Tuesday, 31 December 2013

What A Year...The 2013 Review...

Hi everyone. Let me first wish all of my readers a fantastic and prosperous 2014. Following that, let me apologise for the monstrous length of this post as it has been done to review 2013 which happened to be quite a year. I will try and make the review as quick and easy as possible to read but there is a lot to say: which I will try to consolidate. As I've said (and as you may have read) it has been a very busy year and, though it has pushed me towards my wits end at some points, I am very proud of what has been achieved. We've been to many places, steamed many engines, and even been to pastures new. "Achilles" and the LEGO Railway have both seen use in various places throughout the year, culminating in the latters last show at the NEC in November. The steamy goings on at Shackerstone have gone from strength to strength and the future looks bright for Battlefield Line steam. I also did my first event for the Battlefield Line: Miniature Traction Engine Weekend: which will make a welcome return to Market Bosworth over April 26th/27th with over 30 Miniatures in steam. So sit back, relax and lets take a look at 2013...perhaps the busiest year yet for 'Sammys World'. With 127 posts (not including this one!), 2013 has won the award for the most posts per year since this blogs birth in 2008. Here we go...
"Sir Gomer" Under Cold Test 13/1/13
January: I've never been much of a fan of January. Well, not at all really. The trouble is once Christmas is gone the joy of winter and our so called 'Winter Wonderland' seems to become more of a burden. Everything is cold and damp, chilly and frosty. Motivation for any outdoor task reduces very quickly upon viewing the weather forecast and, worst of all, the railway is closed to the public! However this is of course the time during which we carry out essential winter maintenance work, both on the locomotives and on the railway infrastructure as a whole. January saw me taking part in three days at the shed (one of which was not documented on here I will admit). Various jobs went on, all of which can be read about in the relevant posts...
An Immaculate 3803 Takes A Break - Jan 2013
My own locomotive "Achilles" was the feature of three posts in January. First up was a documented visit of her run at RPMR in her final pre-overhaul condition. By now, after over 25 years work, the little blue engine was getting very tired. Bits were clanking, smacking and fouling all over the place. However, the initially well-built old gal' had stood the test of time for long enough and I felt it was time to get to work. After her successful early January run the engine was stripped to almost nothing bottom-end wise. This allowed new bearings to be made for her coupling rods and connecting rods, as well as a pair of new crossheads. The valve timing was also set during "Achilles" first big overhaul since build...
"Achilles" In Bits - Jan 2013
January also included a visit to the GCR for their fabulous annual 'Winter Steam Gala' which I always try to attend. 3803 was one of the star visitors, which was ironic as out of the many engines in steam we seemed to focus most of our visit on one that we had crewed for 2 years! Finally, the LEGO railway enjoyed a very snowy visit to the fantastic Leamington & Warwick Model Railway Show. February soon reared its ugly head: another grim month. Five posts from this month centred around Shackerstone, with work including P-Way, shed jobs and planning for my first MTEW event, due to happen in April. "Achilles" continued with her overhaul (3 posts) whilst the LEGO Railway enjoyed another outing not so long after the first. This time we attended the Solihull Model Railway Show for the 2nd year running: a very pleasant little event indeed...
The LEGO Railway Revisits Solihull - Feb 2013
March thankfully arrived rather quickly and things duly got back to normal at Shackerstone, with trains returning to Bosworth Battlefield after a 2-month absence. March was a fairly busy month with 13 posts being written in all. "Achilles" bottom-end overhaul came towards completion in two of the posts, which was much of a relief to myself who had horrific visions of it never going back together again whilst I was taking it apart! This month mainly centred around Shackerstone, I will admit. This was because of our annual Steam Gala on March 16th/17th which is always a 'all hands on deck' job. "Sir Gomer" was being repaired at the start of the month ready to take part in the gala, following lengthy valve timing alterations. The two visitors for the weekend were two LSWR beauties: the NRM's T9 4-4-0 No30120 and Beattie Well Tank No30585 from Quainton. The Beattie in particular was a favourite of mine. Up to and including the gala was a very busy time, with many hours spent at Shackerstone shed preparing bits & bobs. Even the day before the gala was manic, with 3 engines in steam! Over the gala weekend myself & Eddie were lucky enough to crew the Beattie for the day, with myself back out on "Sir Gomer" on the Sunday. The day on 30585 was particularly special and, for me, ranks amongst one of my favourite days ever on the footplate. I really liked that little old engine...
Me with 30585 - Gala Saturday - D.Hanks
Following a cracking day on 30585 I returned to do some driving & firing with "Sir Gomer" on the Sunday...
Me Driving "Sir Gomer" - Gala Sunday - D.Hanks
Two weeks later, on Easter Saturday, myself & Eddie were out with the T9...and the less said about that the better (she got the better of me if truth be told!)...
The Greyhound With A Nasty Bite - March 2013
The weekend after the gala but the week before the T9 saw me at Statfold Barn Railway. The annual March Open Day went ahead despite severe snow fall and freezing conditions. However it was a much reduced roster with only 7 locomotives in steam rather than the full roster of about 15. We had a cracking day (though totally freezing) aboard newly restored "Sybil Mary"...
"Sybil" In The Snow - March 2013
Moving swiftly on to April I spent some time at Shackerstone, both on site and with "Sir Gomer". "Achilles" completed her bottom-end overhaul and steamed again at RPMR, which was a welcome relief. The biggest thing that happened in April though, by far, was my first MTEW event at Market Bosworth Station. There were 24 miniature traction engines in steam over the weekend. The weekend before we rode over to the site with Phil's beautiful Aveling & Porter Roller "Louise", which proved a very pleasant day...
"Louise" the Aveling & Porter Roller - April 2013
The weekend itself went very well and if you missed it you can see a large gathering of Miniature Traction Engines at Market Bosworth Station again over April 26th/27th 2014. If anyone has an engine to exhibit, please don't hesitate to contact me. Here is a shot from the Saturday evening of the event with engines preparing to head to the pub...
Traction Engines of Market Bosworth - April 2013 - M.Heseltine
May was a very busy month in 2013. I certainly had a lot to do. "Achilles" had two outings for a start. I also had a day on "James" at the GEC and the LEGO Railway attended a Charity Day at Radford Semele. I also visited the Evesham Vale Light Railway where Mr Bell gave me a very pleasant footplate ride on "St Egwin" and also the Paignton & Dartmouth Railway in Devon...
"Seaside Manor" - Paignton - May 2013
Never turn down a footplate ride!...
"St Egwin" - Evesham - May 2013
As well as the already mentioned outings in May, we went to Bala! God, doesn't it just get busier & busier?! Myself & Eddie went to Bala for a weekend and did two days on the footplate of "Maid Marian"...
"Maid Marian" - Llangower - May 2013
It was a very good weekend and it was a shame we only did one in 2013. However we have three weekends booked for 2014 so watch this space...
Bala Characters - Bala - May 2013
As if that wasn't enough for May 2013, we also did two railtours! Good lord! Oh, and I did a days firing on "Sir Gomer"! The two railtours, as fate would have it, were both hauled by the awe inspiring and immaculately kept LMS Princess Coronation Pacific (or the Duchess to me and you) No46233 "Duchess of Sutherland". The first trip was a Premier Dining outing with PMR Tours (who I highly recommend as an Operator) to Scarborough. This was a cracking day with my good lady and the Duchess gave a great performance. The second tour took us to Carlisle via Shap, returning via the S & C with the 'Boys Day Out'. The formidable Duchess again gave a cracking performance and we had a fantastic time. After an extremely busy May, June was much the same!...
In Love With Josephine - Statfold - June 2013
"Achilles" had three outings in June and performed very well indeed. As usual, I spent some time at Shackerstone and did two firing turns on "Sir Gomer" as well as shed work. I also spent a day on a Class 31 diesel (31 101) and, though I hate to admit it, driving it was rather pleasant...for a short while. I also spotted two main line tours, hauled by A4 No9 and "Nunney Castle" respectively; both in the Nuneaton area. Without a doubt my most enjoyable day in June was spent at the fantastic Statfold Barn Railway on the footplate of No2 "Josephine" with Driver Jason. I must admit, it was a cracking day (see post). "Josephine": looking perhaps like an 'ugly duckling' of a loco at that time: was tremendously powerful and roared like a Black 5 on the Lickey. Brilliant! Lets crack on with July...
