Sunday, 25 September 2011

Firing A Perfect Western...

Hi everyone. A fabulous day today, firing GWR 3803 at Shackerstone under the watchful eyes of Driver's John and Pockets. I was today under an Assessment to see if I was ready for a real Assessment. Fortunately, I managed to keep the engine and the crew happy throughout the day, and we had a good time. Therefore, I passed! So, coming up in the next few weeks, I would hope that I would be given a proper exam. The exam involves firing completely 'alone', taking on all the responsibility of a passed Fireman. The exam is undertaken over 3 days; probably resulting in around 150 miles worth of firing on average. I have already completed the written exam so thats sorted; he says! I will post progress on the exam as it happens; keep your eyes pealed. Anyway, I arrived at Shackerstone at 5:45am, ready to light 3803 for a Foot-Ex, requiring the engine to be off shed by 9:15. After the 2-trip experience, the 2-8-0 was rostered for four normal services: which I would be firing throughout. The four trips went well, with me not dropping below 180psi of pressure or 1/2 a glass of water at all. I was pretty pleased with that. Naturally, we had our ups and downs. One trip I was fighting a little with the engine to keep the 180 but, it stayed. The fighting was the result of holes in the fire which, when you're struggling, seem to be harder and harder to find! But, we got there...
In between todays passenger services, there was a Freight train in operation. Today, it was hauled by the Class 25 (067), known as the "Rat". Yesterday, 3803 pulled it. The 11 wagons and 2 brakevan's have always been on the railway. However, this week, 5 of them have been repainted by a stalwart team from the shed, working all the hours god sent each evening...often until the early hours! I must admit, it looked very good! It was a mixed freight. There were two tankers, a few dog-fish wagons and a pair of flats to name but a few. One of the flats; the Lowmac; was carrying a Tractor: very nice! Yesterday, my roving photographer friend Dave was out and about on the line. He has sent in the two images below for your interest. Below, 3803 drifts into Market Bosworth hauling the 13-wagon train...
On the mid-Saturday returning freight, 3803 approaches the home signal at Shackerstone; what a lovely train!...
Back to me...After our four services, in between the three rostered freights, I disposed of the engine. There wasn't much fire left after our last spirited run; just right. I then filled the boiler before isolating the relevant controls. We then, as a crew, left the loco and headed back up to the station for a quick drink on "Jessie". A very good day all told. Thanks very much to John and Pockets for my preliminary exam; I enjoyed it alot, and hope that I can continue to fire just as well during the real exam - fingers crossed! Another lovely day on 3803. Thanks for reading everyone. Next post? Well, hopefully, "Achilles" will be back in steam next Saturday at CMES. But, we'll see...

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A Message from Sam...

"Hi guys. Well, here we are, gradually coming to the end of the 9th month of 2011. Before we know it, Christmas will be here and the whole thing starts again! Hows it going for me? Well, I continue to practise my firing at Shackerstone. I hope to progress rapidly over the remaining months of this year, planning to get "done" as soon as possible. Meanwhile, my 5" loco 'Achilles' is waiting in the wings for another run, pencilled in for October 1st at CMES. After that, the plan will be to clean her up as much as possible before the Midlands Model Engineering Exhibition mid-next month. The LEGO Railway still hides in the loft, awaiting two shows currently penned-in for 2012; one in February and one in March. Finally, the Garden Railway. That has gone a little quiet lately but we WILL see it again on here before Christmas. As far as anything else goes, I'm planning to do a bit of driving for GEC in the coming months; one day in October and another nearer Christmas. Everything else is in a "wait and see" mode but, rest-assured, there are many more 'iron's in the fire'! I just want to say, whilst writing this message, that I do enjoy writing this blog, and keeping it updated. I also love the fact that people actually read it! Thats why its so nice to hear from readers! So, if you wish, please do comment. Alternatively, if you have any questions on any railway subject, don't hesitate to drop me an email at sam_trainspotter@yahoo.co.uk . Thank you all and please; keep reading! Kind Regards, Sam"

Friday, 16 September 2011

"Sir Gomer"s BIG Welsh Adventure!...

