Saturday, 31 December 2011

Thank You & Goodnight...

Hi everyone. Well, here we are for the very last time in 2011! It has gone very quickly indeed. Time really does fly. So here is the 2011 over-view. All of the mentioned events in this post are documented on the blog itself so, if you wish, please do check back and have a read. Right, lets start as we mean to go on, with JANUARY...
January was a bitter one this year, but that didn't stop us. We started the year with a visit to CMES on New Years Day for the public running. On the 2nd, I enjoyed a firing turn on Pannier No5786 at Shackerstone. The following weekend I attended both a steam up at CMES and my belated 19th birthday outing to the GCR for a trip on the wonderful "Elizabethan" dining train. There were two more visits to Shackerstone that month, for working parties. At the end of the month, I made my annual visit to the GCR's fabulous Winter Steam Gala. Next: FEBRUARY...
February was a quieter one this year. There were 3 visits to Shackerstone, including the return of GWR Small Prairie No5542. Another outing was across to Washwood Heath in Birmingham for a day working on the beautiful B1 "Mayflower". The loco was then undergoing a full bottom-end overhaul. Moving swiftly on, to MARCH...
March started with the arrival of the huge GWR 2-8-0 No3803 at Shackerstone from Buckfastleigh. Admittedly, we didn't think it would come...but thankfully it did! There were 4 visits to Shackerstone this month. Two posts regard our visit to the 2011 Large Scale Model Rail show with our O Gauge LEGO Model Railway layout. The 2nd of those posts shows Mr John Britt with his coal-fired 32mm gauge engines. There was also a post about my 00 gauge garden railway. 5542 was also still at Shackerstone this month, with her & 3803 being joined later on by the Jinty 47298 (as Thomas). Another month soon flew by and APRIL was here...
In April, I had a bit of a busy one. I got my first 2 turns on the marvellous 3803 and also had 3 encounters with the B1 "Mayflower" (1 working on her at W.Heath and 2 on her footplate). I also had a day second-manning a Class 25, a day at the CMES Royal Steam Up and two main line spotting days: one with 6201 "Princess Elizabeth" and one with "Britannia". Finally, there were 2 days spent on my garden railway and a very hot working day at CMES. "Phew, so much to say!". But, time flies, and so MAY arrived very quickly...
This month was very pleasant. I had two days driving the 7.25" Romulus "James": one at GEC and one at Rugby MES. We also visited the Echills Wood Railway at Kingsbury and had a day driving the Sweet Pea for the public at CMES. There was another garden railway day and of course our first visit of 2011 to the Bala Lake Railway in Wales. We spent a weekend down there in May, enjoying 2 days on the footplate of the favourable 0-4-0ST "Maid Marian". May also saw the return to steam of Ken's 5" gauge 0-6-0T "Achilles" following water pump repair. At the end of the month, Shackerstone held a Models Weekend. I spent 2 days there: one day linesiding and visiting the show, and the other day on the footplate of 1306 "Mayflower". JUNE was next...
June was another good month. It began with a visit to the delightful 15" gauge Evesham Vale Light Railway, where I also got a footplate ride. There was also a flying visit to the GEC and a large 'Fish n Chip' Steam Up at CMES. Mid-month I was rostered on the Buffet Car at Shackerstone, shortly followed by a successful steam test for Ken's "Achilles" tank. Three loco turns at Shackerstone then followed: 1 very wet day on 3803 and 2 days on 47298 at Thomas. At the very end of the month, I got my new car: my beloved yellow Saxo VTR. Dear me, this is turning into a long post! Anyway, on with JULY...July was very good. First, I received the most generous gift that I have ever had. Ken handed ownership of his 5" gauge 0-6-0T "Achilles" over to me. Thank you so much. There was later a flying visit to the GEC and a quick drive on "James", followed by our holiday to Skegness. This holiday included visits to the Mablethorpe Model Railway, the very small local 7.25" line and of course the quaint 15" gauge Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway. The CCLR visit was particularly nice, including a footplate ride on the GCR 8K/LNER 04. After returning from holiday I had a turn at CMES the day after, with "Achilles". Later that month there was another outing for "Achilles", this time to the GEC in Binley. Finally, there was a turn on 3803 at Shackerstone and the GEC invite day at CMES. Oh, and a garden railway post! Well, the show must go on so here is AUGUST...
Well, August was a busy one. But, allas, here we go. We started the month with our Torquay holiday. This week included a visit to the Babbacombe Cliff Railway and two visits to the Paignton & Dartmouth Railway: one linesiding and one on the train. It was lovely to see the GWR Heavy Tanks at work, and of course the newly repainted Black Manor. At the end of the week I also visited the huge Torbay Steam Fair. Returning from holiday, we immediately had a turn at the GEC with "Achilles". Soon after, there was a working day at Shackerstone Loco Works as Peckett "Sir Gomer" neared completion. Mid-month, I was on 'holiday' again, this time to Wales. This visit started with a long days travel to the historic Talyllyn Railway: my first visit. Another first came that afternoon when I swung by the quaint Fairbourne Railway. From Fairbourne I drove across to Bala for a 4-night stay, including 3 days firing on the lovely Quarry Hunslets. On the Tuesday, I returned home via a first visit to the Welshpool & Llanfair Railway. Also that month were a turn on 3803, a turn in the Signalbox at Shack, a private visit to Pete's 7.25" railway and a turn at CMES. After a busy August, we hit SEPTEMBER...
There were 2 turns at Shackerstone at the start of this month: one on "Jessie" and one in the Shop. The first weekend also saw the return of "Sir Gomer". This month I was also on the cover of Engineering in Miniature magazine and had an article published inside. There was also a turn on 3803 this month and of course I accompanied "Sir Gomer" on her volcanic visit to the Pontypool Railway in Wales. Next, OCTOBER...
As the days began to draw shorter, I was still very busy. The first post of the month was about "Achilles", following her return to service after repair. There was also a day driving "James" at GEC and two turns on the Jinty for Thomas at Shackerstone. There were then 2 posts regarding the annual Midlands Model Engineering Exhibition and a Birthday Party at GEC that included "Achilles" pulling trains. The Night Run at GEC soon followed: that was a great night! Finally, there was a shed turn at Shackerstone. NOVEMBER followed...
The first posts of this month were a day with "Achilles" and a turn on 3803 at Shackerstone. There also 2 shed days at Shackerstone, a visit to Warley 2011 at the NEC and a turn on the footplate of "Sir Gomer" on the first Santa's. Futhermore, there was a post regarding the spotting of the two main line Pannier Tanks at Nuneaton. Last but not least, we have DECEMBER...
This month, there were 2 turns on 3803 at Shackerstone and a shed day, not to mention a day stewarding the Santa's. Furthermore, I accompanied "Sir Gomer" on another one of her loan visits - this time to the Cholsey & Wallingford Railway near Oxford. I also enjoyed a festive driving turn on "James" at the GEC and I spotted "Tornado" at Bedworth of all places. Finally, we took "Achilles" to RPMR today and had a great time.

