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Chesterfield Canal Trust : Reports and blogs

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.

Pythoneers Are GO!

My day was planned out. I had several hours of admin to catch up on (and some ironing) and even though the warmth of the late summer sunshine was beaming through my window I knew I was likely to be stuck at that desk for most of the day if I were to make progress. Then I became aware of a new message notification flashing in the corner of my screen. “Can I borrow Python?” it said.

Further investigation revealed that while Python was sitting quietly at Paul Barber Boat Builders, awaiting her survey, there was another boat called Danny with engine problems in Nottingham that needed towing in. With Paul’s own boat Whitby out attending events and various other boats that might usually be commissioned for the job all at various stages of repair, there was no boat available to tow Danny in. David Goode, who owns the historic boat Ling, realised the potential in Python for the job and decided to ask if he could borrow her.  Well of course Paul has been so good to the Chesterfield Canal Trust by looking after Python for us, that it seemed a great opportunity for Python to return the favour…. but nothing is quite that straightforward! There were some issues that needed ironing out to make sure that Python was properly insured for the trip and the easiest way of doing that was for Python crew to join David on the trip.

It was with very deep reluctance and a heavy heart that I allowed myself to be dragged away from my desk and the myriad of fascinating administrative tasks I had planned, to spend a blissfully warm and sunny day out on the River Trent.  It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

During the hasty arrangements that morning, I had called Eddie to see if he was free to help. Like the true dependable crew member that Eddie is, he also fearlessly discarded his arrangements for the day without a second thought to the consequences and David, Eddie and I all arrived at Sheet Stores Basin within a few minutes of each other. Within moments the Lister fired into life, the ropes were untied and we were on our way.

We were soon at Trent Lock, where we worked Python through and into the deeper water of the Trent. Python always enjoys having some depth of water under her. It was a good job Python was having fun because David, Eddie and I were having to grit our teeth and get on with the job in hand. This day was not about having fun, we were there to do our duty. The sun shone and we fairly quickly discarded any of the layers of clothing we had put on thinking there would be a cool breeze out on the river. The beautiful late summer landscape gently passed us by as Python chugged along.  We observed the cows coming down from the fields to drink, a huge flock of Brent geese, many of which took flight as Python chugged past. A kestrel flew low across the field and a heron stood tall as he watched out for his lunch swimming past. The first signs of autumnal colours in the trees were highlighted by the late summer sunshine.

Before we knew it, we had arrived at the marina where the stricken Danny was waiting. Her owners were pleased to see us. Python was very soon in place and the rope secured to take Danny with us.  Then we were off again. This time Python had to work a little harder as she was running against the flow of the river and was towing Danny. She didn’t miss a beat. That old Lister engine was easily capable of the job with power left to spare. As we travelled along the river we all pondered on Python’s role in this rescue mission. Clearly Eddie, David and I were easily able to align ourselves with International Rescue’s best agents. We had all selflessly left our homes, our families and our daily commitments behind to head off into the breach and do our duty for King & Country a favour for Paul Barber. We tried to work out which of International Rescue’s fleet Python was most like. After her most recent episode of trying to sink, her bilge is mercifully dry and so we could not compare her to Thunderbird 4 (the submarine). Thunderbirds 3 & 5 are for space travel and we could hardly describe the Trent as outer space! Thunderbird 1 is a rocket plane. Python is not generally considered to be as fast as a rocket. That leaves Thunderbird 2, a heavy duty transporter. That sounds a little more fitting. So Python is not green and cannot fly either but in the wonderful world of fiction those small facts do not matter.  It could seem like that day was fictional but it was not. It was just a totally splendid day for messing about on the river. Of course we were not actually messing about at all. We were all totally professional but it was fun.  I hope David enjoyed it as much as Eddie and I did. We think he did. We think he has a soft spot for Python.  We hope he will join our little team. He has a wealth of experience that Python could benefit from, and if any other reason for him to become a Pythoneer was required - he plays a brilliant Virgil Tracy!

As the sun went down and we watched a hot air balloon drift across the horizon, Python arrived back at Sheet Stores Basin with Danny in tow.  Python was once again secured to her temporary mooring; her unexpected adventure over. Her crew had big smiles on their faces to match the glow that a day out on the river in late summer sunshine had caused.  We could catch up on those chores tomorrow. Today we proved how quickly crew can be mobilised when necessary.

Pythoneers are GO!

Jan Warsop.

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