Hi everyone! Well, without doubt, this was my best day on the railway's of 2011, so far. It was such a proud occassion indeed. Today, in the South Wales valleys, the Battlefield Line's Peckett 0-6-0ST "Sir Gomer" was taking part in a Steam Gala, at the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway. The loco, having only been finished two weeks ago, was pretty much fresh from overhaul, though there had been little time for tests at home. The gala was due to run Friday - Sunday, with "Sir Gomer" taking part in various duties throughout the weekend. My involvement was on the first day, when I went along as 'Engine Rep' on behalf of Shackerstone. I left home at just before 5am, calling at McDonalds for Brekky on the way, before taking the M6, M42, M5 and of course the M50 down into Wales. I then took various country lanes across to Abergavenny before skirting around the hills and later descending into Pontypool. The PBR's base; Furnace Sidings; was only a mile or two from here and I pulled into the car park at just after 7:30am; after a 111-mile drive. Leaving the car, I met Alex; Organiser of the Gala; and he took me to the sheds. I'd never been to the PBR before so had no idea what was where! At the back of the large loco shed, the day's three engines were steaming up. These were our "Sir Gomer", the little 0-4-0 "Whitehead" and the huge OQ Class "Mardy Monster"; all Peckett's. I was then introduced to various members of the steam department, including the crew of our engine. "Gomer" would be driven by another Alex; the Steam Department Head, whilst being fired by Paul and carrying a Cleaner too. I was on the engine as 4th man in the roomy cab, to keep an eye on proceedings and to offer any advice where required. By 9:15am, the loco was in steam and moved off shed take to the pit. By 10am, she was on the stock for the first run...
The PBR runs for around 3 miles. Leaving Furnace Sidings southwards, the track travels for around 1.75 miles, on a strong downgrade, to Blaenavon High Level. The climb back is nothing short of interesting, with some sections as steep as 1 in 24 back up into Furnace Sidings! Leaving the base northwards, the track continues for about a mile up to Whistle Inn; a little pub in the middle of nowhere. Again, this upper section is heavily graded! Today, with the two home-based engines (an Austerity and a Bagnall) not taking part, the three Peckett's had a strong service to maintain. The PBR opened a new branch line today (see below) to Big Pit, connecting the railway with this lovely Mining Museum, complete with lovingly kept Winding Gear. Anyway back to us. "Sir Gomer" was to haul the first train to Big Pit, and so was connected to a single car DMU. With brakes tested and steam pressure running high, we pushed the DMU out of the yard and into Platform 2. Meanwhile, "Mardy Monster" and "Whitehead" shunted the main train into Platform 1...
Just before we left the yard, I got this side-on view of "Sir Gomer". The PBR removed the Aluminium nameplates and placed black lettering on the tank, as she used to carry at Mountain Ash. They also gave the loco a good clean up. I must admit, she looked well...
The first train down the main line was sheduled for 11am, with the first Big Pit service sheduled for 11:05am. As this was the first public day for the Branch, invited guests and dignitories were the order of the day. Many speeches took place outside "Gomer"s cab, as we looked on! BBC Radio Wales presenter Roy Noble cuts the ribbon on the Big Pit Branch, right outside the cab...
One of the Directors of the PBR gives his speech whilst Roy Noble and Alex look on...
With the ribbon cut and the speeches over, the invited guests boarded the DMU and we took them on a ride to Big Pit. This ride is probably 1/2 a mile or so. The line descends out of Furnace Sidings before curving right and climbing strongly. "Sir Gomer" chugged happily up into the temporary platform, overlooking the Mine, before the guests left the train for a guided tour. We then shoved the DMU back to Furnace and then awaited the main train. Dear me, the noise! "Mardy Monster" roared around the bend and up the 1 in 24 with three Mk1 coaches and little "Whitehead" on the back. I'm not joking when I say...the ground shook!...
After four turns on the DMU to Big Pit, we were shunted onto the main and uncoupled. "Sir Gomer" then dropped back onto the Mk1's, replacing the "Mardy Monster". The sun was now shining over the Welsh valley and, after taking water, we were ready to go. "Whitehead" would lead us down into Blaenavon High Level and we would pull the train back up the steep hills to Whistle Inn. I must admit, I was a little worried at this point! "Sir Gomer" had not yet had a heavily loaded test run, or been tried on any gradient as steep as this. Well, lets see...
Right on time, we departed. Little "Whithead" led the way, whilst I lent from "Sir Gomer"s cab, seeing the main line for the first time. I couldn't believe how much height we lost in such a small distance of track! I did wonder how we would get back up again! Down at Blaenavon, the staff was exchanged and the fire was made up by Paul. Due to the lack of brick arch in the firebox at present, firing had to be contained to when the loco was shut-off so as to protect the integrity of the tubes. With the safety valves just about to lift, we were given the green and away we went...
The Peckett roared along the line, being slightly banked by the diminutive "Whitehead", which soon shut-off. She moved easily, with four distinct beats leaving the chimney. Up and up we climbed, before hitting the 1 in 24 just under the old rail over-bridge. The driver then hit 2nd valve, barking up under the bridge with "Sir Gomer" sounding like a Black 5 on the Lickey. She sounded amazing. Apart from the Reverser jumping a little against the pressure in the slide valves, the loco seemed to perform well and the climb seemed little effort. After a brief stop at Furnace Sidings, we departed again. Soon enough, we reached Whistle Inn before calming down the fire and filling up the boiler, prior to being led back to Blaenavon again, shut-off and led by "Whitehead" as far as Furnace sidings and then changing to "Mardy Monster" for the rest of the descent. "Sir Gomer"s cab...
At Whistle Inn, the buffer stops can be seen in front of the engine. Driver Alex checks the axle-ends for heat after the strong climb...

