Tuesday 30 April 2024

Renewing Joyce's Superheater (3)

Some good old news: 

The new tubing for the superheater arrived with Atlas Tube Bending Ltd at the start of March 2023 (14 months ago).

The old superheater (possibly disassembled) had been supplied to Atlas by RBS along with an assembly drawing. This was presumably expected to be sufficient information to make the new coils.
Sentinel Assembly Drawing of similar superheater
Atlas began the work but stopped part way as there was not enough tubing to complete the job. In April, I was informed that more tubing would have to be sourced from Germany by RBS. 

I was disappointed as this would delay everything by six weeks and eat even further into the 2023 running season at Midsomer Norton. I was even less pleased because not only would there be the delay but an additional carriage charge to be paid by someone.

Lea Mottley let me know that the extra tubing had arrived 'in the country' on the 9th May. Communication with Lea then ceased completely and I did not know where 'in the country' the tubing was or whether it was on its way to Atlas.

At this point, I was sent an invoice for the material (£681.20, Invoice 7109/SH/002-1 dated 3/5/2023). I wasn't too happy that the figure was £81.20 more than I had been quoted but it wasn't too serious. What did puzzle me was the number on the invoice .../002-1 whereas the previous invoice had been .../003. 

A similar issue sequencing mistake had been made on an earlier invoice but Lea was happy to be informed and had willingly put it right straight away. 

So I asked about the .../002-1. After a few interchanges of emails, despite my protestations, I was told emphatically that .../002-1 was the correct invoice number. Hmm.
It's not earth shattering and may seem picky but it does give the impression that something isn't right. 

I enquired of RBS about the progress of the new tubing but no answer came.

I'd heard nothing since 9th May so eventually, out of complete frustration, I rang Atlas directly on 1st June. (This is not something I would normally do as Atlas are RBS's subcontractor, not mine). Atlas told me that not only had they received the tubing but had completed the work ready for collection.

I passed this information on to Allan although I realised he probably wouldn't be pleased that I had gone over his head. It can be tough if you don't communicate but you reap what you sow.

Allan sent me a photo on 10th June proclaiming 'The Octopus has landed'!
The landed Octopus
(Photo: A Schofield for this contract)
Things seemed to be taking shape and I was looking forward to my visit to the new RBS premises on 21st June 2023.

Like my visit to the Moston premises in October 2022, access to the new premises neither seemed obvious nor welcoming; the shutter doors were closed and there was nobody about. Eventually I rang Allan but no reply so I texted saying I was outside unit 11. Promptly, as arranged for 11am, the shutter doors began to rise slowly and I was allowed in.

I had no agenda for my visit, only to 'touch base', have a look at progress and assist in any way I could. Whilst I was at last able to see the new tube coils, I was rather perturbed at Allan complaining that Atlas had left him more welds than he'd wanted, more small tube parts to be welded and having also not made the tube piece ends easily accessible for welding.

To me this begged the question: What had Atlas been actually specified to do? Had Allan considered how the coils would be made from the sections of tubing supplied or had he just left it to chance that Atlas might do the right thing?

Atlas are tube benders, one of the best there is. Allan is the one providing the expertise to build the superheater. So if Allan did not get what he wanted, then there is only Allan to be held responsible.

I also started to feel uncomfortable and anticipating bills for the extra welding. No reassurance that this might not be the case was given.

I had some time left over so I popped in to see Atlas themselves. Although I arrived unannounced, Neil Meah and Martin Wood made me very welcome and we discussed how things had been going. They showed me the final coil that had been made from the second order of tubing that morning. Regrettably, I didn't think to take a photo of it. 

I let Allan know the coil was ready for collection and went on my way feeling reasonably happy.
About this time, I had a call from Martin Staniforth, owner of the other double-engined Sentinel steam loco 9622. He told me that one of the coils he'd had made for his loco's superheater had been wound the wrong way (analogous to using a left hand threaded screw instead of a right hand one). I asked Allan to check.

