Sunday, 29 January 2012

10 In Steam at GCR - The Gala...

Hi everyone. Today, I headed over to the Great Central in Loughborough, across a frosty M69. This was my annual visit to the railway's ever impressive Winter Steam Gala. This year it was called "The BIG One". I must admit, it really did live up to its name in that a total of 10 main line steam locomotives were in action on a very intensive timetable. In fact, I don't see how the GCR could make a more intensive timetable with their current infrastructure. But, you never know, they may yet surprise me! This gala was billed as the biggest in the history of the GCR and so passenger numbers had swelled well over capacity. I arrived at Loughborough Central at 9:15am and, after parking up, I took a gentle stroll up Great Central Road to the entrance. The road was ungulfed in smoke and steam from the platforms below as all of the engines were being shunted about into their correct orders for the morning runs. I purchased my ticket and wandered down the wooden staircase onto the island platform at its foot. There were just engines everywhere. The air was crisp with chill and this created fantastic steam effects from each locomotive. I walked down to the end of the platform and crossed the foot crossing. First engine I saw: BR Standard 2 No78019...
I left Loughborough on the 9:50am, aboard the footplate of King Arthur Class "Sir Lamiel" (see previous post). After a good run to Leicester North I transferred onto the train and rode back to Quorn & Woodhouse where I alighted to have a cuppa' and a walk around. Below, the 3rd loco in the troop; 8F No8624; strolls through with a clanking train of Windcutters (still not sure about the red!)...
The fourth locomotive was this years only visitor; LSWR M7 Class 0-4-4 No53; courtesy of the Swanage Railway. I suppose the sight of this lovely antique loco was the main reason why I visited this years gala; as well as for the ride on Sir Lamiel of course. 53 had a nice crisp bark and seemed to be busy all day with various loads behind her. The locomotive is spotted below, rolling into Quorn with a passenger train for Leicester North...
Quorn was a hive of activity with trains passing in either direction at regular intervals. The 5th loco in the line-up; Great Central 8K/LNER 04 No63601, the lovely Edwardian 2-8-0; soon arrived light engine from Loughborough. She (and four 'willing' volunteers) soon gave an interesting demonstration of the recently opened Quorn Turntable in operation. She moved freely and within a minute or two she was facing the other way...
The main reason for hanging around at Quorn in this damp, frosty weather was to await the passing through of the 6th locomotive; Brit 70013 "Oliver Cromwell"; on the fast moving TPO pick-up train. This year, I waited nearer to the foot crossing and didn't witness the drop (I've seen it many times before). However, the performance of the loco on the acceleration to the apparatus site is not to be missed, as Driver Craig Stinchcombe proves below with the massive Brit...

As soon as the Brit had dissapeared loudly into the distance I made my way up onto the platform and caught the next train to Rothley; hauled by "Sir Lamiel" & 78019 double-headed. When I arrived the 7th loco; Jinty No47406; was already there, waiting in the platform with the returning TPO stock for Loughborough: a cute machine...
After another cuppa' I walked up the station stairs and across the road to one of my favourite locations; Rothley Embankment - just off Swithland Lane. From here, a good view is afforded in both directions and some interesting shots are available with very little effort. Below, the Brit climbs tender-first out of Rothley for Loughborough on the 'Local'...
"Sir Lamiel" makes a very steamy departure northwards...
Loco No8 in the line-up was a newly-overhauled one; Ivatt Class 2 No46521. I saw the engine in black gloss a few weeks ago in the shed at Loughborough (see previous post) but now she is in steam and running, with a crisp bark and a piercing hooter. 46521 earnt fame in the comedy series "Oh Dr Beeching" when she starred as 'Blossom'; the regular locomotive. Below, the lovely Class 2 barks out of Rothley with a mixed freight (I like that shot)...
Locomotive No9 was the recently sold (to Epping Ongar Railway) Hall Class No4953 "Pitchford Hall". She looked in fine form as she steamed into Rothley wearing a "Cornishman" headboard...
The 'Duch-Eight' clanks in on the Windcutters (many photographers around me were commenting that they were going to Photoshop the 8F into Black...now, now)...
Finally, the 10th locomotive was the N2 Tank No1744; a GNR 0-6-2. Here she drops into Rothley on the Mixed Freight...
After spotting the N2, I caught the next train back to Loughborough hauled by 78019. There, the 04 is later spotted waiting to leave on another freight...
By 3:30pm, the cold was getting to me a bit and, after a lovely morning & afternoon out, I decided to call it a day so jumped back into the warm Saxo and headed home. I must admit, the gala was fabulous and how they will ever create a more intensive timetable I'll never know; there was just so much going on this weekend. All in all, well done to the Great Central Railway and thank you for a lovely visit again. Finally, thank you all for reading: Sam...

