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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 72 - March 1993
GWR Brake Van No. 68642
There is More Than One Way to Skin a Toad or Where I Sling my Hammock - by Tony Lyster
It was recently pointed out to me that it is a very long time since anything appeared in print about my Toad brakevan so to recap slightly and tell the whole story I shall go back to that fateful day that I paid for it.
It was AGM day (a fateful day for some people!) in 1987 that I appeared at David Alexander's door with a wallet. Fateful, because if I had truly realized the full extent of the task that lay ahead I doubt if I would even have been in the country that day. But I digress.
The usual spate of eagerness to "get at it" soon appeared with the eviction of various items to my home to be cleaned. This soon ceased! I decided to tackle the roof first as it had a tendency to resemble a colander at times. I made good use of a long hot summer and recall a week in July spent sitting on top of things gaining a tan whilst removing countless old felt nails. The roof I sealed using a sandwich of two layers of felt with mastic as the jam - but no butter. So far it holds up well. The felt was laid out to stretch and relax in the hot sun for several weeks as I dislike the "rough sea look". Such a shame it didn't work.
Due to the umbrella-like tendency of one or two springs it became obvious that a few tons of ballast would be better off elsewhere and give me a cellar! So into the down yard number one road and out with the floor. I don't recall where I slept that week but I do recall the aching muscles. I also remember the skip driver when he came to collect a six yard skip with only 12 inches of scrap in the bottom for 36 hours work. I enquired whether he wouldn't be wiser putting the rear jockey wheels down -"I know my job" was his answer and I knew the quantity - 6.25 tonnes. The chains tightened, the skip didn't move an inch but the front wheels did and the lorry resembled a ski ramp.
Next I tackled the interior cabin and, after much thought, decided to strip all the tough old lead-based paint from the walls and ceiling. Isn't it amazing how long it takes - more or less a whole summer which would have been better spent on the same walls but on the outside - thank heavens I didn't buy a 60 foot coach. At the same time I installed gas lighting and a gas stove with oven (most useful).
There followed a period of relative inactivity coupled with a demanding career when I spent many a sunny spring and summer weekend fast asleep on the verandah - well what else should it be used for? I am working on that!
Eventually I got around to thinking about improving the external appearance mainly, I suppose, because the Toad was steadily working its way down the short siding nearer to where the unsightly stuff is kept! I was getting very physical hints from the Operating Department. Consequently, I decided to start thinking about the problem of the verandah steel sheets ... thinking, I said.
Thought can be a dangerous thing for I started by walking round and deciding that the Calvert (non verandah) end was really beyond redemption and needed new wood - but only on the outside, I thought. (A Toad has a double layer of tongued and grooved wood on each wall). It could be done in a week, I thought. Will I ever learn? The only original parts left are the internal window catches, hinges and the sundry fittings of the sandbox operating gear but then they are all metal!
Well . . . no excuses left . . . now is the time . . . summon all your courage and make an appearance on the outside . . . but look, what a beautiful summer . . . is there room? . . . measure it . . . find the shop . . . measure it . . . yes there is . . . what a relief . . . another first for Quainton . . . a hammock on the verandah. All I need now is to plumb in the fridge (I have got one - gas, of course), buy the Pimms and a Panama Hat . . .
Summer turned to autumn and the new job in Devon dissolved when I resigned in August. Ha! I thought. A career break . . . it will do me good (and it has) . . . I could finish the Toad, I thought . . . by Christmas, I thought . . . Well, I didn't know which Christmas.
Back to the down yard and a berth just outside the shed where I proceeded to rip the verandah apart. Comments such as "You survived the explosion" and "I would have bought it if you were scrapping it" showed that the membership was aware that something was up. To date I am in the process of reassembly. Gone are the old steel sheets and quite a lot else, much of it in the form of dust. The only original parts (it was built in 1924) are the frames as being thicker there was more to rust away. One piece of 3"x3" steel angle had wasted to the dimensions of a wooden lolly stick.
In a wish that the final appearance should be as close to the original as possible I purchased some 200 domed headed bolts to resemble rivets. A little filling will be required to hide the slot in the bead but that is a small price to pay and much more convenient than hot rivets which would need two assistants. Additionally, I can assemble small areas at a time and so gain full access for painting.
The last twelve months have seen a new floor fitted (mark two design) , and the refitting of a number of sundry internal fittings. The arrival of a certain young lady in the spring resulted in new cushions for the internal boxing, curtains and one or two other little domestic luxuries, notable the sense of order and tidiness is a vast improvement. It was amazing just how much rubbish I had accumulated!
Well that brings it up to date. My policy all along has been to restore the Toad accurately on the outside but as a home-from-home on the inside whilst retaining as much of the original layout and colours as possible. Several people have asked if I am competing with a certain other Toad. The answer is an emphatic NO. Dennis has given much valuable help and advice and his work is a constant source of inspiration but not, in my eyes, a comparison or competitor, hence the first title.
I would also like to thank the many kind members who take an interest in what I am doing, who have given freely of muscle and advice from time to time. In particular John Carter who has been especially helpful with advice and encouragement, which is so very much appreciated.
The industrial archaeologists amongst you may like to know that the GWR purchased the steel for the frames from Frodingham & Co Ltd and the lighter weight angle was supplied by Harts Hill Iron Co (the N in iron is reversed). The scrap ballast contained mainly sweepings of rivet heads, triangular off cuts, steel wire, and old brake shoes of which I kept three.
I anyone has taken photos of the work progressing over the years I would appreciate a copy, please, as it is surprisingly difficult to photograph yourself when buried deep in a job! Finally, I am compiling a list of 101 things to do with / on a Toad verandah. 1. Hammock. 2. Workbench. 3. Railway use. 4. Unprintable. 5. Afternoon Tea. 6. Watching the trains go by. 7. Coffee break. 8. Photographic vantage point. 9. Sunbathe. 10. Sleeping. 11. Watching others struggle with their own restoration projects. 12. Having a party. 13. Listening to the birdsong in the short siding. 14. Enjoying a cool beer from the fridge. 15. Writing the final article on how I finished the Toad. 16. ???
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 01 December 2017