by Maurice Burns
With NELPG turning out engines from 1970 with such fine paint finishes, it was natural for the committee and working members to think we needed covered accommodation but with no money a storage shed was just a dream.
All this changed at the 1975 Stockton and Darlington 150th Anniversary celebrations at Shildon when NELPG not only turned out four locomotives for the Grand Cavalcade but had a huge sales stall at a key exhibition location. Such was the income generated the vision of a shed came a step closer. By 1976 I took on the role of finding a second hand building and rebuilding it with NELPG volunteers and started looking in farmers magazines. Eventually in deepest Hampshire on the Longmoor Military Railway, a potential building existed of the correct width and height. A site inspection on August 13th 1976 remarkably coincided with a family holiday flying from Gatwick. The building was used as a store and had previously been in the Far East during the Second World War. Some 210 foot long by 40 feet wide by 14 feet 2” high’ it looked ideal until I started looking at its quite complex construction of bolted joints, the risk of getting column sections in the wrong place and the fact the idea was to rebuild it using volunteers with no experience of building construction. Column centres were measured and pictures taken in particular of the bolted joints. All the column bases were to be cut off at ground level. The very next day a letter arrived from F James and Sons giving a price of £4.100 as inspected by a Mr Burns. No other NELPG member ever saw the building standing at Longmoor!
Some very quick thinking by the committee and with help from Nigel Trotter, the NYMR’s Civil engineer, looked at the Grosmont shed site to establish where a shed could be put. There simply was nowhere – one had to be created moving an embankment and sadly demolishing Deviation signal box. We also asked all NYMR loco owners who were interested in buying a share of the space. NELPG wanted space to house the combined length of the J27, Q6,Q7 and K1 (The J72 was not purchased until after the shed construction) whilst Ian Storey wanted space for 44767, Bob and Sylvia Jones for Lambton No 5 and Ted Smith for No 31. With no other owners interested some hard bargaining with the dismantling contractor saw the price for nine bay 137 foot long shed, dismantled and delivered to Grosmont for a reduced price of £3,100. The remaining 4 bays were scrapped.
A quick estimate of the total cost of the project to include new column baseplates, concrete foundations, clips and paint came to £4580 which by the simplest of maths was divided by the total length of all the engines saw a price per foot of locomotive come to £12.50. All loco owners confirmed their agreement to this price per foot of their engine and NYMR management backed the scheme.
All the above estimates and agreements were remarkably achieved in just eight days and the order to buy the building was placed on August 21st 1976. By September 8th just three weeks from the site inspection the building had been dismantled and delivered “flat pack” to Grosmont. What was delivered were hundreds of pieces of steelwork and cladding sheets, eighteen windows, one roller shutter door and a mountain of huge bolts of different lengths and no drawings or assembly instructions!. Demolishing Deviation signal box and the embankment using a JCB, tractor and a trailer, the latter provided by Ian Storey, was a mammoth task over the winter of 1976/77. with volunteers such as John Whitbread and Ian Storey operating the JCB successfully whilst others such as Alan Higgitt and Andy Scott drove the tractor and trailer and on at least one occasion became totally stuck in the mud and had to be dug out! The weather during some of this work was very wet at the end of a very hot summer. With the earth moved, Nigel Trotter helped to pin point the shed location relative to the running track and thus the elevation of the shed base plates in March 1977. Digging the foundation holes and shuttering for 24 foundations was no small task with Alan Higgitt, Paul Smith, Dave Hancock and Peter Wrigglesworth lending a hand. New column bases were made and these were used to suspend the foundation bolts over the empty foundation holes at exactly the right location of the column centres as measured at Longmoor. Many loads of concrete were then delivered and wheelbarrowed by NELPG volunteers. When the concrete set the baseplates were removed and welded to the old columns.
A major task was sorting out the steelwork into similar lengths then identifying what went where using the pictures taken at Longmoor and this task was like a mammoth jigsaw. The critical items were the roof trusses each comprising of fifteen pieces of steelwork which were each bolted in exactly the same order so as not to modify the column centres of 15 ft 3 ¼” which were already fixed in concrete. As much pre assembly was done as possible with all the steel painted Aluminium and the Brown family played a key role here. Eventually all steelwork was laid out where it was to go. All we had to do now was to assemble it with no previous experience of such tasks but that was nothing new as we believed we could do anything!! We had the use of a Coles road crane operated by professional driver Rod Smith. We had a square scaffold tower and ladders for high elevations though Toby Jones had other means of access! We also had lots of rope, hand drawn sketches, a work program and I gave a safety briefing.
The first day we erected the steelwork was a very special day. With volunteers Ian Storey, Peter Smith, Ian Pearson, Neil Henderson, Paul Smith and others at hand to see the newly painted columns go straight onto the foundation bolts and shim packs for minor elevation adjustment went fine. Then came the first fully assembled roof truss starting at the north end that on photographs looked very near to an overhead power line but was a safe distance off. By the end of one day we had erected four columns, two complete roof trusses and connecting steelwork. It all fitted together without problems with relief on my part and everything made vertical, tightened up and made safe. I remember walking to my car in Grosmont station car park and glancing back to look through the rail tunnel at the huge aluminium painted structure NELPG volunteers had created that was not there when I arrived! Steelwork assembly continued for many months as work was limited to Sundays only due to everyone having full time jobs and family duties. When the roller doors and windows were fitted it started to look like a locomotive shed yet at the same time the shed site was the footpath to Esk Valley cottages! With windows reglazed by Len Mayhew, the last major task was the cladding. Any volunteer involved such as those already mentioned plus Dave Pennock, Richard Campbell, Bill Dobson and others will never forget the punching of every hole in the cladding to aline the hook bolts to the roof steelwork. It was a job that seemed endless and additional sheets had to be obtained from a steelworks being demolished in Stockton on Tees.
By 1978 work by Secretary Derek Hanson saw two agreements drawn up and signed. The first was titled The NELPG Storage Shed Owners Group listing the financial contributors and responsibility arrangements and the other was between this group and the NYMR called The Agreement for the locomotive storage shed. This document is a lease to NELPG of the land Deviation shed stands on for 99 years at an annual rent of £1. Both agreements were signed by all parties on January 1st 1979.
Such was the progress the committee had an open day where refreshments and drinks were provided and speeches by Derek Hanson and Chairman Ian Storey in front of the Q7. Concrete walkways were installed as was electric lighting using second hand materials obtained by Gordon Wells.
The NYMR P way team led by Les Barwick laid the tracks into the shed and one Sunday the first locomotive Q7 65460 was symbolically pushed by volunteers into the shed. It was such a proud moment after 4 years of toil.
The shed was then used for loco maintenance. In 1991 to commemorate NELPG’s 25 Anniversary the building was totally reclad using Ian Ferguson firm of contractors and a brass plate unveiled by NELPG President Bill Harvey on June 16th 1991.
Our dream of owning our own shed was now a reality. However when one reflects on the enormity of the shed construction whilst the volunteers had full time jobs and family commitments, the achievement is immense. More so perhaps that there were no technical problems and importantly there was not one accident during the whole construction period.
A job well done by all the volunteers who helped and perhaps one of NELPG’s forgotten yet perhaps one of its greatest ever achievements.
Since that time a workshop has been constructed within the shed to house the tools and spares once stored in the groups box van and outside in the group's road van. The labour to build the workshop was provided by the NYMR as compensation for us loosing our road van which was one of those removed to clear the site for the construction of the Armstrong Oilers building.
Dave Whitfield designed and organised the photo display.