Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Pilgrimage

Ashton-Under-Lyne: according to David MacKie in the Guardian (no, I'm not putting a link in; it's not that imortant), a Mecca for tripe lovers. On our travels I did see a retail outlet called The Tripe and Sandwich Shop, but strangely enough wasn't tempted to go in. ('Can I have some tripe please? Oh, and a sandwich ...') Our pilgrimage was not in search of tripe, or any of the other things for which Ashton is no doubt rightly famed, but the National Gas and Oil Engine Company Works. We weren't even sure they were still standing until we got chatting with Guy at Portland Basin Marina where we spent the night of Thursday 17th, but he told us that they were indeed, and that they were nearby, and showed us on a facsimile 1907 map of the area. We were so impressed we bought one. Guided only by this, we set off the following morning, in the rain (ho hum), to seek the very spot where Warrior's engine was built in 1937.

Finding it was a bit of a struggle, owing to a ring road having rather inconsiderately been built at some point in the past century, but find the place we eventually did - and very impressive it was too. Now an industrial estate, the extensive site is still largely made up of the original buildings. Some have modern cladding on, but many don't, as can be seen in the picture. Under the later, painted, names, the words 'National Gas Engine Co. Ltd' can still clearly be seen picked out in the brickwork (although not necessarily in this photo).

It was particularly heartening to see that the site was still being used for manufacturing and appeared to be quite busy and bustling. We got chatting to the people in one of the units, and they let us have a look inside; again, much of the building seemed to be, if not original, then certainly as old as our engine. And we spotted something very exciting. The steelwork supporting the roof was painted in a horrible shade of dirty lime green. We thought that it wasn't unlikely that a company making engines, and having quantities of paint about the place, might use the same paint for the buildings as for the engines ... Of course, the steelwork could have been painted much more recently, but nonetheless I made a careful mental note of the colour.

The following Friday, after we'd arrived at Stretton Wharf and Jim had collected the car from Huddersfield, we went to Wolverhampton to collect the crankshaft (another story) and dropped in on Phil Speight to pick up the paint we'd ordered for the engine, now thinking that it might have been entirely the wrong colour after all. But for some reason it had been made up in coach enamel rather than engine enamel, which was a true blessing in disguise as it meant that we could go back to the drawing board. Phil got out all his colour chips again, and while he and Jim pored over various sensible shades of green, I picked out the one that reminded me most of the engine works. Phil very kindly lent us some of the chips to take away with us and consult further ...

Fast forward finally to our journey home yesterday, when we dropped the crankshaft off at RN in Daventry. Considerable progress is now being made on the engine (again, another story) and it is now in about as many bits as it is possible to reduce an engine to. And on many of the bits that hadn't seen the light of day for decades there were distinct traces of a much brighter, lighter green paint. It matched my chip perfectly. This is enough evidence for us. We are going to stick our necks out and paint Warrior's engine a colour called Muscat. If it does turn out be be wrong, at least we will be able to explain why it seemed like a good idea at the time.

So our morning in Ashton was productive as well as enjoyable and exciting, and I'm very glad we went!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

We're back!

Back from the land where time stands still, and there is no news, and a sliced loaf costs £1.50 ...
Some trip stats:
Miles: 103
Locks: 115
Tunnels: 6 (including two big ones)
Days: 11
Days it rained: 10
Injuries: 3, viz: Thorn in hand which went a bit septic but is better now (scrambling off via plank at a lock on Huddersfield Narrow); Scratched nose (hawthorn tree strategically placed after bridge on Macclesfield, very impressive with blood pouring down face in the lashing rain); Chunk pinched out of right thumb (tile cutters at Stretton Wharf).

So only minor injuries, hardly worth mentioning really. Unlike the crew member of The Honorable Lady, whom we first met at Marsden the night before going through the Standedge Tunnel. He'd taken a fall the previous day, and hurt his ankle, but was soldiering on. We met them again at Portland Basin; he was still soldiering on, but struggling a bit. Then we met the boat again at the Harecastle Tunnel and learnt that he was in Shrewsbury Hospital with a broken ankle and septicaemia. Best wishes for a speedy recovery Nick!

Will do a proper post soon - lots, in fact, covering the journey and making this temporarily Andante's blog rather than Warrior's. Suffice to say for now that it was absolutely brilliant. We found a good pub every night but one (thumbs down to the aptly named Fool's Nook at Royal Oak on the Macclesfield), and met up with some lovely people, in one case sitting talking til midnight (with Tony and Sheila from Owl in Stone - I've just realised that although I've noted our overnight stopping places I haven't attached the names of the pubs to them! Damn! Damn! Damn!)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Back in September ...

