Sunday, 28 July 2013

Rail Ale: Return to 3803...

Hi guys. Today at 6:30am I made a welcome return to the Great Western 2-8-0 locomotive No3803. The 1939-built heavy freight engine is now back in full working order after remedial overhaul work on her valve & piston rings, as well as a general 'tightening up' of the front end. The ashpan and its dampers have also been repaired so that they work better, and the overall sound of the engine at the chimney is much better too. I spent a very pleasant day on the engine with Driver Adrian and Trainee Fireman Paul. We had 4 trips today, alternating with the Class 33 & Class 47 diesel locomotives at Shackerstone. I fired the first run, with Paul firing the 2nd whilst I drove. It was very nice to be back on the regulator of the powerful 2-8-0 as we cruised down to Shackerstone at 25mph with the typical Great Western vacuum pump ticking away happily on the drivers side. The braking on this engine is also very good when you've got the train on and I find it anchors up quite well. The third trip saw me firing again with Paul taking the fourth whilst I drove again. It was a very enjoyable day indeed and it was great to be back on 3803, and in good company! Cheers guys - Sam...

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Rail Ale: Working The Bar & Busker Part II...

Hi guys. Today I was back at Shackerstone, working Buffet Car "Jessie" with Reas & his wife Rachel. Takings were very good on the trains, though the Buffet Car was quiet as many opted for the Real Ale...well, that is what they came for! Between breaks from "Jessie" we took a little walk around Market Bosworth where 7 full size road engines, a Stanley Steam Car and a couple of vintage vehicles were on display as well as afternoon musical entertainment in the Goods Shed. I even managed to have a go on the Simplicity roller, with Jason. I haven't had a go on that since 2008...see blog. A lovely little roller: the Gentleman's Engine you might say! Following our day on "Jessie" we locked up on the last return run and Reas & Rachel alighted on the final Market Bosworth stop. I opted to ride on the footplate of 3803 with Carl & Jason rather than staying with the revellers on the Buffet. Back at Shack I jumped into the Saxo and headed for Market Bosworth, ready to see a bit of Dr Busker's 2nd performance, beginning at 8pm once again. In the company of Eddie & David it was a great night and very enjoyable. I left a bit earlier tonight in ridiculously heavy rain as I am on 3803 tomorrow. Cheers guys - Sam...

Friday, 26 July 2013

Rail Ale: An Evening With The Doctor...

Hi guys. Tonight was the opening night of the Battlefield Line's "Rail Ale" event 2013. Operated by Hinckley & Bosworth CAMRA, the Bar at Market Bosworth Goods Shed opened up at 7pm and the performance of the evening began at 8pm. As we arrived there was a large green shape in the distance, standing adjacent to the signalbox...it was 3803. Yes, 3803 has now returned to Shackerstone for a few months of hire, following replacement of both valve & piston rings and general tightening up of the front end where possible. The loco stood proudly alongside the yard at Market Bosworth, having been under light-engine test during the afternoon. "Blue Circle": the unique blue Aveling & Porter 2-2-0: was also in steam, coupled to her regular brake van and offering shuttle rides up & down the siding. A few road engines were also in the yard, including a pair of Steam Roller's and two traction engines. Myself, Maisie & a fair few family members had all turned up for the evening performance by renowned Steam Rally entertainer..."Dr Busker". Beginning at 8pm, we watched the entire performance which ended about midnight. Busker was again at the top of his game and had the crowd cheering (and even on their feet at some points!) to his renditions of various classic songs as well as many of his own. I can't remember how many he did but it was a fair few, coupled with his interval starting cheer..."More Beer". It was a fantastic night and very busy indeed which means good money for the railway. Thanks for reading folks - Sam...

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sun, Steam & Shakespeare...

