With the Mechanical Horse up and running for the first time in decades, and now ensconced in the Bus Garage, coupled to its flat bed trailer (and with just a few minor tidying jobs left to do), thoughts have turned to our next project.
This project is to restore the 1931 G.W.R Container kindly donated to 'the Friends' by John Giles in 2013.
For those interested in details, the container is an 'A' type which is to say it is roughly half the length of a 'B' type container – which is itself about the size of a standard railway van body. Older readers may remember these loaded onto 'Conflat' wagons for transport by rail or loaded onto flat–bed British Railways road lorries for transport to and from the railhead. They pre–date today's familiar sea containers by over 40 years.
Our container was built to diagram A1 and is numbered A890. At the time the G.W.R had over 1000 containers of different types in service. It weighs 19 cwt and can carry 2½ tons payload. The idea, as much as anything, was secure transit. It could be padlocked at the point of dispatch and the key sent separately to the customer. Ordinary goods, sent loose, would have to be transferred from lorry (or cart) to rail wagon and back to lorry again with the risk of damage, loss or pilfering. But the disadvantage was that at each railhead there had to be a crane powerful enough to deal with the container, but if so manhandling was much reduced compared with traditional methods. (Having said that, the crane itself would almost certainly have been cranked by hand!)
Our first job was to move the container into the space vacated in the Storage Shed by the Scammell. By using redundant metal fence posts as skid rails it was slid inside. Then the container was jacked up on blocks to clear the ground by about 18" to give access underneath for removing bolts etc. Next, the tarred roofing felt fitted by its former farm owner was stripped and numerous nails removed. The roof planks are in good order but the further you go down the worse it gets. Inside the floor looked fairly sound but actually will need replacing and below it the frame was rotten. As a start we produced drawings of the wooden frame pieces and ordered them from our favoured joiners R & B Joinery of Stourport. The decision to have these made 'finished' saved us some difficult mortice and tenon joints which need to be tight and mistakes would have been costly.
Bearing in mind that wood doesn't grow on trees, there is a cost implication to this, so we are determined to make savings wherever possible.
The first new parts to be made were hinges, straps and catches for the drop–down door, some of which were missing. We only had half this door from the farm!
Here I had invaluable help from excellent pictures in a book published by the National Gallery, 'The National Gallery in Wartime' which I bought for just three really useful pictures!
During the threat of invasion in WW2 the gallery sent its collection of fine art to various locations in Britain for hiding. Some were hidden in Llanberis slate mines and photos of the operation with a G.W.R container of the same design as ours are included.
The book is very interesting in its own right and I am very pleased I bought it.
We also fabricated new steel corner brackets for the base frame. These parts were originally forgings or pressings and so a bit of trickery with an arc welding set and a file was necessary to make the parts indistinguishable from the originals. Lack of a comprehensive steel stock was a frustration too and required some imaginative thinking.
No sooner had we completed the few pieces of ironwork than our timber arrived. I must admit that here I feel a little out of my comfort zone, but thanks to the G.W.R's simplicity of design it was possible to dismantle the base frame one piece at a time and substitute new wood without the container losing its shape or worse falling to pieces completely. Sapele hardwood was chosen as the material. It closely resembles the original red hardwood used in the construction which even our woodyard was unable to identify for certain. Sapele is also a 'cheap' hardwood suitable for outdoor use.
Once the base frame was constructed and all the associated ironwork fitted, the two upright corner posts at the front of the container were replaced. Here we had a slight change to the original design. We retained the double tenon joint where the corner posts slot into the roof beams, but to avoid having to disturb the 'good' roof components the bottom of the corner posts are a butt joint with the base frame held in place with two ¾" dowels in each, instead of the original stepped tenon arrangement. The full strength is achieved with our replacement steel corner brackets. At this point the container became more structurally sound than when received because the whole of the bottom of the front end had fallen apart.
Finding all the necessary bolts and screws was something of a challenge. Some bright spark in the 1960's decided we would 'go metric', and now more than 50 years on, sourcing imperial nuts and bolts is beginning to get troublesome and expensive. The container was built using mainly countersunk bolts. They had un–slotted heads like a countersunk coach bolt but without the squared shank just below the head – a total 'special' these days. The answer was to buy imperial bolts with a hexagon head and heat each head with an oxy–acetylene torch and then re–forge it to the required form in a specially made die. The trial result was excellent but the prospect of producing about 200 bolts in this way is rather daunting.
The obvious next step will be to fit the floor. We have the timber ready–made for this, but so far everything is held together by metric studding and nuts in lieu of the proper fastenings and need replacement.
So we went ahead with the next order of timber for the rear corner posts and all the planking for the sides, which should arrive at about the same time as our imperial bolts.
Further reconstruction will have to wait until all the bolts for the base frame have been modified and fitted.
As you can imagine this project will knock a big hole in available funds, so if you can spare a bob or two all donations will be gratefully received!
To conclude the work we are carrying out to help with the Bridgnorth Project, Bob, Graham and I have been making some swan neck lamp brackets for the front of the new restaurant and toilet block. The lamps are modelled on one formerly at Chepstow and come complete with ornamental scrollwork and cast iron florets. A bit of bent pipe would be sufficient for a modern lamp and it is a joy to make copies of such stylish designed items.
Bob has made a pattern for the florets on these lamps and is continuing his pattern making by producing patterns for the cast iron letters for the signs GENTLEMEN, LADIES ROOM, etc for the project.
Graham has been busy with stands for woodworking machinery. He has also resurrected a GPO barrow by bushing its wheels to replace ludicrously worn bearings as a homework project.
Meanwhile Charlie has been working wonders restoring a L&NWR station bench for eventual display (and use) under the canopy of Kidderminster Railway Museum.
This bench has curved a wrought iron frame marked L&NWRCo and BEST BEST which refers to the grade of wrought iron from which it was made. Surprisingly 'Best' is in fact the worst grade of wrought iron where the 'Blooms' of iron from the furnace are basically just forged together to form sufficient to roll into the section required. But 'best best' is folded over several times and forged together to form a section where the grains in the metal become elongated making it much stronger. Then there is 'best best best', this is folded and forged even more to give the most superior wrought iron.
The bench has varnished wooden slats, the back rail with LLANDUDNO in cast iron letters in a recessed panel. I contacted the LNWR Society to try to ascertain the correct colour scheme but they are unable to suggest more than 'brown' which is a bit vague. It appears that the first coat of paint on top of the varnish is a reddish mid–brown. On top of this is maroon which is probably from LMS days. The LNWR bench inside Kidderminster Railway Museum is finished in a biscuit shade of brown with a mid blue panel and the station name in white. I wonder if this is correct? The colour scheme is from before living memory so it may well be hard to find out.