Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year: Dropping The Fire - The 2017 Review...

As the embers of 2017 gently cool there is time to sit and reflect on another great year with heritage steam. Despite ever tightening time constraints on my behalf, the blog has managed to finish the year with 69 posts. Long term readers will of course realise that this is actually down on previous years but I will say that so much more effort has gone into the depth and quality of the posts this year rather than just adding a few for the sake of it. I'm very happy with this years content and its a pleasure to hear that people are still reading all of this dribble so thank you for that - it is much appreciated. I'll try not to ramble on too much in this post but I think its fair to sum up with the following. 2017 has seen:
  • 14 Tyseley Trips
  • 2 Tyseley Open Days
  • 3 Statfold Open Days
  • 1 Giant Miniature Weekend (one is enough!)
  • 8 Shackerstone Turns (who'd have thought it)
  • 2 CMES Turns
  • Plus a handful of Evesham jobs
On top of all this we've done days out, the odd special jaunt to crew a loco somewhere else and of course plenty of Tyseley shed days. Its been another mammoth year and even writing this post "I'm all train-ed out" as Ed used to say before he sadly departed. He's still with us by the way, just departed...to Norfolk (selfish). Anyway, now for a brief roundup of the places I've volunteered in 2017 starting with the main one: Tyseley Locomotive Works and its main line steam fleet...
Tyseley has been a pleasure to be with once again this year and its a privilege to be a small part of a great team and what it stands for. A centre of Great Western engineering excellence, the chance to work with engines such as "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" is something that I never thought would happen, let alone the chance to travel with this engine at 75mph and experience a bygone age which the younger volunteers such as myself can only imagine ever happened! I can't thank the 84E team enough for everything I've learnt this year and during 2015/2016 because its invaluable knowledge that will stick with me. The experiences I've had have been, to put no finer point on it, life changing and have certainly made me appreciate the skills of a proper locomotive driver and fireman. I've done 14 trips with the team this year, if you combine the day excursions and "Shakespeare" jobs, and we've been all over: York, Llandudno, Salisbury, Cardiff! All in all another great year and lets hope 2018 brings more experiences like this. Moving on: Statfold Barn...
"Driving HC 'Fiji' In September" (Pic - B.Bryan)
Statfold Barn Railway is another of those lucky to be involved with places. Over the years we've had some amazing days on the footplate there aboard locomotives rescued from around the world. Its a fabulous set-up that seems to grow year on year and you can never cease to be amazed by what the place has to offer. I've driven for them three times again this year at all three open days. I think September has to be the highlight when we were given the pride of the fleet: Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 "Fiji" - what a cracking day that was. I hope to continue with SBR into the future, not least for the sake of "Giant Miniature Weekend" and I hope 2018 brings more of the same. I am most grateful to Mr Graham Lee and his family for continuing to allow us to play with this marvellous collection of engines and to enjoy them in the best way possible: from the footplate! Keeping with narrow gauge, lets talk Evesham...
"Driving 'Dougal' Back In June"
The 15" gauge Evesham Vale Light Railway never fails to provide a pleasant, enjoyable and stress-free day out on the engine. Adrian & Sandra always ensure a warm welcome and you can never have a bad day at Evesham: its just lovely. Good track, happy passengers, immaculate locomotives and everything where you want it. Just nice. Back on standard gauge, 2017 surprisingly saw us doing 8 steam turns at the Battlefield Line: our old stomping ground...
"On 5542 with David and JB"
Two turns in the spring on the NRM T9 were followed by a summer go on the Austerity and then finally five turns on the visiting Prairie No5542 to bring the year to a close. Dare I say its been nice to be back, particularly when crewing the very nice Western product. Did I hear someone say "Giant Miniature Weekend"?...
"Sunday Line-Up at GMW 2017" (Pic - M.Ranieri)
The mammoth gathering of miniatures returned to Statfold in May and totalled 94 engines on the Saturday. It will return this year over May 12th/13th and I'm hoping to achieve over 100 engines in 1.5" - 9" scales. Oh how its grown over the years and the constant support from exhibitors is very much appreciated. Tickets are already available on the SBR website - we'd love to see you there. Talking of Miniatures...
To my greatest shame neither of my own two locomotives have turned a wheel in 2017 and this is simply down to time constraints and laziness on my part. Both have sat in the workshop cold since the previous summer - I've tried not to make eye contact with them! They're both lovely machines and I do feel bad that they haven't steamed for a good while but I'm confident that in 2018 they'll run again - I hope so anyway!...
To fill in the gaps in this years steam calendar there has of course been some days out too. We've been all over the place. A few highlights...in June we had a very sunny day on the Severn Valley Railway with 7714...
Moving into July I accompanied my old friend "Sir Gomer" on her visit to Foxfield where she returned to her colliery roots. Despite being past her best, the old Peckett did well and managed to defeat Foxfield bank and its punishing 1 in 19 gradient - just about. Nevertheless another good experience and another railway ticked off on the footplate. It was good fun and an eye opener...
We returned to Welland to crew "Roger" the Wren for Statfold at the end of July...
In early August we celebrated Mick & Julia's wedding day in style on the Great Central Railway, along with 48624 and 777 "Sir Lamiel"...
There was of course the annual visit to Devon and the Dartmouth Steam Railway where Tyseley's own Pannier 7752 (as L94) was pulling the trains...
Well, as the Looney Tunes used to say - "that's all folks!". That's enough rambling for one year. Thank you all very much for reading again for another year, thank you to all of the photographers who have been involved, thank you to everyone that has rostered me and to anyone else that has contributed to this years blog in any way. If you're reading, why not leave a comment and let me know where you're reading from - I'm always interested to hear! By the way, everything that is mentioned in these posts is available to read about on the blog so why not grab a cuppa' and bore yourself silly for half an hour! Finally, as 2018 draws ever nearer - HAPPY NEW YEAR. Until next...year...regards, Sam...

