Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A concrete matter

Backed with a new supply of materials, we split into two gangs today.

Gang No.1 with Paul and Dave P began the work of extending the existing length of platform wall towards the southern extremity. This means building towers to position the build in the correct place and the correct height. It's quite slow work. You start from nothing, keep measuring, adjusting, removing the block again to add extra mortar, checking the height again. Here Paul checks the distance from the track. A large supply of new blocks features in the background.

That said, you still have to load them in a barrow and take them the last few yards. Here Dave brings more blocks while Paul checks the level of the topmost block of the tower he has just built by the second catch pit.
This catch pit will not be built around like the first one, but will be encased in the platform (it is a bit further back than the other one) and will be accessible from the top.
In the background is Jim H, who was part of the second gang. He has a barrow full of concrete freshly made, and is going downhill, so that's no effort, is it?.

A few seconds later, Jim is well away down the four foot, while Paul and Dave P check the position of the first tower against the track gauges in the background.
'Ere we go...
The second gang consisted of Dave D on the mixer, Jim at the controls of the barrow, and Lyndon with yours truly heaving the barrow on top of the wall and stuffing the concrete down the holes.

This is the satisfying bit, as the fairly liquid mixture is poured down the holes, four blocks deep. In every other block there is a rebar, and every few feet a weep hole form the back with a pipe in it. All this is now solidly fixed in concrete.

Poor old Dave D at the top of the slope was shovelling ballast in the mixer like there was no tomorrow, and wondering where it was all going, and if there wasn't some sort of hole at the bottom of the wall where it was secretly all running out again.

So we decided to keep a record of what went in, and from time to time Dave came down to see what was happening with the fruits of his labour.

At the end of the day he had mixed up both remaining dumpy bags of ballast, about two tons worth. This made 20 wheelbarrows of mix - Lyndon is chalking up the last one here - and this resulted in the length of 15 blocks that was filled. We have another 33 on the current stretch of platform to go, say another two days' worth,  as we ran out of ballast before the end of the day. We are now low on cement again, and the ballast has all gone - note to Central Purchasing!

Paul and Dave's first tower - lovely, isn't it?
At lunch time, we had a visitor! The class 73 trundled by slowly with a Mk1 in tow. Just like the old Coffeepot, but a modern version - a loco and a single carriage.
The wall fitted perfectly, it even has a curve to it.

After lunch, we can see Dave P in a pensive mood pointing up one of the new towers.

During the day, he and Paul set up 4 of these towers, and they now define the size and shape of the rest of the platform. Each tower consists of 10 blocks, so that is 40 blocks laid in a day, a very good result for a single team.

A tricky bit revealed itself in the late afternoon, when the step in the foundations was tackled. This step was the result of a small shortfall in the concrete delivered at the time, and it wasn't worth ordering another load, only for most of it to be wasted. It was therefore decided to create a step leading to a lower part of the foundations. Unfortunately, it was just a bit higher than a single block, what now?

The darned thing was that the break was also not in the right place for whole blocks to be used. Dave D can be seen here trying out various options. Hmmmm...

With a trial row of blocks in place with a minimum bed of mortar, what was the level like?

Still too high !

Next week will no doubt produce the answer to this puzzle.

While the block laying team were scratching their heads, Jim and Lyndon spent the last hour of the day positioning a fresh supply of blocks for the next day, when the towers will start to be linked. This is the area around the second catch pit - you can just see a corner of it behind the tower on the right.

Our last shot of the day, always taken from the same spot, shows the wall up to around the half way mark, with the four new towers in the far distance. Concrete was poured into the voids from the return around the catch pit up to the point where Lyndon is standing, about a third of the way down to the current end.

A fifth row still needs to be built all the way along the back, leaving a row at the front for the corbelling. We will build this row once the concrete is in all the holes.

This Friday for 4 weeks will see operating days, so our team at Hayles will only be able to work on Mondays. Paul is now off on holiday for two Mondays, but Jim G is back, after sailing down the river Severn on a narrow boat. See you again next Monday then.