Well, thats it folks. Thats pretty much everything I've done this year! Dear me, there was alot wasn't there?! No wonder I'm always so tired! Now for a few thank you's. Thank you to everyone at Shackerstone, CMES, GEC and Bala Lake Railway. Special thanks to Ken, Eddie J and James B: I have appreciated your help and kindness this year very much. Finally, thank you very much to everyone who has read this blog in 2011, and prior. I appreciate it very much. Please DO comment if you wish: its always nice to hear from people who are reading! Finally, again, thank you. HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone. Thank You & Goodnight...Sam...

Achilles Report No8: The Pools on New Years Eve...


Hi folks. Well, here it is: the last 'official' post of 2011 (there is one more to follow). Today we were at Ryton Pools (CMES) with my 5" gauge loco; "Achilles". We arrived at just before 11am for the New Years Eve Steam-Up. Having unloaded the loco we duly prepared her and were on the track within 45 minutes. Unfortunately, the blower was still not working correctly and so we retired after 3 laps. This did not mean that we were going to dispose though. Myself, Emma and Dave worked on the blower unit for around 20 minutes, discovering all 3 holes still partially blocked. A thin piece of wire soon cleared the holes as much as possible and so I steamed up again. This time, there was no stopping the blower. It was fantastic. "Achilles" was steaming beautifully. So, having oiled up again, off we went. The loco ran perfectly well with her driving car + 2 CMES cars behind the drawbar. My family came along too and three of us shared the driving. We also filmed the loco and the resulting footage is spotted above. We disposed at 3pm and left at 3:35pm. It was a very nice afternoon. Happy New Year everyone! Sam...

Friday, 30 December 2011

"Tornado" Strikes Bedworth!...

Hello guys! Post No115 of 2011 and, a little unexpected at that. I was surfing the net the other night and came across timings for a main line excursion that was due to be hauled by the regal "King Edward I". However, the tour was diverted due to pathing issues and, due to this, the King was subsequently declared out of gauge. The new build A1 No60163 "Tornado" was quickly pencilled in to deputise for the Western 4-6-0 and so the tour was spared diesel haulage. The trip was named the "William Shakespeare" and ran between London Paddington and Stratford-upon-Avon. The outward run took the obvious route through Leamington and Hatton to reach Straford but, for some reason, the return trip went a little 'out of its way'. Leaving Stratford, the train ran into Birmingham and then along to Nuneaton. At this point, it got unusual. The train then turned onto the Coventry line, via my hometown of Bedworth. It then ran through Kenilworth and back to Leamington before continuing on to Banbury and, finally, Paddington. Naturally, we caught sight of the loco at Bedworth. In the persistant rain, a group of us waited and waited. The loco was due at around 15:27 but by 15:40, we were wondering where she was. I suppose we need not have worried as within minutes we heard the familar chime whistle and there was a huge cloud of steam on the horizon. With 12 coaches in tow, through she came. The smoke deflectors seemed to be doing a good job as 60163 sailed through with a near black exhaust...

The loco was booked for a stop at Hawkesbury Lane, just after Bedworth station. However, as she was already running later than the departure time for that stop we figured that she would just keep going. This seemed to be true as the loco was moving quite a bit quicker than we thought she would be. This was my 4th encounter with "Tornado" and, I must admit, though she is very, very new...I am warming to her. She is very attractive and looks like she could do a fair bit more than 75mph. I look forward to seeing her again and it was a pleasure to spot her so close to home. If I remember right, this is the first time that a steam hauled excursion has been down this route since December 2004 when Pannier No9600 came from Tyseley. A rare but much appreciated occasion. Evening all, Sam...