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas...

"16/12/17 - 5043 Stands At Tyseley Ready For York"
On this wintry Christmas Eve let me take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Eat, drink and be merry - I like to eat until I'm ill most years! Many thanks for reading this dribble for another year and I hope you have a great festive week. As I write there are a few outstanding posts on the blog but these will appear in due course. All the best for a great Christmas...

Saturday, 23 December 2017

5542: A Great Western Christmas...

As a fitting close to the pre-Christmas season it was nice to spend today with a good friend aboard Great Western 4575 Class No5542 at the Battlefield Line. Myself and JB were rostered to crew the Small Prairie on the 'Classic Service' which once again required a 6am arrival at Shackerstone. Moaning and groaning, we walked into the loco shed where the heat emanating from 5542 revealed she was still very hot from yesterdays efforts. After dumping our various kit in the real mess area we climbed aboard the engine to check the state of affairs: 1/2 a glass and just a touch of steam on the gauge. I removed the chimney cap and emptied the smokebox, checking the various fittings whilst I was in there - all was well...
Up on the footplate the grate was fairly clear but littered with clinker plates that would have to be removed with the paddle. Placing a barrow at the foot of the cab steps, I began paddling away with JB holding the torch. An almighty bang from the roof was followed by a plunge into complete darkness as the lights blew. A torrent of cursing like I've never heard before then took place whilst I fumbled around in the dark trying to get the lights back on. The lights did return briefly before giving up again so the remainder of the paddling took place in the dark. At least we had the torch! The coal in the bunker was a mixture of Welsh and slack so I decided to not bother with the usual coal bed and to add the rags first followed by a good mound of dry wood with coal added after. The amount of slack in the bunker would have no doubt blocked up the grate, reducing air flow and causing problems during steam raising...
With the wood starting to take I added a good pile of coal on top, almost dousing the flames. The doors were then closed and the engine left to get on with it whilst a lazy wisp of smoke carefully departed the chimney. We then settled down for a cuppa' in the real mess area - still in total darkness. Thankfully, though the lights had blown, a stiff talking to and a few punches had brought life to the savagely beaten tea boiler which JB had "encouraged" into action. Whilst we sat discussing locomotives in the dark (literally), Jamie arrived as Fireman to the other loco in use today - Hunslet Austerity "Cumbria". Jamie and I soon managed to bring light back to the shed and preparations continued. The Austerity was soon lit and crackled away quietly behind 5542...
Once Carl ("Cumbria"s Driver) had arrived the shed returned to its usual tea and banter filled atmosphere. I went underneath the Prairie to ash out and to oil the inside Stephenson's motion. JB meanwhile oiled the outside and did some cleaning whilst the fire steadily made us some steam. As 8:30am neared we were ready to steam outside and 42' gently eased forward expelling reams of white steam from the drain cocks. We then got washed and changed before taking the engine over onto the five coach 'Classic' stock which was waiting on Platform 2 road. The engine was coupled up and the steam heat started before water was taken at the column...
All trains today were fully booked and the two engines would be sharing the duties with "Cumbria" hauling the two 'Deluxe' workings. Right on time at 10am, 5542 wandered gently out of Shackerstone with her full train. We had a steady run to Market Bosworth before a 15-minute break and a cuppa'. The Prairie then wandered carefully to Shenton through the bleak winter countryside...
Having uncoupled, 5542 is seen in the Shenton headshunt...
The engine was soon back at the head of the train with the steam heat on...
I tend to keep a light, bright front end and a thicker back end in the firebox...
Having ordered ahead once again, the breakfast was kindly delivered to the footplate as we awaited departure from Shenton. JB was wise to my eating shots last time but did relent this morning for a cob shot...
Leaving Shenton we took it steady through Coton before another 5-minute stop at Market Bosworth. From there we ran at line speed back to Shackerstone with the Prairie trotting easily through the trees throwing white steam over her shoulder. I do like this engine - very nice indeed...
Rolling into Platform 2 at Shackerstone, "Cumbria" was already feathering away at the head of the train ready for departure. Once the stewards were on board, the red 0-6-0 left in a cloud of steam. 42' meanwhile hissed down to the coal pile to take a bucket of fresh coal before returning to Platform 2 road via the signalbox to take water and continue heating. I cleaned the fire thoroughly as the lack of draft would no doubt induce clinker if left too long. A fresh bed was then made up and the engine left to simmer whilst we had a cuppa'. She looked very nice in the harsh winter sunshine. Its been nice to be back on this old gal' again...
With pressure nearing the red line and a good water level, 5542 left Shackerstone behind as soon as "Cumbria" had returned...
The gloomy weather had cleared to reveal sunshine and a bright blue sky as we ticked through Hedleys on route to Bosworth...
5542 awaits departure from Shenton on the returning 1pm 'Classic'...
Barking up the line away from Bosworth Road Bridge towards Coton...
Waiting at Market Bosworth with the returning 1pm...
The fully booked 1pm train had a lot of children wanting to see Santa so an additional stop was made at Carlton Bridge near Hedleys. The engine sat feathering as we waited for the "Right Away" from the Guard...
Returning to Shackerstone, "Cumbria" (with lamps lit) was eagerly waiting to depart on the 'Deluxe'. 5542 was uncoupled before we pulled up in Platform 1 to allow passengers to visit the footplate and view the fire and controls. Unfortunately timings had slipped somewhat today resulting in the 4pm 'Classic' leaving at 5pm but the passengers seemed pleased with the rare opportunity to visit the footplate...
Once "Cumbria" had called in for 'line clear' at Shenton we were given the road to drop across onto the waiting stock for heating and watering purposes. In darkness, we awaited the return of the Austerity...
JB kindly fired the 4pm (5pm) so I could drive. Its a very nice machine to be in control of - very responsive and easy to operate. We had a steady wander down to Shenton before a line speed run back to Shackerstone. After a shunt move we were cleared to run back into the shed via No11 ground frame. Screwed down and scotched, 5542 rests in Shackerstone shed after another grand day out...
The usual disposal procedure then took place as the Prairie was bedded down for the night. The fire was raked through and the clinker freed, the boiler was filled, the chimney capped and the necessaries isolated. All in all, a very nice day out in good company aboard a good engine. I've done 5 turns on 5542 this Autumn/Winter and all have been most enjoyable. Thank you all for reading and thanks to JB for your company mate. Finally, of course, Merry Christmas...

