Four volunteers from the RC&NDWS today made a start on what may turn out to be a major project at the terminus of Lord Roll’e Canal on property belonging to RHS Rosemoor Gardens, in Torrington. This is where there was a canal basin and where the leat which fed the canal, and prior to that a tucking or fulling mill, joined forces. The canal and lime kiln complex at this point on the canal is in a very poor state of repair. The course of the canal here is little more than a heavily overgrown, semi-infilled ditch alongside the derelict and crumbling kilns. A far cry from what it would have been like during its days of industrial operation.
The volunteers, Hilary and Adrian Wills, Trevor Fordham and Ian Harrison arrived on site at 9.30 to be greeted by Rosemoor Curator, Jonathan Webster. Adrian had previously been in communication with Jon’ for quite some time ensuring that all the necessary permissions and health and safety requirements had been covered and agreed.
Using an assortment of long-handled shears and loppers the four set to work cutting down the invasive vegetation that had established itself along the edges of the canal. RHS Rosemoor are very much ‘on board’ with the RC&NDWS desire to see this site properly investigated and have offered considerable help in providing assistance with clearing and removing debris using plant operated by Rosemoor staff. Much of the origin wharf wall is either buried under debris and infill or has been demolished. Until the overburden is removed a clear picture of how much of the site is still intact is hard to achieve.. Subject to what is found, time and money, this could be the beginning of a long term and fascinating journey of discovery.
Unfortunately the weather turned against the group and what started out as a rather grey and dismal day became increasingly wet and unpleasant so following a lunch sheltering in one of the more stable fire-mouths of the kiln, they finally called it a day and went home to change into dry and warm clothes. However, it was a very successful and profitable start to this scheme and work will continue next Tuesday (November 10th), subject to reasonable weather.
While Adrian warms up the engine and clutches of the RB, Trevor organizes lifting strops for moving the two most recently cast coping stones onto the wharf wall. When Adrian begins tracking the crane to the position it needs to be in, the offside drive chain decides to slip off the rear sprocket. Despite attaching sacrificial blocks in attempt to take up the slack in the drive chains, the glutinous mud on the surface of the site has helped enable the chain to slip free. Trevor applies a very large bar-iron to the loose chain and manages to get it almost back onto the sprocket but not quite. Eventually while Trevor is applying leverage to the chain, Adrian engages drive again and very slowly reverses the crane slightly which pulls the chain back on. He then continues to drive the crane to where it needs to be in order to lift the blocks.
The first block is quickly lifted on to the wall and levered into its final position. The second soon follows suit. Trevor mixes a load of mortar whilst Adrian selects a number of suitable stones for in-filling the space beneath the blocks. Once this is done and the stones mortared in, Adrian continues rebuilding the top of the wharf wall and by the end of the day has reached the end of the straight section.
To finish this section of wall, another 2 coping stones are required but their production will have to wait for another day.
The workforce is highly depleted today. Trevor has ‘twisted his ankle and is finding it uncomfortable to move around on so is at home resting it. Ian doesn’t like getting muddy so has cried off and Adrian is temporarily involved in something else so when Barry arrives he sets off to work on the tub boat by himself. He is busy shortening axles with a angle-grinder and realigning wheel brackets when Adrian finally comes on site.
The constant downpours of rain continue to keep the site in a swamp-like condition. Tools especially those powered by electricity frequently have to be rushed into shelter. However by the end of a very short working day between them Barry and Adrian to fix all four wheels into their respective brackets and bolted down into the base of the boat. A good application of grease to all moving parts ensures smooth rotation of the wheels. Whilst the boat is still lying on its back a considerable amount of caulking and gap filling between floor boards is the next job before a last good dose of wood preserver is applied and the boat turned the right way up. With its little wheels pointing skyward it does bare a strong resemblance to a beetle on its back!
Lots of things are happening on site today. Barry is using a power planer to remove excess wood from all sorts of places on the boat while Ian is drilling more holes in the wheel retaining straps .Adrian is removing sections of scaffolding along the wharf wall which is no longer needed and Carol is acting as Official Camera Man. Trevor in the meantime is wallowing in the mud beneath the RB22. He is modifying the pair of sacrificial blocks of wood which have been fixed onto the crane’s sub frame. The previous attempt to use sacrificial blocks was quite successful although the bolts use to retain them were fouling the chains. For all concerned working conditions are very difficult because of the wet and mud but Trevor deserves a medal for persevering and successfully achieving his goal in such awkward and trying circumstances.
Adrian had been hoping to complete rebuilding the length of wharf wall as far as the corner section before the end of 2013 but here he was on the last day of the year, working with Norman, craning more block onto its top. Having roughly laid these blocks in place Adrian estimates he needs 4 more to finish. Then he plans to begin building a launching ramp/inclined plane which the tub boats and other small craft can use to enter or exit the water but this is for 2014, not so far away now! However he is well pleased with the point of progress reached so far . As a matter of fact, to date, 120 ‘coping stone’ blocks, including 7 quoin ‘stones’ and 5 foundation blocks, have been cast which has taken whole a load of concrete.
Although it has stopped raining for a moment the surface of the site is still an absolute mess. Driving the RB up and down shifting blocks has not helped but this is unavoidable. While Norman and Adrian are playing with big boys toys, Barry has been using an electric planer to chamfer the edge of the base of the lead tub boat. The wheels and axle straps are already to be attached but that will also happen next year now.
In the meantime I wish anyone following this diary,
A VERY HAPPY, HEALTHY AND PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR!