Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Best of the Best...Twice!...

Hi all. Arguably one of the best designs of steam locomotive ever to grace the metals of Britain's railways was Sir William Stanier's answer to a 5MT 4-6-0: his well renowned Black Five. These engines were, certainly in my mind, the best of the best and handled mixed traffic across both the LMS and later the BR networks. Tonight, a fabulous Black Five duo was due into Nuneaton and I couldn't let them pass without nipping down there. The two engines: Ian Riley's pairing of 44871 and 45407 "Lancashire Fusilier": had started out from Euston in the morning with the 'Cathedrals Express', Chester bound. Their route had taken them along the down slow of their own stomping ground: the West Coast Main Line. Steaming via Rugby, Nuneaton, Tamworth and Crewe to reach Chester, the 5MT's would return along exactly the same path. The pair were due into Nuneaton's Platform 5 at around 19.01, though they turned up a good 12 minutes late. Following a brief stop, the pair disappeared off into the night, bound for Euston. A lengthy train of lamp-lit, mixed BR coaches was easily dragged away by these perfect Staniers into the gloom of Nuneaton's suburbs and out into the countryside. I had thought that the 5's would be swamped by onlookers so I had not brought my camera down and, in typical sods law fashion, the engines stopped perfectly in front of me..."grand". Luckily I had my trusty iPhone and so managed to get one or two pics of rather disappointing quality...
The glow of 44871's fire keeps the cab illuminated as she prepares to lead 45407 out of Nuneaton...
45407 "Lancashire Fusilier", built in 1937 by Armstrong Whitworth, stands behind younger sister 44871, built at Crewe in 1945...
Mr Riley's Black Five's seem to travel everywhere together these days, which is nice to see. They are both well renowned main line performers and are kept in immaculate condition. 45407 in particular has had a long preservation career on the main line and has been to countless destinations countrywide. Sister 44871 returned to the main line a couple of years ago and has been joined by 45407 on many outings...
Though they came and went very quickly, it was a pleasure to see these two Black Fives, and was well worth braving the cold for. They are beautiful machines. I have had the privilege of firing one: 45379 when she came to Shackerstone for the 2012 Steam Gala. However, I would never pass up the opportunity of another go on one...they are, truly, the best of the best. I later found that 44871's weird chime whistle was rumoured to be a 'Tug Boat' type, though sources indicate it may have been influenced by the Union Pacific 'Big Boy'! Cheers guys, Sam...

Stewarding for Santa 2013...

Hi guys. Today I was helping with the stewarding jobs on our first 'Santa Special's of the 2013 season. Tickets are selling very well and I would advise those who have not yet bought any but wish to, to get in now before its too late. With 3803 at the head of the train, the 'Santa Express' made two return journeys to Shenton and back today. The first day, as always, is a 'practise day' and from now on we will be running at least 4 or 5 trains per operating day right up until Christmas Eve, except on December 23rd when there will only be 3. I had a very enjoyable day, particularly on the 2pm train. I like interacting with the public and its always nice to hear nice comments about our railway. Off to Nuneaton Station tonight, there are hooters in the distance. Best Regards, Sam...

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Warley National Model Railway Exhibition 2013, with the LEGO...

Hi guys. Well, this was another long weekend out & about. This weekend it was our fourth invitation to the wonderful Warley National Model Railway Exhibition at the NEC. The 2013 show saw us returning with a slightly larger LEGO railway than the last time we were here. This time we brought our now-normal 12ft x 4ft arrangement and became stand D70, in Hall 5. Warley always has a massive lead-up, and this time in fact we had been invited 2 YEARS before the event! The anticipation leading up to the show is tremendous, particularly when you've done it before so you know what to expect. We have been lucky enough to attend four Warley's with our humble layout now and have enjoyed each experience immensely. We drove the car into a very cold Hall 5 at about 5:30pm on the Friday night, by which time many stands were already up & running. With tables, drapes and barriers allocated, myself & Ben could set to doing all of the building work which comes with owning a very fragile railway!...
"Here We Go Again"
About 2 hours later, the layout is looking somewhere near finished...
With our power supplies checked, tested and certified by the exhibition, the layout was given a few test laps on each of its three circuits. These proved successful and so, with hunger setting in, we headed for home...
On Saturday morning we were on site from just before 9am and the exhibition opened at 9:15am to Advanced Ticket Holders. At 9:45am the show opened to the rest of the visitors and then it got crazy! There were so many people it was unreal. The Saturday in particular was probably the busiest Warley day I have ever seen. The LEGO railway was very popular as usual and people stood 2 - 3 rows deep sometimes admiring it, which is always very pleasing for me...
After a very successful Saturday we returned home again. It doesn't seem two minutes and then you find yourself driving back into the NEC again! Sunday morning beckoned and it was another 9am start for the LEGO trains. Today seemed a lot quieter than yesterday but it was still very busy. In fact, the show reported that 17,300 people visited over the weekend: a tremendous achievement!...
"The Calm Before The Storm"
There were so many great things to see at this years show: it was probably one of the best yet. There were too many layouts to count and then countless other demonstrators, traders and societies too. Standing in the middle of it all was the impressive and much talked about new-build 4-6-0 "The Unknown Warrior": a soon to be Fowler Patriot that'll be running in about 5 years time. Other locomotives in the hall included the Corris Railway's Kerr Stuart "Tattoo" locomotive and Leighton Buzzard's 2ft Baldwin 4-6-0 tank. Below, there is a compilation of clips taken of the LEGO railway during the Sunday afternoon...