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Evesham Vale: A Merry "Monty" Christmas...

Hi all. Today I was driving 15" gauge steam once again at the Evesham Vale Light Railway in Worcestershire. Like many other steam railways at this time of the year, the EVLR was running its popular "Santa Special" services which today were fully booked. Having driven through thick fog along the A46 to reach the railways base within The Valley country park, I pulled up at just before 8:30am. Having signed in and greeted Adrian & Sandra, it was time to get to work preparing the locomotive for the days trains. Rostered for service today was the large 1996-built 0-4-2 Exmoor No300 "Monty", formerly "Markeaton Lady". The engine was soon outside in the damp morning air with the chimney cap removed ready for lighting up...
The amount of manual labour required on these smaller engines is much more bearable than their standard gauge counterparts and swinging a small fire iron of only 2ft in length is far more pleasant. The grate was fairly clean already with only a light covering of ash across the bars. A quick bash through with the iron was rewarded with a nice lighting up surface and having checked the water level in the boiler, both tubeplates and the fusible plug, I lit the embryo fire using a paraffin rag...
Evesham engines tend to burn the Welsh open cast coal found at Ffos-Y-Fran - a dry kind of coal that gives off little smoke. With this stuff I like to make sure you've got a nice hot wood fire beneath it to guarantee the heat required to allow the coal to catch. With the flaming rag smouldering away on the grate, a pile of good dry wood was diagonally placed on top. A good helping of coal was then added, almost dousing the initial flames, before closing the firehole doors and leaving the engine to get on with it. The EVLR machines do benefit from a small air fitting which allows compressed air to be fed up the chimney to create the artificial draft required for steam raising. However, having been in steam yesterday, "Monty" wouldn't require much coaxing. With the fire lit and burning well, attentions turned to cleaning: Peek for the brasses, Pledge for the paint. The final task on shed is to oil/grease the engine. No300 carries a few oil pots which wick-feed the piston and valve rods adjacent to the packing boxes but the main rod bearings are grease and are topped up with a grease-gun...
With all prep tasks complete, I checked we had the single line token on board (necessary for locking the points at the yard mouth) before moving off shed. With drain cocks open, "Monty" hesitated briefly as the regulator was opened. I always like to feed the steam in slowly (you can hear it rushing down the passages) and allow the condensate to be collected up rather than rushing off shed. Groaning through the point work, "Monty" soon reached the yard mouth where the engines are blown down daily. As long as the boiler water level allows, 1/2 a glass is usually sufficient and aids the rapid expulsion of harmful deposits which may have collected at the foundation ring during evaporation. Blow down complete, its time to reverse back...
The first "Santa" train was scheduled to depart at 10:30am with half hourly departures to follow until 4pm. Santa himself is based in the Grotto at Twyford. The passengers take their 15-minute or so train ride before visiting him afterwards. Adults receive a warm mince pie and children sweets and a gift from the man himself. With Christmas music playing at Twyford and lots of happy passengers, the whole thing comes together to provide a very pleasant thing to be involved with...
"The First 'Santa Special' Of The Day"
