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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 26 - Winter 1975
Tarmac - The Sticky Kind! - A muscle aching report from Roddy Rodwell
One day last spring, some Committee members were discussing the sorry state of the approach roads and the condition of the surface of the station platforms at Quainton. New tarmac cost £10 a ton in large loads and more in smaller lots so the problem seemed quite impossible to solve, bearing in mind our limited financial resources, and our estimated requirement of 200 tons.
This was a challenge and it certainly made me think and talk about it to others. Then a local friend suggested contacting the Council to find out whether they were likely to have any road scrapings available from local roads being resurfaced. This seemed a great idea so I telephoned the Divisional Surveyor, Jim Carrick. He not only confirmed that scrapings made a good surfacing material but told me that a gang would be working in North Bucks later in the summer. The prospects looked bright. The only small cloud on the horizon was his warning, "You'll need half a dozen fellows, all used to hard work, to lay it." So the project was conceived and launched. Nobody can deny that Quainton members are always good for a spot of hard work when called upon to do so, but it soon became clear that it would be very difficult to organise a mid week working party at short notice. And it was mid week when deliveries of tarmac would be made. Now hot tarmac is reasonably manageable but cold tarmac is a solid lump. So where would we be able to recruit a working party, mid week?
There was one possibility which I decided to pursue. Early in July I wrote to HM Prison at Grendon, asking if they would be willing to help us with labour and it was good news to learn that, from the beginning of August, ten prisoners plus a roller could come to Quainton at short notice.
On Thursday, 4th September, I had a call from Mr Carrick informing me that the road surfacing gang would be moving into the district on the following week and that we could have the first four loads of scrapings in seven days time. The plan started to work. On Wednesday the 10th, ten prisoners arrived and I issued brooms, picks and shovels. The task was to clear weeds, brush the whole length of the platform and to cut out the old asphalt at the edge of the platform to form a key for the new material. All went well and after lunch break I arranged, with permission, a glass of cider for each man. They deserved it! In the afternoon we tackled some other jobs in the down yard. It happened by pure coincidence that we had a hired crane there for unloading sheeting for the Restoration Building and it was available for other lifting and moving jobs. I also decided to move the old Midland Railway hand crane which has graced the down platform for so many years. It now stands in the yard and had to be trundled down the sloping ramp to reach its destination. This wasn't an easy exercise. We fixed two ropes on to the crane chassis and with everybody making a maximum effort we just managed to move it out of the ruts it had made since 1969. As we dragged it towards the top of the ramp one athletic lad climbed the jib to lift the telephone wires clear while the rest of the party carried on pushing and pulling. We then prepared for an emergency runaway situation. Blocks and bars were positioned and the crane slowly started on its descent. It started slowly enough! But relentlessly it gathered speed. The blocks and bars were put in its path with no apparent effect. Faster and faster it went and then, just as unexpectedly, it slowed down and stopped. It was just one foot from the old LNWR saloon body at the bottom of the hill. Phew!
That was the end of the first week's work because I learnt that the County road contractor's equipment had broken down. I also heard that the Prison authorities could not help with any labour on the following Tuesday or Thursday. On Sunday, at Quainton, I managed to recruit two members and several local residents for a work party on the Tuesday but on Monday came news of more delay in delivery of material - so Tuesday was not a fruitful day at all, and on the Wednesday Mr Dormer, a local resident and I, filled in the time by spraying half the platform with bitumen emulsion to help key the tarmac.
On Thursday, 18th September, a motley looking crew assembled in the down yard. They will, I hope, forgive this description. From the Society there was Ronnie Mitchell, Andrew Bratton and myself, 'hired' from a local farmer was Ben Rodwell, and from the ranks of the elder citizens were Harvey Dormer and Oxley Warner. At 10 am the first of the five to seven tons loads arrived. Mr Carrick came too. He wanted to see what we were up to and he gave us valuable advice and helped to lay the slope at the end of the platform. Briefly, a load must be forked over, spread and rolled within a half an hour of tipping. This, we found by experience, is just about possible by hard continuous labour. After three loads we were all much wiser and much more tired. Thank goodness there was a shower of rain because this stopped the road laying work and supplies ceased for the day.