Last but not least another little fossil puzzle for our readers. Dave P found this one in the area of the field on the other side of the fence to the site, so not in the clay but among the debris of Cotswold stone.

At first sight it looked like an old button, but on further inspection you can see a lot of fine grooves like umbrella spines radiating from the top. Would this be a sort of sea urchin, an Echinoid?

Friday, 22 July 2016

The blocks are back!

The sun was out in force today, and we were reminded of the great Adrian Cronauer, with the following conversation:

What's it like, soldier, out there in the jungle?
It's hat, damned hat !

It was certainly hot, and we had no shade until the middle of the afternoon.

At 9am, Foremarke Hall rumbled by, on its way to Winchcombe for a driver experience day.

This passing released us to get down to the track, and the first thing we did was break open one of the two pallets of 40 concrete blocks, which have now been delivered. We need supplies down there to lay.

More sand and cement have also arrived, so we are 'go'.

The two pallets at Hayles are part of a consignment of 14 pallets, the other 12 being at Winchcombe, waiting for the final 2 miles to Hayles. Our first job then was not block laying, but lifting concrete blocks into barrows for wheeling down to the 'coal face' where laying would continue. There was a brief hold up while we debated where exactly they should be stacked.

Meanwhile, John had brought the hedge clippers and was put to good use freeing up the area behind the blockwork, which was being invaded by the rampant greenery. We were very grateful, the brambles, nettles and thistles make a mess of your bare arms and legs here.

Up at the top, Jim and Tim arranged for a fresh supply of water, as we have gotten through almost a cubic meter of it so far (mostly in tea, some would say, but actually it went into the mixer!). The water is offered to us by a friendly neighbour from the cottages nearby, but it needs a very long hosepipe.

This was followed by a 'professional' discussion about what to do next. In the background you can see the water container slowly filling - this took over 2 hours.

Then there was a toot from the trackbed, and to our joy, Neil arrived with a truck load of 80 blocks from Winchcombe. Now that's more like it, no more barrows now.

These were easily unloaded by a chain gang of 6 volunteers, walking in a circle and picking up a block each time they passed the truck. It took no time at all, so much so that Neil offered to get a second load of 80. Oh no !

This was also unloaded, a little more slowly this time. With the 40 brought down from topside, that makes 200 blocks moved today, and not a single one laid yet.

An extended rest was called for, luckily the stacks made a handy bench to sit on.  Some then went back topside for an additional cup of tea, whaaat? The lure of doughnuts we suppose, rest or not, we're having our share.

From the road bridge you can see where we worked today. There were 8 of us, although not all in the photograph as 2 were topside, and one stood on the bridge... getting an extension lead from the boot of the car, we should hasten to add.

The first job today was to knock through some more holes to take the weepage pipes. Jim H had come extensively equipped with SDS drill, Hilti, drill bits, chisel bits, leads and a generator, until Paul calmly walked up and knocked out the holes with his lump hammer. Oh well, we could still drill out the inner parts.

 The main job today was to lay the fourth row of blocks along the section we have started (which is in fact about half the total length of two coaches). This involved two teams, one at each end. Between them, they laid 62 blocks today, which we felt was good given the effort on the block delivery that came first.

In the distance you can see Paul on something else.

Paul in fact put up a pier for next time, which would allow us to lay a rear and fifth course of blocks. These will back up the three rows of corbelling bricks which will come in front. But first we have to fill the voids with concrete, a start on which was made last time.

It was indeed damned hat. Jim G finally cracked towards the end of the day and splashed himself with water from the bucket.

Lovely !

Others were in sun hats, wore shorts, put on sun cream. Only in the later afternoon was there a small amount of shade next to the container, when the sun had moved round a bit.

Here you can see Dave and Jim backing up the 4th row of blocks. They had a rare break as they waited for a fresh supply of mortar.

The last shot of the day shows the first half of the wall now up to 4 blocks front and back.

