29th January 2010 I've been Looking at Logs

2010-01-29 @ 06:39:53 by ashtonboat

I've been looking at logs.

I've been away looking at logs, and that means there's some real boatbuilding in the offing at last. It's been such a long job to build up the organisation so that this would be possible. It all hangs now on the wonderful work that Fiona, our development worker, is doing. We have all digits crossed for a funding bid that she's made to restore "Hazel" and use her to give holidays to people recovering from depression etc. We should know next week if we have the money. In the meantime I'm starting to make preparations.

One of the difficulties of wooden boatbuilding is finding enough good, big logs. Most sawmills can't cut the lengths that we need. I had heard about a sawmill near Grimsby in Lincolnshire so I decided to go and have a look. I went by train and bike as I prefer to travel that way, it reduces the carbon footprint and, if you book in advance, it's cheaper.

Early on Monday morning I enjoyed cycling down the towpath the 5 miles to Manchester Picadilly station. Just as I turned into the station approach I heard a psssssshhhough from the back wheel. The tube had gone, not just a puncture but a great split. Not a good start to the trip. I decided to take the bike with me on the offchance of finding a bike shop in Grimsby and, after a while spent relaxing and watching trains come and go, I loaded myself and the redundant bike on to a Transpennine Express unit bound for Cleethorpes.

Once we were clear of the urban sprawl I could enjoy the Pennine scenery as the unit growled up the gradient through Chinley then through a tunnel and rattled down the Hope Valley. Just think, I could be stressed out on the motorway!

Past Sheffield I was in less familiar territory as we threaded a mixture of countryside, town and post industrial wasteland, all the while playing spot the canal as we paralleled the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation. Mr Waddingtons light blue barges hove into view a time or two, though sadly not in use.

The train rumbled on to a bridge over the wide muddy banked Trent. A steel narrowboat was heading upstream on the first of the tide. Soon we were in Scunthorpe, with its unfashionably grim industry, then riding out over the Humberside plains.

As the train slowed into Grimsby Station I grabbed my useless bike ready to quickly exit the pneumatic doors and lock it to a bike rack, then, following directions from the station staff, headed quickly through a pedestrian area to the 'bus station.

For some reason 'bus routes and schedules form a body of arcane knowledge only known to a secret society of regular users. By relentless quizzing of various acolytes of this order I managed to work out that I needed the X1 Humber Flyer from stand D, but the complex charts required to ascertain the times of the flyers were mysteriously absent. Eventually a 'bus driver cracked under interrogation and admitted that the relevant charabanc would depart at a quarter to.

This gave me time for a short walk to the old docks, where a trawler with scabby paint was berthed alongside the fishing museum. Grinning guides in sou'westers were poised to show the sadly absent public around their ship. Ahead of her lay the "Lincoln Castle", a fine big paddle steamer that used to be the main link to Hull before the construction of the Humber Bridge. Now she is beached on a sandbank in the silted dock. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PS_Lincoln_Castle Had I time I would have liked to look round the museum. The rather down at heel appearance of the vessels reflects the difficulty in getting funding for floating heritage. Also in the dock were two wooden fishing boats, one sunk and one listing drunkenly, illustrating the even greater problem of getting funds for anything wooden. In contrast the museum building was a modern, high quality structure which I'm sure contains lots of well funded audio visual whizziness.

Back at the'bus station the steamer's wheeled replacement, with a remarkably cheerful driver, was soon flying me out of town into the countryside, to deposit me at the delightful village of Keelby. Following directions given by a helpful passenger I completed the 10 minute walk to Somerscales sawmill, just as most people were going out for lunch.

Luckily the receptionist stayed at her post and, with a refreshing lack of safety overkill, suggested that I look round on my own, but be careful. I strode towards the log piles and was soon perching atop them pacing out logs and assessing their planking potential. They have some amazingly big logs there, up to 40 feet long. Usually it's hard to get more than 20 ft (about 7 metres for metric readers). Underneath the good logs were others that had rotted beyond all use, so long had they been in the pile. The log piles seemed to go on for ever and I excitedly trotted about, searching for the perfect boatbuilding log.

Between piles ran black muddy roadways rutted with the tracks of the machines used for moving the logs. As I crossed them the mud came to the tops of my boots. I moved to the corner of the stacking area, stepped confidently into a rut, and suddenly found myself up to my knees in soft black ooze. Chuckling at my predicament I pulled myself out and decided to avoid all ruts in future.

The log shifters appear to indulge in some kind of sport that involves hitting life expired vehicles with huge logs, perhaps some kind of giants cricket. At least, this is how it seemed from the amount of totally smashed cars that lay on the margins of the field.