The two largest coils had been wound the wrong way. 
These photos show the old and the new for comparison.
Outer Coil (Opposite spirals)
(Photo: A Schofield for this contract)
Next to Outer Coil (Opposite Spirals)
(Photo: A Schofield for this contract)
The two Inner Coils (Same Spirals)
Now what? I hear you say.

My thoughts at the time are unprintable but this would clearly require rework or more material from Germany. Being a high temperature, high pressure application, I feared the latter. Whichever way, somebody would have to pick up the cost.

Since I had already paid £8,115 out of the contract total of £9,745, this was not a situation I wanted to be in. I had also not been given any target date for delivery and this would put things back a long time.

On 15th July, Allan sent me an email with some options:
1. Return unfit coils for a second time to Atlas, your chosen contractor for the job, to be made good, again.

2. We Re-work the garbage coils supplied by Atlas, with no guarantee on the work, material or other and is not without its risks and more expense.

3. Have the unfit coils remade new by a different contractor of your choice.

Obviously which ever solution you choose will have a different compromise either with cost, time or both.

I’ll leave this with you and await your instruction on how to proceed."

I made four observations from this:
The first is that the tube material is being referred to as 'Unfit' and 'Garbage'. Later Allan also described one of the coils as 'Piece of Junk'. Does that mean they are irretrievable or what? How on earth was I supposed to interpret the implication of these terms?

The second, where I have underlined, is an obvious attempt to hold me responsible for the choice of Atlas to do the tube bending. Allan had told me in early discussions that Atlas was the only company that could do certain parts of this work.

The third, also where I have underlined, is who would be supplying the 'more expense' in the second option?

The fourth is the question: why is the expert contractor asking me, his customer, how to proceed? That is why I employed him in the first place.

In reality, the first option was the only sensible one so why waste time asking in the first place?

I was furious. I decided that I would first have to lay down the facts of what I had been quoted, what I had paid against that quote and what was still outstanding. I also made it clear that the tubing had been damaged while under RBS auspices and that RBS were thus responsible for the corrective work.

Allan responded with, amongst other things, insistence that only email should be used for further communication. This I knew would cause complications and it effectively ended any form of amicable customer/contractor relationship.

After a few more emails, to my surprise, Allan actually rang me. In flowery, unprintable terms (after being unable to phone him for months), I expressed my shock that he was able to use a telephone after all!

Amongst other remarks was one that Allan "had never known a customer like me". 
Let's think about this: 
1. Have none of his other customers ever wanted their order delivered urgently? 
2. (With the benefit of hindsight) have any of the other customers had to wait 18 or more months for a job that should have taken about 6? 
3. Have there actually been any other customers? I may be able to throw some light on this one later on.

However, although under duress, it did still feel like RBS would get me a working superheater more quickly than by any other means, partly influenced by the thought of having to retrieve my property from such a long distance away and then begin again. 

I have abridged the contents of the various emails exchanged in July 2023. The photo below shows the thickness of the file of communications I submitted to my solicitor in December 2023 so 'abridged' is probably welcome in this context! When I set out to get a new superheater from RBS, this is not what I had in mind to be stuck with in the process.
RBS Communications.
Before all this started, in March 2020, I had a heart attack. I now check my blood pressure every morning to monitor for any unwelcome trends. During these email interchanges, I found my blood pressure rising frighteningly day after day until I realised that this had to stop. My health is far more important than Joyce's superheater and I really don't need this kind of stress in my life.

I regret having chosen to continue with RBS because of the risk to my health. In April 2024, I have had a number of offers of assistance so I don't feel so exposed in having to deal with RBS as my only choice.

I hope that by exposing these events I can help others avoid similar experiences.

After publishing my first in this series of blogposts, I was contacted by another heritage railway also having similar experiences with RBS. I am not alone.

Next time, I start to hear some unwelcome rumours.

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Renewing Joyce's Superheater (2)

When employing a person or organisation to work for you,
what kind of relationship do you expect to have with them?

