Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The disassembly continues: Bearings, Axles and Wheels.

Having removed the wheelsets from the frames, it's time to have a look at the state of the bearings, axles, and wheels.  Hold your breath!

The axleboxes are in two parts, both iron castings. The upper section holds the brass bearing and the lower, two fabric wipers that apply lubrication to the axle and retain any grit particles. Avonside had a simple and elegant method of securing the castings together: two steel pins (with a slight interference fit) pass through them and they are easily tapped out. 

We separated the axleboxes with some trepidation as we'd already found notable scoring on the valve gear's brass bearings, which means they will have to be re-made. We needn't have worried - both the axles and their bearings are in excellent condition and require very little work to bring them into first class condition. Unlike most British lines, The Royal Arsenal Railway had an abhorrence of whitemetal in bearings and none is present in 'Woolwich' although the 'slippers' on the sides of the axles boxes are whitemetal. These look good, but at the time of writing haven't been measured to ascertain whether replacement is required.

Whilst the bearing's condition is heartening, the rear right hand axlebox castings had a nasty surprise for us. We noticed that the securing pins were missing from one side yet the lower section was stuck fast in the upper. After much elbow grease it was discovered that the upper casting had been badly damaged, perhaps by dropping it during an overhaul. The missing metal had been replaced by stainless steel weld metal, built up to approximately the correct shape and then roughly filed down. The lower casting had then been forced into the other to give a very tight fit. This is probably the worst damage we've encountered and as you'll see, repairs are now underway.

Take a glance at our close-up photos of all the parts cleaned up.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Removal Day.

The renovation of Woolwich goes on relentlessly and this update marks one year of our labours.  Will it end? Yes it will, in 2013, when we'll see the fruits of our labours.  For now, it's time to lift the mainframes to allow the wheels and axle-boxes to be withdrawn. The frames are in really very good condition. They are straight and the only corrosion is surface rust on a stiffening plate beneath the smokebox.

Rather than bring in a crane we decided to do the job 'in house' using lifting gantries with blocks and tackle. Once all the equipment had been checked for safety a larger than usual group assembled to remove the last components from the frames in the morning and conduct the lift in the afternoon.

The frames were lifted twice; firstly just the front end to remove the brake rodding and secondly to withdraw the wheelsets. A curious feature of the locos design is that it's impossible to dismantle the brake rods without removing their entire assembly. Removing said assembly is equally impossible unless Woolwich is either over an inspection pit or raised. No wonder the accident damage they've incurred has never been repaired.

Peter Letchford and Richard Seager took charge of the lift as both have a great deal of relevant professional experience. Not surprisingly they did a great job, with the heavy frames so perfectly suspended that a ball bearing would not roll if placed on them. The wheelsets didn't bind at all and once they'd rolled out the operation was completed by gently lowering the mainframes onto wooden blocks.

A most useful day's work that introduced the gantries to our arsenal of equipment. Many thanks to Kew Bridge Steam Museum for supplying them to Crossness. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

WOOLWICH's Coat of Many Colours.

After the boiler was lifted we concentrated on stripping the mainframes. One of the locomotive's previous owners, the Bicton Woodland Railway, has a distinctive livery of blue and bright red. They must be very proud of that livery as we found 14 coats of red!

A small milestone was passed when John Mitchell, Tony Banks, and Gerry Evans finished removing the paint and filth from the boiler cleading. This is the first part of the locomotive to be made ready for paint. That new paint will not be either red or blue, rather the Royal Arsenal's dignified Light Brunswick Green. A tiny patch survived for us to confirm the exact colour and this was further confirmed by the gentleman who had been in charge of the Arsenal's paint stores when she had an extensive overhaul in 1954. As this blog continues you'll see less and less red and no blue at all. The only red on the outside of Woolwich will be her fly-cranks.

Stripping the frames means removing Woolwich's unique buffing arrangement. Both buffers are dumb (solid blocks of wood) but are mounted on a sprung 'Buffing Plate'. This is a remarkably flexible arrangement, very useful for trains that have to traverse sharp curves. Peter Letchford and his chums from the Gravesend and District Model Engineering Society took removal of the buffing plates in hand and quickly found more than they'd bargained for. They discovered that Woolwich has had a heavy collision at some time and both front and rear plates were buckled inwards. That left them extremely difficult to remove as the inward force had caused the guide rods which locate in the main buffer beam to splay outwards. As a result they jarred with their locating holes when it was attempted to pull them out. A great deal of hard work and brute force had to be brought into play. Our photo album speaks a thousand words about this!

