Mothballing an open air museum...

Mothballing an open air museum…

Across the heritage sector we are seeing museums and heritage railways closing down their operations to the public (and in many cases, to staff and volunteers too). The response is absolutely correct and proportionate, and has had lots of us looking through our organisations to work out exactly what we need to do to put our attractions into stasis indefinitely.

We have emergency plans, we even close for Christmas. Some organisations will close to enable infrastructure renewal or to weather the quieter season with minimal expense. But nobody knows what closure for an unspecified period of time will look like.

The first priority is towards the people – staff and visitors/passengers. This is a separate matter for others to report on. However, I thought just a little insight for blog readers of what we are doing with the infrastructure might be of interest…

Friday’s tram service began with Sheffield 264, which was later exchanged for Blackpool 31. 264 was installed within the depot to allow plant vehicles to be packed around it to make the most of every square foot of undercover storage. 31 is seen here basking in the spring sunshine before going into service.
264 rolls back into the depot and 31 prepares to depart into service.

Looking at the transport collections, buildings and working infrastructure, we are approaching this in a very risk-assessment orientated manner. Look at what could leak, catch fire, explode or be vandalised and then isolate these. For instance, the engineering team have removed the gas bottles used in various areas to the central storage cage. Not a bad time for a stock take of what we hold and it means everything is in the appropriate place should the fire brigade or other emergency services need to attend an incident during closure.

We are also packing the sheds and depots full with vehicles, Matt Ellis (Keeper of Transport) orchestrating a huge game of vehicle tetras, so that they are under lock and key. New CCTV cameras are being installed and connected to our network. The steam locomotives have full boilers (with treatment added) and water tanks drained. If the weather turns cold we have a plan to ensure frost protection is implemented.

Throughout the buildings the heaters are being switched off, photocopiers and printers shut down and all lights turned off – it is amazing what an impact this alone is making to energy conssumption.

Water hygiene presents a challenge – we cannot simply shut the supply down, as we need to ensure the system is purged as part of our Legionella risk assessment and management – so staff will be on duty during each week of closure to run taps and ensure hot water boilers refresh themselves and refill. Toilets will be flushed and the urinals auto-flushing, whilst seeming to be wasteful, will be vital in ensuring a flow of water within the system.

As Jonathan (Head of Industry, which includes site maintenance) works his way through the list, it seems to grow and broaden. For instance, the ventilation in the drift mine will need to continue to operate as we will want to re-start our operations both quickly and without having to repair damage or eliminate new risks (such as potential gas accumulation within the mine).

Model Ts re-shuffled to enable other vehicles to be brought in from their usual outside parking positions. It is amazing how much space can be found when needed!

With the museum on care and maintenance, other areas are looking at how they manage the close-down. Food is being cleared, animal feed prepared (as the animals don’t know we’re closing!) and security being enhanced (as vandalism or trespass are of concern to us). We have site residents who will carry out various roles and maintenance and security staff will be keeping an eye on the site.

The tram depot is seen with the Albion furniture van joining the residents as the start of squeezing vehicles into the building began on Friday morning.

When we come out of the other side, we need to consider our recovery and this planning is already in hand. For instance, buses will need inspecting before use, steam locomotive fitness to run examinations completing and the tramcar inspections carrying out. We will have limited stocks of food, retail will not have had a delivery for some time and buildings will not have had fires lit within on their grates for some time. This is aside to the economics and people I mentioned before.

We will then, hopefully, move into the summer and reflect on this period, update our plans and review our procedures. What makes the museum what it is are the people who work here (paid and voluntary) and the visitors who come in such large numbers. We will need all of these more than ever soon. Meanwhile, the work of the teams this week is unsung and it is worth thinking about them as they packed the museum into mothballs, wondering about their own circumstances and those of their friends and families, whilst still showing their absolute professionalism and commitment to Beamish and all that it represents for so many people.

Glyder simmers in the sunshine on Thursday 19th March, after carrying out a shunt to put the narrow gauge railway back to bed (it would obviously have played a key role in the postponed Great North Steam Fair). It was also a chance for us to get a last ‘fix’ of steam. The Waggonway ran on Friday as well, with Puffing Billy reported to be a ‘transformed’ locomotive following the winter overhaul and modifications to fit a blower and new handbrake arrangement.

Newcastle 114

In a return to ‘normal’ I thought that these notes from Matt regarding work on Newcastle 114’s motor suspension bearings might be of interest – this work being completed just before the engineering shop was mothballed (and filled with vehicles!). The overhauled motors are awaiting delivery but 114 should return to service quickly, once we reopen – hopefully in time for a busy and sunny summer! Matt takes up the story:

Readers will recall that initially we thought that the motor suspension bearings for 114 were in very poor condition and would need a significant amount of work. On dismantling, it was found that only one (of four) may have caused us to have to do the extensive work. After cleaning up, detailed inspection and measuring revealed that the bores of these bearings were actually in pretty good condition, and their dimensions were well within tolerance for wear. This is probably due to the bores being incredibly well lubricated across the full length of the bearing and there being very little chance of dirt, or water ingress.

Unfortunately the story for the thrust faces of the bearings is almost the total opposite to that of the bores. The thrust faces were worn and deeply scored, from a combination of dirt ingress and poor lubrication.  The design of the trams is such that wear in the thrust faces can easily be taken up, due to the ability to adjust one of the thrust blocks which is attached to the axle.

The thrust block itself was first lightly faced, to bring the face back square with the axle and smooth. The boring and facing head was used in the milling machine to do this operation, being easier to hold the job on the milling machine than in the lathe. So impressed with the versatility of the wohlhaupter boring and facing head, I omitted to take any photos.

A set up for the boring machine was used, with a faceplate to ensure the bearings were set up square and then two long clamps made to hold the pair in some vee-blocks. The facing chuck on the boring machine was then used to machine the face to give a smooth bearing once again. In a lathe, the compound slide can be used to put the necessary chamfer on the inner and outer edges of the face, on the borer this isn’t possible. For the depth of cut required it was possible to use a tool ground to the correct chamfer and then “plunge” the tool to get the desired result. The material lost in the facing  process can be taken up with the mentioned adjustment on the axle, the bearings are now ready to refit, once the motors return.
The bearings themselves are of the split type to allow assembly. Machining these type of bearings is usually done with them soldered together or mounted in a suitable fixture to ensure they are a pair. Both these options were less than ideal for us, particularly the soldering option would have damaged the whitemetal lining of the bores. It is important however for the bearing halves to be machined as a pair so they perfectly match.