The Sunday show closed at 5pm and then the traditional 'Warley Nightmare' began. Getting out is always so much harder than getting in. Luckily we have adapted a way of getting out. We park the cars in the far car parks as we always would during the day, and then use our sturdy sack-truck to haul the majority of the LEGO and its heavy boards along the winding pathways of the NEC. Its a long way to walk with all this stuff but if you don't do it you'll be there until midnight trying to get out: its just manic. We certainly weren't the only ones doing this!...
"A Quick Solution"
We had had yet another fantastic time at the Warley show. They are always very welcoming and look after their exhibitors very well: its a real pleasure and a privilege to attend. I think though now, after a few years of fun, the LEGO Railway will probably go into hiding. I had always hoped that the little railway that has given pleasure to many over the years would see its last show, with me, at Warley and I guess now that that time has come. I certainly won't be getting rid of it but maybe this is the last show now. Its been great fun and this little layout has allowed us to exhibit at shows large and small, and we've now done 4 years at the biggest model railway exhibition in the UK. Its been a pleasure, it really has, but as they say 'all good things must come to an end'. Kind Regards, Sam...

Sunday, 17 November 2013

"Sir Gomer" Goes to London...

Hi guys. On Tuesday, the freshly painted Peckett "Sir Gomer" left Shackerstone bound for London. She was off to fulfil another hire commitment; this time at the Epping Ongar Railway on the outskirts of the capital. The Epping Ongar Railway operates between North Weald and Ongar, a distance of around 3.5 miles. Formerly a Great Eastern Railway branch line, the route later became part of London Underground's Central Line, which eventually closed the section in 1994. Between 2004 & 2007, a fledgling EOR volunteer group attempted to revive the line using a Class 117 DMU. In 2007, the railway changed ownership again and has since come on leaps & bounds. The line now owns 4953 "Pitchford Hall" and Prairie No4141, as well as a lot of other rolling stock and heritage diesels. Today, the busy preserved line runs regularly and offers heritage bus connections with Epping's London Underground station. Since reopening in May 2012 after a 5-year closure, the line has been an enormous success and has even won the prestigious 'Heritage Railway of the Year' Award. Steam services operate between North Weald and Ongar, over a steeply graded line. There is also another steep section between North Weald and Coopersale which is operated by the diesel locomotives or the 'Thumper' unit as there is no run-round loop there. A steam shortage at the EOR: thanks to 4953's 10-year ticket expiring and 4141's annual ticket up for renewal: "Sir Gomer" was offered and the engine was on service today. Myself and Jason went down as 'Engine Rep's to see how the 0-6-0 would perform on this challenging line. We arrived at the EOR's base of North Weald at around 8am, after travelling just over 100 miles...
The plain black Peckett was sitting happily on the shed road, which has a fantastic new pit. The locomotive was coming around nicely on this chilly morning, ready for a hard days work. Just over the way stood an old friend: Class 03 170: which used to be based at Shackerstone and has shunted "Sir Gomer" around a fair few times...
Whilst "Sir Gomer" steamed up, myself & Jason had a look around the yard. An impressive Class 37 diesel stood in front of GWR Large Prairie Tank No4141, built in 1946 and formerly based at the GCR...
"Sir Gomer" was prepped and coaled before being driven through North Weald Station and over into the opposite platform. The plain black livery and the shining brass dome gave the engine a completely different look. There is something to be said for the plain black look!...
"Sir Gomer" stands blowing off in North Weald's departure platform...
Driver Ken then took "Sir Gomer" forward onto the waiting Mk II stock...
There would be 4 steam hauled departures today, and also a few in the opposite direction using the 'Thumper'. The EOR had kindly allowed myself or Jason to ride on the footplate during the day, so we did 2 round trips each. I was on board for the first run...
With 3-coaches coupled up and a 'Right Away' from the Guard, away we went. The Peckett got the train away easily as we pulled under the footbridge and towards the single line section. Here, the track headed upgrade at about 1 in 70 for probably half a mile or so. You could see it stretching right out before us as we approached bunker-first. The valves were blowing and the fire was bright so Driver Ken went for it. The engine roared up the first climb, accelerating as she did so. Don't get me wrong, she was working very hard, but she didn't slow. Over the top and the regulator was shut and the injector on with smoke pouring from the now awakened fire, via the chimney. The line here descends on the approach to a 10mph slack before passing through Blake Hall Station which was closed in 1981 and is now a private residence. After Blake Hall there is another sharp climb before the regulator is shut for the leisurely coast downhill to Ongar, probably a good 2 miles or so from here. At a very busy Ongar station, "Sir Gomer" ran round promptly and the fire was made up for the return assault. With a Green Flag from the Guard the engine got the train underway again and ran at the climb. This was a strong climb, all the way up to the Blake Hall approach. "Sir Gomer" was struggling with steam but still managed to pull over the top. That was a hard climb for a retired industrial! We then coasted through Blake Hall before hitting the next stiff climb towards North Weald...
This railway is certainly challenging and "Sir Gomer" certainly made sure we knew it was. The Peckett coasted down into North Weald after a challenging first run of the day..."Phew"...(video by 'Pine Rocks')...