With my perambulation of the huge log stacking area complete, I returned to the office. The boss had returned, gone looking for me, given up and left again. However, Danny, his son, was available and I took him to some of the logs that interested me. I asked about price, whilst firmly gripping a large tree trunk. Prices have gone up recently, but not too much. The bigger logs command a premium, but this has to be balanced with the fact that there is normally less waste on a bigger log.

I asked about the market for oak, boatbuilding being a pretty minor outlet. Danny told me that a lot went for oak framed houses, not restorations but new build. Apparently there has been a boom in this form of construction recently, which might explain the price rise. Another factor is that British Waterways have gone back to using oak for lock gates. A few years ago they were full of the joys of Opepe, but this Ghanaian hardwood is not sustainably grown and environmental considerations have now swayed them back to using native oak. I'm glad that awareness of rainforest destruction is now having a real effect, even though it means that our timber will be a bit more expensive.

"Have you seen the sawmill" asked Danny. I hadn't, so he showed me the most sophisticated sawmill I've ever seen. Under remote control from the safety of a glass cabin a log was quickly fed through the sawblade, guided by a laser, pulled back, rotated, then fed through again for another cut without pausing to draw breath. The mill was only installed about 18 months ago and Danny was obviously proud of it. It can only cut up to 25 feet though, longer logs will have to use an older, but still impressive, machine alongside. This one can cut up to 50 feet.

We strolled back to the office and Danny had to leave to attend to other business. Accepting a cup of coffee, I sat and admired the unusual office. Though it is clearly a modern building it contains no MDF or plastics. The walls are bare brick, the beams oak and everything else made of proper wood ( except the computer of course). It was heated by an elegant glass fronted woodstove and furnished with tasteful antique chairs and sideboard.

Coffee finished, I set off back towards the village. As I walked down the lane a huge lorry, loaded with logs, headed for the sawmill. I was feeling peckish and explored the village a little in search of sustenance. Amazingly, I had a choice of grocers, and a separate post office if I needed it. I entered a mini supermarket and chose one from a wide range of pork pies, then walked to a bench opposite the 'bus stop to sit and consume it.

With my hunger banished I crossed the road to await the Humber Flyer. First a school 'bus arrived and disgorged its young cargo. They walked past me staring fixedly into their palms which contained mobile 'phones and computer games. The flyer arrived, this time driven by a woman with incredibly red lipstick, and whisked me back to Grimsby.

There was more than an hour to wait for the train as my cheap ticket was only valid on the 18.48 service. I walked to the old docks again and considered having a look at the modern port in the distance, but I decided it was too far. If my bike was serviceable there would be no problem. Back in town I followed a waterway that was presumably once navigable but is now cut off by a pumping station. I imagined Keels and Sloops lined up alongside the brick warehouses bordering the water, men toiling to unload their cargoes.

As darkness fell I returned to the station and reclaimed my bike. I enjoyed watching the comings and goings of passengers, then suddenly remembered my camera. I had brought my new digibole camelode with the intention of photographing logs, but in my excitment I completely forgot. To make up for this omission I photographed the Cleethorpes to Barton on Humber railcar progressing through the station.

Soon my train snaked into the platform. I loaded up my bike and found a seat. As we grumbled off into the night I took out my 'phone and started to make arrangements with volunteers for the next couple of days and send out texts to remind people about the forthcoming recycling trips. My impression of the day was one of the consummate friendliness of the people I had met.

Suddenly I was jerked forward from my seat as the train made the most abrupt stop that I've ever known on rails. The guard hurried forward into the drivers cab, then, after a while walked back. A passenger near me asked what was wrong. The guards reply was bizzarre. He said " I don't think there's anything to worry about because the driver hasn't spoken to me, if he does speak to me then it will be a serious situation". With that he toddled off to the back of the train.

After what seemed like half a geological era the train crew conferred again in the cab, then we moved up to the next signal, where we stopped for the driver to 'phone the signalman ( why don't they have radios?) before restarting our journey. Later the guard announced what had happened over the pa system. It seems that some foolish person had dashed across the line in front of the train, so close that the driver couldn't be sure that he hadn't been hit. This meant that he had to walk back along the track until he was satisfied that there was no corpse lying by the line, hence the long delay.

As we raced into the blackberry black night I had an idea. I rang Dave the driver. Dave is a volunteer who loves driving and has taken charge of the society's van. As I guessed, an extra trip to meet me at Stockport station would be no problem for him, and so I was able to avoid the chore of pushing my bike back up the towpath from Manchester.

After Doncaster I began to doze and, though I recall Sheffield, I didn't properly regain consciousness until Hazel Grove in the Manchester suburbs. Dave and his wife, Ann Marie, were waiting in the van to drive me to Ashton, where I checked that the boat's pumps were working properly before going home.