Sunday, 6 August 2017

"Shakespeare IV": A Castle's Sunday Stroll...

"5043 Races Through Widney Manor" (Pic - R.Postill)
Hi all. Each summer Sunday the "Shakespeare Express" operates on the main line between Birmingham Snow Hill and Stratford-upon-Avon. Today was no different and so bright and early on this sunny morning I was on my way to the former 84E to volunteer for another day on the Support Crew. I arrived at around 6:30am and found the rest of the team already preparing the impressive Castle on the shed frontage. As the minutes pass by the engine is slowing coming around whilst busy hands oil the motion and buff up the brass work. I was on the ladders cleaning the nameplates. The many letters of "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" require a fair amount of elbow grease to clean well but the result on the beaded nameplate is typical Great Western elegance. I can't help thinking "Defiant" will be an easier nameplate to clean though! In the warm sunshine of this August morning, nothing could detract from the nostalgic atmosphere of a Great Western express passenger locomotive awaiting the off...
Our scheduled departure with the ECS for Snow Hill was the usual 9am and so the shining 4-6-0 hissed over to the waiting train about an hour earlier. Under cloudless skies she awaited the road, no doubt looking forward to a casual Sunday stroll through the rolling fields of the Warwickshire countryside...
Right on time, 5043 whistled up before Driver Phil Cowley opened the regulator. Taking the Castle to sea, the eight coach train was soon accelerating towards the city centre with ease. Its interesting to listen in over a cuppa' in the Support Coach as the Castle gets underway on route to Moor Street and ultimately Snow Hill. The 'cold' engine gradually warms through as the minutes pass, easing the exhaust into a sharper tone. It takes time for a four-row superheater to thoroughly acclimatise! At Snow Hill, heads are turned as the 4-6-0 tears into the stiff gradient hidden within the tunnel on the station approach. Arriving into the platform, excited passengers are already there waiting to join the 10am departure for Stratford. Once the "Earl" was on the front of the train, some of us trotted off to the local shop to grab 'supplies' (mainly junk food!) and one of the lads kindly treated us to a Costa.

Back at the station, 5043 was raring to go. On board the Support Coach I was again on bacon duty, slaving over the cooker in the fat fumes as the first few stations of the North Warwick line passed by the window. Down at Stratford, the Castle was watered in the usual way before dropping back onto the train...
With Stratford now behind us, 5043 was soon strolling back to Birmingham via the Claverdon route. The chat aboard the Support Coach was the usual - all things steam and a general round of putting the world to rights...we're good at that! Its quite nice to sit back and listen to the "Earl" at work as countless fields and luxurious properties pass by the window on route to Hatton junction. Once back at Snow Hill, the "Earl" was swiftly run round in preparation for the second round trip of the day. The Birmingham layover is minimal on the second trip and it doesn't seem like two minutes until we're "on the move" again. Slipping down to Stratford at 45mph tender first is a leisurely affair for the double chimney beast, quite literally a walk in the park...
"Arrival at Henley" (Pic - J.W.Hinks)
At Stratford, 5043 was watered a final time in readiness for the last departure homeward. Passengers in Premier Dining can enjoy a High Tea on the way home, experiencing a most pleasant bygone era of opulence as the scenery flashes by. Leaving Shakespeare's birthplace right on time, the Castle was in good voice as she climbed steadily towards Wilmcote. From there we crossed over onto the Claverdon line and enjoyed an easy run to Hatton before a spirited jog along the Solihull line. David Chandler captured this amazing shot of 5043 as she tore towards Widney Manor. I think it clearly shows the excitement and true nature of main line steam. This is it, its as real as its ever going to get - just brilliant...
"A Castle In Flight" (Pic - D.Chandler)
All too soon, the regulator was closed for the Tyseley set-down after a cracking run. From Tyseley we ran to Moor Street where an amazed gaggle of onlookers excitedly fumbled for their iPhone's and tablets. The engine was the subject of many pictures in just a few moments, that is until she let out one mighty roar from the chimney as the first bark of her revolutions was ejected skyward. The noisy engine then roared into the gloom of Snow Hill Tunnel, blasting easily up the gradient. As the tunnel envelopes the engine, all traces of light depart the footplate except for the round pulsing glow through the gap in the firehole doors. Heat and steam engulf all whilst the rhythmic bark of the chimney overcomes every other sound imaginable. Through the darkness eventually comes a trail of light, reflecting into the gloom carried by the two snaking rails which steer the engine. At last the Castle emerges, leaving a thick cloak of smoke and steam exiting the tunnel in her wake, like the breath of a dragon. In the days of steam it wasn't uncommon for the heavy freight trains to get stuck in the damp tunnel and many a tale is still told of coughing young Fireman appearing from the gloom to summon the Station Pilot for a pull!

