Watercress Line

Due to the COVID-19 emergency the Watercress Line Mid Hants Railway is temporarily closed to the public. The safety of our staff, volunteers and visitors is our most important consideration. You will know that the Watercress Line relies on ticket revenue to cover its operational costs, which currently work out more than £75,000 a month. Without money coming in from running services, the railway is eating into its financial reserves to survive. If you can help, please click on the Virgin Money Giving link below which allows you to donate a single amount or pay monthly if you're able to. You can also text WATERCRESS to 70085 to donate £10, texts cost £10 plus one standard rate message. Thank you for continuing to support us during this unprecedented situation. We hope to be able to welcome you back to the Watercress Line soon.

Ropley Loco Weds Gang - 21st August 2019 - A Time for Reflection?

I set out yesterday, with camera and enthusiasm fully charged, determined to write a Loco Wednesday Gang Blog.  The event that triggered this was a recent birthday - not a “big one” but when you’re past 70, they are all a bonus – and also the recent death of one of the Wednesday Gang regulars, the always-cheerful Roy.

We’re a happy lot, even in acute adversity, and it caused me to reflect on all the Wednesday Gang people that have come and gone in the 9 years since I hesitantly stepped into “Ropley Manor” for morning tea.   I say “hesitantly” not because of my total lack of engineering skills, nor the challenge of working with a new lot of volunteers, but mainly because I didn’t want to fall through the holes in the floor of the 1960’s portacabin that we then called home.  Back in those days, we weren’t called the “Wednesday Gang” and we (un)comfortably squeezed around a table that accommodated eight for morning tea.  The foreman (Frank) would gather us up after morning tea and send us on our way to do various jobs, for which he knew we were equipped, or he’d take us to our tasks and show us how to do them. Happy days!!

After a while, Dave-the-ex-scribe and I realised that we could contribute more if we built up the gang, and so we adopted our present name “Loco Wednesday Gang” (to avoid upsetting the gardening Wednesday Gang), and started publishing weekly or fortnightly blogs.  For several years there was always something new to report on, so we shared the load and produced 300-400 blogs - this is now my 177th blog.  It had the desired effect – it helped to build up Wednesday Gang numbers and I think it’s fair to say it helped build a sense of shared-purpose amongst us all.  In that 9 years, a couple of regulars have passed away, a couple have retired due to ill health, a few have re-located away from Hampshire, and a few have moved to other duties or changed their day in the workshop - but most have stayed. I really can’t recall more than a couple of people who have joined the Wednesday Gang and just decided it wasn’t their cup of tea.

Back to yesterday, on arrival in the mess, it tumed out that it wasn’t going to be anyone’s cup of tea, as we’d run out of tea bags (see how I did that!). Worse still, we faced a cake shortage due to the non-arrival of a pledged cake.  Both were fairly easily resolved – the first by swiping tea bags from the station-master’s office, and the second by slicing the one cake thinner to give the illusion of more slices.

Dave Sibley came in for “morning prayers” – that’s where he prays for us to get some of the jobs on the whiteboard done – and asked for a couple of heroes to go to Eastleigh to collect a few bits of CanPac’s boiler cladding. We all looked at one another, and the first to blink were Mike and Richard. You can see the “few bits” in the pictures below.  Russian John, with a bit of occasional help, went off to shovel the pit, Aussie John, Andy and George went to dispose of bits of defective shelving from one of the containers, Michael and Bob-the-welder went to pour some white metal, Morley went to mend some electrics, Petersfield-Pete tucked into some CAD work, and Ian went to do something to a boiler.  The rest of us formed up into our usual gangs to work on the projects we’ve been pursuing for several months now.

Les and the bogie-men were inexplicably missing yesterday, and the only trace of their existence was the locked box where their “book of thous” is kept.  They are slowly progressing through Swanage’s axle horn-blocks, machining them to be flat and true. As they were missing, I’m afraid there are no pictures of them and their contraption in this blog – but you’ve seen them before.

The CanPac tender gang have been drilling a lot of holes lately – mainly in preparation to fit new buffer beam and dragbox components. This had gone fairly well until they tried offering up the large, heavy plate that forms the underside of the dragbox.  After a few attempts to get it into place, it became apparent that it was going to need a bit of tweaking to make it fit into it’s recess. 

Alan and I continued on our project to re-bush all of CanPacs tender brake-gear components and make replacement pins.  In case you ever wondered why locomotive overhauls take so long, this project is a good example.  When we started, we counted 89 bushes and 45 pins to be made, of varying shapes and sizes. With 2-3 of us working on it, we’re halfway through the bushes and about a quarter of the way through the pins.  It’s a long slow job as each bit takes about a day, and very few bits are identical to one another.  As this will carry on for several months, I decided to extend my geriatric apprenticeship and learn how to work a lathe again – something I haven’t done for 55 years. My intention was that I’d do the roughing-out and leave the time-consuming and very skilled  finishing work to Alan and Dave, but my apprentice master (Alan) seems determined to make me capable of working to the extremely tight tolerances required for these pesky bits.  The attention to accuracy paid off as our completed bushes were within 2 thou of target and pressed in very nicely.

The moral of this story, is that you don’t have to have a lot of technical skill to make a contribution at Ropley. So if you’re thinking of volunteering in the workshops, why not give it a try.

And lastly, I had a secret look at 30925 Cheltenham in the wheel-drop shed. It has a few more bits to be fitted after it’s new coat of paint and I can’t show you any pictures yet – but you will want to see it when it is re-launched.

Under Assistant Ropley Scribe

Photo gallery