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Railway Vehicle Preservations

A Five Minute Restoration

Restoring the BZ - by Mick Dickman

The story of the restoration of Thompson BZ E70654E really started for me one Saturday afternoon in September 1999. After our usual lunch (all day breakfast) on the griddle car service we returned to Rothley shed as normal, then I was told we were going to Switherland sidings to look at a five minute restoration project! THIS WAS TO BECOME AN INFAMOUS PHRASE. We, Mike, Richard and Chris Lang, Richard Drew and my self donned Hi-vis jackets and set off for Switherland sidings. At this time I had no idea what to expect. Great, a short and swift project that would very soon be back on GCR metals. May be there was no or very little joinery work to be done? Chris Lang, the project manager, pointed out a rusting six wheeled vehicle. This we were told was the five minute job. A complete new skin and repaint. Right lets have a look!! Mike and I started to prod the base of the metal where it is supposed to be fixed to the wooden sole plate. What wooden sole plate? “Well, what do you think Mick?”

Let me explain, the sole plate was there all right but why was it not holding the metal in place? It had simply gone completely rotten, it was like a sponge! “Wellll-ummm-ahh I don’t really know let me try round the other side. Yes it’s completely rotten; we will need to replace the whole of the sole plate.” “Can’t we get away with just splicing the face where needed?” “Don’t think so, any way who said it was only a five minute job? Do I reveal the mystery person or persons now or do you already know? We continued to examine the vehicle to see what else was in store for us. A small amount of stripping out was done, namely the concrete floor and some of the internal boarding to see if any more rot was evident. Yes, the couple of uprights we exposed were also in bad condition namely the tenons into the sole plate and approximately a quarter of their length. We decided to wait till we got it to Rothley to give it a thorough examination. While this was going on Chris was busy taking notes, dimensions and sketches ready to start ordering materials. We removed all the guards’ tools that were left, secured it? And returned to Rothley carrying the said items. We must have looked like five of the seven dwarves returning from their day at work down the mines.

When could we expect the BZ to arrive in Rothley yard? This was to be our first stumbling block. BZ E70654E took several months to arrive at Rothley yard. It was mid-July of 2000 when it finally arrived. When it did there was no room under cover for it. A decision was made to start the restoration outside. Now was the time to arrange a work week. This was done and on the week starting 21/08/2000 we started what was to be an extremely productive week, our intrepid band of volunteers took time off from their wage earning jobs. In this one week a total of 415 working hours were produced. To me this is a fantastic achievement by an organisation as small as ours. We may be small in number but we are certainly high in enthusiasm and determination. The first item to be removed was the completely rusted metal skin, whilst this was being done a start was also made on the under frame. Electrics pulled out ready for renewing, parts needle gunned and primed to stop any further deterioration and faulty parts removed to see if they could be saved or needed to be replaced with new. This now showed just how bad the framing had rotted; it was the ruminants of the rusted metal skin that was holding the carriage together. Funny I always thought that the timber framing held the metal and therefore the carriage together!? How do we hold the roof up? Quick action by Les, he acquired a number of acro props and installed them to prop up the entire roof also utilising two R.S.J’s, yes it did work, but I think next time we need more cross bracing of the remaining frame work as well. Yes this FIVE MINUTE RESTORATION PROJECT had become a major task. Never the less we were determined to do a first class restoration job and work began in earnest.

By Autumn/Winter 2000 we saw a phenomenal amount of work completed on the under frame, whilst still out side, this was not the ideal environment to work in but everybody put 100% into this project. We also took delivery of the new steel panelling, this had been paid for by a grant from the Leicestershire County Council, (we are a member of the Leicestershire Museum Forum). This now had to be welded together, cleaned, drilled, primed on both sides and sealed on the side to be screwed to the framing. Ah! The framing, this as previously said was in aright mess. After removing the metal skin, and by doing so a large section of the framing a start was made on firstly removing the soleplate and renewing it. Unfortunately we only had short (8ft.) lengths. These had to be jointed to gain the length, mortised out to receive the new uprights and sealed before re-fixing to the steel frame. Remember this was all being done out side so after each days work the BZ had to be sheeted down to protect it from further rotting. This proved to be difficult with high winds at the time.E70654E remained outside and with no metal sides became known as “Skeletor” by passing train crews, “How’s “Skeletor” coming on then” would be the comment from other staff as we took lunch on the griddle car each week.
The mortising and all other joints at this stage were done outside using a router and various hand tools. Slow but at the time the only way we could do these operations. Did I hear shouts of we’ve got a mortiser! Yes this was the next job find our ancient mortiser, install it, get the chisels sharpened and start using it, thanks here to Mike Lang and the saw doctor I use at work.

