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Chesterfield Canal Trust : Reports and blogs

April 12th - All cleared out and ready to go!

It isn’t the end of the journey that matters; it’s the journey itself.

I don’t know if Hemingway ever set about restoring an old boat but it sounds as though he did! When Python leaves the Sheet Stores, that may be felt to be ‘the end’ but before then there will have been plenty of journeying up and down between Chesterfield and the Sheet Stores. But not in vain! We have achieved another step on the way and now we must wait for the boatyard to begin serious work. With luck, Paul will be happy with the clearing work we have done and will set to with both a will and a welder. Various people had quite a few journeys up and down to do all sorts of arranging until we got to the stage of taking the plunge and ripping everything out. As I said in the last couple of blogs, we began ripping stuff out and taking it back up to Chesterfield and into my old shed. Over the last fortnight, we have done a couple more trips with the van and have achieved two things. One being that the boat is now almost empty and the other being that my old shed is full.

You can see from Andy’s brilliant photos that Python is not in the most convenient position for access because all the stuff had to be carted along the narrow space along the side of the boat on its way to be stacked in the van. It didn’t help that the wind got up on the last trip so the ladder we used to get into the boat was blown over – once just as I was about to clamber up! But we wedged it against the cabin and solved that problem. In fact, we didn’t have much in the way of problems with the whole job. True, the fuel tank was subject to an unscheduled descent into the Engine Room bilge but it didn’t matter because it can come out when the bottom gets chopped off.

Talking of bilges sets me thinking.
Now, there’s been a lot of talk lately about Dark Matter and CERN are racking up a massive electricity bill whizzing neutrons in and out of Switzerland. Those of us who have some familiarity with bilges are inclined to think that we know quite a bit about Dark Matter. We know that it’s very massive and its immense gravitational pull causes it to irresistibly attract and then stick to your trousers. And it’s not just Dark Matter – you know the thing about the Uncertainty Principle where you can measure it or you can know where it is but you can’t do both? So the best you can do is probability? This is clearly demonstrated under the circumstances where:
1) You are taking down an important and expensive piece of kit and you find that you have to partially dismantle it but one of the small, indispensable screws is of a thread and size known only to Korean engineers and;
2) The screw is, say 3.7 mm diameter and;
3) There is a hole in the floor 1.27 m away which is precisely 3.74 mm in diameter.
If you drop the screw, what’s the probability that it will find its way down such a titchy hole and down into the bilges?
Yes, it vanishes – thus showing the effect of Dark Matter in the bilges and causing you to have to grovel about in the muck.
Ah, well, we were well equipped with Thermos flasks and snap,

Here’s my shed when we finished unloading the van. Do you think that if it were to remain untouched for hundreds of years then someone in the future would have a Howard Carter-type Tutankhamun’s Tomb moment? Well, yeah, we are a bit short of gold.

Here we are, taking on sustenance. Three of us are at the van while Andy is taking the photo. With his camera on the end of a telescopic pole! As you can see, there is little or nothing left on the boat. She looks a bit forlorn, sitting there, out of her element. It’s that moment when it really sinks in that we’ve done the easy bit, we’ve turfed it all out, we’ve seen plenty of boats mouldering in the corner of boat yards where the will has faded away, now it’s down to us to get the wherewithal together and to maintain the drive. I bet we will!!

Glyn Downey

10th March - Delivering the engine

Well, it turned out that Jan and Glyn had chosen the right day to drive down to Braunston with bright sunshine from early in the morning, lasting all day. We had to take the engine down to Johnno at Union Canal Carriers, Braunston Bottom Lock via Sheet Stores in Long Eaton.

The day began with the van calling at Jan’s house and then setting off through the fag end of the Chesterfield rush hour before being launched on to the M1, then into the patient trundle through the 50 m.p.h. system. Still, never mind, the only thing we could find to complain about was that the sun was too bright!