There is always an element of risk when engaging a subcontractor. I like to make use of people I already know or are at least within easy reach. Thus I can pop in from time to time to check on progress or discuss any difficulties that could be looming. If unable to visit, then talking on the phone is a good second best. In this way, I've found that I get a good understanding with the contractor, become confident in their ability and have no fear about using them again. In contrast, to attempt to achieve this level of mutual understanding purely by email or social media is doomed to failure and should be avoided at all cost.

With frequent face to face contact, a customer is involved in the process. When problems arise, because the customer knows the bigger picture, it is often possible to find a simple solution which the contractor on their own might not be aware of. For a one-off construction, the customer needs to know the difficulties; otherwise, they are blind to potential problems that could arise later during use.

J R Goold Ltd and Mendip Steam Restoration Ltd became long standing friends of mine while working on Joyce's restoration and I know they are pleased to hear from me at any time. They have always helped me as far as they possibly can and it's great to know they are always there when I need advice or support.

When I worked at Westinghouse, the railway signalling company in Chippenham, one of the values bred into us was Integrity. Say what you mean, mean what you say and be open with people was my interpretation.

Through integrity and open communication, trust is established. If people are not straight with you, mistrust arises and it's difficult to rebuild trust once lost. If communication is limited to email or social media only, it will take very little time before the recipient has misunderstood an intention and trust will unwind rapidly.

Contractors know that by building a strong personal relationship with their customers, they will have a much better chance of further work from them in future. Likewise customers will know they have a reliable contractor they can turn to when the need arises. I don't think this is rocket science and I apologise if this is stating the obvious.

The Job:

Part of this job entailed RBS using Atlas Tube Bending Ltd as a specialist subcontractor. RBS director Allan Schofield commented in an email that, for producing 'upset tube ends', "Atlas and seemingly no one else can do this". I'd chosen RBS for the work partly because they were close to Atlas so it was reassuring that there was agreement in this. The other reason for using Atlas was because they had done the same job for Sentinel 9622 a year or so earlier. [I asked the question as to what 'upset tube ends' were but received no answer].

The tubing had to be ordered by RBS for Atlas to use. Whilst it would have been possible to use readily available tube material, Allan suggested, and I agreed, that hot-drawn seamless steel tubing should be used even though it meant sourcing it from Germany. This would cause some delay but I felt it was acceptable for getting a longer lasting superheater. [I asked if the tubing would meet specification EN 10305/1 but never received a reply. I also asked what the outside diameter of the tubing would be and its wall thickness. Again, no reply. I still do not know.].

I was invoiced up-front for the material cost (£1547, Invoice 7109/SH/001 dated 31/1/2023). Paying up-front was not comfortable but it was what was asked so I paid it. The invoice came from Unit 21, Gill Street, Moston, M9 4HA.

A second invoice arrived for initial manufacturing of small parts listed on quote RBS104 (£2353, Invoice 7109/SH/002 dated 14/2/2023).
The invoice came from Unit 21, Gill Street, Moston, M9 4HA and I paid as requested.
New Clamps for securing coiled tubing
(Photo: A Schofield for this contract)
A third invoice arrived for more bits and pieces but it had the same invoice number as the second. I'd received it from Lea Mottley; she quickly realised the mistake and promptly sent a correctly numbered replacement (£3534, Invoice 7109/SH/003 dated 9/3/2023).
The invoice came from a different address: Unit 11, Bradley Fold Industrial Estate,
Radcliffe Moor Road, Radcliffe BL2 6RT. Photo above.

I managed to call Lea and she explained that in fact RBS had moved. Checking the map, the new premises were about four times the distance away from Atlas. I didn't think this was good news as someone would have to pick up the bill for the extra travelling distance between RBS and Atlas.
21st June 2023: RBS premises at Unit 11, Bradley Fold Industrial Estate,
Radcliffe Moor Road, Radcliffe BL2 6RT.
I was really rather more concerned that my subcontractor had moved to a new address and not told me and not even made the intention to move known when I was agreeing to work with them.

Lea was helpful with news of progress and I was happy with that until about June 2023 when my calls stopped being answered. I could not understand the reason for suddenly terminating communication and was emphatically not happy that I was no longer receiving any information on progress.