"Fulstow" at LWR - July 2013
Myself & Maisie were on holiday in Lincolnshire at the start of July, and visited the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway where a baby Peckett hauled our train. We also popped in and saw the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway where I wangled a footplate ride completely by accident on "Mountaineer". These are probably Lincolnshire's two main little railways...
CCLR - July 2013
July also saw a family outing on the "Shakespeare Express" behind permanently immaculate 4900 Class 4-6-0 No4965 "Rood Ashton Hall" between Birmingham and Stratford. This was another Premier Dining run and was most enjoyable. 4965 performed well despite having a Class 47 behind her tender to guard against fire risks. This is one thing that one could get into a large rant about. The powers that be insist that mainline steamers get shoved by a diesel during the hot weather, mainly because nobody cuts the line-side vegetation anymore. In steam days it was kept down to guard against fire risks, now its just allowed to go wild and look untidy, as well as providing fire risks to steam tours...
4965 "Rood Ashton Hall" - The Shakespeare Express - July 2013
All of this mindless dribble must be wearing you all out by now. If I were you I'd have a cup of tea...
Tea with One - Shakespeare Express - July 2013
Also in July I did a days driving at GEC on "James" and a few days at Shackerstone. 3803 returned to the Battlefield Line in July and I had a go on it on its second day back in traffic during the very busy 'Rail Ale' weekend. Dr Busker again returned in 2013 and we were there to watch him at Market Bosworth on both evenings of the 'Rail Ale'. August got going right away and 14 posts appeared on this blog that month. I had three days out on the footplate of 3803 that month, and "Achilles" had two outings. We also visited two steam rallies: Cromford and the fabulous and awe inspiring Great Dorset Steam Fair at Southdown. The latter was certainly an eye opener! I was also very lucky to be invited to drive for a day once again at an extensive private 7.25" railway in Warwickshire. What a busy year!...
Great Dorset Steam Fair - Southdown - August 2013
September was here very soon and provided another 9 posts for the blog. "Achilles" had two outings and I did two days on the footplate at Shackerstone. The LEGO Railway was dusted off again during September and attended an exhibition in Hinckley. September also heralded a return to the wonderful Statfold Barn Railway where I spent two days as part of the annual Autumn open day. There were many engines in steam and myself & John spent the Open Day on new-build Quarry Hunslet "Statfold". It was a brilliant day...
Me Driving "Statfold" - September 2013 - D.Hone
October was another busy month with 11 posts in total. Outings included crewing 3803, driving "Polly V" at the annual Midlands Model Engineering Exhibition, running "Achilles" and visiting the GWSR at Winchcombe for an 'Elegant Excursion'. November, thankfully, was a little quieter with only 7 posts. Mind you, November is pretty much a dull month some times. I spotted two beautiful Black Fives, ran "Achilles" at the GEC and did a days firing on 3803. We also helped in painting "Sir Gomer" into her plain black livery and then followed her to the Epping Ongar Railway where I acted as an engine rep, along with Jason. We also attended the amazing Warley National Model Railway Show for the last time with the LEGO railway. That was a brilliant weekend and an enjoyable month...
"Black Fives by Night" - November 2013
And one of the old gal' just for fun...
"Achilles" at the GEC - November 2013
And, finally, at last, "hurrah!"...its December. With 11 posts in December it was another busy month but...to be honest...I'm not going to describe it! Its only just happened! As I have said guys you are welcome to read through any posts on this blog. Everything that has been written about here is included somewhere on this blog in greater detail. What a fantastic year 2013 has been...but very busy! Finally I must thank you all for continually reading this blog...it is a privilege to write it for you. Thank you very much for reading guys. I hope you will continue to do in 2014. Thank you. Best Regards, Sam...