Friday, the 19th, was the day for the prisoners to have a go. We had a team of ten fellows who worked well and particularly enjoyed the entertainment when a lorry dropped a wheel through an unsuspected hole in the platform. The events of the following Tuesday were not quite so smooth and successful. Firstly, the prisoners and the tarmac loads were late. Then a second load failed to appear and we were waiting for it when my wife returned from Waddesdon to say that there had been yet another breakdown of equipment and the next load would be at 2 pm. It duly arrived and spreading started. About a half was spread when the warders noticed that two of the prisoners were missing. Warders and other prisoners made up search parties to find the culprits. Meanwhile one lad and myself were left to deal with the remaining three tons of rapidly hardening tarmac. At that point in the proceedings Mr Carrick arrived to see how we were progressing. He found us attacking the heap of nearly cold material with pick axes, and he gave us some excellent instructions. Pack up for the day! It only remains to account for the escaped prisoners. Apparently the cider we had issued had turned sour but one of the lads had tried it and liked it, and had drunk his fill. Full of confidence after this orgy he persuaded a mate to jo in him in a walkout towards the Bicester road. The story ended when a warder saw them in the distance, hitched a lift, and rapidly caught up with them. After a chase across the fields they were overpowered and brought back to Quainton station.
After a late start on Thursday the 25th, the lads from Grendon dealt with one load of tarmac but the weather was unsettled and rain stopped further loads coming from Waddesdon. Alternative employment was found and the party set to work moving ashes from the heap to spread it onto the tracks in the down yard. A system of carrying a wheelbarrow of ashes on a pw trolley was adopted and this novel means of transport kept everybody happy until knock off time at 4 pm. After the lads had gone Peter Clarke and I were discussing the progress of the work when, most unexpectedly, another load of scrapings arrived. Graham Bradley and Harvey Dormer were also there so the four of us had a go at spreading it. We were all soon puffing and panting and, thank goodness, there was a nice big pot hole to fill which took a goodly part of the load. Here, too, I must pay tribute to my wife who came to take me home to tea but found herself on the end of a spreading fork.
The next day, Friday, was I must admit, a disappointment. No prisoners arrived and I had to turn away the first load of tarmac. I phoned Grendon to learn that there had been an attempted break out and that it would be unlikely we would have a working party that day. Sad to say I have not heard another word from the Prison but I know the warders and prisoners all appreciated the opportunity of working outside, particularly during the fine summer weather. We appreciated their help too, and I have passed our best thanks on to the authorities.
Despite the complete lack of notice we managed to call together a working team for the afternoon comprising Peter, Graham, Mr Dormer and myself, assisted later by Mick Rolley who was 'shanghaied' into helping as soon as he arrived to make his security check, and by three members of the local youth club who my wife persuaded to join the party. We managed to lay two loads in the approach road to the down yard but the rate of deliveries was not too good and we needed two more loads on the Saturday to complete the road and one to finish the platform.
Saturday, 27th September, was the last day tarmac was available. The road gang were now working up the A41 near Aylesbury so we couldn't expect any more scrapings at Quainton. Once again Mr Dormer and Mr Warner volunteered to help and with the assistance of two members who happened to be at the site we received the first load at 10 am and patched the area near the booking office which had 'gone wrong' when the prisoners escaped. The next load was split into three but we were not too pleased by the results of our labours because this division of the material allowed the last 'part to cool too much.
Let me say that the whole job was much more difficult than I had imagined; most jobs are. We actually received only half the quantity we needed and, of course, deliveries were very erratic. However, I can assure you, there are a lot of new muscle men now in the QRS.
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 04 November 2017