I had previously had a few calls with Allan but, once Lea had become available, it was much easier to communicate with her. With Lea's sudden disappearance, I attempted calling Allan but to no avail. His failure to pick up the phone after many, many attempts left me with severe doubts about what was happening and suspicions that I was being deliberately kept in the dark.

With nearly £7500 paid over by this time, I was becoming distinctly uneasy.

In a contractual situation, if someone flatly refuses to answer the phone to you, what are you supposed to think?
Is work not actually being done on my job or is there something even more sinister being hidden? 
Also, and perhaps I'm naïve here, but it seems odd that at neither Unit 21, Gill Street nor Unit 11 at Bradley Fold had RBS proudly put their name on the outside of the building.

I'll leave you to ponder how these events might be affecting my feeling of trust in RBS.

I visited RBS at Unit 11 on 21st June 2023 but that will have to wait for the time being.

Monday 22 April 2024

Renewing Joyce's Superheater (1)

The Prologue:

I've commented to many that Restoration is sexy but maintenance isn't. Restoration has drive as there is a goal to achieve whereas maintenance is a thing you have to do just to stand still.

Leading up to February 2016, there were six years of anticipation driving myself and former co-owner Nigel Dickinson to bring Joyce back to steam. Then there were six years of relatively trouble-free operation, a lot of learning and plenty of fun and fascination for Joyce's visiting admirers.

Topping off the fun in June 2022 was a 'Mini-break' to attend the S&D steam gala at the Gloucester-Warwickshire Steam Railway. Joyce was a real star and particularly enjoyed by the footplate crews. Even for big galas such as this one, the hired-in locos are generally at least vaguely similar in shape. Joyce caused a consternation with her vertical boiler upright in the cab. She was the most different loco ever to visit the GWSR.

Returning to Midsomer Norton after the gala, I was laid-up with COVID and out of action and Joyce was behaving very strangely. It was proving difficult to keep steam pressure and there was an ominous roaring noise coming from somewhere around the boiler.

Once recovered from COVID, I did a number of test firings to isolate the source of the noise. Hoping to find a nice simple fault such as the new fusible plug leaking, the problem turned out not to be a boiler leak as someone suggested but a pin-hole in Joyce's superheater coil.
The arrow shows the 1mm diameter hole in the second to inner coil.
It was soon obvious that this was going to be more challenging than any task during restoration.

There were two options ahead:
1. To weld the hole and carry on.
2. Obtain a new superheater.

I chose the latter as removing the superheater assembly was not an easy task. Knowing the history of the superheater, I considered it likely that there would be more failures of a similar type. I did not want to leave a frequent failure problem to Joyce's future custodians. There was also a broken bracket and some of the support pieces looked very tired.

Being a high temperature, high pressure boiler item, I am not qualified to do this kind of work and a competent person or company would be required.

The Challenge:

I began by consulting Justin and Grant at J R Goold Steam Ltd and boiler maker Mendip Steam Restoration Ltd. These two small companies have done much difficult work for me in the past but could not help with this job. I later learned that the difficulty was not with the fabrication of the superheater but the forming of the coils.

Tube bending was outside the scope of Mendip Steam's activities; however, 
J R Goold were regular producers of Sentinel boiler superheaters. The problem for them was that most Sentinel boilers are sized to supply steam for a
Sentinel steam waggon's single engine whereas Joyce has a much bigger boiler to supply her two engines and there are only two Joyce-type boilers in the UK. Whilst it is economic to be kitted out for producing substantial numbers of the smaller superheaters, for only two larger ones, it just isn't feasible. So I was left with a difficult problem. Midsomer Norton's workshop facilities are not capable of doing this type of steam work so I had no choice but to look elsewhere.

Martin Staniforth, owner and restorer of Sentinel 9622, the other double-engined loco, told me he had used a tube bending company in Oldham called Atlas Tube Bending Ltd to make him a new set of superheater coils. It was obvious to me therefore that this was the company to use as they already had prior experience of the work. I later discovered that Atlas had done many more Sentinel superheater coils for single-engined locos. But Atlas were in Oldham, over 200 miles from me, and I didn't fancy the prospect of dealing with a company so far away.