Achilles Report No44: Final Call of 2013...

Hi guys. Today, with not a lot else in prospect, I thought it would be best to check over and clean "Achilles" prior to an upcoming run. The original intention was to run tomorrow but, to be honest, it is looking a little too rough so the engine will, likely as not, remain indoors. I can already hear the "he won't take 'Achilles' out in the rain" jibes as I write it! This is not the case, normally I would go for it but it is looking particularly bad, even for a day out on a full size loco. Anyway, back to today, I cleaned the tubes out (which were remarkably clean after a strong assault on the GEC track a month or two back) and emptied the smokebox. The spark arrestor equipment was then refitted and checked thoroughly. The blue tank engine was then cleaned, both on the paintwork and on the brass. The engine is still carrying her LMS-style lamps which will be repainted over the winter no doubt, as their white paint really shows the grime. If the engine doesn't run tomorrow then she will appear without fail at the RPMR Members Running Day on Saturday. Following that its winter maintenance season: one that I am looking forward to...whilst also not at the same time! "Achilles" has had a good year in 2013 and has put in some very good performances. Who knows what 2014 will bring? We'll just have to see. Happy New Year all, from Sam...

Monday, 30 December 2013

Final Turn of 2013 on 3803...

Hi there everyone. Today was my last turn of 2013 on 3803. Footplate Inspector John was booked as the Driver, with myself firing and Jamie as trainee. Our 'Mince Pie Specials' will operate until New Years Day and today was one of the post-Christmas steam haulage days. We had originally rostered "Sir Gomer" for the work but she is out of action at present and in dispose in the engine shed. The Peckett will now sit out of use for the winter, and will be repaired of course! Myself and Jamie arrived on site at just before 6:30am. Shackerstone is quite a different place in the dark. This was the scene along Platform 1 upon our arrival...
"A Winter Scene"
3803 was prepared by myself and Jamie. Jamie cleaned whilst I oiled up the large Great Western 2-8-0. Driver John also soon arrived and we enjoyed a cuppa' whilst 3803 gradually raised steam. The wind was blowing and the rain was falling: it was quite a horrendous morning in actual fact. Even so, we had a very pleasant day on the footplate. I fired the first train before handing over to Jamie for two trips, and then firing the last one. I also drove the 3rd trip which was very pleasant. 3803 was steaming very well as normal, and pulled like a beauty. Five coaches is absolutely no issue for her...we could do with another 5 or 6 on to couple up to them! Below, 3803 stands ready to back down onto the 12:30pm train...
It was a very pleasant but very quiet day on the Battlefield Line. 3803 stands ready with the 1:45pm train...
"3803 With A Quiet, Steam Heated 5-Coach Train"
All in all a very enjoyable day. I must thank John and Jamie for their company aboard the 1939-built Heavy Freight and I look forward to a no doubt fantastic steaming season at Shackerstone in 2014. Thanks very much for reading guys. Kind Regards, Sam...

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Dining on the "Severn Valley Limited"...