Hello everyone. Today we were booked to dine on the "Shakespeare Express": Vintage Trains' regular summer Sunday steam service between Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon. We had been booked on the express for some time and I for one had been looking forward to it. After a car ride up the M6 and then along the A38 into the centre of Birmingham, we arrived in Livery Street where Snow Hill Station is accessed. Parking is on a neat multi-storey above the platforms and, having parked, you simply walk down the stairs onto the platform to await your train. At about 9:40am the ECS for the first "Shakespeare" run of the day arrived. Owing to the recent hot weather, Network Rail had enforced a ban on steam locomotives. The only way around this ban was to include a diesel in the consist and many of this weekends rail-tours ran in this manner to avoid cancellation. Therefore, when the ECS pulled in it was headed by Tyseley's Class 47: 47 773. The immaculate GWR Hall Class 4-6-0 No4965 "Rood Ashton Hall" was on the rear of the train, ready to work the tender first leg to Stratford. The shining 4-6-0 simmered quietly at what was now the head of the train, whilst passengers stood admiringly alongside her...
This Hall has to be the best kept of the class in preservation: she's immaculate from front to back. A mate of mine; Tom; was firing 4965 on the first return journey and kindly invited me up onto the footplate for a look around before departure. I was surprised at how 4965 sat so quietly under Snow Hill's drab concrete roof, simply feathering at the safety valves with a semi-dead but hot fire. Tom explained the various kit required to operate a main line steam locomotive on Network Rail metals in the modern world, such as TPWS, GSMR and of course a 'Black Box' which records Speed, Steam Chest Pressure and Braking Force. Gone are the days when all steam loco's had to guide them were Semaphore signals and the experience of the Driver. Driver today was Ray Churchill, who is known to drive about 90% of the 'Shakespeare's during their summer season. I tell you what, it was warm on that footplate, even with a small fire in the box!...
Having been dragged off the footplate by the hungry family, we wandered up to the two Pullman cars to find our table for four in 'Premier Dining'. The menu for the day was handed around the well prepared table...
At 10:23am, 4965 gave a blast of her Great Western whistle before departing from Snow Hill, whilst we enjoyed our first course of Breakfast. The loco eased gently down through the gloomy tunnel into the restored station at Moor Street, where the second pick-up is made. Having left Moor Street there is a gentle run to Tyseley, which is home of 4965 and Tyseley Loco Works. Other engines based at Tyseley include "Clun Castle", "Earl of Mount Edgecumbe" and the two 'main line' Panniers: 7752 & 9600. Leaving her home station, 4965 swung tender first onto the North Warwickshire Line, bound for Henley-in-Arden. A hearty full English breakfast was served in Pullman Class as the Hall steamed gracefully through beautiful countryside. The breakfast was followed by another hot cuppa' before arrival at Stratford right on time. As usual with rail-tours there was a mad rush to see the locomotive and so I made an effort to avoid the route taken by the main rabble as I left the Pullman Car...
One of the Met-Cam Pullman Cars Used By VTL
Built at Swindon in 1929, "Rood Ashton Hall" worked until December 1963. She was restored to full working order by 1998 and spent 10 cracking years on the main line with Vintage Trains, mainly on the "Shakespeare Express". Owing to the immaculate condition which the locomotive is kept in, and its maintenance program, the 10-year overhaul took only a few months and the loco was re-certified for main line work in October 2009. Interestingly, 4965 had an identity change in 1962, to carry the name of scrapped sister No4983 "Albert Hall". During the restoration of 4983 it was discovered that she had the frames of 4965 and so the debate began. Click HERE for the full story of an 'Engine in Two Halves'. Anyway, back to today, the immaculate Hall was uncoupled very quickly and the large ejector was soon heard roaring away, taking off the vacuum brakes as the engine prepared to back away...
