Monday, 20 February 2017

Post, post, post.

It was a beautiful spring day today. The larks were out, the sun was shining, and we sat outside in the sun with all thoughts of winter forgotten. We knew it was spring, as Dave P arrived sporting a pair of sunglasses, the optimist.

Here we are enjoying our tea and doughnuts. Lucky the Dalmatian has arrived and today was a test for his new strategy: Instead of scanning the whole container, and all its occupants, the new plan is to...

...focus all attention on a single victim!

Jim H was selected as having the largest remaining piece, and most likely to give it up.

An intense stare plays a part in the new strategy.

If it doesn't work, edge closer.

The victim will recoil, holding the last scrap of doughnut closer to his mouth.

Edge closer still, until the jaws rest on his knees...

Success! High Five! (should that be 'High Paws'?) . Jim finally relented, and gave up the last piece, nearly losing a finger in the process.

While this jolity went on, Dave P and Peter were at Winchcombe, retrieving a final 4 slabs from the pile behind the B&S hut. They were put on the forklift and driven to Hayles over the trackbed.

Duly refreshed with tea, we went about the site to size up the two jobs for today - placing of edging slabs, and making a start on the posts that will support the old fashioned handrail down to the platform.

Julian and John placed a number of fence posts along the path, which will lead from the turn on the path above, down to where the hut will be placed.

The method of construction was taken from historical photographs, so the posts will have a triangular top (to divert rainwater) and a length of galvanised water pipe through holes drilled into the upper parts of them.

We won't be drilling just yet, as the posts have to be set in concrete first.

The posts went in pleasingly quickly, so that by elevenses most were in, while the slabbing team, after arrival of the Telehandler with the 4 extra ones, just got going on the 'home run' at the southern end of the platform.

John M was on mortar making duty today, and produced this fine looking barrow load, which he duly slapped on the brickwork, ready for the next slab. This was to be a monster one, over 6 feet long.

As the slabs, ex CRC2, are made of natural stone, they come in all sorts of lengths, and some of them are twice as long as others.

Dave D once again volunteered to do the prepping and cutting. We even bought him a new blade. Despite being diamond tipped, they wear out at alarming speed, lasting as little as 4 slabs.

Here the Telehandler is bringing 'the monster' slab down from the cutting area.

Being so long, these ones are difficult to manoeuvre in the final few inches. Pete in the Telehandler was asked several times to fine tune his positioning, so that it would drop down square. In this picture, it clearly won't! Of course the Telehandler can't make any lateral movements, only forwards and backwards, up and down. Out, and back again, please!

On one of the many manoeuverings, you can see how far down the platform they now are.

They are getting nearer and nearer to the southern end of the level bit, then it's down the slope. Will they finish today?

Nearly at the end of the level bit, it was decided to switch to the slope, and work back up hill, leaning on the one slab positioned last week. Clever, see?

Paul has the 'stomper', its end now rather splintered. It's done a lot of stomping by now.

Jim was team leader for placing in the half hour before lunch, as Paul went off to fry the bacon. Such an aroma that generates, there was hardly any need to call the gang to eat. They knew.

An examination of the footwear today gives you a hint of who was on slab cutting duty today. Or did he come to work with blanco'd boots? Some people have a neatness thing.

A further footwear observation, what is going on here? Who is it, and did he really walk round the site like that? (he did!). Well, the pension only comes in at the end of the month, and we must make do and mend.

Here's a shot of the handrail posts, all in.

You can really see the shape of the path now.

They still need creosoting, the tops cutting to a triangle, and that painted white. (after investigation of the historical photographs).

The last slab laid today was also on the slope. We did not in fact finish this job today, we we nearly got there though. The short missing bit is behind Paul's head, so it almost looks as if all the slabs are on.

Here's an updated overview of new Hayles Abbey Halt, taken a few moments earlier. Starting to look like something, isn't it? The Cotswolds are looking a bit greener again too, spring is on its way. The mud has gone, we can walk down the path without ending up with giant cakes round our boots, and the wheelbarrows with 9 inch wide tyres. Bad days, they were.