Sheet Stores was bathed in golden sunlight as we arrived, highlighting the picturesque potholes and the puddles along the approach. Jan quickly found Paul who shuffled a couple of boats about before starting up his Fork Lift and then picking up our engine to take it into the van in the car park. I have dim memories of praising the side loading door in an earlier piece and, once again, I respect the memory of the famous inventor, I.N. Side. Never mind all that; Paul did a high precision steering job to get the engine through the side door and up against the forward bulkhead in the van. All that was left was for the engine to be roped down while Paul and Jan did Planning and Arranging. Then – Off to Braunston!

Another hour on the motorway - but not too boring. One advantage of a 1½ ton van is that you sit significantly higher than the average car and so get a decent view of the scenery. Admittedly, some of the scenery was of giant, steel sheds but, hey, the sun still warmly shone!  Jan liked the vista once we had turned off the M1 and got onto the rural bit after DIRFT. That’s Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal and the idea is that European persons can fill a container with whatever they make, drop it on a train, take it to DIRFT, unload the container and distribute their stuff by rail or the M1, or the A5, or the A14, etc. It’s a good idea and would be even better if we had retained the Great Central Railway with its Continental Loading Gauge!

Part of DIRFT sits on the old Rugby radio station site. It was an important site in the forefront of technology in the 1920s. It was built for long wave transmissions to every part of the Empire all round the world. The first Transatlantic telephone service was run from here. By Midlands standards, the ground here is quite high and, until about ten years ago, there were very high radio antennae towers here, 820 feet above ground, if memory serves. If you were going along the Twenty-Mile on the Leicester Line and then on the North Oxford you could see them for two days.

We dropped down from the high ground into the valley where Braunston is hidden. A turn into Dark Lane, then into the little track down to the boatyards, over the bridge at the lock tail and we had arrived  at the old pump house with Johnno himself waiting for us. Various discussions first, then vehicle shuffling much like an hour earlier at Sheet Stores and there we were – the engine out of the van and safely delivered as required. Then much talk about engines, boats and people followed by musings on what to do with our engine and the taking of silly photos. Johnno declared that he had to get back to work while Glyn and Jan, faint from lack of sustenance, set off to The Plough where the nice lady made us eat her famous fish and chips lest we fade away like slender wraiths.

And that was it, really. The best part of two hours droning back up the M1 with the merry chatter giving way to zombie-like staring through the windscreen after passing  Leicester. Finally, back to Chesterfield.

Job done!

Glyn Downey

5th March - Synchronisation

For eighteen long months Python has been sitting on the dock waiting. Waiting for us to manage to persuade the great and the good that she is worthy of saving and they should help by throwing some money in her direction. I suspect there were a few pessimists who thought pigs would fly before that happened, but thankfully they never voiced it to us. The Pythoneers have always remained committed to ensuring she gets the attention she requires to safeguard her future. Then, just as things were really starting to look bleak, the money started to appear. Python will go to the ball! Now it is time to wake up the slumbering crew and see if they are still as keen and motivated to do some work on her – daft question! They were all clamouring to make a start. Someone put the kettle on and let’s have a brew while we make a plan.

While we may not be able to make pigs fly (yet), we needed to find someone who could make Python’s Lister engine fly. Paul at the boat yard has been very generous in allowing Python to take up his precious space for so long, but, knowing she was likely to be there a while, he found a corner to tuck her into so he was not tripping over her too often. Python is now in the queue for the workshop and work is due to start in early summer, but we needed to get the engine out now, so work can commence on its rebuild.  Python is currently boxed into a corner with no way of accessing the engine room with something that can lift the engine out and move it to a waiting van. The only way was to get a crane to lift the engine out from the other side of the fence. It needed a 20’ reach to do it.

No problem is ever insurmountable. What I needed was a very nice accommodating man who happens to run the boat yard where Python is. I also needed a nice man with a big crane who was not going to have to come from the other side of the country and charge us a fortune for the pleasure. I also needed some enthusiastic crew with some experience of disconnecting boat engines. Oh, I also needed someone to be there when it all happened to take some photographs for posterity. I then needed to get them all coordinated so the operation would run like a finely tuned machine. Time to put the kettle on, this make take some organising.