Once run round a final time and having been photographed within an inch of her life, 5043 is readied for the ECS run home. It could well be all in my head but many a spectator on the ECS trip barely looks up from their paper as we pass through, acting as if a steam engine on the twenty-first century main line is nothing short of a mundane sight! Once back on Tyseley land, the empty "Shakespeare" stock slowly descends into the middle road, settling down just shy of the crossing. The Class 08 is then rudely awakened from its evening slumbers to shunt release the steamer. I was asked to work the signalbox for the shunting moves...
Once the 08' has drawn the stock clear, the road is set for Platform 1 and the shunter is given the signal to set back. Slowly but surely, the ECS is rolled back into its stabling position. The diesel is then held inside the starting signal: set to the "on" position below: and this then allows the Castle to be given the road. The engine then slinks back to the safety of the shed ready for disposal...
Finally, the Castle rests on the shed frontage after another successful day out on the national network. This wonderful piece of GWR engineering has been turned from an unbelievable wreck into arguably one of the main lines most formidable performers by the team at Tyseley. As the heat radiates from her resting cylinders, you can almost sense the "Earl" dreaming of that next trip...
I was soon on my way home from Tyseley after another tremendous day out. The Castle is a work of art and it is an absolute pleasure to be part of the team. I must thank the lads at 84E for their continued hospitality and of course the photographers who have kindly sent in images for use in this post - thank you. Until next time, Sam...

Friday, 4 August 2017

"The Wedding Belle" On The Great Central Railway...