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Poorly Peckett & A Right Shunt...

Hi everyone. Well, I'm 20 now. 'Yes', it was my 20th Birthday yesterday. Dear me, how the years have flown by. Even this blog is now 3.5 years old! Anyhow, today I was at Shackerstone again. The plan was to Steam Test the Peckett "Sir Gomer" following its visit to Cholsey. However, after checking her over it was clear that she was a failure. With regulator open, there was steam escaping from beneath the smokebox floor (bad news!). So, having failed the engine we dropped the pressure as much as possible and then a few of the guys dived in to the smokebox and began smashing up the concrete floor. This floor must be at least 6-7" thick - what a task. But, they did it! They then discovered that a gasket in the main steam pipe had failed, thus releasing all of the steam we saw. In fact, the gasket had blown out at least a 1/4 of its overall size and therefore was leaking badly - it was bound to cause trouble! Whilst the guys sorted this problem out, myself & Adrian were outside doing a massive shunt with both the Class 02 and Class 73 diesels. The main objective was to release 4 of the wagons from the packed north end sidings and then take them to Market Bosworth for temporary stabling. It took us all day, as well as taking 2 coaches off the main train rake too. I finally left Shackerstone at 5pm after a long & tiring day. But, we did some good work. As well as the gasket, "Sir Gomer" also has lubrication and eccentric problems. These will be rectified over the closed season so that the loco can take part in the 2012 Steam Gala. Evening all, Sam...

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas from Sammy's World...

Hi everyone. I trust you are all well. Just a short note in order to wish a
MERRY CHRISTMAS & A HAPPY NEW YEAR
to all of my readers. Kindest regards, Sam

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Stewarding for Santa at Shackerstone...

Hello guys. A very short one today. Well, the post is short but the day was long! I arrived at Shackerstone at 9am, in SNOW! After clearing the foot crossing of the dreaded stuff I changed into my good shoes ready to undertake my days duty as a 'Train Steward' on the popular Santa Specials. As seats are allocated to particular coaches on these trains, at least 1 steward is allocated to each coach (in theory). The stewards seat the passengers, take questions, give information, provide the refreshments and of course keep the coach clean and tidy. We had 4 trains today; 10am, Midday, 2pm and 4pm. I was still a little tired from the day before's firing on the loco but things were soon in full swing. The strengthened train of 7 coaches (6 passenger + the grotto) was half full on the first run but rammed FULL(!) on the 2nd & 3rd! Even on the first run, after not stewarding for a year, I was a little rusty. However, come the latter 2 trips, we had no time to be slow. Between three of us we stewarded 5 coaches! This included drinks, mince pies, cartons, sweets as well as seating, cleaning, questions and god only knows what else. It was so hectic. The train was constantly being walked by countless people on their way to see Santa, which caused more delay in serving the drinks. But, it was a very good feeling once everybody had been catered for and we could declare; "Job Done"! On the returning 2nd run, we were snapped coming into Shack by my friend Dave. There I am in the mid-window of my coach, the Corridor (No1)...
It was a cold day but my coach; with the steam heat on; was very warm indeed. In fact, some passengers were turning the heat off due to it being too warm! Well I never! We were joined on today's Santa's by Mr Wilson (of CMES) and his family. I hope you had a good time my friend and please do come again. The 4th trip was planned to be only 40 people but after hectic booking in the day and thanks to more people turning up 'on the day', we 3/4 filled it! I did try and get away before the 4pm to get a home a little earlier but there was no chance! Ahh well, its only once a year...and its Christmas. All in all, a fantastic day at Shack though very, very busy. I must admit, stewarding that train is HARDER than a day on the loco...FACT! Well, at 6:30pm, I left Shack for home. Thats my last turn at Shack in 2011 done so Merry Christmas to everyone at the Battlefield Line. I shall be back there on Jan 2nd for another firing turn on the marvellous 3803. Evening all. Sam...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Santa & Steam with 3803...

Hi all. Early this morning, as a thick frost lay across Leicestershire, I pulled up at Shackerstone in my yellow Saxo. It was 5:45am and I was soon joined at the dark gates by the Passed Fireman for the day; Danny. Many of you will know that I now coming very close to the end of my firing training but still need a passed fireman on the footplate when not under assessment: this is for insurance purposes. After shutting the gates behind us, we drove in tandem up the drive to as near to the station as possible. It was very cold and earily quiet...even the Station Cat was nowhere to be seen! We both managed to survive the ice-clad obstacle course that allows access to the shed so, after opening up, we found 3803 slumbering inside. She was already warm but the lighting of a fire as quickly as possible still seemed a very good idea. So, we set to. Danny cleaned the grate and we then broke up some wood. The fire was soon lit, though a little sluggish at first. The booked Driver; Jan; duly arrived and we then enjoyed a nice hot cuppa'. I tell you what, never is a cuppa' more welcome than in the loco shed at this time of the morning! With the fire still a little sluggish in the box of the big 2884-class, we threw in some more, slightly dryer wood. With that, the fire took hold very quickly and it wasn't long before the all important needle moved off its stop.