At this point, Barrie Papworth, Midsomer Norton's Chief Mechanical Engineer, recommended Allan Schofield of Railway Boiler Services Ltd to me. RBS were based in Moston, Manchester, 3.5 miles away from Atlas - a seemingly obvious opportunity.

I began formal discussions with Allan on 21st September 2022 with a fairly broad customer requirement:
"What I really want is a complete new superheater fitted to the boiler top-plate including chimney units such that the whole assembly can be lowered into place with minimal fitting effort.
I'd like it by the end of February 2023 to allow us time for fitting etc.

Some thoughts/assumptions:
The superheater pipe end fittings would need to be reused.
Peter Hawkins [my boiler inspector] would need to witness a hydraulic test at 550psi."

Allan responded on 23rd September 2023:
"...the job, as you’ve described, looks pretty straight forward and the time scale very achievable." 

That would mean delivery by the end of February 2023.  It would leave a month at MSN to refit the chimney units to the boiler top plate and reassemble the boiler in time for the start of the 2023 running season.

So I was happy to go ahead and Allan agreed to take on the work. Although quoted costs were a lot more than I wanted, to have a one-stop-shop to produce the completed superheater was a very attractive proposition. Although having a contractor so far away seemed risky, I was not too concerned because our CME Barrie had personally recommended Allan.

The Beginning:
RBS Premises at Unit 21, Gill Street, Moston, Manchester in October 2022
The old superheater assembly was transferred to RBS at the end of October 2022 so a quote could be produced. I met Allan at the Moston RBS premises on October 31st 2022 and discussed the job. All seemed reasonable so I formalised my requirements and Allan responded with a quote for the work. We agreed that WhatsApp would be a good way to communicate.

Here is quote RBS104 that I accepted (Click the quote to enlarge):
Initial quote RBS104
Allan advised me to take the cast clamp option and that was my choice. Later the cost of the superheater tubing was added at £1547 making a total of £9745.87.

I accepted the quote for the work involved and the associated costs. Whilst I was a little less formal than I can be with requirements, to date my experience with steam engineers has been that the contractor knows the work better than the customer and gets on with the job so super-formality is not generally necessary for fairly simple jobs such as this. All the work was itemised and costed in the quote.

All seemed good. Joyce would be running again for the 2023 season.

So why, I hear you ask, am I still waiting for the new superheater in mid-April 2024?

All will become clear in due course.

Sunday 19 March 2023

"I'm Still Here"

After some considerable time without any blog posts, I'm hoping to do some catching up.

My original intention was to record the restoration activities of Joyce so that I would be able to refer back later - it's easier and quicker than actually dismantling an assembly to recall what I did years before. For me, it has been useful on many occasions; I hope it has been helpful to others too.

Of course, the restoration finished in earnest in 2016 when Joyce began pulling passengers. I didn't want to just show pictures of Joyce in action as many others have done that better than me (it's difficult to take good photos from the driver's cab!).

Joyce has been pretty reliable for a steam locomotive but she's kept me on my toes to achieve that. Having J R Goold Steam Ltd close-by has been a godsend for rapid repairs and I am very grateful for their amazing support in times of need.

There have, however, been a few little problemettes...

Here was an unwelcome sight one Sunday morning in May 2021 while getting ready for passenger train duties.
Tell-tale Jet of steam
This was a pin-hole in the main steam pipe feeding Joyce's rear engine. Needless to say, she didn't run that day.
I contacted my Goold support team and a new pipe was made then lagged and fitted by me in about 8 days.
New Pipe
The new pipe fitted perfectly. Godsend is the right word.
Ready to go again

Tuesday 22 September 2020

How are the new fire-bars performing?

I'm glad someone asked me that. Perhaps a video clip will help... 

I hope you enjoy this.
I guess the answer is... Grate!

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