At about Christmas 2000/New year 2001 this restoration project was being called and I quote “Our current nightmare project”, but we had seen renewed vigour. The carriage was now inside the shed affording the luxury of a warm dry and pleasant working environment Warm luxurious workshop, then why do we all wear several layer of extra clothing at this time of the year? New ash uprights had been ordered, to be cut to our pattern and mortised ready to install. Whilst many other sections had been made in the Rothley carpentry shop (?) and a new end sole plate fitted to the north end. It now looks like a giant jig-saw puzzle; hope someone knows how to re-assemble it! With this section complete it was time to fit the first piece of metal. This was curved to the shape of the roof and had to be lifted into position (after welding the two halves together). We did this by utilising our small hydraulic platform lift, would they fit? Had I got all the timbers in the right place? Directions were given from all involved, we eventually positioned it correctly, “quick clamp it and get some screws in”. Right that’s it Darren can screw it up and the rest of us, well-we just sort of disappeared. Yes so far so good. At this stage progress was going on at a pace, the roof has been stripped, sole plates completed on the east side, rotten roof boards removed and the first section of the frame work on the east side complete up to the double doors. Also continuing work on the bogies, mainly the work of the “Lang gang” Mike Chris and Richard. 3 It was announced by (‘him who we obey’) our chairman that the work week will be in July, wonderful.

With the vehicle now inside a start was made on stripping the underside of the roof, one really filthy job. This was started by our extremely brave “Monday Gang”. Lead by ganger Brian, they are Norm, Ray, Maurice, Nev, (and Uncle Tom Cobley and all.) At this the good doctor Richard was let loose on the external side of the roof, removing all the debris that was left, sanding and filling in preparation for the new canvas to be fitted. The removal of the worst of the debris was done with 4in.grinder with new non clogging “mop disc” . Also at this time all the bearings had been sent to the Midland Railway Centre for re-metalling. The frame section from the south-east corner up to the first doorway was complete, so on with the first panel, the BZ was now starting to look like we had done something and not like a starving skeleton of a vehicle. This does not mean to say we had not worked hard; it is just that there are so many processes and stages up to achieving this. Know how hard everybody worked both at the shed and in some cases from home during the week organising and ordering components.

The next major task was to replace all the screws and bolts in the roof boards. Our other father and son team took on this task, Darren and Les. How many new gutter bolts were renewed I don’t really know but I purchased 3000 for the job. From Darren’s account of their task it seems the length of their screw drivers were shortened somewhat and they both received muscle ache where previous no muscles were felt. All this effort was necessary to hold the roof boards correctly to the shape of the hoop irons and to stop them spreading. More wood had been ordered and delivered, so we now had virtually all the wood we needed, more enthusiastic cries were heard let’s get on with it!!! A start was now also being made on repairing or rebuilding the doors. Early 2002 and the second metal panel was fitted along with the top window surrounds. According to official records (Outlook spring 2002) progress was “rapid”, steel sheets have been going on at a high rate of knots, one side is complete. The springs have been removed for specialist attention and the end is in sight!? Yes this is true but there is still a hell of a lot to be done!

In the summer of 2002 the Monday gang started to replace the interior wooden panelling. For this they used totally reclaimed materials from other previously “scrapped” vehicles. We were still continuing with various sanding and filling to both the roof and the fitted steel panels. We now knew that the springs that were sent away were us and there fore new ones were ordered, more expense! Well at least when E70654E returns to service on G.C.R. metals it will be unique and historically very important. By now all the electrics were complete. Also the first undercoat of paint had been applied; unfortunately this turned out to be faulty and had to be removed. Yes another set back, well-this is all part of the restoration/learning curve we go through for our hobby. At about this time our aims were diverted to another vehicle in our care, the Mk 1 TPO was to be repainted into 1950’s colours. This initiated another work week and as usual all that could attend did so, yes it’s more time off work. 80301 was completed in just 3 weeks thanks to all who took “holidays” the GCR staff and John Robinson. So due this, a fair amount of time was lost on the BZ, but I digress, back to the BZ.