The engines fire was again made up at North Weald whilst she was watering up. The EOR was so busy today that 3-coaches just wasn't enough and another 2 were added. Luckily a Class 31 diesel was also added and the train became top-and-tailed. This was to reduce the stoppage time at Ongar as the people constantly boarding the train was gradually slowing the timetable down. I rode on the coaches for the second trip whilst Jason rode on the engine. The loco was aided by the Class 31 on the steep grades so we didn't have too much trouble. I rode out again on the 3rd trip and we were starting to get used to it all. Firing the front end more seemed to get the right results and the fourth trip came back with good levels of pressure, with "Sir Gomer" finding the whole job a lot easier! "We've cracked it!". I must admit, getting an industrial up hills like that with loads like that isn't as easy as it sounds. "Sir Gomer" is a very powerful engine indeed but industrials like her were built for brief slogs rather than long journeys. However, she acquitted herself very well and did us proud. Out of ticket 4953 "Pitchford Hall" stands at North Weald awaiting overhaul...
A vintage bus at North Weald: I think this is a really nice touch to a heritage railway...
I was very impressed with the Class 205 'Thumper' unit. This 2-car Unit has the same engine as a Class 73 so is 'English Electric' through and through. It sounded really nice chugging about the place, much better than the horrid normal DMU Leyland engines...
"Sir Gomer" captured at Ongar on the 3rd trip, before a strong assault...
"Sir Gomer" pulls into North Weald in failing light with 5-on and a Class 31 with the last trip...
Well, "Sir Gomer" has done very well once again and that's her fourth preserved railway visit so far. The engine has a few more steaming days planned at the brilliant Epping Ongar Railway before returning home, where she will be taking part in 'Santa' duties all being well. I'm booked out with "Sir Gomer" on December 23rd back at home..."See you then old girl". Cheers guys, Sam...

Saturday, 9 November 2013

"Sir Gomer": A Vision In Black...

Hi guys. Today we were at Shackerstone making attempts to get the Peckett finished ready for an upcoming hire commitment. "Sir Gomer" has been undergoing a repaint for some time now and was half in primer and half in her first coat of gloss black this morning when we started at 9:30am. As she was covered in dust, the first task was to take the engine outside using the Class 02 shunter and wash her...
"The Peckett Gets A Wash"
Having been washed, we dried the engine using clean rags ready to be pushed back inside. The photograph below was taken from the drivers side of the engine after her wash & dry. As can be seen the wheels, tank braces, cab front and smokebox sides are still in primer, and the boiler cladding underneath the tank is still in green with many fittings missing too!...
"Before"
Following this the locomotive was pushed back into the shed and the door was closed behind her with both stoves blazing away. If anything it was a tiny bit warm in the shed today...for the first time in history! A good few hours later the engine was rolled back out of the shed again after quite a transformation...
"After"
The engine had had her whistle fitted, dome fitted, works plates, wheels painted, tank braces painted, vac bags fitted, handrails painted, cab front painted, chimney painted, steam bags fitted, boiler cladding primed and painted, boiler filled up and god knows what else! The Vision In Black will only remain in plain black for a few months. When the engine returns from its visit to the Epping Ongar Railway she will take part in some 'Santa' duties at Shackerstone as well as a few 'Mince Pie' trains too. Following that the plain black will be rubbed down and repainted again with more coats of gloss black before being lined in red & white and her brand new nameplates fitted, proudly carrying her name..."SIR GOMER". The engine does look very smart in plain black. Although it is not an authentic colour for her, it was felt that a change was as good as a rest. She is an impressive looking engine in black...
The engine will be steam tested before she leaves on Tuesday for Epping Ongar and she will be there for a few weeks, helping with a locomotive shortage there. She will return in mid-December and will be on Station Pilot duties around Shackerstone for our Santa trains from December 15th until Christmas Eve, with 5 steaming's in all. I will be going to Epping Ongar next Sunday to see the engine on her first day out down South. Good old Gomer: the vision in black. Cheers guys - Sam...