So don't go away!

The new car (1992 Volvo 940, £175 since you asked) is packed to the roof, and we will set off tomorrow morning for Huddersfield (I know I was in Huddersfield already, but I came back yesterday), to leave for the last time in Andante. It would be rash in the extreme for me to so much as suggest that there will be any updates to the blog while we're away. While I have carefully read Mike's handy wi-fi facts, and in fact have printed a copy to take with us, I doubt very much that we will have either the opportunity or the technical ability actually to get online whilst en route. We're taking the laptop, but that's mainly to store the photos and for Number One Son to watch DVDs (I don't want to be responsible for him dying of boredom. When we invited him along I kind of forgot to mention that there wasn't a telly.)

In the above photo, Lockboy demonstrates the Weed Weapon (Jim has another name for it which relates to the young people he expects to encounter on certain urban stretches, but we won't go into that). This is an ancient tool which Looks As Though It Might Be Useful On A Boat, lovingly restored and painted by Jim. I don't know whether he'll be repainting it in Warrior's colours once we get there, but it's in Andante's for now.

So, I promise we'll be back in September with the highlights of the trip. Meanwhile, wish us luck!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bridges. Toilets. The usual stuff.

This is the view from Andante, on her proper towpath mooring, looking towards the Wakefield Road and the Narrow Canal and, on the left, Aspley Basin.

Observe the pretty rustic bridge. Or, in fact, the pretty useless bridge, as it has been closed for months and months. It is closed because it is unsafe. Even when it was open it was patently unsafe. It's curvature is such that you needed crampons to cross it in the winter, and it swayed alarmingly when induced to do so by the revolting offspring of patrons of the Brewer's Fayre. The grippy bits which were attached rather half heartedly to the wooden treads (what you can't see in the picture is that there are sloping steps either side of the big sloping bit in the middle) were all detaching themselves to become trippy bits. And to top it all there was a sign saying 'no more than four people on the bridge at once'. (Four slender wiry boaters? Or four Brewer's Fayre customers?) Which doesn't inspire great confidence.

Now what I can't work out is why the bridge was built like that in the first place. It hasn't been there all that long. The photo here (scroll down a bit) (pre-restoration, presumably, but post 1977 from the horrendous University edifice dominating the background) shows a bridgeless scene. Why does it need to be so high? (Compare it to the Wakefield Road bridge beyond on the right.)

The bridge is, apparently, to be rebuilt. Eventually. We cannot blame poor old BW for this one, it seems (though I shall be blaming them for something much more malign in a couple of paragraphs' time) as it appears to be owned by Whitbreads. A planning application has been made (it's a conservation area and, IIRC from the notices, bits of the stone bridge piers are listed. But how?? They weren't even there 30 years ago). However, it will all come to late for me to be able to visit the toilet.

Oh yes, now we come to the seething rage that I have sustained for the best part of a year. BW have built (relatively) glitzy new toilets and showers on the other side of the canal opposite the basin. These were quickly, if not easily, accessible via the footbridge. In the absence of the footbridge, you have to use the road bridge, which means walking round the basin, which takes about ten minutes. OK, no great hardship, but when I first moored here, totally unnecessary, because there was a toilet on the towpath side, set into the back of the 'pub', with a great big BW toilet sign on the door. It was in a very sorry state, and the amenities were basic, but I didn't care, because it was MINE! I cleaned it up, and kept it clean; I remembered to take a torch and my own loo roll, and in the summer other boaters used it too. Everyone was happy.

Then one day I came back from work to find the BW toilet sign gone and a suspiciously shiny new lock on the door. I rang BW and had a conversation that went very roughly like this:
Me: What's happened to my toilet?
BW: We had a complaint about it so we closed it.
Me: But it was a valuable resource for me and many other users of the canal.
BW: It was substandard so we closed it.
Me: But I didn't mind! It worked!
BW: We consulted with our user groups and they agreed we should close it.
Me: How can I get involved in these consultations?
BW: You can't. They're not for boaters, just for organised groups like the Sea Cadets. We don't consult boaters.
Me: Won't you reconsider? Lots of people used it.
BW: No. We've invested in lovely new facilities on the other side of the canal.
Me: But they're on the other side of the canal. It wouldn't have hurt to keep this one too. You didn't even have to clean it or anything.
BW: We had complaints that it was substandard so we closed it.
Me: Complaints? You said a complaint before.
BW: Ah, now you're trying to twist my words.
Me: (banging head on desk) Aaaagh! Everything anyone has ever said about British Waterways is true.