Having reversed under the bridge and up to the buffer stops, the points were changed and 4965 was given the clear to run round. Here she is having a bark away from the buffer stops looking beautiful...
...And then running under the bridge in full flight...
A Good Run-Round, Sounding Great
With 4965 clear of the station, permission was given for her to back down again. Once coupled up to the Class 47, preparations began for the departure towards Birmingham. We left the loco smoking away as we walked into historic Stratford. We spent the afternoon trotting around the various shops and river walkways. It was so busy and absolutely full of tourists: there must be a good economy here!...
River Scene at Stratford
At about 2:40pm I decided to head back towards the station to try and capture 4965 coming in on 'Train C', from Birmingham, passing 'Shakespeare's Birthplace' on my way...
Right on time at just gone 3pm, 4965 appeared into view and hissed into Stratford with the afternoon "Shakespeare"...
Under the footbridge she went, slowing to a stop...
With 4965 preparing to run round again, the Class 47 ticked over at the head of the train in preparation for the 4:13pm departure. The green diesel was driven by Ray Poole: his job was to ensure that 4965 didn't work "too hard" and set fire to any neighbouring fields...
At Stratford, the Support Crew take a well-earned breather in the sun, waiting to water 4965...
The attractive headboard for the "Shakespeare Express" is worn proudly on each run...
Once attached again, 4965 basked in the sun, looking beautiful...
Whilst on the platform at Stratford I got chatting to Alistair Meanley: son of Tyseley supremo Bob Meanley. He praised the Hall for its reliability and popularity but remarked on the difficulty of pathing an engine like this around on modern railways. The problem is not the speed of the engine but her GWR pedigree, as Swindon's Hall's had very large cylinders which swelled out from the frames more than Midland engines for example. This factor prevents 4965 from running on many parts of the national network, though she has strayed to countless places over her 13 years on the main line. Following on from her immaculate exterior is her immaculate footplate. Just look at those controls, not only are they sparkling clean but the floor is well swept and even the cups are clean on the tea tray...I suppose if you keep on top of these things its so much easier to keep an immaculate engine...if expensive on polish!...
As departure time neared we decided to board the Pullman Cars again for our "High Tea". This included a hot chicken dinner (which was very tasty and filling) with vegetables, followed by Strawberries & Cream. Naturally a real ale was called for...
The return run doesn't take in the North Warwickshire Line. Instead the Hall takes a trundle along the branch line to Claverdon before joining the main Birmingham - Oxford line at Hatton North Junction. From here the 4-6-0 can stretch her legs up to 60mph on the fast line through Lapworth and Solihull...
Countryside on the Claverdon Branch
After our "tea", a cup of tea was served with an after-dinner mint as 4965 raced along at 60mph...she really was going for it, but effortlessly. This is why we pay for main line steam...
Though 4965 was running well, all too soon it was time for Ray Churchill to shut-off steam and start applying the brakes, slowing for Tyseley. A further stop at Moor Street was followed by journeys-end at Snow Hill Station, about 7 hours after we initially left. As quickly as I could I ran up to the front of the train and caught 4965 wearing the headboard before she disappeared off to run round. Now that is a beautiful engine...
No4965 "Rood Ashton Hall", The "Shakespeare Engine"
All in all it had been a fantastic day. You can't really beat Pullman Class, I know its more expensive but you do get some fantastic food and the service & atmosphere is great. The "Shakespeare Express" is really one to be recommended and it will be running every Sunday until early September. See www.vintagetrains.co.uk for details. Thanks very much for reading guys and thank you to VTL for a cracking day out with "Rood Ashton hall". Cheers, Sam...