10 In Steam at GCR - Footplating a King Arthur...

Hi everyone. This is Post No1 of 2 regarding my visit to the Great Central's Winter Steam Gala. The story of my entire gala visit will be documented in the next post, whilst this one documents my footplate ride on the 9:50am Loughborough - Leicester train. Having heard in the railway press that the GCR were going to be offering footplate rides during this years gala at £40 a pop, I was very interested. I have been on the footplate here before; on the GWR Prairie No4141; but that was back in 2007 so, 5 years later, I decided it was perhaps time to have another go. The choice of engines left was 78019 the Standard 2, 4953 "Pitchford Hall" and the NRM's King Arthur "Sir Lamiel". I've done Western's and I've done 78019 so I felt that "Lamiel" was the obvious choice. I've never been on her before and I've never really paid attention to the King Arthur Class...but I will from now on! I joined the crew aboard 30777 just before departure. The Driver I recognised straight away; Tom Tighe, Loughborough Shed CME. We departed on time, and the video below documents quite a bit of the run...

"Sir Lamiel" was in fine form, expertly driven by Mr Tighe. The track is in fantastic nick (obviously!) and the double-track formation allowed us to pass a few trains on route too. We called at Quorn & Rothley before continuing up to the terminus at Leicester North. The loco had a good bark and steamed well, running at full regulator and well notched up for a good portion of the double-track running! The double-bogie tender also gave fantastic ride quality whilst the huge driving wheels gave a smooth ride up front as well. It was very pleasant; but very cold!...
Below, Driver Tom Tighe takes "Sir Lamiel" up out of Rothley towards Leicester...
On the double-track approaching Quorn (cue hi-viz jackets)...
For those of you who have never experienced a footplate ride and want to...DO IT! Theres no better way to travel on a railway, besides perhaps Premier Dining of course. Theres nothing like hearing the locomotive work so up close, seeing the glow of fire & watching the rolling fields pass by as she throws white steam over her shoulder: it is great. In my life, the ride is no more enjoyable than working on these locomotives as a Fireman but, admittedly, when you are part of the crew you are almost constantly worrying as you need to concentrate. When you are just a 3rd party (i.e. a rider) then you are pretty much devoid of responsibility, allowing you to 'sit back', relax and enjoy the trip...which is just what I did! Obviously you can't just turn off your interest, in other words I was watching the fireman and the driver like a hawk, comparing what they did to what we do at Shackerstone, but thats just me being nosy. All in all, it was a lovely trip. I thanked the crew and left the footplate at Leicester North ready to watch the loco run round...
A very enjoyable ride indeed. Now, for a bit about "Sir Lamiel". She is the sole survivor of the King Arthur Class 4-6-0s and was built in June 1925 by the North British Loco Company. "Sir Lamiel" was named after a minor Knight of the Round Table: Lamiel of Cardiff: and has carried this name throughout her life. She is based at the GCR but is also main-line registered for 75mph Network Rail running (45mph when tender first). Her class was known as the N15 and were originally designed by Urie; though these earlier King Arthur's were reported to be poor steamers. The class were redesigned by Maunsell and even modified by Bullied, which improved their performance no end. In total, 74 of the N15 Class were produced, with only one remaining today; thanks to the efforts of the National Collection to preserve her. Though NRM owned, 30777 is looked after by the 5305 Locomotive Association who also care for 70013 "Oliver Cromwell" and Black 5 No45305. "Lamiel" is a very pleasant engine; I enjoyed the trip very much. She always seems to be one of those engines that sort of slips under the radar as she isn't really 'that well known'. But, I think she is overlooked massively as she is obviously a powerful, fast and economical locomotive. I would ride behind her any day: lovely engine. Thanks to the GCR, 30777 and her crew for a great trip and finally, thank you for reading guys. Post 2 regarding today will describe the rest of my gala visit: enjoy! Sam...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Shackerstone: The Only Way is P-Way...