Hi guys. Today we made the familiar journey to the Severn Valley Railway. Yesterday I turned the ripe old age of 22 and so we had booked on the 'Severn Valley Limited' Dining Train in advance. We arrived at the SVR terminus of Kidderminster Town station at around 11:45am, well in advance for our 12:45 departure. The 'Limited' stock stood in the nearest platform being steam heated by a Midland interloper in Great Western territory. The engine was Ivatt Class 4 2-6-0 No43106, nicknamed the 'Flying Pig'. Of the 162 examples built, 43106 is the sole survivor and has spent her preservation life based at the SVR, leaving only occasionally for visits to other railways. Built in 1951, she has been on the SVR since withdrawal from BR service and is a popular, hard-working locomotive...
We boarded the Dining Train at around 12:20pm and were greeted with festively decorated tables, set ready for the 3-course meal...
The 'Flying Pig' got the train underway easily and we steamed out of Kidderminster on time. Puffing along the picturesque 16-mile route to Bridgnorth, the engine sounded in good voice. We passed a late-running rebuilt Battle of Britain Pacific "Sir Keith Park" at Bewdley and the DMU set at Highley, before pulling into Bridgnorth after finishing our starters and main courses: "Yum"! The train in the opposite platform as we arrived was about to depart behind an absolutely immaculate No2857: one of the Great Western Heavy Freight 2-8-0s; the earlier development of 3803. With a 20-minute wait in prospect, I decided to leave the train briefly and walk under the line via the road bridge towards the Bridgnorth locomotive shed. 43106 then ran round gradually...
Having chugged gently up to the home signals, 43106 backed down into the loco yard: much to everyone's surprise (many had expected a prompt return departure). The loco was backing down for coal... 
With the Class 4 taking on coal, I wandered calmly back under the line before clambering up onto the footbridge. It always amazes me how people scatter when they hear a loco whistle, or see a loco move. Many reboarded the train in fear of being left behind but one wonders..."how do they think the train will move with no locomotive on either end?". Ahh well! One thing that I always enjoy about visiting the SVR are the different rakes of coaches to be seen and enjoyed. Most of them are in very good condition too, no doubt because of the huge rolling stock shed they are kept in overnight!...
Looking over into the locomotive yard here does make you a bit jealous. 7812 "Erlestoke Manor" was being warmed up ready for service tomorrow whilst, as I've said, 43106 was in steam as was "Sir Keith Park" and 2857. Further towards the shed stood Small Prairie 4566 and Hawksworth Pannier 1501: both steam-able. Also in the yard are other engines awaiting overhaul, including 5164, the unique Stanier Mogul 42968 and "Hagley Hall". There are others about too! Wouldn't it be lovely to come in and say..."well, what loco shall we take today?"...
'Locomotives Everywhere'
I was very impressed with the LMS Dining Car which we travelled aboard. I don't think this coach belongs to the SVR but it certainly was a beautiful addition...
On the return run we enjoyed a fabulous desert, followed by a cup of tea and a hot Mince Pie. Meanwhile, up at the front, the 'Flying Pig' was living up to her name, and making herself heard...
'Very Civilised'
Soon enough we were back at Kidderminster. 43106 was uncoupled ready to run round and did the usual 'open the drain cocks to strike fear into the public'...
As we walked up towards the car park after a wonderful run and some great food, 43106 is spotted running round. I quite like this engine...
'Flying Pig'
Well, that's another dining experience done! Thanks very much for reading folks and I hope you've enjoyed scanning through. 43106 certainly proved to be an impressive loco and I wouldn't mind a go on it I can tell you! Best Regards, Sam...

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Eve Call In...

Hi guys. This morning, having left work early in celebration of Christmas Eve, I nipped over to Shackerstone for a bacon bap and a cuppa'. "Sir Gomer" was in steam again on Station Pilot duties with Carl, Pockets and David at the helm. GWR 3803 was hauling the very busy service trains, driven by Adrian and fired by Mick. I hung around for a bit; chatting and eating; before heading for home...lots to do! Best Regards, Sam...

Monday, 23 December 2013

Driving "Sir Gomer" For The Day...

Hi guys. Today I was driving "Sir Gomer" at Shackerstone. The next step from being a Fireman is to rise to the challenge of driving locomotives in the station limits. The 'station limits' is pretty much anywhere around Shackerstone station, as far as the token board near the Starter signal. This job basically allows shunting, carriage warming, stock moves and other such tasks to be undertaken. Though we were only chugging around the station, I felt rather privileged to be allowed the opportunity and on "Sir Gomer" to boot. This progression through the ranks allows more experience to be developed and utilises almost all of the skills akin to driving down the line, such as hand-signals (day and night), fixed signals, shunting principles, brake tests and applications and so on. All of these factors will hopefully allow me, one day, to become a Driver down the line: the final frontier some might say. Now, to the day in general, which started at Shackerstone shed at 6:30am. The Peckett stood at the front of the shed, behind the 38' which languished over the pit. Phil was already deep within the confines of 3803's firebox, clearing out the ash from our run with her yesterday. After greeting him, I wandered up to "Sir Gomer" and, out of habit, immediately checked the water level and the state of the firebox. All was well.

