Good ‘morrow, dear reader! We at the SETG, awash with tea and replete with bacon sandwiches, bid you welcome to this latest update on our trials and tribulations at Strawberry Hill. First of all, allow us to begin with a soothing soundtrack:
The SETG would like to apologise to those of you who rely on this website to keep you updated on our progress at Strawberry Hill; as you will all be aware, the group has been through some considerable trauma over the last few months and things are barely back to any semblance of normality. As seems to have become the norm, the VEP has become as much a form of practical therapy as much as a form of transport and the depot a place to reflect and heal. I would never have imagined when we kicked this project off 7 years ago that we would see anything like the drama that has grown around this small group of friends. When 3417 leaves the shed for its return to service, it will do so not just as a four coach electric train but as a rolling monument to friendship and skill and tenacity. Not all those who started the journey will enjoy that moment. Thank you for your patience and you support. To resume normal service, we have attached below a small gallery devoted to one small aspect of the SETG operation from the past few months.
As you can see we’re still very much at work, and hungry!
But on with the updates. Firstly, news of collaboration with another owning group. We are proud to announce that we are working with Peter Spokes, owner of several 400-series EMUs bases at the East Kent Light Railway, to provide secure, dry storage for the majority of his stock of spare parts. This has involved sorting through a massive amount of equipment, identifying those most in need of covered storage and transferring them by road from Kent to Strawberry Hill. We will be working alongside Peter to create a larger set of stores, all based at Strawberry Hill, in the next few months. Chris Buckland, our Chief Engineer, approached Peter a few months ago after we visited the East Kent Light Railway offering storage after seeing how many vital (and irreplaceable) mechanical spares were stored in less than ideal conditions at Shepherdswell station yard. The initial transfer of 6 pallets was made on the 27th October, with more spares to arrive as they are made available by Peter. This is a significant development in the 400-series preservation movement, and we are proud to be working alongside Peter.
On the unit itself, we are making significant progress. The brake overhaul, vital to allow the unit to return to service and to be moved on the national network, has been completed. After a great deal of work from Railway Brake Services, Chris Buckland and the rest of the SETG team 3417 now has a fully overhauled and serviceable braking system. The work has been exacting and drawn-out. RBS overhauled and bench tested three brake controllers, four brake chests and control valves from each cab, followed by deliver back to us and then fitting and testing each component. From all of this equipment only one EP/Auto Changeover valve failed on fitting, which was return to RBS for remedial work – that valve is now fitted and working correctly. Testing has taken several weeks worth of work (bare in mind that we are on-site perhaps once everything fortnight, and the core of staff qualified to carry out the testing is very small) but we have, finally, got everything working exactly as it should. As I write this, we are now ready to replace the equipment covers in both cabs. From this point we can continue with the rebuild of No 76263’s driving cab, installing fresh panels, followed by filing, undercoating and painting. We have to pay sincere tribute to Richard Armstrong and Jordi Blumberg of Armstrong Powerhouse without who this work would have been far more challenging to undertake – their support has moved the unit closer to service and we are immensely grateful for their support and faith in the restoration project.
Away from the brake overhaul, the work to restore 76263 has taken a slight hiatus – all of us have day jobs and Real Lives, so the woodwork and other jobs have halted. At present we are continuing to work on manufacturing the last of the required seat covers, and also making up the remaining quarter panels (First Class and Standard) that will be needed to finish the coach. After that there will be a comprehensive deep clean, or what was known in the old days as an A Clean. An nA-Clean means cleaning pretty much everything; “windows, seats, carpets, pipe-raking – cleaning under the seating – soaking the ceilings and Mop & Shine for the floors”, says Buckie. “Sounds simple, but very hard work; at least we don’t have any smoking compartments to clean any more.”
The Trim Shop has come back to life, with Potter and Lynn restarting the seating and trim production line. This includes making up the remaining parts for 76263, as well as going back through the unit to upgrade parts that were – when the project started – ‘good enough’. As time has gone on and the overall quality of the unit has improved so the standards of the group had risen. What used to be good enough is no longer up to scratch. So some quarter panels have been replaced, and certain seat bases have been swapped out for better examples in the spares float.
So there we are, folks. All the news from Strawberry Hill. There is more to come in the next few months; news about 70797, news about work yet to be carried out and projects that are now starting to bare fruit. We are pleased to say that the restoration project has been mentioned by South Eastern Railways in their staff news letter, and the efforts of the group have featured in November’s issue of Trackside Magazine. All in all not too bad for a small group of lunatics and a 55-year old electric multiple unit, eh?!
To close, here is a teaser for one of those projects that is coming along quietly in the background….