Hi guys. Well, this morning at 10:45am I rolled into Shackerstone in the Saxo and parked up. Danny, Beth and Mark were already on site, as was Adrian. The five of us were to make up today's Permanent Way team. P-Way is basically track and lineside maintainence; though the workload can vary massively depending on the job that needs doing. For example, P-Way can include anything from hedge trimming to track relaying. After starting up the comfortable but slightly ugly electro-diesel (Class 73), we shunted on the short works train. After loading the train with various tools and spares, we departed at just before noon. Our destination was Carlton, where a few 'drop joints' have appeared over the course of last summer. After pulling up, we shut the loco down and applied the Brakevan handbrake before starting a fire...
The fire served two purposes: a) to burn cut-down vegetation and waste, and b) to keep us warm when nearby! Beth and Mark soon took over cutting down branches and keeping the fire going. Meanwhile, myself, Adrian and Dan headed off in the opposite direction to begin our 'fishplating' task. Drop joints can be caused by many factors including; poor track support, damaged fishplates, poor rail conditions and lack of track maintainence. Last year, we had to cut the rails on the Shenton extension as the rail-end's had bent in a downward direction, thus creating a continuous drop joint, even with more packing and new fishplates. You'll never get rid of them if the rails are bent, so we cut the ends and replaced the resulting gap with 2 brand new lengths of rail. This was a severe case really. However, at Carlton, the joints aren't half as bad so we could repair the joints using new fishplates and shims. First, the old fishplates were removed and the rails cleaned and greased. We then added the new fishplates and then the re-greased bolts/nuts. Before the joint is tightened, we can check if a shim is needed. A shim fills the gap between the top of the fishplate and the underside of the rail-head. If a gap is left and the fishplate tightened in then as the trains run over it will cause the rail-head to be forced down until it hits the fishplate. This will happen everytime a wheelset passes over, thus eventually bending the rail-ends and possibly snapping the fishplate. However, if we use a shim then we can reduce this force and reduce the chance of another drop joint. In the case of these joints, a shim and new fishplates did the trick perfectly...
Tightening the fishplate after shimming...
Here we can see the railhead with the shim sticking out below, just above the fishplate. The two pads are to check the gap size between the rail-ends (also very important!)...
One joint done (awaiting inspection of course, and for the key to go back in on the left-hand chair)...
I think we managed 6 joints during our few hours work, whilst Beth & Mark continued to burn bits 'n' bobs. For only five of us working, we seemed to do pretty well. The joints we repaired looked great; it really pulled them back into shape. They will now need packing and inspection before the running season, though we still have many more left to do. I left at 4:30pm-ish, and I had a rather large Dominoes with Maisie when I got back..."Yum!"...
Thanks guys. Good evening...

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Frost, Coffee and Steam Locomotives...