My fireman, Jason, soon arrived and began the light-up preparations. Now, the job of a Driver is quite different from that of the fireman. The fireman will concentrate on his job which is to check over the firebox and water level and ensure that the engine is safe to be lit. He/she must then light the fire and attempt to create pressure accordingly, keeping well in the lines of time, fair treatment of the locomotive and economical fuelling. The Driver is meanwhile making necessary checks, and oiling up. I first fitted the necessary "Not To Be Moved" board before looking over the locomotive. Everything must be checked: springs, pins, washers, valve gear, trimmings, brake blocks, nuts & bolts, rivets and more. The engine is checked to ensure nothing is falling off, and that everything is in place and secure. Most of these checks can be carried out by oiling round in the appropriate fashion, which allows you to pass everything in turn, and then return later for parts needing potential rectification. "Sir Gomer" is a fairly simple locomotive to work on, employing Stephenson's inside valve gear, actuating the slide valves via the four eccentrics on the centre axle. The eccentrics are coupled to the expansion links as is standard practise, and the die-block (depending on position of cut-off) is then connected to the valve spindle and moves the valve accordingly. Though simple, there are still brake hangers, slideways, crosshead slippers, gudgeon pins, coupling rod pins, crank-pin oil pots, gland packings, eccentrics, die-blocks, axlebox guides, steam brake and shaft, valve spindles and many other points to be done. There are also two mechanical lubricators to be filled and primed: one for axlebox bearings and one for the regulator lubrication. There are so many things to be considered: you can't just light a match and go. All of the time, the fireman is building pressure ready to move the engine out of the shed.

Once "Sir Gomer" had good pressure and all of the oiling was done, it was time to take her outside into the hideous morning rain. The 'Not to be Moved' board first had to be removed (by the person who put it on: me: and nobody else...that's the rule) and the engine checked over. You must check thoroughly for any scotches, hoses or other obstructions. With the road set and a shrill whistle, I edged "Sir Gomer" out of the engine shed and gently down through point No11 and onto the front of waiting ECS for the 1pm 'Deluxe Train'. The engine was then screwed down on the handbrake and put into mid-gear with the regulator firmly shut before Jason coupled up the steam heat apparatus...
I must admit that I've done a fair bit of babbling so far in this post but there is just so much to say. A lot of people don't realise the amount of work and checks that are involved in every single running day on a steam locomotive. Anyway, with the locomotive stable and secure, the heating was turned on and the train slowly began to warm up. In the meantime, we got cooking!...
It was a hideously wet day. The cold wind was howling through the cab, the rain was battering the engines new black livery and most things on the platform were blowing about. There were still a good few passengers about on our popular Santa trains but they certainly 'came and went' very quickly. As soon as they came out of the station building they scurried quickly onto the waiting trains before silence fell once again. I can't blame them either on a day like today! Below, a most welcome sausage, egg and bacon cob courtesy of "Sir Gomer"s shovel...
Fireman Jason chows down...
With the cooking done and the cobs eaten, it was time to add more coal to the fire...
Below, "Sir Gomer" stands in Platform 1 as steam can be seen leaving the coaches towards the back of the train, during the heating process...
We were then contacted by the signalman to say that 3803 was on her way with the other train and so we turned off the steam heat and decoupled before steaming over onto Platform 2 road. The engine was then screwed down again and the vacuum brake ejector tested for one last time before it was needed. The engines front bag was then removed ready to head onto the front of the stock once 3803 had moved off...
"Portrait of a Peckett"
As the day wore on we continued in the same manner, doing a little bit of shunting before a long break and then doing a little bit more shunting. "Sir Gomer" was steaming well, and easily. At regular points I checked her over and re-oiled some points as appropriate. The rain however just wouldn't let up, until the last train had arrived back. Our final job, as the light faded, was to perform an ECS move to 'shunt release' 3803 through Platform 1 and into the shed via No11. This saw "Sir Gomer" steaming across the cross-over with the ECS and halting just before the token board, ready to propel back under evening hand-signals when allowed. The engine is pictured below with the appropriate lamps...
"Evening Sir Gomer"
With 3803 clear we pushed the stock back into Platform 1 at 'dead slow' speed before halting it on the vacuum. The vacuum in the system was then destroyed and the train handbrake applied, as well as "Sir Gomer"s. The train was now secure and so we uncoupled before running "Sir Gomer" gently back into the shed via No11. The usual practise of raking through the fire and filling up the boiler then took place before the final checks were made. The engine was quite content, and secured on both the handbrake and via the traditional two scotches under the centre axle wheel. It had been a most enjoyable and successful little day on the engine and another prosperous one for the railway. "Sir Gomer" will be in steam tomorrow for Christmas Eve, alongside 3803, and will then take a break for the winter. The 38xx will be in steam over Christmas and New Year 3 or 4 times before also taking a break for the winter slumber. The railway will close on New Years Day until March. Best Regards, Sam...

