Great Western Echo — No.62. Summer 1978 pp. 6-8
‘Bodmin Tank’ by Kevin Evans

© Great Western Society


It is strange how ideas for projects are conceived. In the case of Bodmin's water tank it was due to an impulse by the Bristol Group Committee. It was November 1976 and we had been discussing some days earlier the lack of action since the move of Radstock Signal Box to Didcot twelve months before. Then at the November National Council Meeting the pending move of the Society's stock at Bodmin depot to Didcot was being discussed. Peter Lemar made the comment that the water tank at the depot was an interesting item of GWR history and worth preserving for use on the new running line at Didcot. Before really considering the full implications we said to the Council “If you want the water tank at Didcot the Bristol Group will move it as we are looking for another project”. To this Frank Banyard responded with great enthusiasm and the ball was in our court.

By the next committee meeting we had all realised what we had offered to take on; to partially dismantle, lift and transport a thirty feet water tank a distance of some 220 miles whilst ourselves living 150 miles from Bodmin. Consequently there were many mixed feelings and great reservations about the practicability of the project and in view of this it was decided to carry out a study of the job to see if we could fulfil our verbal commitment. So Alan Price, Martin Baker and myself travelled to Bodmin on 26th November and our preliminary findings were discussed at our next Committee Meeting. We eventually came to the conclusion that it was possible for us to carry out the job but it would have to be carefully planned. The two principal committee members responsible for the project were Alan Price and myself. It was decided that Alan would arrange for a quotation from Sparrows Crane Hire of Exeter and with the help of Peter Lemar negotiate the purchase of the water tank from BR. I was to evaluate and oversee the ‘engineering’ involved. So with a budget of £500 for the project and a target date of 15th April 1977 we each set off to complete our tasks in four months.

As with all projects of this nature we found ourselves playing a waiting game as BR could not sell us the water tank within the four months we had hoped for. Thus with a favourable quotation from Sparrows and an engineering schedule planned the project went in to a state of limbo and 15th April came and went, as did the month of May. Then at last Peter Lemar informed us there would be a site meeting with BR on 2nd June but unfortunately neither Alan or myself could go to Bodmin on that date. Therefore, Peter agreed to act as our representative and duly put in a bid on our behalf. By the end of June this had been accepted by BR and the water tank was ours. Now phase 2 could be implemented. Alan telephoned Frank Banyard to inform him that the water tank was ours and asked him to order a wagon from BR to transport the tank from Bodmin to Didcot. So we were back to playing the waiting game again as nothing further could be arranged till we had rail transport. This time the lapse lasted until the evening of 10th August when Alan telephoned me to say that BR were offering two dates: 20th August or mid-March. Did I think is possible for us to lift the tank on the 20th? After some discussion we concluded that it would be possible if we could get a reasonable working party of 9 or 10 people down to Bodmin on the coming Sunday, 14th August. Alan, Andy Hook and myself had already arranged to go down to Bodmin on that Sunday so we set about rounding up another six people. My planning schedule had shown that it should take two people four days to complete the job therefore nine people ought to be able to do it. By the end of the evening we knew we had the extra six ‘volunteers’: Ken Evans, Richard Sweet, Martin Baker, Keith Sharman, Graham Drew and Martin Williams. Now we had our workforce arrangements could be made for Sunday. Alan organised a 25 foot ladder and scaffold tower and to complement this I borrowed a 100 foot nylon rope from John Hodgetts.

After a 7 am start from Bristol on Sunday morning we arrived at Bodmin at 10 am. In view of the large work load involved it was decided to start three jobs simultaneously: -
1. Drain the tank of residual water and disconnect the water supply fitted by the South West Group.
2. Excavate the base of the tank to find the 5" diameter water supply pipe which ran up the inside of the RSJs support column.
3. Remove the ‘fire devil’ stove underneath the swing jib and assemble the scaffold tower underneath the jib to enable it to be unbolted and lowered to the ground.

All progressed very well and half an hour later Alan shouted that he had found the pipe with its 90° bend. Andy had started to siphon out the water with his hosepipe and Richard and Keith had assembled the tower. Work was concentrated on digging around the pipe to expose the 90° bend actually underneath the tank base whilst Keith and I slung the rope around the swing jib and tied it up then unbolted the flange joint holding it to the swivel casting; it was then lowered to the ground by rope. With this job completed the water supply pipe had been made as accessible as it could be so the next two jobs were started. The first was to release and lower the water cock chain guide bracket and actuating arm on the top of the tank. Alan, Andy and Graham set about this whilst 1 released, greased and retightened the four 1½in. Whitworth securing nuts on the tank base. They came after some persuasion, i.e. a 3 ft. spanner, 3 ft. of boiler tube and a 6 ft. length of octangle bar. It's surprising what a little leverage can achieve! By the time this was done we decided to stop for lunch.