Hi everyone. Well, today was the first of no doubt many winter working days that I will be attending at Shackerstone. Though the Battlefield Line is now in its 'closed season' and is therefore not running trains, work is continuing across all departments from Permanent Way to Traction Maintainence and even Station Gardening. This morning I arrived at Shack at 10am and drove in along the (very much frozen) old trackbed which forms the driveway. After parking, I walked to shed where Danny, Chris and Carl had already opened up. On the pit stood a very smart looking Class 08 diesel in BR Green. This engine has been at the railway for contract overhaul for about 2 years and is now very nearly finished (it will return home to the Swanage Railway in due course). Soon enough, the rest of the gang arrived and I believe, in the end, we ended up with around 12 people helping out in the shed in one form or another: it was great! After a cuppa', we all chose different jobs. Some were working on 'Blue Circle' (lifting a crank shaft back in) whilst others were restoring Pockets' brakevan and the box van. Outside, there was a fire burning for rubbish and branches whilst inside I had lit one of the stoves and had got a roaring, deep fire going (enough to take the chill off in the area around it anyway!). Soon enough though, I was assigned a job; to clean out the firebox of 3803 and remove the back half of the fire grate. 3803 is having an annual boiler inspection this week and so needs to spin 'n' span as well as being stripped for a 'dry' exam. Apologies for the quality of the pics (from my phone) but here you can just about make out the front half of the fire-grate in the 38's large firebox: the rocking section is tipped in the 'open' position and the brick arch is seen above...
On arrival in the mornings, a Fireman should always clean the grate. This will help alot later on once the fire is lit as it will give the best possible airflow. (A dirty/blocked grate area can mean less airflow and could create clinker too). However, in the mornings, the fireman will generally use a fireiron and the rocking grate (if applicable) to clean the firebox. By far the best way however, and the dirtiest(!), is to actually go inside with the hose and a lead-lamp and clean it by hand with a brush and some kind of pointed instrument to get into all the little gaps. Opening the firehole door and peering into the bleak, dry darkness, one generally asks the question "can I even fit through that door?" - I know I always do! The trick is, legs in first (facing upwards), allowing you to hold the regulator or injector pipes to sort of position yourself and allow you to drop forward. Once the waist is through the door, you can turn over and then make your shoulders as thin in width as possible to get through the door. You are then, hopefully, inside. I must admit, it can be an odd sensation. You are very aware that you are in a metal box with only one viable escape route! Armed with a brush and the pointy object, you can get going. The trick is to brush everything onto the rocker grate section and then 'rock'/tip it accordingly. It is however, if you are in there, to hose the waste down first to reduce dust levels. Below, the firebox tubeplate can be seen above the brick arch. The larger flue tubes house the superheaters at the smokebox end, whilst the smaller smoke tubes improve efficiency and steam creation...
Having cleaned all the muck forward, Eddie rocked the grate: I had to remove a few clogged up area's after though. With most of the mess gone, it was time to clean up properly. I set to with the hose and the brush and cleaned the rocker grate as best I could. It is a little weird when you're under the arch though, kneeling on the rocking grate. You end up in kind of a 'snail' position and are very aware of the low clearance! It isn't really a very pleasant place to work but you can appreciate the overall size. The 38xx has a narrow yet tall box, allowing good combustion and heating of her sizeable boiler. Having cleaned the entire grate throughly, we removed the back firebars. Man-handling them all out of the firebox and up through the firehole door onto the footplate to Eddie no doubt went against every single manual handling rule or advise known to man; but I did it. Ed then took the bars down to ground level to be cleaned up by himself and Dave using an angle-grinder. This would simply get rid of any heaving corrosion or as I call 'swellings' on the ends which may in the future prevent them becoming 'too big' for their alloted positions. I meanwhile finished cleaning the box. Admittedly, for an engine that is around 4 years into a ticket now, and that has done alot of miles in steam since restoration, her boiler is lasting very well indeed: its dry as a bone in the firebox! The stays, crown stays, foundation ring and indeed the tubes/flues seem to be in remarkable condition. Mind you I suppose thats what an overhaul costing 350k and a good supply of boiler treatment does for you!

