have seen enough to make his unsentimental pronouncement.
So the railway has carried out an uneconomic repair, but the result is what the factory would have achieved, which is a trolley as near to new as possible with another 10-15 years of useful life.
The trolley was broken up on the track into pieces small enough to carry. Some heavy parts were straightened by eye while the torch was to hand. Later, the frame was cut and welded to restore its shape and strengthening plates were added. The rest of the trolley was reduced to its component parts and every one repaired and, or, modified, or replaced. New bearings, springs and bushes were fitted; journals were built up to take metric bearings; the chain and driven sprocket were replaced.
For some reason, as yet undiscovered, this trolley was built with front stub axles, an uncommon and unwise practice with railway vehicles. A solid, through axle would have fouled the engine sump. A cranked axle beneath the sump would have fouled A.T.C. ramps. So why was the engine not raised? Why was not an axle split horizontally around the sump fitted?
The challenge for the railway was either to correct a flawed design (Wickham’s must not have continued with it) or somehow to connect the stub axles. The hubs depend for their restraint in a vertical plane on a parallelogram arrangement which describes a small arc easily taken up by the slack in the suspension bushes. The radius rods were finely made and in good condition. In a crude attempt to lock up the suspension, B.R. men had fitted opposite diagonal braces. All these did was to transmit shock and twisting action to frame members, which then split or fractured.
It was decided that the challenge was to make the original design work. This has yet to be proven in service.
An attempt was made to turn the very worn Wickham wheels but this was abandoned in favour of fitting new Fairmont wheels, using conversion discs to take up the difference in centres and the number of studs. The Fairmont wheels have less float and only 1° of conicity.
The major weakness in the rebuilding process was the engine; Wickham's would hardly have sent the trolley out with a reconditioned Ford side-valve. The railway looked at fitting a two-cylinder Lombardini diesel but the space available seemed to crave a Ford to go with the existing clutch and gearbox, themselves integral with the direction box.
This is not as bad as it sounds. The Ford E93A, introduced in 1938, still has engineering support and can be fully reconditioned, thanks to its enthusiast following. It will run on unleaded petrol. The engines were meant by Ford to be service-exchanged at around 30,000 miles and the trolley had a reconditioned unit. The application is relatively undemanding.
After trying to get the engine rebuilt locally, a replacement was obtained from a Ford "Pop" specialist. This was fitted with an oil bypass filter and electronic ignition. The railway has the other engine to send away for reconditioning if necessary.
The trolley was outshopped with riveted aluminium plating, additional glazing at the front for close track inspection, halogen and L.E.D. lighting, dual arm wipers (designed specially by Andrew at Britax), p.v.c. side curtains and overall cover, and a sprung coupler.
The trolley was not built with running boards. The railway considered that they would be incongruous and unnecessary. As it is, the trolley has a compact width of 5’ 9”. Any man who is not fit enough to get onto the trolley from sleeper level should not be on the track.
The unsprung trailer which completes unit 194 was finished in 2006. It needed new bearings, side rails, plywood flooring and repairs to the solebar ends. A ratchet brake mechanism from an old platelayer's trolley found burnt up at Uffculme has been modified to act on one wheel. New draw eyes were rodded together to spread the load to both headstocks. The two-foot coupler enables longer timbers to be carried on the trailer.
The trolley had a dowel beneath the driver’s seat and two aluminium cradles beneath the rear seat for stowage of the turntable. Original parts were measured up at Buckfastleigh and an “Improved Wickham Turntable” made at Christow. The turntable centre has a captive disc, floating on grease, on which the beam rests. The ends of the rails are articulated, so that when turning the clips are folded out of the way and when stowed the rails do not overhang. It has been tested up to 17 cwt.; the trolley weighs 16 cwt.
Design knowledge can be made available to Wickham owners. Prices can be quoted for new parts or for various grades of repair.
Who among men of a certain age has not sat on a battered old trolley at the end of a sunny platform or quietly played with the handle to test the brake?
Made redundant at Exeter Central, the trolley at Christow was bought from British Rail on 10th August, 1977, for £5.40. It was carried unquestioningly by four men from the edge of the Down platform across to a covered wagon on a trip working standing on the remaining through line and later unloaded in the Transfer Shed at St. David's, where it was repaired and repainted in the project's unofficial store. Before it was taken to Longdown, the trolley was wheeled over Red Cow Crossing and up the ramp of No. 1 platform to be weighed outside the Parcels Office. Its fake "Carriage Free on Company's Services" label was spotted by a zealous young manager who caused a "please explain" memo to be sent. Of course, it was easily explained that there had not been a train to Longdown for nearly 20 years.
This one is the survivor of around six that the railway has possessed and the only one whose body was not badly rotten. If left in the open, the conventionally jointed softwood frames of these trolleys were extremely vulnerable: rainwater would get under the boards and into the joints and eventually the frames would succumb to wet rot.
While working on this one again, nearly 40 years after it left Central Station, it became obvious that the practice was to make new bodies and use turntables, axle bolsters and ironwork recovered from old trolleys sent back to Swindon.
The picture comes from a booklet on Swindon Works published by B.R. in 1957. On a bench behind the joiners can be seen a stack of six trolley bodies. It was long taken to be a contemporary photograph but much more likely is that it was a G.W.R. pre-war shot; it is doubted that any new trolleys were made after the war so the ones found today must all be at least 80 years old, with parts possibly dating back to the 19th century.
The trolleys were extremely heavy and poorly designed. They ran on cast iron wheels with plain bearings which were seldom oiled; some had solid-rubber tyred wheels which had "NOT TO BE OILED" marked on the handles. The automatic brake acted on the rear wheels and a clumsy mechanism connected them to the handle, which would spring back if let go. Nevertheless, the trolleys were such a common feature of stations that if none had survived someone would by now be building them just as they were.
To make the Christow trolley more useful on ground less perfect than the polished asphalt of busy platforms, new rubber tyred wheels with plain roller bearings have been fitted. And to make it more durable, the boards were sealed with liquid rubber in 1977, a product then new to the trade. Not having shown any signs of aging, this treatment has been repeated.
To replicate the one often seen in photographs of Dulverton, a canvas hood was made by Gray's of Exeter in 1978 at a cost of £18.20 and fitted to a free-standing, collapsible wooden frame made at Longdown. This sat on the boards within the edge rail and was the best that could be done at the time. Its replacement is a one-piece tubular frame which is slipped onto spigots welded to the half-round capping.
For years the one at Dulverton was the only one ever seen, but recently another was spotted in a photo of the Down platform at Witham. There must have been more but they were certainly scarce.
In later years, some trolleys at the big stations were fitted with couplings to enable them to be hauled by petrol or battery electric tractors and trolleys. Parts taken from a trolley found at Taunton Loco have been fitted for demonstration purposes; the rear coupling pin to the complete trolley and the front coupling eye to a handle and axle assembly.
The E. & T.V.R. attends to the detail of these small objects with more care than many of the so-called preserved railways.