Still do do:
- Put a fifth row of blocks on the rear
- Complete drilling through the weep holes (and knock them into the blocks, before laying next time)
- Extend the wall southwards
- Put a drain pipe in the rear
- Fill the voids with concrete.

Quiet a few bits to go then. And during August we can only work Mondays, as Friday is a running day for the next 4 weeks. We meet again this coming Monday, but not the Friday thereafter, and that for 4 weeks.

At the end of the day, we received a visit from the circus, and a 'Human Canonball'... Careful where you aim that thing, Andy, it could be lethal in the wrong hands.

Friday, 15 July 2016


The B&S gang have been out and about, with several jobs going on at once. The job on the porch at the Toddington offices is still work in progress, due to some modifications required and added extras that appear on the list.

The pipe that is being relocated in the yard at Winchcombe has no stop tap, it has been discovered! Cut through it, and you have to turn off the main tap for the whole yard site. A new stop tap specially for this extension will now be manufactured, and with it a new chamber to access it. Things are never a simple as they seem, are they?

A lot of hard work has been devoted to the slagstone wall at CRC. You may recall that the slope above it has been relieved of excess weight on it, while there has also been a fall of the slagstone down the approach path, and at the bottom.

This is the situation when work started - the decorative wall has fallen over at this point, and the area was cordoned off.

Pete and the gang took the wall to pieces and slowly rebuilt it again on this corner (not all of it came down).

You can imagine that the work is quite onerous, as the individual stones are heavy, and they have to be lifted into place one by one.

A number were secured with mortar, although this was not the case originally, and it should be more secure in this way.

It was agreed that so far, the works on the slope have been successful, and it seems to be stable now. That's a relief then.

A bit further up the approach path another area was also addressed. The wall along the path is now done.

The footbridge at Winchcombe saw an accidental fall the other day. It's a bit ironic, but Pat put on a patch of non slip surface at the top, and then someone trips on the steps a bit further along.

The bridge itself is not to blame, but to be on the safe side it was decided to paint the steps with a non slip surface as well. This stands out quite brightly as the colour is yellow

Also at Winchcombe there is likely to be a major roof repair on the booking office, following reports of water running down the walls in more than one place. On inspection there are some tears in the roof covering, so watch this space for further reports of corrective action being undertaken here.

The Elf centre is going to be used for one final turn this Christmas, before replacement by a new building, whose design is based on the former goods shed at Ashburton.

Pending its replacement next year, the B&S gang is going to spruce up the Elf Centre one more time, for its final Christmas before its departure to a new home elsewhere.

Hayles Abbey Halt.

No progress this time - have we run out of sausages? No, almost as bad, we have run out of blocks, cement and sand. More supplies were ordered two weeks ago, but the earliest time we can expect them is next Tuesday. No work on Monday either therefore, but possibly a week today.

The puzzle posed last week about a bullet shaped object found in the clay was solved by a blog reader - see the comments to the previous posting. Well done, blog readers ! You are all highly intelligent.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Dark skies

After only 5 volunteers on Friday, we were back to 9 today, with lots of visitors, all of which made demands on tea, doughnuts and chairs. Strangely, many of the visitors materialised just as the kettle went on, how do they know?

It was a day of strong sunshine, interspersed with heavy tropical showers. We dodged these by sheltering under the bridge, but luckily they didn't really hold up the work.

Before heading down to the trackbed, we made contact with Ops and were advised to wait until the only train of the day had passed - Foremarke Hall on its way to Winchcombe for a day of filming.

7903 passes the site of Hayles Abbey halt. The concrete blocks will be faced with wood to simulate the original wooden construction.
The first job of the day then was to fetch the remaining concrete blocks, ready for laying in a third and fourth course.

Julian and Dave attack the pile with a rather small barrow. If you took a block out, it fell over !

At the other end, Lyndon was there to unload them, and pile them on to the third course at the front.

A second barrow was then fetched down to speed things up a bit, and you can see it being loaded in the background.

Two barrows on a single track... who has the token?