After emptying and tidying the firebox of 3803, it was lunch time and we all enjoyed a cob and a cuppa'. Walking back into the shed my next task presented itself straight away: the poorly Peckett "Sir Gomer". Gomer had been in steam for a steam test on the 30th and so still had a filthy firebox that needed cleaning, cue...me! Getting into "Sir Gomer"s firebox isn't much harder than getting into 3803. The ring may be a little smaller but I still slip through quite easily. The main thing with Sir G is remembering what size of locomotive you are inside. Though there is no arch in this one, the crown is lower and the box is less in width. So, basically, if you're not careful then a bump on the head can be just round the corner, and, the collision of crown stays with the head does, erm, HURT! Having cleaned the Peckett's box and her tubeplate too, I retired to the outside world for another cuppa' atop 3803s boiler barrel would you believe?! I was helping Adrian try to get the dome lid off the engine in order to replace a gasket. Apparently it had been passing over the Santa period so the annual exam seemed a good chance to change it. However, getting it off isn't as easy as first thought. First, you have to remove the brass cover and the clack valves, not to mention the clank feed covers and any relevant joins in between. Below, the clack valve has just be removed on the Fireman's side, allowing the large white gasket to be seen. The safety valves are on the left with the Fireman's injector feed coming in from the bottom-right...
Outside the shed; whilst we laboured inside its dank depths; the sun was shining. Below, a chilly looking Shackerstone box awaits Saturday March 3rd, when trains will return to the Battle of Bosworth...

One locomotive we haven't seen much of recently is the Aveiling & Porter "Blue Circle". No9449, the 2-2-0 Well tank, has been receiving a heavy gear/drive overhaul over the past year. Therefore, she has not be undertaking her usual roles as Station Pilot or as 'Fergus' for the various Thomas Days. Instead, she has been taking it easy in the shed, being carefully worked on by her loving owner and a few willing volunteers. I always find her to be a very interesting machine, completely unlike anything I've ever seen before. She is planned to return to action at the annual Steam Gala on March 17th/18th, appearing alongside "Sir Gomer" as well as special guests 3803 (from South Devon of course) and the immaculate Black 5 4-6-0 No45379, which is coming from the Mid Hants Railway for a short visit (don't miss that one!). Below, "Blue Circle" basks in the winter sun at the south end of the Loco Works...this is now her allotted, private parking space...
Anyway, back to me. Having removed both clacks and relevant pipework with Adrian, I retired to ground level again, after nearly falling off the barrel many times! Hearing panting in the distance, I went round to the front of Sir G where I found Dan & Eddie sweeping some of the countless tubes (I "think" there are 164??) with a long brush. Dan handing the job to me before I could get a word in and so retired to the warmth of Pockets' brakevan, which had its popular stove lit. Myself and Eddie finished cleaning the tubes at just after 4pm, before heading home. What a day: lots of work done, alot of coffee drank and of course a great atmosphere. I left feeling happy with the days work, and eagerly anticipating the Steam Gala: it will be just fab! Seriously guys, I wouldn't miss that for the world...

Come along to the STEAM GALA on MARCH 17TH/18TH 2012. There will be an intensive timetable, a freight train each day, trade stands, a local train and a large O Gauge Model Railway at Market Bosworth. There will be at least 4 steam locomotives performing: 45379, 3803, Sir Gomer and Blue Circle. This will be the first time in preservation that a Stanier Class 5 has travelled along the old ANJR metals so do not miss out! Cheers guys, Sam...

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A Quick Snoop around Loughborough Loco...