After a short break the chain guide bracket was successfully lowered and the tank was emptied of water so the next two jobs started, firstly to unbolt and lower the float gauge from outside the tank and secondly the job that was really to stretch us - to sever the 5 in. diameter water supply pipe to enable the tank to be lifted vertically. Unfortunately my theory about the pipe was incorrect because I thought a pipe of that diameter should be cast iron. Therefore if a notch was cut into the pipe wall and a chisel bar placed in the notch, with the help of a 14lb sledge the pipe should be smashed; this was foiled as I discovered the pipe to be ½in. thick and made from cast steel which does not break so easily. Thus we had to face the task of 'hacksawing' through the complete pipe in a working space of 3 ft. square, 3 ft. underground and 3 ft. from the entrance to the hole with the sun on our backs. Not really optimum conditions to work in! So we made the best of it by everyone taking turns until the job was completed in about an hour. Surprisingly only two blades snapped but four were worn out.

So only one more task remained - to unbolt the 25 ft. steel ladder from the tank and lower it to the ground. This proved more difficult than expected, probably because we were all tired by now but eventually we finished. All the items we had removed were neatly stacked to await transportation with the tank. With this complete we cleaned up and started back to Bristol at 6.30 pm except for some of us who went on a car rally to Wadebridge in search of a real ale pub to get Keith a Jubilee Ale only to find that the pub didn't open until 7.30 pm. What we do to please some members! Unfortunately the great effort put in by us was somewhat in vain as I learned from Alan early the following week that the lift planned for 20th August had had to be cancelled as no BR loading inspector was available. Nothing then happened until 12th September when BR arranged a site meeting with Sparrows, South Western Electricity Board and ourselves at which the following were agreed:
1. SWEB would switch off power from overhead lines near the site.
2. Sparrows saw no problem in lifting the tank.
3. BR required a sleeper path to be built for the crane to cross the running lines.
4. BR would provide a suitable Weltrol and a loading inspector.

This meeting left us with one problem; to obtain about a hundred sleepers at a reasonable cost at fairly short notice. BR said they might be able to help but Alan continued to investigate other possible sources and he collected a list of people willing to travel to Bodmin again. This done he received a telephone call from BR saying that a wagon would be available for 15th October giving us two weeks to organise the necessary equipment. The date of the lift caused a small administrative problem, as Alan was unavailable for the week prior to and on the date so Derek Fear took over and confirmed arrangements with Sparrows and the SWEB. The supply of sleepers then became Derek's biggest headache as BR couldn't sell or loan us any and we had had no success in finding an alternative supply. This was very serious because with no path for the crane the tank couldn't be lifted. However a local firm was found which sold us one hundred sleepers at 50 pence each although they could not transport them from Lostwithiel so a local haulage firm contracted to take care of this and deliver them by the 14th. We thought the problem solved but for Derek the worst was still to come. When he telephoned the sleeper supplier on the 13th to check that all was well he received a message from a distressed sleeper supplier's mother to say that her son had gone to the south of France and she had no one apart from herself to load a hundred sleepers onto the trailer. So Derek had to ask the transport company to load them as we could not help.

Twenty members had volunteered to help on the great day, twelve from Bristol and eight from Bath, so it was decided to hire two minibuses. Leaving at 6 am on a dark foggy morning the Bristol party arrived at 10 am followed ten minutes later by the Bath contingent. After the tools were unloaded the first task was to unload the sleepers from the trailer which had been parked in the station yard. It took nearly all of the two hours planned for this as we had to sort out the good sleepers from the bad. I had previously consulted the two BR inspectors present to enable us to lay the good sleepers into position ready for the crane. This was completed in time for a ten minutes break before the crane arrived at 12 noon. The South West Group's mess coach was moved back slightly to provide us with free space and after consultation with the crane operator it was moved across ready for the lift. The Weltrol was already in place and a start was made with the lift.

The method chosen was for the crane's hook to diversify into three chains with hooks and from these to connect to three wire straps with shackles, the straps being 120° apart around the tank. This method gave support all round and we assumed, correctly as it turned out, that the centre of gravity was at the joint where the support column meets the conical tank to allow a vertical lift. Whilst this was being set up by three of us the crane operator packed and bedded the crane down firmly and by 3 pm we were ready to lift. We released the four base nuts and to our pleasure the tank slid gently over the threads. It was lifted 2 ft. to clear the old supply pipe then swung round and after a little trouble lowered to the ground resting in a horizontal position. From this we reslung the tank and it was raised and placed upon the Weltrol being packed and shackled to BR's specifications. Two jobs were then carried out simultaneously; one group loaded the Weltrol with the other parts of the tank ready for transportation to Didcot whilst the other group relaid sleepers to guide the crane back over the running lines. We were surprised how quickly we achieved this – they say practice makes perfect!

Thus by 6 pm everything had been tidied up and the crane seen safely away. So we started our long journey back to Bristol arriving at about 10 o'clock. About two weeks later the tank arrived at Didcot and was unloaded by the lads there.

That completes this article apart from the credits. Besides those previously mentioned thanks also go to those who travelled to Bodmin: Jean and Sharon Evans, Vivienne Hook, Dave Hackling, Ken Richards, Stewart Birks, Dave Winter, Kevin Daily, John Chitson, Mike Searl, anyone else who may have been unintentionally overlooked, and to the lads at Didcot who unloaded the tank. Our special thanks go to the departments and personnel of British Railways who were involved, Sparrows Crane Hire and Mr. Archer, their crane operator and South Western Electricity Board. These people made it possible to transport the water tank 220 miles to Didcot where with the new station and Radstock Signal Box it will become part of the branch-line scene on the new running line.


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