All trains today would have the full compliment of four coaches with all seats full on most trips. Four coaches isn't really a strain for "Monty" in terms of power but some of the EVLR gradients on a damp morning like this do create adhesion issues. The steep section of Fishers Bank caused No300 to lose her feet a couple of times, reducing progress to a crawl but she did keep going until the bank was crested and the train rolled into the tunnel. As we climbed the bank I'd dropped some sand behind the loco to aid the following trips. Once at Evesham Vale, I wandered up the bank and sanded in front of the loco and up past the next crossing where the high volume of muddy-booted walkers doesn't help the rail condition...
"The First Train of The Day at Evesham Vale"
Departing Evesham Vale with the returning 10:30 train in fine style, "Monty" barked up the bank throwing white steam over her shoulder. Steam pressure was nudging the red line with a light, bright fire. Once back at Twyford the engine was uncoupled and turned before the passengers crossed to meet Santa. I then took water on the column whilst excited passengers for the 11am trip boarded the coaches. All was well aboard "Monty"s footplate as we prepared for departure. The Welsh coal burns bright in these little fireboxes as long as you keep your eye on it...
On a good rail "Monty" will stomp along and you really do want another two coaches to hold the engine back when all is going well...
"Monty" waits at Evesham Vale on a lunchtime service...
The day went on pretty much like that: we came and we went providing a constant stream of visitors for Santa. The traditional 'Evesham Tea & Cake' was replaced by a warm mince pie today when it was delivered to the footplate in time for the 2:30pm train. That was one of the loveliest mince pies I've ever had - really nice!...
Mince pie devoured, the 2:30pm train also allowed me a couple of minutes to grab Adrian's very nice paraffin headlamp from the loco shed to replace the headboard. As the days light reduces the lamp becomes a nice beacon for the train as it steams through the fields. I prefer to run with it I must admit...
As the final few departures came around the engine continued to steam well and passenger numbers remained strong. The Welsh coal does lull you into a false sense of security on occasions though. Sometimes you look in the box and think how much of a full fire you have but really its just ash which disintegrates when hit with the iron. I had a trip like that on the 3pm when the pressure needle gradually descended further than usual and a quick look through the doors revealed quite a lack of fire. Some flash firing and a plume of smoke from the chimney soon had "Monty" back in fettle but then you have to compete with all that fresh coal added at once and the engine is soon blowing its head off. Its all good fun anyway...
"Waiting at Evesham Vale on the 3:30pm Train"
"Monty" was steaming well as the light faded and we waited at Twyford for the last train at 4pm. Water was taken for the final time on the column and I also added another bag of coal (the third of the day) so there would be plenty in the bunker for lighting up tomorrow. One more trip and then disposal...
My last EVLR train of 2017 waits at Twyford ready to go...
The 4pm train was also sold out and a steady run through the fields with "Monty" was followed by a good run up Fishers Bank. "Monty"s tall chimney put on quite a display as the four coach train was hauled up the bank in almost darkness (today was the shortest day!). A quick stop at Evesham Vale was followed by a steady chug up Twyford Bank with the final returning train. "Monty" was then run round and the token allowed me access to the yard after unlocking the points. Back on shed, "Monty" was prepared for disposal. This involves deadening the fire, emptying the ashpan, filling the boiler and cleaning her again. All in all a good days work...
With all disposal jobs complete, I backed "Monty" into the shed on her final breaths of steam before screwing her down and fitting the chimney cap. It had been another very pleasant day on EVLR metals and its always nice to be on "Monty". Thank you to Adrian & Sandra for their continued hospitality and thank you all for reading. Finally, of course, Merry Christmas...