I was then approached by Andrew Davies (Museum Curator) at Wiltshire College Lackham with a request for a chat to see if I would be interested in building a passenger carrying miniature railway in the grounds of the Lackham Museum of Agriculture and Rural Life at Wiltshire College Lackham (I'll just call it "Lackham" from now on, it gets a bit of a mouthful otherwise!). It transpired that the West Wiltshire Engineers had operated a portable track at several events at the museum and that Andrew had first approached them. They had declined, but suggested that he talk to me. The West Wilts had been involved in the early days of the Hope Nature Centre Railway and thus knew of my desire for a miniature railway in the Trowbridge/Wiltshire area.
Thus it began! In the beginning there was a museum, it was quiet and shy, so let there be the sound, sight and smell of steam and it was alive! (apologies if I offend anybody!)
During the time of the TAD GLS I had made the acquaintance of Mike Hanscomb, he was involved with a 7.25" Highlander (Black Five) and was looking for somewhere to run it. He joined me both as a founder member of the LM & WR and on my first site visit with Andrew and Terry (Deputy Principal, Wiltshire College Lackham). We walked a potential route and it all looked very promising. There were now two things to do, generate a drawing of the route that would satisfy me in terms of gradient and curvature whilst also being acceptable to the planning authorities and generate a formal agreement between the LM & WR and Lackham.
(Point of note, the first name I had for the railway was the Lackham Museum Steam Railway, that was rejected (by Mike) on two grounds; firstly with the word "steam" in the title, people would expect a steam train to be running whenever the railway was open and secondly the initials spelt LMSR (did they!) and that wouldn't go down well in the middle of GWR territory!)
We needed a survey. Letting my fingers do the walking (and showing my age from that jingle), I went through a number of surveyors until it was suggested that I speak to D&H Surveys. Mel Hourigan was most enthusiastic and joined us on a site visit. Later he came back with an assistant and did a survey of the site using state of the art equipment. Finally, Terry, Andrew, Mike and myself joined Mel at his office near Chippenham to lay the route out on the surveyed area, keeping the radius to a minimum of 45' and avoiding getting too close to trees etc.
In the meantime, we had the August Bank Holiday Westinghouse Model Railway Show at Lackham to support. As the now "incumbent" railway, Andrew asked if we would be providing a miniature railway at the event. A quick phone call to ESSMEE, who agreed I could borrow the portable track (and their electric locomotive Michael Faraday) and we were off! This was a two day event and we spent Saturday afternoon getting everything ready. Haulage power came from Stumpy, the ESSMEE locomotive and Mouland. As it turned out Stumpy had the sulks (see the details about Stumpy elsewhere) and we relied on the other two engines, both of which performed very well. We had a prime position (directly opposite the hall that held the exhibition) and the weather was kind. I was assisted by Robert (my youngest son and a tower of strength at the LM & WR), Grahame Every (another tower of strength), Mike Hanscomb and Pete Beacham (a friend from ESSMEE). In all it was a good two days and demonstrated that, at that event at least, there was the demand for a miniature railway.
Over the next few months discussions continued with Lackham and an agreement was thrashed out (it wasn't that difficult actually), revisions to the proposed trackbed were suggested (by both parties) and an area cleared for a workshop/locomotive storage area. Also in that time, Mike had made arrangements with the developers who now owned the (defunct) railway at the Rode Bird Gardens, to have permission to recover any materials we thought useful. (All the really useful stuff had been understandably taken by the previous railway owners), however we recovered a fair amount of ballast, cable, conduit and a host of other potentially useful items. What has turned out to be one of the most useful items was offered to us by a friend of Mike's who lived just outside Trowbridge, about 30 large roof trusses. Lackham offered us the use of a tractor, trailer and Terry Hayward as a driver. Terry "the tractor" has proved to be one of the most useful assets that Lackham has. I won't go into any more detail here for fear of either embarrassing Terry, or getting him into trouble, but in general if you want an item, or want something done, ask Terry!
The roof trusses were cut up on site and put on the trailer (and they still overhung the end of the trailer!) They then sat in "our area" on site until a use could be found for them. Plan A was to use them as a roof for our new workshop. For various reasons that never came to fruition and in fact their first use was as a tunnel cum workshop on the current line and as the platforms for the station (but more of that later).
Our first event of 2004 was the Lambing Weekend event. We hadn't got very far with the "permanent site" in the museum grounds, so we had a position close to where we were with the model railway event. The weather wasn't too bad. Stumpy sulked again, so we used Michael Faraday and Mouland. We gave a total of 154 rides over the two days.
The next event was another two day event. The weather wasn't that kind (in fact it was awful!) Stumpy behaved well (apart from water getting into the throttle) and whilst not as successful as the model railway event, it was successful enough (96 rides over two days). During the event, Andrew asked me to accompany him and look over the former "Animal Park" site. It was then he suggested that it may be worth exploring the idea of laying an initial temporary track in this area utilising the assistance of college student groups.