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Prepping & Cleaning "Sir Gomer"...

Hi guys. A quiet day at Shackerstone today, prepping and cleaning the Peckett "Sir Gomer" for her Sunday services tomorrow. Tomorrow will be the last day in service (for the time being) for the 0-6-0 as Heavy Freight 2-8-0 No3803 returns to Shackerstone next week. Thanks guys - Sam...

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Peter's Birthday at GEC...

Hi guys. It was a very warm day today, especially for driving steamers: oh well! Fresh from my holiday last week, I had been invited to drive the red Romulus "James" at the GEC. My friend James (owner of "James") had booked his son Peter's 3rd Birthday Party and so required help with the engine during the afternoon. Eddie also attended with the blue Wren 0-4-0, which has now been affectionately dubbed "Willy". The large Bagnall look-a-like ("Luna") also attended to create a three-steamer service. The Romulus was in steam first and myself and James took turns driving his cracking locomotive. Its a very pleasant day at GEC (every time you go!) riding up and down the field aboard "James" with a cuppa' on the tender. After a very pleasant afternoon we returned the loco to the steaming bays ready to blow down. It had been a brilliant day. Happy Birthday Peter. Cheers guys - Best Regards, Sam...

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Hot, Hot, HOT at Cleethorpes...

Hi guys. Today myself and Maisie went to visit the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway: the 15" gauge steam railway that operates along the seaside there. We certainly picked a good week to come away...its been hot & sunny throughout so far! The CCLR's base at Lakeside station is about an hours drive from Skegness and parking is adjacent to the building. Having parked up we bought a ticket at a modest £4 each for a 'full line return' (good value I thought) and awaited the arrival of the train. There is a small museum at Lakeside which is well worth a look, as well as the 'Smallest Pub In The World': the Signalbox Inn. I always think 15" gauge is a nice gauge for a miniature railway as its big enough to carry a lot of passengers but small enough to be appreciated by the youngsters...and of course it fits locations easier than standard gauge! The next train soon arrived, bound for North Sea Lane: the southern terminus of the CCLR. Lakeside station is roughly in the middle of the 2-mile line and so trains operate out of either side, from Platform 3. Myself & Maisie boarded a covered but open-sided coach and the loco set off...
The North Sea Lane section of the line offers better sea views, heading out to a blustery little station where the engine runs round...
The engine on service today was the CCLR's own 0-4-0 tender locomotive "Mountaineer". This engine was built in 1972 and worked on the now-closed Bush Mill Railway in Tasmania, operating there until the line closed in 2004. The engine has been equipped with a new, larger boiler whilst at Cleethorpes and is a regular on steam services. According to the driver there is no other serviceable steam loco at the CCLR as I write...
For an 0-4-0, "Mountaineer" certainly seemed powerful, with her adhesion no doubt aided by the large boiler sitting atop the frames. Having run round at North Sea Lane the loco; wearing the BMR's maroon livery; made a spirited (if slippery) departure. Having coasted downhill at a fair pace back to Lakeside, the engine seemed to make hard work of the uphill departure around the tight Platform 3 curve, bound for Kingsway. Once underway, the 0-4-0 dug in as it climbed passed the engine shed and old friend "DA1": an 0-4-0 diesel also once based at the BMR...
"Climbing Through The Flood Gates for Kingsway"
Once on the level again, "Mountaineer" assumed another good pace as the train rattled along behind her, passing gardens and beeches. At the northern terminus of Kingsway with its impressive roof, the engine took a well earned breather whilst the driver oiled round...
The Driver, as I have mentioned, was actually a chap I know called Mat. Coincidentally it was Mat who kindly gave me a ride on the Class 04 2-8-0 last time we were here, and it was pure chance that he was driving again today. Its always good to catch up with someone you know who is willing to enthuse about the locomotive...
"Oiling Up"
After a good discussion about "Mountaineer", Mat kindly invited me onto the footplate for the run-round. The ex-BMR loco certainly rode well, and the well-laid out cab left everything to hand. I quite like the addition of a screw reverser...
"Mat Runs The Engine Round at Kingsway"
"Mountaineer"s boiler is short but large in diameter, with a good size firebox at the back end...
Having thanked Mat for my kind ride around the loop at Kingsway, I re-boarded the train for the return run to Lakeside. The 0-4-0 again seemed to perform well, despite having run many miles on the CCLR in recent years. Not so long ago it hauled the Olympic Torch along the CCLR, representing the town...
"Mountaineer" Awaits Departure
I must thank Mat for letting me have a ride on the engine and for telling me more about it. It had been another very enjoyable visit to the CCLR and, as I say, I do like to support the little railways. Thanks for reading guys...off to Skegness again now. Cheers, Sam...

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Baby Peckett In The Lincolnshire Wolds...