Jan then began oiling whilst myself & Dan oversaw the fire and some other little jobs that needed doing. At 9:20am, the locomotive was ready and we steamed out of the shed, shoving the 'dead' Class 02 as we did so. With the little diesel shifted, we crossed over onto the train and began steam heating. At 10am, we pulled away from Shackerstone. The train of 6 coaches followed easily as Jan drove and I fired. Down at Market Bosworth, there were a number of waits throughout the day. Each of the 4 trains waited here for a different duration of time so that Santa could see everybody. On the 2nd run, myself and Danny waited on the engine whilst Jan went for a tour of the currently under-restoration Market Bosworth Signalbox. She took this picture from the ROOF(!) of the building. 3803 waits in the station with myself and Dan on the footplate (Photo by Jan Ford)...
The day went very well. 3803 steamed well, apart from the odd bit of clinker at the back end. This continuous clinker problem is no doubt being caused by the lack of air being allowed in through the broken rear damper door. But, if you keep cleaning the fire regularly you can sort of keep control of it. I must admit though, I don't think you could find an easier loco to fire than 3803. She is a very forgiving locomotive, due to her large firebox and huge boiler. There is just so much in reserve with a bigger engine. This is probably one of the reasons why trainees tend to enjoy it on the loco. Its just so easy. Mind you, I'm not saying that if you had never fired a loco before then you would find it easy, but, admittedly, after a bit of practise you can soon pick it up. But, should you get into trouble, 9 times out of 10 she will save your skin by holding pressure at a reasonable level. However, never underestimate an engine's power to bring you to your knees. She could, and she would! After a late departure from Shackerstone on the 2pm 'Santa', there was another 30-minute wait at MB. So, we took the opportunity to have a well-earned cuppa, a rest and a chat. Driver Jan Ford was 'on the handle' today, though Danny did take us for 1/2 a trip. Jan is probably one of our more experienced drivers. She has driven countless engines from the historic 0-4-2 "LION" right up to the world famous A3 Pacific "Flying Scotsman". At Shackerstone, she is known as a lover of Westerns after spending many years volunteering for the Tyseley Collection; then the Birmingham Railway Museum. There she drove the Castle's and the Panniers amongst other things. I believe thats where she got her well known saying..."You Can Do Anything With A Pannier". Below, Driver Jan Ford takes a break on a simmering 3803...
Jan has her own, very interesting blog, that can be found HERE. Earlier in the day, just before the 2pm trip, Jan caught 4 of us 'railwaymen' deep in conversation behind the 38' at Shackerstone. From left to right, we have Reas; the king of vegetation clearance at Shackerstone; first. Then, Andy; often referred to on this blog by his well known nickname of 'Pockets'. Pockets is a driver & fireman on the line and does alot of work in the steam department. Third, we have young Dan, who passed as a Fireman in August this year. Finally, you have me on the end. What do I look like?! (Photo by Jan Ford)...
At Shenton on the 2pm trip, we lit the loco lamps and the gauge glass lamp. The sun was fast dissapearing and a chilly evening was moving in. On the return to Shack, we took water before pulling away on the late running 4pm train. This time, we were joined by Reas on the footplate. Down the line, darkness had fallen and we couldn't see a thing. It was also very cold. However, running with the firehole doors open and the GWR flap up seemed to give a little bit of heat, as well as a little light too. I was however very mindful about producing glare as Jan was trying hard to see the road ahead. At MB, there was a 5-minute wait before we headed off for a very dark Shenton. After a brisk run-round we recoupled and the steam heat was duly back on again. With a green light and a blow on his whistle, the Guard gave us the 'Right Away' and we set off for home. 3803 was still steaming well and we made good time, running straight through the illuminated Market Bosworth platform and then accelerating through the woods towards Airport Bridge. Dropping into Shackerstone, there was very little fire left and 1/2 a glass of water in the boiler. The gauge read 170psi and this was more than enough for us to uncouple, run up into the shed and to dispose. The fire was declinkered (again!) and then raked throughly. There was very little left when I had finished. We then filled the boiler using both injectors. With the boiler brimmed, and 80psi on the gauge, we called it a day. We had had a very enjoyable time and I must thank Driver Jan for letting me use 4 of her photos in this blog. Also thanks to Dan for letting me fire all day and for doing most of the coupling/uncoupling. Cheers guys; loved it. Tomorrow, I'm back at Shackerstone again...stewarding! Thanks for reading folks. Sam...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Santa at the GEC...