Side panelling on, but still missing doors Those doors? What we did not do was to remove them correctly and mark them up properly so that we knew which doorway they would go back into. A simple thought in retrospect, but when all you want to do is get started simple things sometimes get forgotten. I kept hearing screams of horror when ever the door repairs were mentioned, they were mainly from me. This part of the project seemed to be the longest in terms of seeing little to no progress over the whole time the carriage was being restored. May be because the doors needed the most work on them in comparrison to their size? No it was because every time a piece was spliced In or replaced yet another was found that needed to be replaced and of course the timber sections were not of standard sizes, so to try and save money I decided to laminate up to the required sizes. This of course took extra time. Also the shape of the doors made it more difficult to get them to the correct shape, there was so much rebating and jointing to do. I also had to hang some of them to be sure the curves were all in the right places before allowing them to be skinned with metal. Our big mistake at the start of the project was to just remove the doors without any identification of where they should be re-hung. Bit by bit we managed to resolve all the problems with the doors, they were hung and tested, the door furniture replaced and checked again and low and behold BZ E70654E was ready to start final preparation for the final coat of paint. It had been decided a while back that this would be done by John Robinson so that we could start the next project. The board of RVP had decided that our nearly complete parcel brake van would run behind the TPO set in the July gala. Help that’s only 3 weeks away, John had plenty of time to paint, line, sign write and varnish the vehicle but several things still needed to be done to complete the exterior.

In that final week everyone did their bit to get things finished. This left 3 of us on Wednesday July 16th 2003 frantically checking bearings, cleaning the inside, rechecking the doors for safety, cleaning glass and putting the end weather moulds on. Unfortunately I did not manage to finish them before painting had to start. These were screwed on where the canvas tucks over the ends of the carriage, mastic sealed and painted. What happening!? Tim and I were still on the roof checking our work and Martin was coupling up to start the shunt to despatch the BZ to Loughborough. Extremely fast exit off the roof via the ladder, get kit safe, grab cameras and prepare to record the event. Slowly she emerged into brilliant sunshine, up the road and wait for the Leicester to Loughborough train to settle in Rothley station. The bobby cleared us to shunt onto the back of the waiting train. We coupled up, cleared the brakes, saw off the shuntter and with one Last check of the axle boxes we climbed aboard and awaited the guards signal. Pewww! ( Whistle blast ) and we set off. First stop Quorn, jump out check axel boxes for heat, back in and off we go again. Loughborough station came in sight, we drew up to platform 2, again dive out and check the axel boxes, yes they were reasonably cool, they were working correctly. Remember this was our first attempt at renewing and fitting a complete set of linings. 17.05 and BZ E70654E was back in service on the GCR for the first time in 15 years. So to the first public outing Of BZ E70654E, a Thompson 6 wheeled parcel guards van originally built at Stratford in 1950 and now rebuilt out of Rothley carriage and wagon works by Railway Vehicle Preservation Ltd. This vehicle will be put in our Gresley TPO set . Saturday July19th 2003, 10.20 am and we pull out of platform 2 with the up postal demonstration train. The engine crew have been asked to keep the speed down to 25 miles per hour so we can ensure all the bearings have settled in correctly. This would give sufficient speed at the nets at Quorn to make a successful mail exchange

The launch of the BZ at Leicester North To RVP and I hope all the photographers along the line and the general public the day and of course the weekend was a great success. Here I have say a big thanks to all the GCR staff that also made the return of our FIVE MINUTE RESTORATION PROJECT a great success.

There was still one more big day for our newely out shopped parcel van. Nev, one of the Monday gang must be very high up in the social, highracky for he arranged for Patricia Hewitt our local MP to officially launch the vehicle at Leicester North. The date arranged was Thursday 31st July. BZ E70654E was attached to the 14.00 passenger service from Loughborough with RVP and GCR members on board. We picked up more RVP members at Rothley, attached a temporary plaque to the inside of one of the doors and arrived at Leicester North. There to meet us were the station staff, in full uniform and they had set up various items to be loaded into our parcel van. Also at Leicester North was our local paper’s photographer who promptly set about taking shots of two youngsters in the guard’s window. Patricia arrived and whilst being introduced to various people, who had worked on the project, chatted to us and seemed very interested in what RVP and GCR were doing. By the time she actually got round to cutting the ribbon and declaring the parcel van officially in traffic she was starting to get behind schedule, so had to decline an inspection of the footplate and was on her way to her other appointments.

May I through these pages say a very big thank you to all who have assisted in this FIVE MINUTE RESTORATION PROJECT.

p.s. Do you know who coined the phrase A FIVE MINUTE RESTORATION PROJECT?