Wouldn't tell me who made the complaint of course. Interestingly though, I blu-tacked a note to the door with the BW phone number in case anyone else wanted to ring up and protest, and it was ripped down overnight. I don't suppose it was BW did that.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Travels with my tree

Got back from work yesterday afternoon to find Andante had a new friend - with a tale of disappointment to tell. They were on their way back from Marsden having learnt that they were too wide - by an inch and a half - to get through the Standedge Tunnel. When they say 6'10" they mean 6'10". When I got the tunnel paperwork through I thought about measuring Andante - but realised I could never do it accurately enough for it to be any use, so we too will find out when we get there. I was looking at this other boat thinking, rather desperately, 'well, it does look a bit fat...'

Note the rather sad looking yucca on Andante's bow. I don't like yuccas. I don't like houseplants. A tall top-heavy houseplant on the front end of a boat is a bad idea. This particular houseplant does not provide much in the way of aesthetic enhancement. But it's there because it was on its way to the dustbins, and I'm a sucker for anything that's being thrown out. It's a rescued houseplant. Will it survive the journey? Or will it fall in and perish amongst the dreaded blue-green algae? Or suffer a horrific lock-related fate? You'll just have to keep watching.

Monday, August 07, 2006

So, farewell then, Huddersfield

I'm not actually leaving, finally, until Saturday (my last day at work is Thursday) so this will be a week of farewells and souvenir photos of this rather lovely town. Like all big towns, at ground level it's a bit grubby, and it has its share of cloned shops, but if you look up it also has some fantastic buildings, and has managed to hang on to more of them through the 60s and 70s than many comparable places. It also has two canals - now prosaically called the Huddersfield Broad and the Huddersfield Narrow, but originally Sir John Ramsden's Canal and the Huddersfield Canal respectively. Andante's mooring is just on the broad side of Aspley Basin, the site of the old trans-shipment wharf between the two - no integrated transport policy in those days either.

There are two facts about Huddersfield which I'm very fond of trotting out, having taken the trouble to confirm them with a nice chap in the planning department at Kirklees Council. One is that Huddersfield is, in terms of its population, the largest town in the UK that isn't a city. Why be a medium sized city if you can be the biggest town? I mentioned this to a person from Northampton, at a conference earlier this year. Predictably, he said, 'No it isn't, Northampton is.' I then went on - in the next breath - to tell a woman from Liverpool that Huddersfield has the greatest number of listed buildings in Britain after Bath (some accounts say Bristol) and Westminster. Her reply was equally predictable - but I have that one on the authority of the Guardian as well as the man from the council. Unless of course you know different, as they used to say on That's Life.

Tonight I am going on a guided architectural tour organised by the Huddersfield Civic Society, a thoroughly sterling organisation.

Why the photo of such a relatively nondescript building to head this post, then? Well, the George Hotel in Huddersfield is well known (among people that like to know that sort of thing) as the birthplace of rugby league. And Caffe Nero in Huddersfield will go down in history as the place where we signed the papers and took possession of Warrior. Although only because the woman in the bank over the road who was supposed to be sorting out the money had gone to lunch.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Canal wildlife

Narrowboatworld reports a fresh outbreak of horrible disgusting slimy poisonous blue-green algae on the 'Shropshire Union Canal covering [covering!] the area from Wheaton Aston to Brewood'.

Utterly uncannily, that is the exact spot we are headed for.

Good news from the men with beards

On Saturday morning the chief wizard, Allister Denyer, from the Russell Newbery Engine Co phoned with the good news that there was progress with phase one of the engine rebuild. Progress in three ways, one, the engine was ever so slowly moving towards completion (only 4 months so far!), two, Allister and I are talking, in fact it is impossible to shut us up! and three the RN Engine Co has at long last, admitted to the value of communicating with their customers. The news is in fact better than even I hoped and certainly better that Allister's initial prognosis. The first part of the first phase which involves the complete dismantling of both the block and the crankcase and the complete steam cleaning of both items is now complete. The block is in remarkable condition and has been crack tested and is one of the best he has seen according to Allister. It just remains to hone out the black rust from the bores which remains after the removal of the liners. It is also remarkable because for the first 17 years of its life it was cooled by sea water as the power plant of a fisheries protection trawler based in Kings Lynn and spent the next 30 years or so sitting on the quayside in the company of a 4cyl Gardner until they were both bought by John Shotbolt in around 1985.
He installed the National in the one and only tug he built, Warrior, in 1995, which he originally intended to keep for himself, but 4 years later was prevailed upon to sell. The Gardner now powers his last boat - Revenge. These two boats were named after the Royal Navy's first two iron clad warships: HMS Warrior is still extant and moored in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Back to the National; following the steam clean inside and out all the residual paint has been removed and both sections have been rubbed down, primed and undercoated ready for me to apply the topcoats of Craftsmaster Paints engine enamel equivalent of Mason's Dove Green which is, after considerable consultation with some of the stars of the old engine fraternity, the nearest we can get to the original National engine colour. Although to be truthful we are being slightly precious here as it is likely that all engines from what ever source were painted with what ever paint was to hand, we however would like to differentiate our unique National from the mid brunswick green used by Russell Newbery.
Next week, after the paint has thoroughly dried, and the honing has been completed RN liners will be slightly modified and then fitted to the block. The crank case and the block then will be ready for the next phase - casting the main and big end bearings in white metal and machining them to the crank which is currently undergoing major surgery at Custom Cranks. This should be ready to be picked up sometime at the end of August, when it will be delivered by me to RN at Daventry. Watch out for the next exciting episode then.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

