213 – Chasewater Railway Museum Bits & Pieces
From Chasewater News – Spring 1998 – Part 3
General Manager’s Report
What a year! ‘Does he mean 1997 or 1998?’ I hear you ask. Well, actually, I mean both. !997 saw a further rise in our visitor figures and a further improved turnover, and finished with a bang with the most successful Santa season ever. The only misgiving I have is the size of the water bill, which is far greater than ever before, and we are taking steps to control and monitor our consumption in a way which we have not hitherto needed to do; but I suppose that it is really an indication of the ever increasing frequency and scale of our operations. 1998 so far has seen the longest period of fine winter Sunday weather I can recall, and February has seen us take great strides both with the maintenance of the running line and on the Chase Terrace extension.
Michael Clancy (Contractors) very kindly came and trained operators of their road/rail 360-degree slewing excavators at Chasewater in the operation of Flails, back in January. Now this involves driving the excavator on its ordinary road wheels up to the track, and then hydraulically lowering rail wheels to gain access to the track. This done, the machine becomes a railway vehicle and can work on the line. The flail is a hydraulically driven device which acts like a giant lawn mower, but one which can gobble up whole trees. The operator moves the machine along the track, maintaining the flail at the end of the boom as close as possible to the ground alongside the track, reducing grass, bramble and bushes to shreds, only stopping when dense or mature bushes or trees require greater attention. Two days training with this machine has seen the trackside cleared better than I can ever recall, and will assist greatly in maintaining a long line of vision for train drivers this year. The mutual benefits of this scheme may enable further benefit to both parties later this year, so thank you, Michael, and thanks to your operators, Bob and Bill.
On the Extension, the second week in February saw at last the laying of track past the second electricity pylon from the causeway on the Chase Terrace extension. Only a small part of the new section had been ballasted, but works trains traversed the line as it was laid to bed rails in the chairs. This occasion prompted the taking of an Official Photograph featuring the team who had laid three panels of track that weekend – is this a Chasewater record? Unfortunately, some of the working party were a little upset when, at the end of the Sunday, I asked for a huge stockpile of sleepers to be removed from the end of the extended line. This was so that, if I could get a machine to cut the drainage ditch alongside the new works, I could run it off the end of the track to extend the drainage to a wet spot some 15 yards from the railhead. Finances being as dismal as they usually are in the winter, hopes of hiring such a machine were greeted with a degree of derision. Still, with a wet spot ahead, and a poorly running ditch, no further tracklaying could proceed until these civils were carried out. A survey with a laser level revealed that the wet spot was also a low spot, part of a 100 yard stretch which dipped by 12” below the majority of the trackbed, and re-digging the ditch was confirmed as an essential prerequisite to further expansion. That Sunday night, as I watched the weather forecast, I learned that a fine and warm week was predicted. Having discussed the need to bring in plant with the Chairman and Treasurer, I was faced with a dilemma – I didn’t want the Railway to have to borrow money, yet here was a perfect opportunity to take a huge step forward. An evening of making merry followed by waking up on Monday a long way from home (Why does beer make you wake up in strange places?) led to a mental twist which revealed a way forward. Now I cannot reveal the name of the donor, but at 3 o’clock on that Monday afternoon, the Railway received a donation of £750 to be used strictly on the extension. A phone call confirmed that the weather forecast was still very hood. A further call, to Michael Clancy, revealed that his paying customers had heard the weather forecast too, and no suitable machines would be available for several weeks. Scouting around and begging other firms did no good, until Webb’s of Stafford offered a machine, albeit at commercial rates, less an amount for goodwill. A telephone call to track ganger DJ persuaded him to get a holiday day from work for the next day, after I told him that I had a scheme.
Tuesday morning dawned, a beautiful spring-like morning, and I set off to collect DJ. We arrived at Chasewater at 7.33am to find the machine and driver waiting for us. The road railer was on the rails and heading for Lakeside by 7.50, and I was in pursuit with the works train. DJ followed with the JCB, the idea being that he would load our ballast wagon with ash ballast; I would take the train to the ditch-digging machine on the extension, which would then turn and empty the ballast onto the track – two jobs for the price of one! The first load of ballast proved the method. The second load proved the JCB was knackered. The third load proved that when you are desperate and possessed you can produce a hired-in super-duper modern reliable JCB out of thin air, and get it at a good price. When the hired machine arrived at 11.00am, DJ almost fell over. This JCB was still in its original paint, only three years old, semi-automatic, and very, very quiet! We got stuck in hard, and until the road rail ditch digger finished at 5.30pm, ran ballast trains every fifteen minutes, just about keeping up with the ditching machine, and dropping two loads of ballast per panel of track. The entire section was ballasted by 5.10pm! As dusk approached, the ditcher reached the end of the line, and promptly drove off it.
Working under its own powerful lamplight, the excavator completed the ditch as far as the lowest point of the wet spot. I am very grateful to the driver from Webb’s, he knew that we could only afford the machine for one day, and by working very hard, had done all that we could ask him. Thanks to DJ too; apart from a meal break, he hadn’t rested for a moment – and at the end of the day, he hadn’t had a chance to even see the work done on the extension.
I was really proud of that day’s work, and now I could give the track gang a treat. On the pretext of needing a gang to move a buffer stop, I called the extension gang and asked them to come to Chasewater after work on Friday, just for an hour. Now, the diesel mantlers (as distinct from the diesel dis-mantlers) often perform on Fridays, and I asked them to prep the DMU for four o’clock on Friday. A large gang appeared, and I explained that we were not using the works train as the DMU needed a test run. Everybody piled on, and at warp factor fifteen (that’s 15 mph) we were soon approaching Lakeside. ‘Why aren’t we stopping?’ Someone asked, ‘the buffer stop is here’. But it wasn’t. The first work done by the road railer on Tuesday had been to shift the buffer stop from the ditch we had thrown it in last September. With everybody’s attention on the heath side of the line, someone called ‘Goodness Gracious’ or words to that effect. Stretching as far ahead as anyone could see, the drainage ditch, which some wag soon christened Clippies Canal, was full of running water.
The train stopped, everybody piled out, and then Arthur Edwards realised that the track had been ballasted as well. A walking inspection revealed that the wet spot (which I can remember being there in the early 1970s) was draining well. Even DJ, who had been in on the job, was astonished to see how much we had achieved. It was time to break out the beers, what a good job Ken Dude was driving back and I was now off-duty! I looked back to two of the track gang, and smiled as I realised that one of them was so deeply chuffed that he had started to test the drainage ditch, one tear at a time.
Having given the track gang the materials to pack and level the track, it was now possible to consider clearing the forest that had grown up over the next 400 yards of trackbed. If we were to lay track during the summer, we needed to get the impeding trees down before the nesting season started. Over a fortnight, the brush was demolished, and, as I write, the last of the trees are lying down, awaiting disposal; the great thing is, from a short distance away from the track, the wood looks untouched, because the woodland either side of the track has spread so much over recent years. Every time the woodcutting party returns to the works train, we are astonished at the rate at which the track gang are levelling, packing and aligning the track. At this rate, if we had the sleepers, we could complete the extension this year!