Hi everyone. Today was an easy one, but a very wet one! After arranging with my friend James yesterday, today I was over at the GEC Miniature Railway helping him with his engine; the 7.25" Romulus No5 "James". I arrived at 12:45pm, as did James with his loco on the trailer. We duly unloaded the loco and pushed him to the steaming bays. Once there, we prepared the engine together and were ready in time for the 2pm start. Today was the GEC's annual "Santa Special" running day and so trains were running 2pm - 5pm. Both tracks were in operation and all tickets had to be booked in advance. Fair to say, it was a sell-out. Children received a present from Santa whilst adults received a drink and a cake. Other refreshments were also available. Though it was very wet, spirits seemed high and the tea; as usual; was flowing. "James", with a cup of tea on the tender...
The 7.25" track was the home of the Grotto. From a driving perspective, there were only a few simple differences. The trains left the station as normal and traversed the track via the triangle at the bottom of the field. On the return run, trains were given the clear as far as the passing loop where they would be given either a green or a red light - depending on whether there was another train coming out of the station at that time or not. If there wasn't, then a green would be given. If there was, then a red would be given until the train passed. However, at the facing point which normally takes trains back into the station, the blades would be switched and take you onto the old branch which then climbs up into the normally disused station near the entrance road. Dropping the vacuum brake gradually to come to a controlled stop, the brakes were then fully applied whilst Santa chatted to passengers and gave children their gift. It was quite pleasant actually running up that short stretch of track; made a nice change. It also felt very festive to pull up and see Santa. I'm a bit old now for the 'Christmas Mood' but, admittedly, it was nice! Once Santa had finished his duties, he waved the train off as "James" propelled it back away from the station in a cloud of steam: under signals from the guard. There is then a signal which protects the main line. If this was at clear, we would drop back down onto the main and stop behind the automated point. After a whistle to signal to the Signalman in the box at the station, the point would soon switch and the right-hand 'feather signal' would illuminate. Trains could then run back into the station. The average journey time was 8-10 minutes; very pleasant indeed!...
Due to the damp December weather, we had lost most of the light by 3:30pm and the loco lamps were lit, as were various illuminations. "James" was sporting a newly made BR-style tail-lamp, to match his BR headlamp! On the footplate; as is usual practise for a 'night run'; we carried a magnetic torch for the water gauge. "James" steamed beautifully throughout the afternoon with a crisp bark from the chimney and giving a good 'pull' as usual. I did however have one occasion when I had to be pushed by the Guard as "James" wouldn't restart. It was raining and we were stopped by a red signal at the car park loop with a well-loaded train. Under the tree's there, you sometimes can't start on a dry summers day let alone in winter rain! So, I opened the drains and gave her some steam whilst the Guard pushed. Within a few panels, "James" was holding his own again and we roared up the bank and onto the branch. I must admit, I was a little annoyed as no train appeared and as soon as I stopped we got a green! Ahh well, the joys of driving steam engines ^_^ . For the rest of the day, "James" proved very sure-footed indeed; much to my surprise; though we did use a little sand here and there. At 5pm, with all the passengers gone, we disposed of "James". It had been another enjoyable time at GEC; I always enjoy it here though! Thanks to James, the Tea Room Ladies and everyone else for a swell & festive experience. Merry Christmas. Sam...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Christmas in Cholsey: "Sir Gomer" on Holiday...

