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Saturday, 13 June 2015

Enthusiasts Do The Weirdest Things

Once upon a time, hanging on the railway room wall, I had a single piece of ballast stone mounted on a plaque. It was picked up from the track bed of a long closed and abandoned branch line. To anyone else it was a bizarre thing to have but for me it was a reminder of that branch line and the traffic it carried in its heyday. That piece of  memorabilia was taken down and dismantled long ago but I did come across the stone in a storage box recently.

The next piece of memorabilia to cross my path was a railway sleeper with screw fixing holes for 3-hole rail chairs, given to me by a family member. That sleeper was crying out to have the chairs reinstated and so began quite a lengthy project to install a genuine piece of LSWR track as a garden feature (LSWR being my favourite railway company). It was a long time coming, like a year or two, because I had to wait for parts to turn up on Ebay and then win the auctions.


Having bought the rail chairs (made in 1880 and 1881) I discovered their holes did not line up with those on the sleeper and in fact the orientation was a mirror image! I think the holes in the sleeper are for a later BR style of chair.

Initially, I assumed I would need to source rail screws for fixing the chairs and noted the holes in the chairs were much larger than the screw shank so, some kind of ferrule spacer would be needed as well. It was whilst researching this that I found that early LSWR chairs did not use screws but things called trenails and metal pins. This was going to get a whole lot more complicated.

Following this drawing I realised that I had to make the tapered oak trenails since the chances of obtaining them ready made was slim. The tools available to me are quite basic, a Black and Decker workbench, hand saw, electric drill and smoothing wood plane together with an essential spokeshave. No matter how I tried, drilling a hole straight through the middle of the oak for the metal pin did not work out. Either I drilled through at an angle or the wood split.


I decided to drill only part way through and fit a dummy pin, essentially just a head on a short stub. These were designed in CAD and 3D printed in plastic.


Oak keys for holding the rail in the chair were cut and planed from oak. There was a drawing on the web for these but I have lost the source.


The final part to obtain was some railway ballast. No good going to your local builders merchant. They don't sell it. Searching the web for suppliers of reclaimed railway ballast generally threw up large aggregate suppliers who would be happy to sell me a 20 tonne lorry load! But, then I came across Mid Hants Natural Materials a Hampshire supplier who offers reclaimed railway ballast and is happy to supply domestic customers with small quantities. Price is quite reasonable if you are able to collect it yourself. I bought 300 kgs in 10x30kg bags for this project.

The rail by the way is 19th century 82lb/yd double headed. The running edge of the rail is noticeably worn from years of railway stock running along it. I cleaned up and painted the metal work with car paints for a close match to real weathered rails.

A nice piece of railway heritage in the garden.

Is that weird or what?
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