Hey everyone. I thought I would include this as a seperate post so as not to sort of change the subject too much if you like. Following our 'Elizabethan' Dining experience at the GCR, we had a quick snoop around the loco shed yard before leaving. I must admit, I never leave this area without finding a surprise: theres always something new! I did my 2-week Work Experience in this shed back in 2007 when I was 15, doing odd jobs for the Engineering Department. Since then, some things have changed, some haven't. For example, when I was here in 2007, the GNR N2 Tank was just wheels and frames; now its in steam and running regularly, and has been for a while! Walking past the open shed doors, an unfamiliar face presented itself: Ivatt Class 2 No46521. She was here when I was I believe but, again, just frames really. Today, she was in a black gloss livery, as part of her repaint before her debut at the upcoming Winter Gala 2012 at the end of the month. Basically, she's almost there(!) and she looked lovely. Out in the yard, 4953 "Pitchford Hall" was standing cold in one of the sidings, though she did look pretty clean. I believe that the GWR 4-6-0 has now been sold by her old owner John Kennedy but don't quote me...
An unusual line-up in the yard as we see Class 49xx, 26(?), 20, N2 and 08...
Outside the loco shed, near Empress Road Bridge, stood a fine example of Midland engineering; Class 3F 'Jinty' No47406. This beautiful loco is gaining quite a reputation for performance and reliability I believe and, I hope, that our paths are going to cross again quite soon. We'll see...
Next to 47406 stood an engine that is looked after beautifully, like all three of the steamers under the care of the 5305 Locomotive Association; the other two being Black 5 No45305 and Brit 70013 "Oliver Cromwell". N15 "Sir Lamiel" (part of the National Collection) was being cleaned by one of the GCR's countless, dedicated volunteers. I must admit, she is a lovely looking machine; quite unusual some would say...
Another loco that was under restoration whilst I was here in 07' was "Witherslack Hall"; one of the Modified Hall's built under Hawksworth. Today, her overhaul has progressed a bit, with the boiler/firebox now taking priority I believe. The following pic was taken through the firehole door, showing the fitment of stays progressing well...
As well as the locomotives that I have featured there are also many others inside the loco works including 8F 48305, West Country "Boscastle", an Austerity, GCR 8K/LNER 04 No63601, a Black 5 of which I don't know the number and god only knows what else. I'm guessing that the Standard 2 No78019 is in there somewhere too! Anyway, after a brief snoop about, we wandered back up to the station platform where we met mum again before heading for home. A very nice little visit and, more than likely, I'll be back soon. I am particularly interested to see 46521 in steam at the Winter Gala in a few weeks. Look out for a post on that as it happens. Cheers guys...Sam...

"Very Civilised"...The 'Elizabethan' Dining Train at GCR...

Hi guys. Hope everybody is well. Today, after a quick sprint down the M69, M1 and of course the A46 and the A6, we arrived in Loughborough; the headquarters of the Great Central Railway - Britain's only Double-Track Heritage line. I parked directly over the road from the front door: the timing could not have been better! As we already had our tickets, we ambled through the Booking Office area and then down the marvellous wooden staircase to the island platform below. Loughborough Central always evokes visions of what 1960s rail travel must have been like, and this is a very odd comparison to the modern ethos of todays railways. Today we had booked for the fabulous "Elizabethan" Dining Train, departing at 1:15pm for a 1hr 30 minute round trip of the line, dining with silver service aboard beautifully restored Dining Cars: wonderful! As it was a little chilly, mum (who had brought me out again for a belated birthday present - I was 20 on the 27th) soon