"N15 'Sir Lamiel' Hauls The 'Wedding Belle' Evening Train"
We were very fortunate this evening to be invited along to celebrate the wedding of our good friends Mick Jones and Julia Ross. Jonesy (or MJ as we know him) used to be a Shackerstone regular along with us and today he & his bride tied the knot before their reception on the Great Central Railway at Loughborough. Could there be a more appropriate setting? Mark picked me up at around 5pm-ish for our trip up the M1 and A46 to reach the base of the GCR. The weather was fine as we trotted up Great Central Road to the entrance of the station before descending the stairs to the island platform below. The wedding train was still out up the line on the second round trip of the daytime celebration, so we wandered down to the loco shed to see what was going on. The NRM pairing of "Oliver Cromwell" and "Sir Lamiel" were resting in the pleasant evening sunshine. "Cromwell" took part in the famous "Fifteen Guinea Special" - the last steam hauled passenger train on British Rail on August 11th 1968...
As the only two visitors in the yard, we soon got chatting to one of the crew. It turned out that "Lamiel" would be hauling the evening train, top and tailing with the 8F 48624 which had pulled the daytime workings. I'm always pleased to see "Sir Lamiel". A King Arthur Class 4-6-0 built in 1925, the engine isn't far away from retiring for her 10-year overhaul. A unique survivor as the last of her class, 777 is a lovely old thing...
First built by the LSWR, the N15 class eventually numbered 74 examples. With two outside cylinders driving 6ft 7" wheels, the class made for an imposing 4-6-0. I love the lines of this engine. Everything is so meaty, from the con rods to the stuffing boxes. It just looks bulletproof. It is also refreshing to see an engine in pre-nationalisation livery, with "Sir Lamiel" carrying the Southern Railway's malachite green...
Having admired the old Southern engine, we walked back along the ash pathway towards the station. The Class 2 pairing were basking in the sunshine - 78018 and elder cousin 46521. These engines are ideal for most preserved railways...
As we crossed over the boarded crossing, I noticed the shunt signal rise to the 'off' position and sure enough 48624 duly rolled in from Leicester North. The bride & groom had specifically chosen the Eight Freight to haul their wedding train. She looked immaculate, obviously having benefitted from a buff up by the cleaners...
The only surviving 8F built by the Southern Railway, 48624 was completed at Ashford Works in 1943. Tonight she was hauling a rake of seven immaculate coaches - the full set of the "Great Central Pullman"...
After greeting the bride & groom, we headed to the bar to grab a pint. Ale in hand, we wandered up to watch "Sir Lamiel" buffer up to the train at the northern end. Being derived from LSWR practise, 777 has several T9-esque features: the handles, gauges, regulator, firebox door and Dreadnought ejector are identical. Myself, Batesy and Will stood looking at the old N15 for quite some time over a pint. Its just lovely...
"Summer Comes Soonest In The South"
Down the platform, the 1920s style band was getting underway as passengers enjoyed the mood prior to the 7:30pm departure...
We boarded the train on one of the lounge cars. These have been decked out to feature lengthways seating for parties like this...
Right on time, we departed Loughborough for the run to Leicester North. There was a great atmosphere on board the train and as we neared Swithland the buffet was served. Very nice it was too. Soon enough, after a pleasant chug through the Leicestershire countryside, the train came to a halt at the terminus. We only had a minute or three whilst the token was exchanged between the loco's so I grabbed a quick shot of the 8' down the platform whilst the catering staff took a break...
From Leicester North, 48624 took the strain as she hauled us back to Loughborough. "Sir Lamiel" simply hung from the rear of the train, although the 10-coach or so load (with the N15) seemed no effort for the 8F. Pulling back into Loughborough, the train came to a halt in Platform 2 and the band started up again for another hour...
The theme for the wedding was 1920s and so the platforms were awash with characters that resembled a lodge meeting of the Peaky Blinders. It was proving to be a very enjoyable evening and was a great thing to experience. Down at the far end, 48624 was resting after pulling the train back from Leicester North...
We were particularly impressed with the veranda coach situated just aft of the locomotive. The Cromwell rake is amazing to say the least and seems the perfect stock for a railway wedding like this. We were also impressed that there were two steamers on the train. Apparently a diesel had been the initial choice but this was rejected in favour of steam - can't fault that!...
The 8F's Midland tender was carrying the headboard...
After grabbing another drink, we reboarded the stock ready for the second evening departure at 9:30pm. We were surprised to get two rides but you can't complain! This time "Sir Lamiel" hauled us through the increasing darkness as far as Rothley Brook, just north of Rothley station. There, the train reversed and 48624 hauled us southward once again. The driver gave her a bit of main valve as we climbed the bank towards Swithland and the run through Quorn was quite energetic shall we say. It was great. Watching the darkened outline of the 8' swaying impatiently through the veranda window, I couldn't help but think of lyrics from Dave Goulder's "Eight Freight Blues"...

Smoke in my eyes
Soot in my hair
Cinders in my shoes
I'm watching a needle falling away
And singing the Eight Freight Blues
Lyrics by Dave Goulder

If you haven't heard that tune, give it a listen on Youtube. I can't describe in words what a nice evening we had, particularly for us steam enthusiasts too. It was lovely. Once back at Loughborough, arriving at around 10:30pm, the 8F disappeared into the darkness for disposal on the shed...
The quiet platform looked a picture with the Cromwell set as the passengers gathered their belongings ready to alight...
We left at just after 11pm after a great evening out, experiencing a bygone era of opulence and style. Congratulations to the new Mr & Mrs Jones - we wish you all the best for the future and thank you for inviting us to be part of your special day! For me, it was the best wedding I've been to...really good, something special. Thank you all for reading and well done to the GCR for pulling it off. Cheers all, until next time, Sam...

Sunday, 30 July 2017

"Roger" The Wren Goes To Welland...