Sunday, 22 December 2013

3803 Christmas Finale...

Hi guys. Today was my final booked turn of 2013 aboard the GWR 2-8-0 No3803, at Shackerstone. The locomotive will be working our trains up until Tuesday and will then be retired for a week or so before a run on New Years Day. The crew aboard the 38xx today consisted of myself, Driver Brian and Trainee Fireman Richard. We all arrived at around 5:30am in hideous heavy rain. The howling wind was raging outside as we sheltered inside the engine shed. I immediately clambered aboard a still very warm 3803, who had around 30psi on the gauge from yesterdays exploits. The 2-8-0s firebox was dry and she had a strong water level, sat close to the top-nut. The next job is to do the unthinkable...climb into a hot firebox and clear out the ash on the grate. Some firemen tend to avoid this horrendous task by fumbling around with the fire-irons for a good while, but going inside yourself allows a more thorough check of internal parts such as stays, rivets, tubes, flues, fusibles and the brick arch to be carried out. With a brush in your hand, you can also sweep all of the ash: as quickly as possible: onto the rocking section of the grate and then evacuate promptly. It is very hot in there and you come out looking like you've just fell in the canal. But...these are the things we do for the love of steam engines!

With the water strong, the firebox dry and the grate cleared, it was time to light the fire. As usual, a 1-lump thick bed of coal was added across the grate to stop cold air coming through, as well as to give the flames 'something to bite on'. We then had a few bits of dry wood to pile on top, probably about a pallet's worth in total. The wood was then doused in paraffin before a handful of dirty cleaning rags were added to get the fire burning. "3 2 1...Ignition!". Immediately the fire roared into life and was given a minute or so to get going before coal was added. My technique with the 38', particularly when she's already hot, is to take my time. You want to take as much heat from the wood as possible and get the coal burning well before you lose it. I wait until the wood is burning brightly and then black it out with a mound of coal. The flames will just be creeping through once you've added around 6 or 7 good shovelful's. Leave this to burn with the back damper open and no blower and then return at regular intervals to check. Adding more coal will eventually create a burning wedge in the box and this can then be gradually edged forward using the long-iron to catch the rest of the coal further down the grate. I try to avoid using the blower for as long as possible as we don't want to bring these big engines around too quickly. Quicker expansion equals more potential boiler or firebox damage. Here, the wedge is roaring away...
"Fire in the Hole"
Gradually, with the good wedge at the back being slowly edged forwards, the 38' made pressure. The steam levels certainly seemed to creep up well with no blower at all. The baffle plate should be fitted before use of the blower begins anyhow. The engine came around beautifully with very little coaxing. I must admit I am very impressed with this Russian coal we are using at the minute. It produces high heat levels, obviously due to its high carbon content, though it is quite smoky. By 8:15am, fully oiled and with around 200psi on the clock, the 38' steamed over onto Platform 2 road to begin heating the 10am classic train. Even now she was only on marginal blower to keep the smoke out of the cab. The Peckett was also in full steam, heating the 11:30am Deluxe train. "My my we were on the ball today!"...
"Sir Gomer on Carriage Warming"
With time to spare, I decided to decorate 3803. The engine carried tinsel, beads and bells which is just what the customer ordered on 'Santa Special' days. The engine was also very clean with the barrel having been polished and the brass-work buffed up. Todays 5 trains were most enjoyable, with the new timetable of 3 x Classic runs and 2 x Deluxe runs being in operation once again...
I fired the first and fourth trips, with Richard doing the rest under my supervision. Richard is one of the railways very competent trainees and will no doubt be passed out in his role as a Fireman quite shortly. Below, 3803 stands at Market Bosworth with the fully-booked 1pm Classic...
I think all but the last of todays trains was fully booked, and even the one that wasn't was almost full! This year certainly seems to have been a success for the railway, and rightly so. Below, the 2:30pm Deluxe stands at Shenton following a slightly late arrival...
"Festive 38"
The 4pm Classic: our last trip: was, as usual, taken in complete darkness. This is always a festive experience and most enjoyable. Following this, 3803 was retired to the loco shed for disposal after a long and busy day. Best Regards, Sam...