Sitting at my desk in Chesterfield with a computer keyboard, a phone and a big steaming mug of coffee, I set about getting it organised.   I needed to liaise with Pythoneers David, Helen & Eddie to disconnect the engine. Then I turned to Google and a couple of phone calls later I found Richard of Nottingham Crane Hire who could do the job for us, but more importantly was prepared to slot in in around other jobs in the area to try and keep costs to a minimum for us. I then had to make sure Paul at the boat yard could be on hand to assist at the time the crane was coming and check with the crew that the engine had been fully disconnected and the panel in Python’s cabin top loosened so it could be lifted off…..oh and I almost forgot to check that Paul had somewhere he could keep the engine for us until we could get down there to move it to the engineers. I thought I would have to drive down there myself to take the photos and was not relishing the thought of hitting that great car park they call The M1 at a time suitable to get me to Long Eaton for the lift, but hey ho, it was a job that needed doing. I also had to check with Chesterfield Canal Trust’s treasurer, David that we could pay the nice man with the crane and…………… time for another mug of coffee. I debated whether I had earned a biscuit with this one or not.

All my ducks were in a row. The nice accommodating man with a boatyard, Paul – tick; a nice man with a massive great big HIAB on his lorry, Richard – tick; a group of volunteers who were able to travel down there and get the engine disconnected, David, Helen & Eddie - tick; a treasurer who was primed ready to pay the man with the crane, David – tick; and finally a Pythoneer who lived close enough to the boat yard to rock up there at 8am to play at being David Bailey before she went to work, Karen – tick.

The date was set, 8am on Thursday March 5th.  I could do no more than sit and wait and hope it all came together. I sat at my computer desk fingers clenched around my mug of coffee. Our intrepid roving reporter on the scene, Karen, kept me updated with text messages, “The Lorry has arrived” was the one I was waiting for. I was then sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for “The Engine is out” closely followed by another text tone to alert me to the arrival of a photo of Python’s engine sitting on the ground. Phew it all came together! Not only did we prove that Lister engines can fly but by doing so we marked a milestone, Python’s restoration has started. I think I deserve another mug of coffee, no - scratch that, a celebration is called for, I will make it an Earl Grey and really push the boat out by having a Garibaldi too.

Jan Warsop

18th February - Emptying Python 1

The word had gone out that Python was to be emptied so that various persons could scrabble about in the bottom to discover just what had to be done in the deep, dark depths to restore Python to reliable flotation. So, having both an incompletely full shed and a van handy, I was allowed to go and fetch the first instalment of the small stuff. I knew where Sheet Stores, Python’s temporary home, was by canal, but I had to rely on the sat. nav. to get me there by road. This it did with no trouble, even if I was a bit late.

Now, you can guess that the weather would be appropriate for carting bits, pieces and boxes about, namely drizzly rain. Python was sitting on some sort of stands with the gunwhale about six or eight feet off the ground. She was rather shoe-horned in between other boats and the best I could do with the van was to park at right-angles across her bow. (One of the higher achievements of human intelligence is the side-loading door.) The passage between the boats was mostly a large puddle with a few islands at awkward intervals so that no matter how you tried you always ended up sloshing through the water. By the time I arrived the others had set up a ladder which was a bit short, hence a bit awkward to get into and out of the boat and definitely challenging to go down whilst holding a box with both hands. Happily, there were enough of us to pass things from one to the other rather than climb in and out of the boat and for everything to go straight into the van without having to be piled up in the drizzle.

In the Tower of London, they used to have a nasty little Tudor trick called the ‘Little Ease’. A sort of cupboard dungeon in which the unfortunate occupant could neither stand nor lie straight thus inducing great discomfort, cramps and other nastinesses. I always get the same feeling when I have to stand, Quasimodo-like, in the van stacking stuff for a long time! But it wasn’t too bad and the stuff that had to be taken didn’t quite fill the van, so that was pretty good – only one trip, for now.