Lyndon is running 'light engine' so has to give way to Dave with the 'heavy freight'.

After waiting for the only train of the day, and moving about 40 blocks, it was already time for tea and doughnuts. Always the best part of the day.

One-two-three Tea Up !

Then came the serious business of actually laying the 50 blocks we still had. This picture shows Dave at work with a huge pile of mortar, but quite necessary as the blockwork takes up a lot of it. In fact there was a worry that we would run out of sand today, as we had only less than a  full dumpy bag left, but in the end sand and blocks matched each other pretty well, and now there are none of either left at all.

Dave spreads a line of mortar on the outline of the block, and the heavy block, usually laid by two people (if they aren't off taking photographs...) is laid on top very gently so as not to squash the bed of mortar underneath. The block is then tapped down with the rubber mallet until it lines up with the line in front, or as in this case, the forward blockwork. It is then checked for level, and the gaps are filled in.

We were pretty impressed by Dave's rather professional activity, until he let slip that the last thing he built was a pigsty! That would explain the troughing then.

Sometimes the mortar has dried out a bit, and it is a fag having to drag back up the hill to the tank to get some water. Dave had the bright idea of using the water in the nearby catchpit, and for this he brought a bucket on a rope today.

There was only one problem -  as in the song, there was a hole in his bucket. Ah.

Dave and yours truly worked north, while Tim and Julian worked south. Here is where we met, with Julian dropping in the last block of the third row in the rear section.

What is (other) Dave doing the in the background though? He seems to be on his hands and knees?

Dave was trying to knock a hole through the wall from front to back, to allow a weepage pipe to be inserted. We were assured that this would be easier once the blocks were in place, but that was wrong. It was harder. We should have chipped out the holes before we laid the blocks. Now we know.

The hole in the corner was even more difficult. Dave is even lower than his hands and knees.

After a while and looking at the trousers, it becomes apparent who does all the hard work around here, and who does the arm waving. Is that the remains of a crease we can see there?

For lunch Paul once again had a treat in store for us - sausages in baps ! These proved very popular with our 11 guests. The high number meant that once again we ran out of chairs (now up to 9) and two people had to sit on sacks of cement to drink their tea, now replenished from two kettles at once. We are running a bit behind events with our logistics here.

After lunch Paul set out a new, fourth line along the front of the wall. The block below his elbow has just been laid as a pier, and Paul and Dave are checking it off the running rail to make sure the height is correct. In the background there is an ominous accumulation of clouds forming.

The last of our supply of 480 blocks is being laid here near the catch pit return, where a start was made on the fourth row on the rear. All of our blocks are now used up (well, except four; these are holding up Paul's stove and resistance to using those was fierce) and all of the sand too. The resupply, ordered last week, has still not arrived, and the latest news here is that it may come this Friday.

The clouds are getting darker. This idyll won't last much longer...

With all the blocks and mortar now used up, we started a new activity - filling in the voids in the 4 rows of blocks with concrete. Jim H has built a rather ingenious roadway of spot boards and pallets, which allowed him to wheel in one uninterrupted move loads of barrows of concrete from the mixer at the top, along the 4 foot and straight into the tops of the voids. Lyndon and John are stuffing the concrete flow down into the holes, and tamping it to make sure there are no air holes.

At the end of the day, we had got this far: concrete pouring has started by the ramp you can see centre left, while three rows of blocks are completed now all the way to the half way point, with the fourth row, both front and back, well under way.

Once the fourth row is on, and all the voids concreted in, then three rows of corbelling will be laid at the front, backed up by a fifth row of blocks at the rear. On top of that; the CRC2 slabs.

With the uncertainty about supplies, Friday this week still needs to be confirmed as a working date, so check your emails.

A final picture today is a puzzle - can our readers solve it?

Out of the clay at Hayles came this bullet shaped object. It is in fact larger than a bullet, and seems broken off at the rear.

What is it?

Answer next time (it took us a while to puzzle that one out, but we got there).