Hello everyone. This week myself & Maisie are on holiday in Skegness. Naturally, as I always do when we go away anywhere, I had checked in advance to see if any railways were in the locality. The obvious choice is the 15" Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway: which we will be visiting later in the week: and not much else. The only other railway name that crops up in Lincolnshire is the little known Lincolnshire Wolds Railway: the only standard gauge railway in the county. The LWR timetable showed that the line was running twice in July: in 2 weeks time, and today. "Surely we could spend an hour there?...Just to say we've been", was the excuse given to the good lady! Resting on the Wolds about 25 miles from Skegness is the LWR's base at Ludborough. You come off the main road and then all of a sudden on a pleasant country lane you reach a level crossing and signalbox, out in the middle of nowhere. There, alongside the crossing, stood a pretty little Peckett 0-4-0 with a train of three coaches and a box van. The word "aww" did cross my mind as I admired the quaint sight from the Saxo. Having parked up we wandered across to the station where the 0-4-0 was ready to depart. Ticket purchased, we boarded the train for a chuff across the Wolds...
"Maisie Enjoys The LWR Scenary"
Leaving Ludborough the 1928-built Peckett, wearing a lovely black livery lined in red & white, gave a shrill whistle as it crossed the crossing and got the weight underway. The engine is named "Fulstow" after the local village of the same name, where it was kept following a working life at Cawdor Quarry in Matlock, being withdrawn in 1970. Restored in Fulstow itself on a private garden railway site, the Peckett now resides at the LWR and completed its most recent 10-yearly overhaul in late 2010. Three coaches seemed no effort for the engine as it departed Ludborough, though once we crested 5mph the regulator was shut for most of the way, with steam seemingly only admitted to keep the cylinders warm. The 1.5-mile journey to the pretty station at North Thoresby is taken slowly, though the countryside is very pleasant, especially on a sunny day like today. Upon arrival at the terminus there is a 10-minute or so break so that passengers can get their photographs of the train and station before departing back to Ludborough, propelling the train. The slow journey up showed that "Fulstow", like our "Sir Gomer", had the typical Peckett waddle, with Chuck Berry Duck-Walks seeming the obvious choice for many as they attempted to walk through the train with the regulator open! I alighted at North Thoresby to have a look at the pretty engine...
"Pretty Peckett"
Though a short journey, I do like quaint places like this as they seem to have 'time for people'. Indeed passengers were chatting away to the crew and finding out more about the LWR and "Fulstow" herself, which at some larger railways you don't get the time for nor the patience. The 0-4-0 sat simmering at North Thoresby until departure...
"House Coal?"
The return journey seemed a lot smoother and "Fulstow" pushed like an express engine. Propelling a train isn't allowed without the correct equipment. In this case the rear coach has the vacuum hose fed up into the coach itself and is connected to a destroyer. This way, if the Guard sees anything that the driver doesn't see then he/she can drop the brake, thus stopping the train. At Shackerstone for example, we are not allowed to propel. Back at Ludborough, the shining Peckett stood quietly ready for the next departure at 12:45...
The LWR runs on what was the old Grimsby to Boston line and has plans of further expansion in the pipeline. Another big job on the LWR's to-do-list is this huge 4-6-0, built in Sweden in 1917. It is hoped to achieve a full restoration at Ludborough and be seen on LWR trains in the future. Looking at it, all you can think is..."that's a big engine, and a BIG job!"...
A BIG Engine!
The Swedish engine is a big hope, though the current operations of the LWR fit the capabilities of "Fulstow" perfectly. There is another engine in service: a Barclay 0-4-0T: which shares duties with the Peckett and between them they are just what the doctor ordered. The saying "little engines can do big things" fits well here. Below, with the sun shining, we see the lovely countryside around the LWR engine shed...
The LWR is quaint and we should support the smaller railways, especially when they are the only one in their county...aka 'rare'! Though the journey is short, the staff are friendly and the stations are well kept. I was also quite taken with the cleanliness of the locomotive which is always a nice thing for the budding visitor to see. Before our departure, we watched pretty "Fulstow" depart on the 12:45 with her train making her look puny at the front!...
A very nicely kept Peckett!...
As little "Fulstow" heads away towards North Thoresby, the driving position in the rear coach for the homebound propulsion can be seen...
"Bye Bye Fulstow"
I was glad that we visited the LWR as we have now seen Lincolnshire's only public standard gauge railway, and ridden on it! We wish them well and hope that they can continue to operate well turned-out industrials across the Wolds. A pleasant little visit in the sunshine...now its back to the seaside! Cheers, Sam...

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Reviving A Railway...

Hi guys. July? Already? "Wow"! I have now, finally, after months of messing around, began my slow revival of the 00 gauge garden railway. On Sunday we carried out a mass shed clearance and there is now access to the operating side of the railway: the indoor part. Having tidied the inside section up it was time to have a look at where the railway went. Though the line is pretty much weather-proof and maintenance free, the last year or so of almost no use has resulted in alot of damage to points, wiring and the condition of the rails. The decision has been taken to rip out all of the wiring, rather than chasing endless loose connections and shorts. For me it is much easier to rewire the track from the source rather than spending hours diagnosing conduction problems. Also on Sunday, we ripped out one of the garden's main bushes which used to decorate most of the railways 2006 extension. The bush had become overgrown and tatty, so much so that when you pruned it back to allow a train to pass, it ended up just being branches and nothing more that remained! With the bush removed and the wiring looking a mess, the track is seen on Sunday afternoon...
The view above shows Chilvers Loop (left) and Ashford Junction (right). Through the magic of the internet I have also recently purchased some new track: straight sections and replacements for all four outside points. On Monday the track arrived and so, as part of a test fit, I decided to rip up the Ashford Jnc - Grantham section of the circuit. Below we see the section on Monday afternoon, showing what debry can get under the track over the course of 7 years!...
This afternoon we went out and bought some "multi-purpose compost", which to you & me is actually plain old dirt. We then made up the level of the flowerbed to the bottom edge of the Cotswold stone throughout the 'extension flowerbed', ready for planting some new bits...
After a bit of messing about we finished the initial replanting of the flowerbed. There are still a few more bits to come and of course the plants will begin to grow...
Slowly Starting A Garden Railway Revival!
My next job is to relay the track that I took up, as well as to replace all of the outdoor points. I then need to rewire the track power and then begin the fitment and wiring of point motors and a few colour-light signals. The building illuminations; which I started doing a few years ago; will finally be finished this time around, as a project. I hope to have the railway running again in a month or so. Cheers guys, Sam...