The next thing was back home to unload. Straightforward enough, except for twice round the Junction 52 roundabout because I misread the signs! We had to have a bit of reorganisation to actually get into the shed and then it was just a matter of piling it all up in such a way that it didn’t all fall down again. You know how, when they invented microscopes, they could see wiggly things appearing in rotting stuff and so someone came up with a theory that it was some sort of spontaneous creation of life?  Well, I suspect that you get the same sort of thing with junk, a sort of spontaneous creation of more junk. Well, it’s the only reason of which I can think to explain why those who are much more familiar than myself with the innards of Python kept up a steady flow of surprised comments on the lines of “I didn’t know we had one of those” and “What’s that for?” and “What is it?” Never mind, it all went in although it just about filled the shed. It would have been satisfying to shut the door on it – but the door collapsed…… be continued.

Glyn Downey.

18th February 2015 - Emptying Python 2

Imagine me sitting quietly in a meeting listening to the gentle burbling of those around me when the antennae picked up warning signals such as ‘Glyn’, ‘van’, ‘shed’ and ‘Sheet Stores’! The good news was that money was now available for doing lots of work on Python, but the not-so-appealing news was that someone now had to go and clear everything out of the boat so that various persons could prepare to take out the engine and, indeed, take everything out. After all, no other course of action is realistic if you are going to cut the bottom off the boat.

My shed must have had something of an interesting life. It started out as a ‘pre-fab’. If you are not very old, you may wonder what such a thing could be. Well, it is short for ‘Pre-fabricated Building’. Pre-fabs date back to the 1940s and 50s, when the country was desperate for housing to replace the bomb-damaged stock and had to provide a decent standard of mass housing in order to allow the massive programmes of slum clearance. They were made ready-assembled, complete with bathroom, indoor w/c and hot water which shows what a good standard they were, because many of us had to wait until the 60s to live in such luxury!

Alas, I don’t have the full pre-fab so the shed isn’t very big. It has all sorts of valuable and useful stores in it, which provide spare parts and usable material from time to time. We had already put a load of stuff in there to form a wobbly pile about head-high, which threatened to fall down if touched. Now we were faced with having to bring a lot more stuff up to put in there; some of it likely to be quite big, maybe six feet long. So there was only one thing to do - dig it all out again for a major re-arrange! My hand wasn’t in good condition so I was very glad that George, Eddie and Jan were there to do the work. (I always feel that I am at my best when acting in an advisory and decorative capacity.)

It’s no bad thing to have a good sort out at intervals. Boring, yes, the sort of thing which brings forth creative excuses, no doubt, but worthwhile in the end, if only for a sense of righteous endeavour. Plus, I was to discover that a Good Angel was present! But not yet; first George, Eddie and Jan dragged everything out while I offered advice and light assistance. It’s amazing how many odd-shaped things can be shoe-horned into cuboidal boxes given the application of intelligence and the exercise of care. Once all the Python stuff was out, it became obvious that continuing the sorting out process on the resident junk would more or less double the storage available. And this is where the Good Angel bit came in! Quite a lot of my stuff was occupying floor space and was of the old bike type of junk, i.e. takes up more space than you think because of all the sticking-out bits. This is when I discovered that Ms Warsop is of the interesting display school of gardening and that she was thrilled to bits to get her hands on - believe it or not - a very rusty bike and a tarmac fork. “Ah!” I thought, “This is my chance to foist some stuff on to her!” So I found her a Belfast sink, a Valor paraffin stove, a 1912 fireplace surround, ye olde trouser press and plenty of smaller stuff. (To be fair, she’ll get a few pennies for a lot of it, which will go into the Python Fund!). The end result of all this is that we now have a space something like ten feet long by three feet wide by seven feet high to take things that come from Python, whenever needed.

After another cup of summat in the kitchen, so that Barbara could be kept informed of developments, we went off, via the tip, to take Jan’s spoils to her house. Thanks to George, Jan & Eddie, we are ready for the next load of stuff to be brought up from the Sheet Stores. Bring it on!!

Glyn Downey.

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