Hello everyone. Something a little different again. Today, 80 miles later, I arrived at the headquarters of the Cholsey & Wallingford Railway. This 2.5-mile long preserved line, known as 'The Bunk Line', is an ex-GWR branch. It has always been at this length, running from the main line at Cholsey down to the small town of Wallingford. Passenger services ended in 1959 and goods traffic stopped in 1965. Severed from reaching its old terminus in the town in 1969, BR continued to operate services to the nearby Malt Plant. The line survived due to the Malt Plant with services ending in 1981 when road traffic became a 'better idea'. On 31/05/1981, BR ran a special over the route and a preservation society was formed that very same day. From then on, the line has been restored, slowly but surely. It now runs on most of its original route, but the old terminus location can't be reached. A new platform and headquarters has been built at Wallingford. Passenger trains operate on the railway throughout the year and today was a 'Santa Special' day. Trains were to be steam hauled and this was the reason for my visit. The line's 2011 steam mainstay had recently failed its boiler inspection and so "Sir Gomer" had been loaned at short notice from Shackerstone to stand in. Below, failed RSH 0-4-0ST "Birkenhead" sits cold and feeling sorry for itself in the platform at Wallingford...
When I arrived, "Sir Gomer" was steamed up in the platform and simmering away. She was connected to the 3-coach train and already steam heating. Trains would be departing hourly from 11.05 until 16.05, with the round trip taking around 45 minutes. After meeting everybody, I joined the footplate to check everything out. No problems. The shot below is a bit unusual I think. It sort of looks black & white with the sky providing the only real colour but honestly, its just a trick of the light!...
There would be two crews today (luxury, ay?) operating 3 trips each. I joined the crew of the 1st trip. This consisted of Driver Dave Goodenough, Fireman George and another passed fireman too. I stood on as 4th man and 'Loco Rep'. At 11.05, out we went. The loco pulled away on the 3 coaches with ease and we reached Cholsey in good time. It was a pretty line, weaving its way across the countryside and past a pretty church where Agatha Christie was apparently laid to rest. Cholsey station is very odd. The trains climb up from Wallingford on a tight left-hand curve before rubbing shoulders with the Relief Lines of the Network Rail route to Didcot and beyond. It was clear that the 4-track mainline was in very regular use as when we steamed into the platform two HST's passed on the fast lines at full speed, roaring away in their seperate directions. The C & WR trains pull into the old Platform 5 and are not connected to the national network in any way. There is a run round loop here though and "Sir Gomer" duly changed ends before we returned to Wallingford with a little more chuff. Back at base, there is no run-round loop at present. So, the loco was shunt-released using one of the line's Class 08 diesels...
As I mentioned earlier, there were 2 crews today. So, after our first run, we swapped with the 2nd crew who took the 12.05. This gave us chance to grab a cuppa', a bite to eat and to have a chat. I continued to make generalised checks about the engine such as prep and disposal methods. For example, due to the regulator currently 'passing' when shut, the loco must be disposed with both the drain cocks and steam chest taps (underneath) open. This prevents too much condensate 'sitting' in the system. The same settings must occur first thing in the morning and during the first few moves off shed. The steam chest taps can then be closed by going underneath the loco and shutting them off. The drain cocks are of course operated from the cab. All checks made, I was happy with how the loco was being kept and could therefore inform the Shackerstone officials, such as the ever-concerned 'Pockets' who has always been 'Gomers Keeper' in my eyes. After the chat, we rejoined the loco and took out the 13.05. She was performing very well. Mind you, 3 coaches on a relatively flat route is nothing compared to what we did at Pontypool, and I don't think anything will come close in the future just yet!...
At Cholsey, the passengers disembarked to watch the engine run round. I must admit, it was quite a proud feeling representing Shackerstone once again on a railway visit. "Sir Gomer" could be our ticket to many more railways in the future ;) . Ready to come off the train at Cholsey main line station, as Voyagers and HST's go thundering past nearby...
Driver Dave Goodenough, who served his time for BR on 9F's and Britannia's on the Western region, was my driver for today...
Below, "Sir Gomer" rubs shoulders with one of those new fangelled modern inventions as it cruises into Cholsey's platform 4...
Departing Cholsey, trains take it easy over a tight point before descending away from Network Rail land and down into the fields again. Just as we departed, a very fast-moving Class 66 on a container train passed by. My goodness, the draft off it nearly blew us back across the cab. It really was motoring along and at only a few feet from the footplate. I must admit, it was an unusual and new experience running into and out of a main line station with steam...
160psi and the valves begin to lift...
After the 13.05 trip, we had another tea break. The only problem reported with "Sir Gomer" was the bumping of the train. But, we soon talked up a way of disguising this problem slightly. I mean, you are never going to completely get rid of it but you can tone it down somewhat. Afterall, you can't expect miracles. "Sir Gomer" is a very powerful industrial saddle tank. Her outside cylinders give good power and mixed with her small wheels they provide good tractive effort statistics. But, those big cylinders can make her 'walk the track' a bit. Futhermore, she is not balanced for passenger work. Her design is not only cheap but also for a purpose. That purpose was the hauling of heavy supplies of coal over short distances at a steady speed, day after day, year after year. If she had ridden rough in Mountain Ash, I don't think anyone would have cared! Her balance weights on her wheels are equal, and not increased on the centre axle to take account of the eccentrics etc. So, you get a kind of 'wave riding' motion. But, this is a typical industrial engine. Admittedly, with a heavy-ish train (such as 6 coaches at Shackerstone) we could disguise the issue somewhat as the loco had to work a bit to pull the load. But, at 20mph+ she will probably bump around a bit as she wasn't designed for that! ^_^ . At 15.05, we were ready for our 3rd and final trip, into the sunset...
In the yard during a shunt release, basking in the sun...
In the platform at Wallingford with the Santa Special headboard...
Below is the 9-minutes or so of film I took to document the visit somewhat. Enjoy...

All in all, it was a very good day. Trains seemed good for passenger numbers and "Sir Gomer" performed well. It was also a very pleasant railway to visit. At 4pm, I departed for home and got back at just before 6pm. A nice gentle drive up the M40 but you knew when you had done it! Ahh well, all worth it to see "Gomer" doing us proud and earning us some money on another railway. The locomotive will return to Shackerstone after doing its last 2 steamings at Cholsey next weekend. She will be back, winterised and shedded in time to spend Christmas day with 3803 at home. Fantastic! A very pleasant day indeed. Thanks for reading folks. Sam.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Going It Alone on 3803...Firing Exam No1...

Hi everybody! Today, during the first of my December posts of 2011, I was rostered on GWR No3803 at Shackerstone for more festive 'Santa Specials'. Unusually, today I had no rostered 'Passed Fireman'. Regular readers will know that I have been a trainee fireman at the Battlefield Line since January 2008, and have worked on and fired many different locomotives during my training. However, following a recent 'Trial Exam' on the 38xx a few weeks ago, today was my first REAL exam. Therefore, it was all up to me. Naturally, my driver was the railway's driving/firing assessor: Mr Brittain. I will admit, I was a little nervous on the run up to today but, as they say, you just need to 'be yourself and get on with it'...so I did. Myself & John met at the railway gates at 6am sharp, already aware that 3803 had been in steam over the two previous days undergoing steam tests. (She had a mudlid repair job carried out by the Buckfastleigh team mid-week). With the gates locked behind us, we drove up the 1/4 mile drive to the railway station before leaving our cars and continuing (kit in hand) on foot. Soon enough, having not tripped or suffered injury on our pitch-black hike, we made it into the Loco Works where a very warm 3803 stood alone - "Sir Gomer" having left for Cholsey last Tuesday.