This doesn't look good ...

My post about the French stove last week got more response than anything else I've ever written about here. Not all that much, admittedly, but still more than anything else. As things are a bit quiet otherwise, I thought I'd do a quick update on it. Jim managed to get it to pieces - it's made in quite a lot of separate pieces; in particular he extricated the inner cast iron firebox from the enammelled front and top. It does not look good. There is a single, big, crack that extends from the bottom left of the front, by the ashpan, right round the side to more than half way up the back. The good news is that that's the only damage; the bad news of course is that it will be fiendishly difficult, if not impossible, to repair. It's cast iron, it's old, it's rusty, it probably wasn't very good quality in the first place - and our only hope is to try to get it welded. Mission Impossible for Len the local welder, with whom it now rests. Last we saw, he was still sucking his teeth and shaking his head at it.

Tomorrow, a report from Jim on the engine's progress .....

Thursday, August 03, 2006


According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the 'art of moving, lodging, and supplying troops and equipment'.

In a decidely non-military context, that's what I've been trying to sort out this week: planning, as far as is possible, to ensure that people and things are in the right places before, during and after our forthcoming trip. The starting point was to get an itinerary from Canalplan - an amazing website. Two itineraries in fact, to take account of our passage through the Standedge Tunnel, which is booked for August 16th.

Lockboy, sadly, has too hectic a social life to accompany us this time, but we have recruited Number One Son to provide extra muscle on the first leg of the journey, along the Huddersfield Narrow, where I fear it may be much needed. The only hitch is that he has to be back down south for a wedding (not his own, fortunately) on the Saturday. The best plan I could come up with was to put him ashore at Stalybridge and onto a train home via Manchester. I've booked him a Virgin advance ticket - a bargain at £16.50 - but if he doesn't make that particular train we're looking at at least £74. So in a way that's the most time-critical part of the journey.

We'll drive up to Huddersfield on the preceding Saturday - so Jim needs to be able to get back to collect the car from there once we've arrived at Stretton. Stretton Wharf is five miles from the nearest railway station - hopefully someone will be found to give him a lift!

With personnel all in the right place, we turn our attention to Things. Andante is a pretty small boat, especially for three people, so we want the minimum possible amount of stuff on voyage. But there are loads of things we'll need once we get there to start smartening her up. So that all has to be fitted into the car ready for collection. And then there are the books and things I need to take home after the whole trip's over in order to take them to London for the new job. There are five boxes of them, so I've enlisted the help of a colleague (thanks Pete!). He lives about seventy miles along the south coast from us (another weekly commuter) but what the hell, it's all Down South, so he's going to bring those for me when he's next 'passing'.

Well, I just hope I haven't forgotten anything too vital. Bet I have.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

230v, 3.5 kva alternator for sale!

Isn't it lovely? This piece of kit came with Warrior - it had to be to cut off to get the engine out - but it doesn't appear to have been used. Certainly on Warrior it wasn't connected either to the engine or the electrical system. We have no use for it so are hoping someone will buy it from us to help defray some of our outgoings! As we've never seen it in operation we obviously can't guarantee that it works, but if anyone buys it through the blog (it's also on ebay, but very well hidden) we can come to some sort of money back if not satisfied arrangement.

More photos here.

The specifications are as follow:

3.5 kva output
57/110/230 volt
30.4/15.2 a
50 hertz
3000 RPM
weight 18.2 kg
clockwise rotation (looking from front)
90mm overall double pulley
length 375mm O/A
diameter 173mm O/A
Manufacturer's name (?) Mecce Alte, made in Italy
Date of manufacture is 2000.
It appears to be very similar in specification to the Electrolux Travelpower

Any enquiries/offers/expressions of interest, leave a comment here with your email address (or phone number if you prefer) and Jim will get back to you.