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Last Hurrah Of The Season on 3803...

Hi everyone. Today was the last normal steam running day of the 2013 season on the Battlefield Line. I was booked as Fireman along with David, and Eddie as the Driver. As we had a Footplate Experience course to do in the morning myself and Dave were on site at 6am. The locomotive was still warm from last night's 'Bonfire Express' which kept the old girl out til' late. I lit 3803's fire with some seemingly fire-proof wood after doing all of the usual checks, whilst Dave got going with the oiling. Driver Eddie soon arrived and we enjoyed a cuppa' whilst 3803 sang away to herself. It was a very pleasant day all told, with the 'Foot Ex' going off fine with a very pleased, and very pleasant, participant. There were then 4 public round trips to do which all went well, with duties being shared around on the footplate. The Great Western 2-8-0 was in her usual fine form and steamed brilliantly throughout the day. The engine was later captured in an unusual shot at Shenton during the run-round...
"Come on Dave, Get Your Head In!"
All in all a very enjoyable day spent in very good company indeed. That's it now folks...the season is over. The Battlefield Line is still operating a reduced timetable every Sunday but the service will be the 'Heartlander' diesel railcar stock (the Bubblecar DMU). Steam will return to the ex-ANJR metals at the end of November as we begin our 'Santa Special' services. We will then be steaming through the Leicestershire countryside until the New Year with our 'Mince Pie' Trains. After that...we're shut until March! How quick the season's do go...it only seems like two minutes since we were rattling along on the Beattie or the T9...and that was March!! As usual, thank you to David and Eddie for a cracking day on the GWR 2-8-0 No3803. Cheers guys - Sam...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Achilles Report No43: GEC Calls...

Hello guys. Today we had kindly been invited to the GEC Miniature Railway to take part in one of their private Birthday Party days. Having heard that there was a steam motive power shortage at GEC for the event owing to its clashing with another society outing, I offered "Achilles" almost instantly as the engine has simply been sitting on the workbench ready cleaned, since her appearance at the Fosseway show...
The party was scheduled to run from 2pm until 4pm and so we arrived at about 1-ish in order to get things ready. Our arrival in driving rain did not fill me with confidence for the run ahead but thankfully, as "Achilles" was lifted onto the steaming bay, the sun began to shine. As the engine hasn't been run for a few weeks, I did my usual fitness to run checks before filling the boiler via the hand-pump. With her paperwork checked, the engine was fit to light up and so I did so. The electric blower managed to bring the engine around nicely despite the blisteringly cold wind...
The GEC's 5" Pannier Tank of the 1500 class: a 'Speedy' named "Cyril": was also steamed up for the party, with two battery loco's as a reserve. "Achilles" was on the track about 1:50pm and was immediately hooked up to a 2-car set, fully loaded with passengers. For the first 15 minutes or so we ran non stop, until the Speedy joined us to lighten the load with another 2-car set. Being fired on GEC's Daw Mill coal seemed to suit "Achilles" as long as you kept the fire deep. The age old phrase "you've got to have something to bite on" was certainly applicable with this coal. Mind you, with the motto being followed, the engine steamed brilliantly with the axle-pump almost permanently on to counteract all of the blowing off at the safety valves! With 90psi on the clock, the engine simmers in the station with a bright fire... 
Throughout the next 2 hours "Achilles" and "Cyril" hauled several trains of happy party goers. The service was certainly intensive: it was non-stop each time. I lost count of the amount of laps we did but "Achilles" did do well. As is tradition she was carrying her annual Poppy on the smokebox door as a mark of respect for all those that lost their lives, fighting for us so that we may live...
"Achilles Remembers"
After 2 hours of very hard work "Achilles" was starting to 'choke up' a little bit and so was removed from the track at about 3:50pm; being replaced by the Class 08 electric. An inspection of the engine revealed that every tube was clear, the smokebox floor was clear and the chimney deflector was clear. However, the spark arrestor had moved slightly and impaired the blast up the chimney and, once rectified, the engine will be perfect again. I would really like some of that Daw Mill coal for myself. Though very smoky indeed, it produced brilliant results!...
"Achilles" Simmers Down After a Tiring Day
All in all it had been an enjoyable, but very cold, afternoon. Lucky for us that GEC has a well deserved reputation for the cups of tea served there, otherwise the cold may have got the better of us! I must thank my friends at the GEC for having me again, and for inviting the engine over. I was very pleased with the performance of the locomotive and she did very well indeed on some very heavy trains, despite a thick spark arrestor, hard-angle deflector pipe and the water-pump. Well done old girl. Best Regards, Sam...