Up onto the footplate I went, and looked in the firebox. What a sight! 3/4 of the grate back from the front was completely clear, whilst around the firehole door lay a strong mound of burning coal! The water gauge glass showed 3/4s full and the pressure gauge told of a healthy 80psi. What more could you want? I will admit, myself and John were gleeful as we cast the pile of wood back off the engine and onto the floor! All I had to do was make the necessary checks and then spread the crackling mound across the back half of the grate as much as possible. More coal was then added, as well as putting a bed 1-lump thick across the rest of the grate. It was then time for a cuppa' before oiling began. Later on, with 140psi on the clock, we moved noisily but gracefully out of the shed and began cleaning. Between the two of us, though we were rushing, we managed to get the 38' looking very presentable and even gave her some festive decorations...including a her own Santa Hat! At 10am, having washed up and changed, we steamed out of Shack on the first train. 3803 steamed beautifully with a thin fire and steam heat on at 40psi. The pressure gauge read between 225 & 200psi throughout the run with a strong water level being maintained. I was very pleased. Mind you, 3803 is a very economical machine. I have used a useful diagram from Steam Launch.Net to demonstrate...
So, the diagram demonstrates a simplistic overview of a Superheated boiler. The fire grate can be clearly seen, as can the various flues (large & small). The heat from the fire of course travels along the flues and heats the water in the barrel. The hot gases then escape up the chimney. Combustion in the fire can be controlled, not only by firing effectively but also by changing the levels of air that enter the fire, both from above and from below. Primary air enters through the Damper doors in the ashpan, whilst Secondary Air enters through the firehole door. Bad smoke is often a result of bad combustion or bad firing and this can be slightly improved when in the 'shut off' position by cracking the firehole doors slightly. The smoke will thin due to the added air and combustion will slightly improve. One may even notice a pressure increase. Eventually, you will find a happy medium. However, the main thing to remember is that the fire, particularly on this engine, needs to be kept relatively thin. She does appreciate a strong back end occasionally but the main thing to do is to keep the centre section of the grate where the slope begins covered. Any overfiring will often result in clinker and lowering of pressure, whilst underfiring will soon drastically reduce the steam in the boiler! For example, a whole in the fire does no good at all and must be filled asap. With superheating, the loco uses the steam once it has been reheated in the superheater. Saturated (wet/normal) steam leaves the boiler and is taken into the superheater elements, held within the larger boiler flues. This reheats/dries the steam making it more economical, especially when the driver notches up and uses the regulator correctly. With John at the helm, I needed very little coal. In fact, 'just enough' was often the key to success. Anyway, back to us. After a steady run to Market Bosworth, we were held for 8 minutes whilst Santa saw more children...
Leaving Bosworth, John gave her a good bit of pilot valve before shutting off for the 5mph at the Cattle Creep near Deer Park sidings. This gave me a good chance to check the fire again as I hadn't fired for about 10 minutes. One thing I did notice was the amount of water (& steam!) that was lost to the Steam Heating system. Fair enough, the passengers need to be warm but the leaks in the train don't help (neither does keeping the windows open)! Having not had steam heat on before with 3803, it was a little bit odd but I was used to it by the 2nd run. Barking away from Deer Park, the gauge read 200psi and 2/3 of water in the glass which can then be made up again when the driver shuts off to descend Shenton Bank and curve into the station loop at the bottom. We had made pretty good time when we came to a stand at Shenton and I duly uncoupled. We then ran round and reattached as normal. I made up the fire (thin but covering) and we set off again. Non-stop through Market Bosworth was the order of the day on the return trip, as per last week. Out on the line today was a friend of mine; Rick Eborall, who's fantastic railway photography site can be found HERE (well worth a look!). Rick was busy photographing down the line and has sent in 3 images for this post. Thanks mate! Below, 3803 chuffs merrily along at line-speed through Carlton on the return trip, with me looking out from the Fireman's window. Note the tinsel, Santa and hat on the front ;) (Photo by Rick)...
After a short break at Shack we were out again at Midday, with the trip being just as successful as the first. 3803 steamed well and we generally had a good time. The sun was also fabulous...brilliant for early December but a little blinding when travelling tender first! After the 2nd trip, we decided to take water. Whilst up on the tender, I caught this quick snap looking down into the tank. I fear that the bag on the column is in slight need of replacement!...
After watering, myself and John reboarded the footplate and steamed up to the Signalbox before crossing into Platform 1 to recouple to the train for the 2pm trip. The loco looked lovely as Rick snapped this very chilly looking image of us clanking backards past the Starter Signal...
After another coffee and a good chat with Rick AND a fan of this blog (thanks for coming and chatting to me, sir. Always nice to hear that somebody is reading!), we departed on the 2pm. This was another good run, though I did have a bit of a hole-plague on the way down to the Shenton...the pressure sticking at around the 180psi mark...my fault, not the loco's. However, all was well again when we left Shenton with 215psi on the clock and a full glass after a swift run-round. We had been told that Rick and a fellow enthusiast would be up on the recently cleared embankment near the Far Coton Cutting. They had asked for smoke if possible but here you really don't get any unless you've massively over-fired or you've shut off for some reason. However, we did ensure that they got a lovely trail of white exhaust against the glow of the already slightly setting sun! As we chugged up the bank (with 3803 happily making pressure) we spotted the two hi-viz jackets on the bend. After whistling, John gave her a bit of 2nd valve...not enough to go mad but more than enough to put on a good show (she sounded fab). The resulting photograph is spotted below...its a beautiful shot...
Roaring past, we received a thumbs up from the two photographers, after which John shut back down into pilot for the final run into Market Bosworth. Thanks for the shots Rick...lovely! Back at Shack, we had a 2.5 hour break before a night train in the evening so we took a good rest and indulged in some bacon on the shovel and countless cups of coffee. The night train later on was also fab. I'd never fired at night before though I have travelled on the footplate. The glare from the fire was blinding but what a fab experience. I hope to fire at night many more times in the future! You can't see a thing and you only have a parrafin lamp on the water gauge but who's bothered?! Its just so evocative. After the train, we duly disposed and left the railway. I must thank John for such a good day and for passing me on my first (of 3) firing exams. What an amazing day!...