After her strenuous effort, "Sir Gomer" rests with the train at Whistle Inn...
I was very impressed with "Sir Gomer"s first trip up the line. She pulled well, steamed well and sounded well. I must admit, it did give me hope for the rest of the weekend ahead. I now at least though she may just scrape through! Soon enough, we were back at Blaenavon, simmering in the sunshine...
With the fire made up again, the 1932-built Bristol Peckett roars towards the foot of the bank, now dragging "Mardy Monster" along with her. The newly-added fuel is beginning to ignite...
After another successful run, we had a final one; just as good, with "Mardy Monster" on the back again! It was fabulous watching and listening to the engine doing what it was meant to do; hauling heavy trains in South Wales! After all, she spent her entire working life at the Mountain Ash colliery before she was finally laid up in 1981. Below, we see the video footage I took today. Not only are there shots from the three main line turns that "Sir Gomer" did, but there is also a shot of her leaving Furnace Sidings for Whistle Inn (whilst I took a tea break) and some shots on shed; Enjoy!...

After the third run, with "Mardy Monster" on the rear, we left the train. "Whitehead" then took her turn at the front, whilst "Sir Gomer" was put back onto the Big Pit line for the last two shuttles. I must admit, "Whitehead" was very attractive, though a little small for these gradients. A nice little toy...
Now back on the DMU, "Sir Gomer" squares up to her much bigger brother..."Mardy Monster"...
A bit of a random picture now, taken about the cab. The safety valves lift alongside the original Peckett Whistle on "Sir Gomer"s dome, as she makes her way along the main line on the final trip back up...
Back to us, I took another tea break whilst "Sir Gomer" took a Big Pit shuttle out. But, rather than stand around, I was invited onto the footplate of the "Monster" for a run to Blaenavon and back from Furnace Sidings. This Peckett really is a Monster! She is the biggest 0-6-0ST type Peckett still in existance. Made up of the OQ design, she is, on paper, as powerful as a BR Class 7F. Down the line, we lead "Whitehead" towards Blaenavon...
By Blaenavon, it was obvious that No2150 ("MM") was a coal-hungry beast, as the fireman shovelled on more and more black stuff. She was also very water-hungry, with the injectors being used rather often in order to keep a constant, strong level. What was also obvious was that "Whitehead" was not powerful enough to haul the three Mk1's and "Monster" up that gradient. So, "Monster" was being prepared to push. Surely, for a "7F", that should be no problem at all. Driver May prepares the Ejector equipment in the huge cab of "Mardy Monster" before we shove the train back up the hill...I must admit, the Peckett was very loud. In fact, she was a little all talk and no power! She was deafeningly loud but didn't seem to have the bite to back it up. Reviews from the crew seemed to indicate that she was in dire need of bottom-end work, and that she might be 'strangling' herself a bit; obviously meaning that the lap and lead was not quite right and was imparing steaming. I must admit, the pressure did drop; and quickly! With 200psi on the clock when we left the bottom, 1.75 miles later we had 100psi, but with a huge fire still roaring in the box. It made very little sense. But, I joke you not, it was stupidly loud on her footplate! I've included a clip I took below. Around half way through you hear 2nd valve open and then its all just like white noise! Have a listen and appreciate this beastly Peckett...

