Progress Report 67: Is the impossible, possible?

“Is the impossible, possible? How did PHR turn a 5.5m wheel base bogie goods wagon on its 5m radius turntable?”

The short version

The ingenuity of our volunteers did it successfully. Sorry – but how they did it, you will need to read the full Report!

The detailed version

As originally detailed in Progress Report 59, Pete’s Hobby railway took delivery of its first (and still, only) bogie vehicle on Friday 28th August 2020 — an open goods wagon which last saw service many years ago on the Innisfail Tramway in North Queensland.

The vehicle was one of approximately 110 built between 1900 and 1953. Known as H-type open goods wagons because of their similarity to the H-type open goods wagons of the Queensland Railways 3’6” (1067mm) gauge system, the first eleven initially saw service with the Geraldton Shire Council back in 1900. In the years following the take-over of Council’s 2-ft gauge line in July 1914, eventually forming QR’s Innisfail Tramway, the numbers gradually increased, including by a couple of conversions, until the nominal figure of 110 was reached in 1953.

In their early ears, the wagons formed a fleet used to convey bagged sugar from the surrounding Mills to Mourilyan Harbour for shipping. In 1960, the sides were removed to allow the fitting of single bulk sugar containers. However in 1997, rail haulage to the Harbour ceased, resulting in the wagons falling into dis-use.

Exactly what PHR intends to do with the vehicle remains uncertain as it was obtained while it was still available locally and could thus be transported at a reasonable cost.

The one thing that was realised from the outset was that its wheel-base was too long to fit on PHR’s turntable which had been designed and constructed having regard to the wheel-base of our various locomotives (and then a little more!).

PHR’s big brother, the former NSW Government Railways, faced such a problem at various country locations throughout the State as larger engines needed to be turned for the return journey, but the existing turntable was just a little too small to do so. Tumut had a 50-ft diameter turntable which could turn a 30T class fitted with a six-wheel ender, but not one fitted with a bogie tender. Cobar also had a 50-ft diameter turntable, far too short to turn a bogie-tendered 32 class.

Tumut got past the problem by using only 30T class fitted with six-wheel rigid tenders, while the 19 class with their bogie tenders used on the Tumut-Gilmore-Batlow branch could easily be accommodated. After the demise of regular steam on the Cootamundra-Tumut branch, the NSW Division of the Australian Railway Historical Society organised a weekend tour visiting both the Goulburn-Bombala branch and the Tumut line over the two days, using steam power. However, the only 30T class left in the Riverina at the time back were two retained for yard shunting at Narrandera –and they were both fitted with bogie tenders! The problem was not realised until the locomotives were to be turned after arrival at Tumut. There were two alternatives – to run tender-first into the evening without a headlight, or to somehow turn the locomotive which would mean separating the tender from the engine and turning each separately. This is what was done at Cobar with the 32 class — however, the pin holding the bar coupling between engine and tender was kept well-greased in order to make separation relatively simple. This was not the only part of the job — one had to ensure that there was sufficient water in the boiler and boiler pressure held before disconnecting the coupler, also the flexible water pipe joining the two and the Westinghouse air brake flexible hosing. The actual manoeuvre was relatively simple, even if a little time consuming, but depended on sufficient over-run off the turntable to accommodate the turned tender. My first image shows how this was done at Tumut.

Image 1. 1967-09-24.26: Tender turned, and now the locomotive. 3088T at Tumut, Sunday 24th September 1967.

Obviously, PHR’s bogie flat wagon could not be split to be turned! The ARHS (ACT Division) resolved the problem with the 50-ft turntable on its Michelago Tourist Railway – by extending the rails to overlap the turntable ends sufficient to accommodate the Society’s bogie-tendered 30T class. This was not a preferred option for PHR.

Facebook photographs revealed that the problem had been faced before – by “simply” raising the offending wheel set so that the flanges were clear of the track. But how?!

Image 2021.0397: The wagon sitting on PHR’s 5 metre diameter turntable, showing the offending overhang.

The first attempt required a jack to be placed under the offending outer axle, raising the axle clear and tying it off to the wagon bogie, then lowering and removing the jack. However, this was not as simple as one might think. Any slight movement of the wagon while being raised resulted in the axle rotating and falling off the jack, then it was found impracticable to tie off the raised axle (and wheels clear of the radial tracks.

Image 2021.0398: The first jacking attempt. Ben supervises!

Next idea was to place the jack under the king-pin and raise the whole bogie, then tie off the outer axle. Sound simple, but not so.

We had two short lengths of rail — originally used as run-offs the turntable before 1 Road was laid into the Shed. One of these was placed under the bogie, on the outside of the kingpin. The bogie was lowered — the inner wheel-set returned to the rails, leaving the outer set with the flanges clear. Success? No, as we found that the short length of rail hit the first radial rail of 1 Road. Initially, it had been proposed that the wagon would be turned clockwise, past 2 Road, past 3 Road, to line up with 4 Road. The bogie would then be lowered on to 4 Road and the wagon manually (we hoped) pushed clear, then chocked to prevent further movement.

Image 2021.0399: The offending axle and wheel-set are successfully raised, but note the position of the rail supporting the bogie frame. However, the supporting rail fouled the first radial rail of 2 Road.

Image 2021.0401: The move commences. Note the new position of the rail supporting the bogie.

So we tried going anti-clockwise, in which direction there were no radial tracks on which to get caught. With the wagon now lined up to 4 Road, the problem was how to lower the offending wheel-set on to rail when there weren’t any there. We still had the second short length of rail, so that was laid to accommodate one axle. Having no other short lengths of rail for to support the remaining wheel, we used timber off-cuts. The jack was again placed under the king pin, the bogie raised slightly to remove the rail, then lowered on to the two temporary tracks. Why did we not use this original length of rail in lieu of the timber? It was too long and fouled a pile a road base. Okay, we could have dug out the road base, but the wagon bogie sat satisfactorily on the timber “rail”. With the chocks or sprag removed, it was surprisingly easy for three volunteers (together with token assistance from yours truly) to push the wagon off the turntable and along 4 Road to its “final” stabling point. Here, it was spragged to prevent unwanted movement as, despite the apparent provision of a wheel-operated handbrake, such is not rigged up to any brake gear.

Not much can be done to make use of the wagon until a major split in the timber underframe is repaired, most likely by plating. In the short term, a jack has been placed under the offending corner and raised gently with the view of straightening the frame prior to plating.

Image 2021.0406. The offending wheel-set is lowed on to temporary “track”, then it is all hands to the push to move the wagon off the turntable and on to 4 Road for static storage.

With the H-wagon now off the main line, we can start planning the relaying of the track parallel to the southern boundary towards the next major track project — the sweeping 20m radius circle on the western boundary to bring the line back to finally connect to the inner track — as shown in the CAD plan in Progress Report No. 64 of 03/04/2021. Any volunteers for some track laying? No experience required as guidance will be provided. Many hands make light work and the sooner the track is laid, the sooner PHR has a longer track over which to operate for our pleasure!!!!

Image 2021.0408: Acting as the Regimental Sargent-Major, Reggie the dog urges Phil to push harder while Ben has eased off. Josh is making sure that the wagon doesn’t roll too far.

Until my next Report

SM Loftus.

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