Sunday, 27 November 2011

"Sir Gomer" Steams For Santa...

Hi everybody. Well, what a pleasant day it has been. Today was the first operating day of the Battlefield Line's 2011 "Santa Specials". A wee bit early?: One thinks so too. But, nevertheless, we ran and the passengers came. There were two rostered 'Santa' trains leaving Shackerstone at Midday and 2pm. We normally run four but on the first day we sort of 'break ourselves in gently'. I was rostered on the footplate and the traction on the books was due to be GWR 2-8-0 No3803. However, during her recent boiler washout, a problem was discovered with a front-corner mudhole door on the firebox and therefore the loco was failed pending repair. With no chance of a repair prior to todays running, the railways own 0-6-0 Peckett tank "Sir Gomer" was called out of winterisation and into immediate traffic! We steamed her last Sunday (see post) and everything seemed OK so we had no problems with taking her out today. I arrived at 6am and myself, Pockets and Carl all set to cleaning, oiling, firing and generally making ready the loco, with some help from Chris and Dave too. At 10:30am, we came off shed but not before Mr Bassett took a very vane pic of me in front of the ex-Mountain Ash saddle tank! Cheers Chris! At 11:15am, after much shunting as well as taking on some coal, we left Shack on a quick light-engine jaunt to Carlton and back (about 3 miles in total). She seemed fine. So, without further delay, we coupled up to the 6 waiting coaches and began steam heating. At 12 Midday, the Green Flag was waved and away we went. The regulator was opened and, after a little groaning, "Sir Gomer" went striding away for Shenton! No problem at all. We took her steady so that Santa could see the children in plenty of time but we still had a 10-minute wait at Market Bosworth so he could get the last few through...
A festive "Sir Gomer", adorning a Stanier hooter instead of her normal Peckett whistle, waits at Market Bosworth in the glorious November sun whilst we have a coffee...
Below, Driver Andy Guest takes "Sir Gomer" into Market Bosworth through the woods near the private airport. The Outer Home is always set to the 'Off' position as the box here is under restoration...
A view through the cab roof, with the Hooter on the dome and smoke from the chimney...
At Shenton, "Sir Gomer" ran round and I fired her back. What a forgiving and free-steaming loco she is, and with minimal coal too! This was the first time that I've fired the loco down the line (ever!) and it was very nice indeed. The rocking motion of the train; usually created by big unbalanced outside-cylindered industrials; also seemed reduced. This must be down to the changes to the valve timing that we carried out. After her first successful outing to Shenton and back in over 3 years, "Sir Gomer" dropped back down into Platform 1 and picked up the 6 coaches again (Photo by C.Bassett)...
Waiting with the 2pm train. Who said we couldn't do 6?!...
Festive "Sir Gomer" feathering in Platform 1...
Barking out of Shackerstone on the 2pm with me firing. The newly added coal is just beginning to ignite as we get a good draft on the fire...
At Market Bosworth, as there were more passengers on this trip, there was a 30-minute stop. "Sir Gomer" sat simmering away whilst we had a coffee...
"Sir Gomer" - these transfers have lasted well (they've been on since the PBR gala in September!)...
Fire in the hole...
After the 2nd MB stop, we set off again. Following a brisk run round at Shenton we set off back up the bank with the 6 coaches. "Gomer" was performing very well. It hardly knocked the train and was able to be notched right up with minimal regulator on the 6 coaches. I was very surprised. Its a powerful engine indeed and just needs that little bit of extra coaxing to produce the very best results. When given the chance however, it can be a right powerful beast! ;) . She does however have a smaller firebox than most engines that I have fired in the past. Therefore, when I over-fired on the way back to act against a drop in pressure, she didn't like it. The small box doesn't give enough air to large quantities of coal in one space and therefore you have to fire more 'little and often' than 'alot and only now & again' as we are used to with 3803! Nevertheless, a good rake-through saw her making steam again and we got back without problem. Beautiful machine. My roving Shackerstone photographer friend Dave Hanks has sent in this fab shot of "Sir Gomer" climbing out of Shack on the first train...lovely...
After the 2nd trip we went straight on shed and disposed of the engine. She had done very well and surprised many. Lovely machine and very powerful indeed! I'm next on at Shack next Saturday when myself and Mr Britt are rostered on the 'should be repaired' No3803. If not, then it will be diesel because Sir Gomer is off on her Christmas holidays to the Cholsey railway: a 2.5 mile long branch line near Oxford. There, she will be operating on all six of their Santa Special days. I may join her there on Sunday Dec 11th, but we will see. All in all, a fab day and thank you to everyone involved, and the visitors too. Also thanks to Chris and Dave for sending in pics. Evening all...