Finally, a request for a historical picture or memories:

This is the stationmaster's house at Toddington. Tom, the current owner, has asked us if we have any photographs or memories of the house before the 1980s. Anyone who can contribute something about the history of this or the other stationmasters houses, please get in touch through breva2011 (at)

We have established that the stationmaster's houses at Broadway, Toddington and Winchcombe were apparently identical, except for different tones in the stone used. They did not originally have a bathroom, and usually one of the bedrooms was sacrificed to provide one at a later date. Needless to say, they didn't have a garage either, that was added more recently.

Any help with the history would be gratefully received.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Slab, slab, slab

That was the name of the game today, we did slabbing all day long.

There was bright sunshine, but a bitterly cold wind, and on arrival we found all the volunteers crammed into the container, to gain a few extra degrees of warmth, and a cup of tea.

Paul was 'mother' and poured out a length of mugs of the brew.

Doughnuts were available too, but due to an error in the supply chain, these were the cheaper sort, with a great big hole in the middle,  where the jam ought to be.

Hey, these aren't doughnuts!

After a while of huddling, there was no option but to get Minnie out and start her up. She started second pull again, we are now wise to her ways. A brimming barrow soon headed north, bumpety-bump over the rough infill, with John struggling only slightly to get it all the way there intact.

Life's a bitch, but when he got there, he was told the barrow was actually needed at the other extremity of the platform.

Bumpety-bump all the way back again, and a bit further.

We had a slight change of laying order today, as it was found that once laid on the slope, the slabs subtly moved downhill a few millimeters. To prevent this happening, we moved on the southern end and laid a single slab at the bottom of the slope, and next time, when the mortar has gone off, we can lay the others against it, going uphill.
We completed laying the last 3 on the northern end, and the picture shows Julian filling in the cracks.

This is the last slab being laid on the northern end, a small milestone for us.

Paul and Jim stood back, and had to admire their handiwork. The top was so level, 'you could roll a marble along it'.

They are right, it did look good.

Here is Julian having a go on the stomper.

Paul and Peter discuss where the next blow should fall.

It's quite a skilled job. Whomp one end down, and the other goes up. So chose your target area carefully.

The pace of laying was determined by the cutting to square of the old slabs, many of which had rough edges or, as this one, an entire corner missing.

Dave soldiered on bravely on this, all day long. A magnificent effort. He emerged at the end, completely covered in white dust.

This newly cut slab was then carefully placed on the northern end, the one we said should go off and we could then lay the others up against it.

Without a reference point, great care had to be taken to get this one right.

A string line was drawn, and then it was stomped down with our patented fence post stomper.

After stomping, the gauge was got out. We laid it true to the gauge, but also to Jim G's eagle eye a few yards away.

Just in case, the northern end was also checked. Those slabs seem to move sneakily, when your back is turned.

After a while, a honk and an interuption - Batsford Timber arrivd with a roll of Terram.

This was manhandled behind the fence, and in the evening, into the container, together with about a dozen lengths of galvanised pipe for the handrails. These only fit in on the diagonal, and we have to get them out again every time we open up. They're a real nuisance - can we please build the handrails along the path soon?

The strong wind today also rolled back our sponsor's sheet, which we tied back on to the pallets on top. Another job done.

Dave not only cut each slab, but also chiselled away the spalling. That is, until he broke the chisel. Is that even possible? Chisels snap in half? Just how strong are you, Dave?
Not your fault, you say? Yeah, right....

After seeing to both ends and finishing off the northern slope, slab laying moved to the middle, from where we gradually progressed south.

We put in a further 9 slabs today, and reckon that another 11 or 12 are needed. So we are nearly there. One more long day's work should see us compete the slabbing.

We also had a nice bonfire to burn off the broken pallets, and try to dispose of the pile of tree roots that Stevie has piled up at the top of the path.

The isolated slab at the end of the southern slope can be seen bottom left.

Next to the slabbing, three volunteers also decided to tidy up the track. Having correctly exposed the tops of the sleepers, they shovelled the spare ballast up against the platform footings. It looks very neat now.

Here's a curiosity: On a whim, Julian decided to embed a 50p piece into the mortar he had just put into a joint. Will it stay there?

Two others, less generous than Julian (or less rich, they said, Julian having worked in a bank) decided to copy this, and embedded 20p, and the other, a miserly 1p coin. Bet that one survives the longest!