Back at Furnace, I left the "Monster" before proceeding back onto "Gomer" for the last Big Pit shuttle, and then finally up to Whistle Inn with the DMU and then back to shed; ending the day. "Mardy Monster", the biggest preserved Peckett...
Back on shed at 5:20pm, I was back on the road to Abergavenny by 5:50.What a fantastic day. I'm gutted that I won't be here tomorrow but I have a wedding to go to (excuses, excuses!). "Sir Gomer" had done so well, and Pontypool and Blaenavon was such a scenic, challenging and friendly place. I wish them every success in the future. Thank you to Alex H and the crew of "Gomer" for a wonderful day, as well as the lads on "Monster" for my footplate ride. Another one done! Also thanks to everyone else who made my day possible. So, for me, its another 2 hours back in the Saxo on the motorways. Back into England I go! As for "Gomer", she'll be in Wales all weekend, and next weekend too, before returning to Shack at the end of the month. I can't wait to have her back, I've quite fallen in love with her all over again. Lovely machine. Thanks everybody...aplogies for the length of this post I but hope you've enjoyed it none the less!...Sam...

Sunday, 11 September 2011

"Jessie" and a 38' at Shackerstone...

Hi everybody. Today I was over at Shackerstone, once again working on Buffet Car "Jessie" as 3803 was out (and fully crewed) whilst "Sir Gomer" had left on her trip to Wales. In the shed, "Mayflower" was being 'split' before leaving tomorrow. A nice quiet day, serving hot and cold drinks as well as various snacks, wines and spirits. The image above was sent in by a friend. It shows 3803 pulling into Shackerstone with the last returning service of the day. The loco is carrying a beautiful wreath; dedicated to Lesley; the late wife of one of our members. It was a very sad occasion indeed but, I felt, a very respectful one. My thoughts are with the family at this sad time. After her final run, 3803 was brought back on shed and disposed, whilst I washed up (can you believe?!) and then generally tidied "Jessie"s kitchen. After a chat with the crew and other staff over a drink, I left Shack at around 6:45pm. I will be back again in two weeks time, after heading off in search of "Sir Gomer" next Friday! Evening all...

Friday, 9 September 2011

Engineering in Miniature...

Hi everyone. Just a note to say that I had a 3/4 page article in the September issue of the popular magazine "Engineering in Miniature". I was also, believe it or not, on the front cover! The cover image shows me driving "James" at the GEC back in May. Click Here to view. I really liked the presentation of the article, organised by John Arrowsmith at E.I.M, which is published by Tee at the Warwickshire Exhibition Centre. I wrote the 700 or so word article, and sent in a few pictures. I must admit though, it was nice to be on the cover! I have received many nice comments about the article and, you never know, maybe they'll be another one day. Thank you all. Sam.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Hello "Sir Gomer", Goodbye "Mayflower" :'(