Hi all. On this glorious but threatening morning, myself and JB were on the road heading for Welland. After a fairly wet week and even more heavy rainfall overnight, we had elected to take John's trusty 1982 Land Rover as my BMW would sink at even the sight of mud! It was the third and final day of the 2017 Welland Steam Rally - the 53rd annual event of its kind. There would be traction engines, steam rollers, showmans engines, cars, lorries, tractors - you name it! We had again been rostered to crew one of the SBR engines on the 2ft gauge demonstration railway, laid as part of the 'Road Making' display. Welland not only has an impressive line up of exhibits but also provides several working demonstrations from wood sawing and threshing to ploughing and tractor pulling. There are two railways on the site: the 2ft gauge one and a standard gauge track known as the Great Welland Railway. After a good chug down the M5 towards Worcester, we reached the rally a little after 07:15. Having gained access and proceeded through the site to the ploughing field, we found the loco - "Roger" - waiting with the tippers under the blue skies...
Last year "Howard" (formerly "Paddy") - the vertical boiler engine - did the honours but the little Kerr Stuart Wren, built in 1918, could not have been more appropriate. "Roger", works number 3128, worked at the Imperial Smelting Company in Avonmouth, Bristol. In preservation it has travelled to Canada, returned for overhaul at Statfold, gone back to Canada a second time and then been bought by Statfold. "Roger" now lives a quiet existence on the Garden Railway, working alongside "Howard". The Kerr Stuart Wren's were a popular 0-4-0 contractors locomotive, eventually numbering 163 examples and employing the simple Hackworth valve gear. A punchy and capable little engine, the Wren's were used in various applications. It was my first time on "Roger" and, having checked around to make sure all was well, I lit the fire...
We had a small, damp rag which we managed to get some paraffin onto but it still smouldered on the grate barely clinging to life. The small chunks of wood we had had also got damp on the footplate overnight and so I just opened the damper and hoped it would take. The adjacent SBR steam shovel had more than enough wood to light up on so we pinched some of that too! Damp rags and damp wood, ay? Suddenly memories of Shack came flooding back into my head...can't think why. Anyway, with the wood slowly beginning to crackle on the bars, a lazy plume of smoke rose steadily skyward from the tall, stovepipe chimney...
With the embryo fire slowly taking to the wood, I piled on some of the Welsh coal. In the words of a legend..."you've gotta' get um' hot" for the Welsh stuff to burn, otherwise it sits there providing nothing but a kick in the pride. JB meanwhile was going around the few oiling points with the cans. Everything is on the outside and easy to get at with this basic little engine. What a nice old thing...
With the engine oiled and the fire doing its own thing, we wandered down into the catering area to "grab some snap" as JB put it. Thankfully, we found some. A cuppa' and a Full English in the sunshine was most welcome...
Having enjoyed our breakfast, we trudged back across to the engine through the increasing abundance of mud. She now had 20psi on the clock and was bubbling away nicely with the Welsh coal having taken well. Very pleasant...
We can see from the basic outline of the Wren just how 'workmanlike' it is. There is no manifold as such. The steam valves come off the dome and the injectors are situated just above the expansion blocks. Therefore you can only comfortably inject when stood alongside the engine. Obviously the plan was for them to be stationary most of the time, chugging only short distances on their respective railways. The basic driving controls include a reverser, regulator and handbrake...
As the pressure within 3128 slowly climbed towards the red line, we decided to have a pull up the short track. I assumed full forward and opened the regulator to warm the cylinders. I then did the same in reverse and then forward again, clearing most of the condensate. With a pip on the extremely shrill whistle, I opened the regulator further and after a little hesitation the engine edged forward. Hissing like a 60s Black Five, "Roger" chugged up the rocky track work towards the top. We had a pesky drain cock or two that wouldn't shut - something that would require a careful choice of swear words to sort later on! After two trips back and forth, 3128 was warming through nicely and JB took over the regulator. I decided to go off and have a walk round before the inevitable rains came. The Met Men had promised a violent storm in the afternoon so I was taking no chances. Over on the Great Welland Railway, a familiar engine was on service - "Bellerophon". I last saw her the other week at Foxfield...
Bellerophon was a hero of Greek mythology, before the days of Hercules. This 0-6-0 well tank was built in 1874 by the Haydock Foundry and employs outside Stephenson's valve gear. I was interested to learn that she carries piston valves and therefore, due to the lack of 'give' shall we say compared to slide valves, she was equipped with cylinder relief valves on each end cover. To me, this is an advancement far beyond her years as I would have thought she'd have simple slide valves...
"Piston, Crosshead and Cover Arrangement"