I took Grahame and Robert down to have a look. It seemed a possible location, the only apparent disadvantage was that people would have to come and find us (we weren't on an obvious pedestrian route), but awareness of our presence could be improved by signage. We were adjacent to a wood and our thinking considered a route that not only travelled down a strip in the Animal Park, but encompassed a gentle steam through the woods. So, we agreed. The plan was still to have a loop in the museum, but this would give us an immediate site. We decided to trial it for a year and see how popular we were. We wouldn't ballast the track at this time, but we would just lift the turf and lay the track on the dirt. We would need storage for our rolling stock and a platform for the passengers. A booking office would be nice. We also wanted a well built garden shed, pent roof, not pitched.
We still didn't have our own track, so I was borrowing the ESSMEE portable track to run the trains. I had Michael Faraday as a back up for Stumpy and Mouland, but as it turned out, it was never needed (which turned out to be fortunate - more of that later). At Easter Andrew arranged for the Treasure Hunt to come past the railway, as it was our first event on the old Animal Park, I gave away sweets. Stumpy was put back on the trailer and the track stacked in a corner under a tarpaulin. Our next event was a few months away and we hoped to have our own track down by then. However, first we needed "our own place"
This whole venture, whilst run under the Lackham Museum and Woodland Railway Company Limited, is funded entirely by yours truly. (Grahame calls it "Peter's train set") so any development had to be cost effective. (That's not another word for cheap, but I could see no reason to throw away money on a Rolls Royce workshop for a 12 month trial period!) The tunnel was constructed using the timber from the trusses as a frame, upon which we placed six, 6' x 6' fence panels, the roof was half inch (12mm) thick OSB covered with roofing felt. The doors were cut from 8x4 sheets of exterior ply from Wickes. These doors have turned out to be a disaster, it was expensive exterior ply that was immediately treated with wood preserver, yet less than 12 months later they are delaminating. In fact they started delaminating within weeks of being put up.
So how long did it take the three of us to build High Hole? Amazingly from start to finish it was 2 days! Impressive or what? And why did we choose the name High Hole. Well it's supposed to double as a tunnel, but it's built above ground, so it is a "High Hole"!
We had High Hole, but no track. Andrew asked if we would run at a May Day event (Wiltshire Woolly Day). I agreed and out came the portable track again. A one day event with Stumpy providing the haulage power. 112 rides, so a very good day!
The race was now on to get our track down for a self-imposed launch date of the 18th July. As stated above I had very fixed ideas on what the Booking office should look like. It would have to be a shed (whilst I had fixed ideas, I also had a fixed budget!) and I reckoned that a pent roof would look right. For some reason I didn't think a pitched roof would suit. After a bit of searching (through Ebay - a wonderful site!) I bid for and won a 7' x 5' pent roofed shed, to be collected from Cardiff. We collected the shed (well built tongue and groove cladding) with the trailer and dropped it off at Lackham.
Now to lay the track - but first to build the track. The track that came with Mouland was in approximate 7.5' lengths (the previous owner had taken the original 15' lengths and chopped them roughly in the middle to make them manageable. We also had bags and bags of sleepers. I made a 7.5' jig up that held sleepers at approximately 1' centres. Robert and I laid all the rail out and matched them up in approximate similar length pairs. We then had a production line! The following activities were performed by Robert and I over a 5 day period (some weekend work, most of it during the evenings!)
use power hacksaw to even up lengths of rail
drill three holes at one end of each rail (on end had at least two holes already) Three holes were needed; two for the fishplate and one for track circuiting (planning ahead!)
assemble sleepers onto jig
remove existing screws from sleepers
secure rails using screws (and cordless drill!)
After we finished the 7.5' rails, I doubled the size of the jig and we repeated the process with the 15' rails.
We also needed points (have you seen the price of points?!) ESSMEE came to my rescue. They had acquired two sets of points from Weston Beach Railway and asked if I would like to "borrow" them until they were ready to use them at Westex. If so, I could collect them from Weston Super Mare. This I duly did and they were left at Lackham. They were well used, needed a reasonable amount of fettling (before they could even be used), but would serve the purpose for this first season.
This was to be an "experimental year" so it wasn't so much the "permanent way" but the "temporary way". For the rest of the summer we had 4 events to run (one in July, two in August and one in October). So all we did was to lift the turf and lay the track on the dirt. This we did and 100 yards of track (including two points) was laid in about 2 weekends. This turned out to be just about acceptable. Just about if you accept that you have to repack a majority of the track prior to every running day. So, we had a tunnel, we had a "temporary way", we needed a station. This is where the trusses come back into play again.