Hey everybody. Today I was in the Platform 2 Shop at Shackerstone, selling everything from fridge magnets, to posters and many Thomas goodies too. As there was yesterday, there were 6 train trips running again today to bring passengers to the delights of ShackFest, or to just provide return trips from Shack. Services were again in the capable hands of 3803 and "Mayflower", alternating one turn at a time. The third engine was "Sir Gomer", back in action and strutting her stuff as Station Pilot. I must admit, I was very proud to see her moving again. The regulator problem from last week was rectified a few days ago with "Sir Gomer" later being granted a steam certificate, allowing her to run for 10 years. Her boiler seemed very tight indeed, and her valve timing also seemed alot better. During the day she was hissing around the place, bedding herself back in after 3 years out of use. The return of the Peckett is a very proud day for all of us, allowing the loco to leave Shack on Wednesday this week for the Pontypool railway in Wales, where she will be in action at their gala in two weeks time. But, allas, with the return of one engine, we lose another. The beautiful B1 "Mayflower", having been based at Shack for the last 4 years, will be leaving us in 8 days time, and was enjoying her last day in service with us today. The 4-6-0 will heading to Barrow Hill for their gala before returning to her owner's works in Birmingham following expiry of her boiler ticket in early November. So, here she is, resting in steam in Platform 1 for the last time...
I will be very sad to see the B1 go as I've had many lovely day's on her footplate. She has, in my mind, been the savior of Shackerstone, providing steam service when we had no other engine, with "Sir G" out of action. Through thick and thin, rain, sun and snow, the B1 was there, pulling our trains with distinction and never ending pride in her appearance. I wish the engine and her owning family luck in the future. You never know, she may be back following overhaul next year but, for now, she's going away. On a lighter note, all three engines performed well all day, with "Sir Gomer" proving popular around the station, especially with many members who had never seen her before!...
In the shop, it was business as usual. I must admit though, I did sell quite a few A3 prints of "Mayflower", whether that was due to its last day or not, I don't know! I also sold quite a few Fridge Magnets with "Gomer" on; fame at last! Passengers just seemed to want to buy Souvenir's of engines they saw; fair enough, more in the till for us! Later in the day, I got a few footplate rides on "Sir G", and even managed a bit of firing and injector use; to rekindle my memory! Last time I was on this engine was August 2008...way back! But, thankfully, she's now back in action and raring to go. She leaves on Wednesday, following a Loaded Test tomorrow. I will joining her in Wales for the first day of the gala on Friday September 16th. Look out for a post on that as it happens. Next weekend? I'm back at Shack on Sunday but, due to "Gomer" having left and 3803 being already staffed, I think I'll be on Jessie again, looking forward to my Welsh outing with the Mountain Ash Peckett! Thanks everyone. Good evening...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

ShackFest 2011, on 'Jessie'...

Hi everyone. Today I was back at Shackerstone, working the Bar Car "Jessie". It was Shackerstone Festival weekend, meaning air displays, a beer tent, steam engines, crafts, models, classic cars, working narrowboats, fairground rides, animal displays, arena shows and much, much more would all be on offer at Shackerstone! I of course was relegated to the railway again, though I did pop across to the showground in the afternoon to see my friend Phil's Aveiling & Porter Roller (above). Phil used to be a Shackerstone regular, though now tries his hand alot more at road steam, being a fully employed member of the Statfold Barn Railway payroll; lucky so & so! I enjoyed my little look around the field, and it seemed very busy. However, I was soon back on the train serving hot drinks, beers and of course countless snacks. We had 6 trips during the day, with services being shared by GWR No3803 and the immaculate B1 "Mayflower". Back at Shack, "Sir Gomer" was in steam ("Yes, in Steam!") as Station Pilot, if only briefly. Mr Hanks has again sent in a couple of photographs. Below, No3803, sporting 'Cambrian Coast Express' headboard, stands at Shenton...
Later on in the day, gleaming "Mayflower" runs round...
I must admit, it's always a pleasant day on "Jessie" but it is hard work. For one, you have to stand up all day. For two, its non-stop! This was amplified on the evening special at 6:30pm, which was organised for ShackFest exhibitors. The train was full and the Bar was running at more than full capacity throughout! But, we did it, as a team. All in all, a very nice day. Tomorrow, I'm back at Shack again; this time in the Shop on Platform 2. When they need staff, you need to do anything and everything folks! Thanks all. Good evening...