The Foxfield team who were crewing "Bellerophon" kindly invited me for a couple of footplate rides up and down the track...
"Riding The Footplate On The 1874-built Haydock"
Giving rides aboard a Great Western Toad, "Bellerophon" had no issues climbing the field. It must have been an easy weekend away compared to life on the 1 in 19 back home! This is a capable, smooth-riding elderly engine with power far beyond her antiquated looks. Here she is approaching the station...
After a couple of trips on the lovely 0-6-0 I jumped down and thanked the lads for the opportunity. Since I'd been chatting and riding around on engines, I decided I'd best get back to my man on "Roger". On the way I passed a very well set-up Marshall working a saw bench. The governor was perfectly set and it was a treat to listen to the single working hard as each cut was taken...
Statfold's "Mary Marshall" lines up alongside two traction engines...
Upon my return to "Roger", the engine was sat near the stone crusher having just unloaded a tipper. The stones are loaded by hand at the foot of the hill, hauled up the track by the Wren and then tipped out onto the ground...
The team of workmen then gradually load the stones into the crusher which is driven by a portable engine dating from the early 1900s. The grunting machine effortlessly munches the large stones down to a fine gravel which is then shovelled into a wheelbarrow for transport to the rolling area...
Barrow by barrow, the crushed stones (now chippings) are carted up to the nearby steam roller before being tipped out, raked and rolled. The Wren meanwhile can steam up and down for the publics enjoyment whilst the road is rolled by the 10-ton Aveling "Alfie". The process is then repeated throughout the day...
"SBR's Wren 'Roger' Meets 'Alfie' The Steam Roller"
The display is completed by the addition of several items of plant, vintage signage and period costumes. To be fair to the chaps involved, it looks really good and yet it is only a tiny part of the overall attraction list offered by the Welland rally. Just over the way from us, Statfold's mighty Erie Steam Shovel was working hard in a pile of dirt. This impressive (and fairly frightening) machine is a joy to watch in action...
Whilst JB had another jaunt up and down, I nipped across to the Ice Cream Van and got us some horrendously expensive Ice Creams. Very nice they were too!...
Ice cream devoured, JB went off for a walk around the site whilst I trundled back and forth on the Wren. With the fire burning quietly on notch one of the damper and hardly any water being used, the engine was a pleasure to drive. The one irritation was the hissing of the drain cocks. I spent some time under the engine oiling the linkage and tightening up some bolts before resetting some of the closing positions on the cocks. This improved things no end and the hissing disappeared. With the steam noises gone, the Wren barely murmured as she strode easily up and down the short line...wonderful! When JB returned he was brandishing two hot cups of tea which we duly enjoyed whilst watching the Erie at work. Around mid-afternoon, I went down to the fair...
Amongst the various rides and stalls stood the line-up of beautiful Showmans engines. Brasswork sparkling and dynamo's singing, they made for an impressive sight. There were some conversions (poor old rollers having been cut up to make a showmans) but the majority were beautiful originals...
If I win the Lotto I wouldn't mind a Showmans engine! Back at the Wren, the Erie steam shovel was still proving a popular attraction as it munched through the piles of dirt. Visitors stood around it for ages...
As the day drew towards its close, the numbers of visitors slowly began to thin out. The threatening darkness of the rain clouds coming into view across the hills made everyone think about dropping their fires. We had a few more runs up and down as we awaited the call to knock off. "Roger"s extremely shrill whistle had to be used with care - "Tinnitus" would have been a more appropriate name! In the end we were cleared to dispose the Wren just after 4pm and Britt duly employed the dart to thin out the fire...
We always leave a bit in there though to keep her warm...
Once the fire had been deadened, the boiler was filled and the gauge glass isolated. The pressure was now down to around 80psi and the engine was made safe & secure. We isolated the clacks and checked all the valves, taking our time so as not to miss anything (as you do). By now the rain was starting to fall and our final job was to affix the chimney cap to keep some heat in the engine...
"A Last Look at 'Roger' The Wren"
The chimney cap, though it can make engines 'sweat' a bit at the smokebox, helps to hold the heat, preventing it leaving via the chimney. The slower we can cool an engine down, the better. We have a variety of materials within the boiler of differing expansion rates and so cooling it down slowly is as important as steaming it up slowly. Doing things during disposal like filling a boiler from empty to full with fresh cold water is a massive no. Anyway, after a very pleasant day out, we retired to Britt's Landy for the run home. We were thankful to have brought the 4x4 and not my BM as the 'truck' is much more at home wading through the mud. My car would have been sunk, with only the aerial poking out above the dirt! I must thank Britt for a lovely day, and for driving us down to Welland. I must also thank Statfold Barn for another great opportunity with one of their engines. Cheers all, Sam...