Rumours of a £1 coin being embedded proved groundless, there is a limit, after all.

At the end of the day, Peter took the Telehandler back to its home at Winchcombe. We loaded him up with bearers, which will be needed to support supplies of concrete sleepers when we resume work on the extension. There are reports of a resumption of ballasting at Childswickham as early as next week. (You read it here first!)

Our last, panorama shot shows the platform mid-afternoon. The northern slope is finished, and the slabs now extend about three quarters of the way down the platform. Everyone has stopped working here, and is watching gallant Dave, just to the left of the Telehandler, cut the last slab to shape. He's all white, the brave chap.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The last brick

Only 9 people today, and the temperature was only barely above freezing. That said, we did a brilliant day's work between us, stopped only by the slightly premature (vis-a-vis the BBC website) arrival of the rain.

Last week, the small flat truck was loaded at Winchcombe with more slabs for Hayles. It is now at last available for us to transport lots of slabs at once, now that it has done its job in transporting materials to and from the Winchcombe relay in the tunnel cutting.

First thing, Julian was already on site (he's very keen, our  Jules) and busy getting the kettle all steaming so that arrivals could enjoy a good cuppa on this frosty morning.

We crowded into the container to win that tiny extra bit of heat (also to put our hand into the doughnut bag, with success, as can be seen here)

Shortly afterwards, Lucky the Dalmatian galloped up and gave us the onceover, but without finding anything. Dang !

A rival dog later in the day would be more lucky... Stevie's Gypsy called at lunchtime, and had half a hamburger. Didn't seem to appreciate it though, just looked hungry for more.

Last week, no fewer than 6 people tried fruitlessly to start Minnie the Mixer.

This week, we had to have a plan.

Here is Dave, giving her some TLC. She is having her oil level checked, the lucky girl. We don't do that every day, you know. Mmmmmmmm.

Next to the pampering, some bribery was tried.

This worked, as Minnie then sang into life on the second pull!

You've got to know how to treat them....

Then, work. To our joy, the flat truck had been parked up against our new halt, thank you Neil. The piles of slabs were carefull unloaded and stacked to one side.

Here they could be trimmed and improved. This natural sandstone suffers from spalling, so we turn them upside down, and remove any loose layers.

Dave D is having a go with the bolster.

Later, Dave D also had a go with the disk cutter, and this always attracts a crowd.

Much more success in this today, thanks to a new cutting disk. Another treat from us. We spoil our people.

The slabs ex CRC2 come in all sorts of lengths, and here is a long one, about 5ft in fact.

With our special slab handling grabs (patent pending) this big one is carefully manoeuvered across to the area where we were laying, i.e. the northern end of the platform.

A thick bed of mortar is applied, and the slab gently lowered down. It is deliberately laid a bit too high, so that we can tamp it down to the right level, using a heavy fence post which is ideal for the job.

Here's an overview of the site today - slabbing at the Toddington end, two teams corbelling this end.
No firm news on finishing the landscaping yet though, maybe in a fortnight. We are in a queue. Platform work is slowly coming to a close, so we need to prepare the next jobs, one of which is the laying of the slab for the hut.

Two low level visitors flew over the site today, seen here over Dumbleton hill. Very exciting to hear the roar coming, and to see not one but two race past at nearly tree top level.

In betwen all the slabbing and brick laying, Tom is calmly working his way down the platform, applying a final layer of creosote.

Looks good, doesn't it?

The corbelling team of Julian and Tim were working on the southern end, where two more bays needed the brickwork finishing off. Would they finish this today?

Yes they did !

Here is Julian with the very last brick laid at the new Hayles Abbey Halt.

All that remains to be done here now is the placing of the edging slabs.

At 3 o'clock it started to rain, so we had no choice but to cover our work and tidy up. Ten slabs were laid today, and these covered the rest of the northern end of the platform, and some way down the slope. All the brickwork is finished too.

The replica running in board is going to be made by the Building and Services gang, for which we are very grateful. They also made the CRC2 board, so have the experience. For the first time on the GWSR, the letters will be in cast metal, another step up in the quality of the build. We also have 2 trespass notices, the one we found on site (currently being repaired) and a second bought on Ebay. Just need some bridge rail to fix them on now.