A few weekends later we were down there again, this time with another friend of Grahame, Fred. Between us we built the platforms out of more roof truss timber and laid wire netting on top to give a degree of grip in the wet. We created a platform for the booking office to sit on and the booking office was erected. What we didn't do was to lay any permeable membrane under the platforms, this turned out to be a bad idea (as you will read about later). The station was named after the field in which it was built "Upper Knightsmead". The other end of the line was christened "Wun End". So the tickets are made out from Upper Knightsmead to "Wun End" and return"! The above was all carried out in a weekend with great support from Robert, Grahame and Fred.
We were nearly there, just a few "tickles" to complete. We put fluorescent lights in the tunnel and one in the booking office. A mains cable was run from High Hole to the Booking Office. A small generator was purchased (based at High Hole) and gives us enough power to run the lights, or a small power tool should we need it. On the other side of the track a conduit was run containing two 6 core multi-core cables and two fairly chunky cables to carry the 12v we were planning to use for signalling functions etc. The points were fettled (old sleepers replaced) and locks added (to stop the blades moving when trains made a facing move). In the mean time I had been making signs for the railway using a cobbled together stencil, laminated signs on wooden sticks concreted into 5 litre orange juice containers (in best Blue Peter fashion!)
We did not have any grand plans for the opening and our first passenger was in fact a member of Lackham staff with his son. The weather was kind, Stumpy and Mouland both performed well and we gave a total of 86 rides. Rather an anti-climax, but it was nice that everything worked!
The day dawned bright and still. Good for us, but not much use for the kite flyers. They actually spent a lot of their time on the ground! We had an average number of passengers (88) and again Stumpy went well, but Mouland had problems getting, then keeping up steam. The spark arrestor I had fitted was blocked with an oily mess (which was surprising as the mechanical oiler wasn't working!) and only one out of four blower nozzles were working. So Stumpy did the lion's share of the work and did it well. It was on that day that we had our oldest passenger to date!
Back where we started 12 months ago, only now we had a complementary site 100 yards of our track and our own rolling stock!
However in the two weeks between Kite Flying and the Railway Weekend there had, however, been feverish activity in the Sheppard workshop to get Mouland back on her wheels. The oiler is a nice design (more reliable than the clutch or pawl type systems), but a devil to set up - it took me three hours to get it working reliably! The blower nozzles were cleaned out and the spark arrestor cleaned. We also decided to use some of my new fuel (from Signal Fuels, collected at Donington in October). Mouland was also proving to be slightly difficult in reverse. She needs at least 70 psi on the clock, or she wouldn't go backwards, and even then it was jerky! This was either going to be the valve gear wearing past a critical point, or the slide valve positions having moved, or a combination of both!
Looking at my notes for the day, the weather was good. We had great concerns because not only were we away from where we were last year, but the exhibition had moved to a bigger hall that was about another quarter of a mile away! Would anybody bother? Well, the support from the museum/college was fantastic. There was lots of signage (I put up plenty as well) and the "tractor rides" around the site stopped about 100 yards away from us and I had been encouraged to put signs in the tractor's trailer as well.
It was a slow start, Mouland was steamed up around 11.30am then they appeared from nowhere. I finally got off the engine to have my sandwiches at nearly 3 pm! In that time she had just gone up and down with no trouble (albeit jerkily in reverse!) and kept the fire going and steam up very well. Day 2 was very similar. The rush wasn't quite as bad, but we did need to have "crowd control" on the platform. Grahame, Robert and I were assisted by Pete Beacham and Mike Hanscomb at different points over the two days. We gave a magnificent total of 474 rides over the two days!
I nearly forgot to mention about the platform, I mentioned this earlier in "Upper Knightsmead". We used to come down to the track (where possible) the day before the running day to mow down the side of the track, pack the track where necessary and generally tidy up. When we came down at the end of August we had this green stripey platform! Because we had not used any membrane and also we had left gaps between the planks to let water drain through, the grass had grown to about 4" above the platform in neat stripes!
Our last running day of the season and potentially risky weather. Certainly a lot colder than we had been in the earlier part of the season! We weren't sure what to expect. Mouland was getting more sulky, so the majority of the haulage was performed by Stumpy. We had a couple of nasty moments with Stumpy when we lost all control (Stumpy is "drive by wire"). It turned out that we had a poor earth to the servos and a quick re-connection soon sorted that out. That reminds me, it did it again last week when we were down there (Jan 2005) so I need to make a better earth connection otherwise it's going to do it again!) Traffic was light but better than expected. We gave a total of 67 rides.
After the last running session I wrote a report for the LM & WR Co Ltd. board to evaluate the season and decide if it was worth carrying on in 2005. We also had a meeting with Terry (the Deputy Principal) and Andrew (the Museum Curator) to discuss the last 12 months and to look at the next steps. We gave a total of 1,077 rides over the 7 events that we were open for. That just about paid for my insurance! However, we all agreed, college, museum and LM & WR that it was worth carrying on, but where?
On to the Future!
(To infinity and beyond - maybe not that far, have you seen the price of heavy duty aluminium rail !)