Richard Seager brought his practical locomotive experience to bear on the valve gear, which he stripped down rapidly. A discussion of her valve gear on an online forum led to a visit by a senior member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Joe Cliffe. He's one of a handful of men who knew and worked with the great locomotive designer Sir William Stanier. He's not the first eminent engineer to visit 'Woolwich'. Proof that we're not the only people to know that she's a very special engine?

Expect to see many more updates over the next few weeks!  In the meantime, take a look at our progress in pictures.

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Ever-Shrinking WOOLWICH: boiler removal

To remove the boiler, we had to call on a little help from our neighbours and their heavy lifting gear.  It took three separate lifts to move the boiler to where we wanted it.

The bulky boiler lifted by crane.  The 'firebox' end of the boiler was the heavier end by far; you can see it tilting slightly in the picture on the left.

The boiler was placed safely on the ground, and preparations were made for the second lift.  The boiler has to be positioned on its' side to allow the team access to work on it.  Rolling the very heavy boiler onto its' side is a very delicate operation, as any knocks and bumps could damage the structure.    As seen on the right, small baulks were positioned next to the boiler to control the movement.

The third and final lift moved the boiler from the floor to a waiting trolley.  Again, you can see on the left just how much heavier the 'firebox' end of the boiler is!

We can all relax once it's safely on the trolley.  Of course, it's opened up an even bigger list of jobs to do, such as removing the ash pan / lower firebox, and the injectors.

Here's the first clear view we had of what was waiting for us under the boiler:

Watch the boiler lift from start to finish on our photo album.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Keeping RECRUITS busy.

Ian and Richard S take a breather
We all had a bit of a rest over Christmas and the new year but in January, work got going again with a vengeance and we've been joined by new volunteers Richard Dean and Richard Seager.

Lifting Woolwich's boiler is imminent and Richard Seager has conducted an initial ultrasonic test. The results are heartening for now but show that operating pressure may have to be reduced unless heavy platework repairs are conducted. Reduced pressure is no problem, and the boiler's remarkable considering that it started life 96 ago!
Richard D and the offending cab roof

Richard Dean spent a sweaty day chiselling the bitumastic paint off Woolwich's cab roof, his first day's work at Crossness. It was originally painted gloss black and it will be again. The two circular plates on the roof are for filling the fuel tanks from above. They were never used but we'll ensure they're kept intact. There's still a lot of the horrible bitumastic to strip, a filthy job.

John Mitchell has been soldiering away at the seemingly endless task of cleaning the encrustation from the cleading.  This requires immense patience, which John seems to have plenty of.  Scraping paint by hand is time consuming but ultimately rewarding.    
Incognito John with project in hand

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Exposing the BOILER

Removing oil tanks
We got to a stage where the oil tanks had to be moved.  Although now held on with just two bolts, they were very heavy, requiring some mechanical assistance.

We were then at a stage where we could get to the cleading - the proper name for the cladding around the boiler.  Woolwich's galvanised steel cleading is thankfully in good condition, which means that it can be reused.  Once the remaining rivets had been removed, the cleading had to be gently detached and lifted away from the boiler.
The last of the insulation

Under the cleading, the insulation is made from aluminium-backed glass fibre.  It's all that stands in the way between us and the boiler, and we're desperate to see it.  The condition of the boiler is critical to the restoration of Woolwich.    

View the full story in glorious detail here.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

See YOU on Sunday

Are you interested in the restoration and future operation of the Royal Arsenal narrow gauge railway?  We're holding a railway 'meet' for all current and prospective volunteers, and you're invited.

Come to Crossness Engines Trust on Sunday 26 February to find out more;  there will be two illustrated talks, the first on 18 inch gauge railways, the second on the extensive system operated by Woolwich Arsenal.  

Our equipment is currently on long term loan from The Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey, however the locomotive Woolwich once used to call the Arsenal home. 

Admission is free and access is available from 11am to 3pm.