took shelter in the warm Waiting Room whilst myself and my brother took a little wander down to the back of the train where the day's steamer was still coupled up. Rostered was none other than what has become known as the 'Duch-Eight'. Duch-Eight you may ask? Well, this unusual term has been given to the well restored 8F 2-8-0 No8624, which, unlike her many BR Black sisters, has been outshopped in LMS Red: the colour commonly worn back in the day by passenger engines such as the Duchess'. This was the first time I had actually seen the red '8' and, I must admit, it does like quite attractive, though a little inauthentic I will admit. Mind you, when push comes to shove, whoever owns the locomotive has the right to paint it whatever colour they wish - as they have done. 8624 steam heating...
As departure time drew nearer the dedicated Dining Staff began to escort passengers to their seats aboard the luxurious train. I did ponder why 8624 had shown no signs of being uncoupled or ran round but, who am I to say otherwise here?! After reaching the front of the queue we were shown to our table for three. The layout was very comfortable indeed. The train was warm, the seats relaxing and the atmosphere most civilised. I've included the following pictures so as to give the best possible representation and review of the experience. I will admit, I do get a bit 'snap happy' on occasions like this! Below, we see a standard 'table for two' aboard the 'Elizabethan': what better to way is there to travel?...
Our table laid for the 3-course dinner...
8624 was duly coupled to the front of the train and we departed on time in a cloud of steam. Soon enough, course no1 beckoned: Leek & Potatoe Soup; home-made of course. It was very nice indeed, just at the right temperature and with a bread roll too (told you I get 'snap happy')...
After calling at Quorn & Woodhouse station (the rear half of the train of course being used for general public travel), the 8F pressed on to Swithland Resevoir where a break of 10 minutes or so was had overlooking the beautiful scenary. By now, course no2 was on the horizon: a delicious Roast Beef sirloin served with the chefs selection of vegetables...
Dining, whilst overlooking a lovely but very chilly looking Swithland Resevoir...
Traditional style headrest covers...
The desert soon followed, after the run-round of the 2-8-0 at Leicester North. The train had by now gone a little cooler but soon warmed up again when we departed towards Rothley, Quorn & Loughborough. I did ponder whether or not the 8F had steam heat equipment on her tender?: This thought being somewhat proven true later on when I overheard the Fireman complaining that the 'bag' on the tender did not couple up to the one on the coaches; hence why the engine remained on the tail-end steam heating for as long as possible! Not a bad plan though, we would have done the same at Shackerstone if that were the case. Following desert, tea/coffee was served with a mint; a fitting way to end the journey in my opinion. 8624 then took us gently back into Loughborough where we alighted feeling replenished and very happy...
Now, I don't know what the 'Guest' was, and neither did the Waitress(!) but it was very nice...
After a look around the station shop and the shed yard/prep area, we clambered back up the 'wooden hill' to road level where we found the yellow Saxo casually awaiting us. And, with that, we headed home. Now guys, the 'Elizabethan' is a wonderful experience, echoing 1930s rail travel at its very best. Furthermore, it isn't that dear compared to other railways and the service you get is brilliant. The staff are friendly, the food is great and with it being such a high-profile railway you are almost garunteed an impressive steam locomotive to haul the train too. It is a fantastic experience and I would definately recommend it to anyone. Thanks very much to mum for paying for it all again; I couldn't afford to do this all the time with my high fuel bills (to Shackerstone!). Thanks all - Good evening...

Monday, 2 January 2012

Post No1 of 2012: Firing Exam No2 on 3803...

Hello everyone. Welcome back, and a Happy New Year to you all! Today I was rostered as Fireman (under examination) on the GWR Heavy Freight 2-8-0 No3803 at Shackerstone. I arrived alone at 7am and, after parking as near as possible to the station, I began the walk. Dear me, I have never been so on edge in my entire life! I was on my own on site at this point due to my driver (John) having car trouble and therefore running late. Anyway, through the darkness I trotted with every noise seeming repulsively loud and shaking me to the core! But, thankfully, I made it to the loco shed and locked myself in. Turning on the lights, the chilly loco shed slowly began to illuminate. Right next to me stood "Sir Gomer", coupled to which was the very clean Heavy Freight. Clambering up onto the footplate, I discovered a dry firebox (always good) and 3/4 of a glass of water. Unusually, there was no pressure on the gauge whatsoever. Normally you get around 30/40psi at least but today there was nothing. Odd. Anyway, having cleaned the grate I lit the loco up using a pile of dry wood and parrafin rags on a bed of coal 1-lump thick. I will admit, though there was no steam, the loco began 'singing' the moment the fire took hold. Obviously there must have been some 'latent steam' in the boiler still. John thankfully arrived at around 8:15am and we then had a cuppa' before sharing the oiling. Having steamed up very quickly, we were in the platform by 10:15!...
The first of the four trains was not due out until 11:15 and as the Electric-Train-Heating (ETH) system had been connected to the 5 coaches we decided to sit in Platform 1 'on display' and have another cuppa'. 3803 looked well, shining brightly from top to bottom. Driver John is spotted off-guard on the footplate of 3803 enjoying a coffee and a ham cob (sorry mate!)...
As we sat, 3803 simmered away quietly with 210psi on the clock and an almost full boiler. The fire was doing well and with the firehole doors open we kept pretty warm under the recently fitted 'weather sheet'...
We moved around onto the train at around 10:50am, allowing the ETH to be disconnected and steam heating to begin. Within minutes, the coaches were pouring out steam from all areas, giving off their usual 'authentic winter look'. On time at 11:15, the 'Right Away' came from the Guard. 3803 stuck to 200psi all the way there, though I felt a little rusty on the shovel. The best of us have the odd 'bad day' but today seemed a little worrying; for want of a better word. On the way back, with the steam heat running, she had trouble keeping above 180psi but I couldn't see any problems in the box. The grate was covered and there were no holes. All I put it down to was 'under-firing' in the end. So, on the next outward trip I made another attempt. Again, she didn't want to play ball, and neither did she on the way back. At Shackerstone after the 2nd run, I raked the back-end throughly with the 'bent dart'. The pressure gauge rose almost instantly and black smoke began pouring from the chimney. It was obvious that the back-end had clinkered up. Having cleared the sheets of clinker, I pulled them back under the door and then added new coal on top. On the next run, 3803 steamed like a gem. She feathered for most of the way and the water level remained strong. It just shows what clinker can do! At Shenton, 3803 faces 'home' before we depart...
With the 'Right Away' received, away we go. The newly-added coal is beginning to ignite as we pull away. Soon enough, the exhaust will turn to grey with the addition of exhausted steam...
The return run on the 3rd trip was also very good; 3803 even blew off (thats never happened to me before on this engine!). Arriving back into Shackerstone we halted, uncoupled and then ran round before recoupling asap. We then almost immediately got the 'Right Away' with 1/3 of a glass of water, hardly any fire and 180psi of steam - I had just not had chance to touch anything at all with the coupling up. I joke you not, the words "Oh My God" did cross my mind as we began pulling away. Looking in the box, it was clear what needed doing: She wanted the whole grate covering with a light layer and then an extra few shovels thrown to the top of the slope where the rocker-grate begins. So, with time of the essence, I began. Three shovels under the door, three shovels forward of that, four shovels at the top of the slope and then three shovels at the front followed by three more half way down the rocker-grate. I then added 2 futher shovelfull's to the top of the slope before checking for holes. One more shovelfull just under the door filled the final hole and so I shut the door and crossed my fingers. The exhaust; as the regulator was open; turned grey very quickly as my eyes trained on the pressure gauge. I need not have worried though as by Hedley's when John shut off for the slack, the loco blew off again: Thank goodness! So, it was time to fill the boiler and increase the steam heat. By Shenton, everything was fine again. I am very pleased that I managed to save the situation with such a poor start from Shack but, that is the Firemans job afterall! At Shenton, 3803 prepares for departure on the last returning trip...Coal has just been added to the firebed, hence the dark smoke...
Today was the railway's 'Mince Pie Flyer' special. Trains had also operated yesterday and on New Years Eve, though the latter saw services operated by the 'Bubblecar'. As it was the last returning trip of the day, we got the last 4 Mince Pies..."YUM"! Leaving Shenton on the last trip, we had a thin but covering fire, an almost full boiler and steam heat on with 215psi 'on the clock': very pleasant. I just filled the holes on this trip, in an attempt to run the engine down. I made the fire up a bit at the Market Bosworth stop before John gave 3803 some stick up through the woods to Airport Bridge (very nice!). At the Hedley's slack I only added 1 more shovelfull of coal and 3803 took us back into Shack with 180psi and the injector running. The fire was enough to get us into the shed but wouldn't take much raking out to get rid of in a hurry: just right! We signed off after our eventful day at 4:30pm with the Heavy Freight simmering away with a brimmed boiler and very little fire left. Guess what?: The back-end had clinkered again and it took some heavy scraping with the bent dart to clear it! However, though I had been a little rusty on the first 2 trips, the latter 2 had proven very enjoyable for me. John passed me again so thats all that counts! ^_^ . However, I also hope that John had an enjoyable day with us. Furthermore, I hope that Phil and Caroline had a nice time with us on the engine when they rode during the afternoon. Thanks for reading everyone and, again, Happy New Year. The Battlefield Line is now in its 'winter sleep' stage until early March when steam trains will return, and a surprise guest will appear at the Steam Gala. Keep your eyes peeled for that beauty... ;)