Sunday, 22 June 2014

Fourth Time "Alice": A Gremlin In The Ranks...

Hi everyone. Well, we arose this morning to yet another sunny morning, though feeling a little 'beached' after those 3-courses last night: cheers Ed! I thought for this post that I'd include more pictures and ramble less as most BLR outings are generally fault free and easy going. However, the fickle finger of fate which caused "Achilles" to implode the other day had found its way to Wales today, and "Alice" and her crew were in for a day of it! (For those not regularly reading, the 'it' in this case is a series of unfortunate events!). It was another 8:30am start at the shed (much more leisurely I feel than 5:30am!) and "Alice" was soon being dragged out into the morning sun by "Trigger"...
"Alice" ready for uncoupling and prep (so far, so good!)...
At 9am, a coal fire is now lit and the engine is singing merrily away in the sunshine whilst Eddie cleans the brass...
We went for tea as usual at 10am and I enjoyed my daily ham & cheese Panini (don't judge me I'm on my holidays!). When we returned to the shed, "Alice" was simmering away nicely with about 50psi on the clock and a light, bright fire: unlike "Achilles" who's wheel would have fallen off by now! A coach party on a 'Great Little Trains of Wales' excursion soon arrived and we were only too happy to discuss the engine and her workings with them before leaving shed. Leaving shed, the first problem occurred: "Alice" 'coughed' (primed) all over my brand new white shirt..."damn"! One expects a dirty shirt by about midday, but not before the first train...ahh well...moving on. At the coal heap I, unbelievably, managed to coal the engine without falling out of the wagon as would have probably happened with todays luck, before the engine was put at the head of the 11:15am train. We left on time in a good state, before a fallen telegraph wire was almost cut-up by "Alice". The wire had simply come loose...no matter, we'd stop on the way back. On the way back, having been held up at Bala, we stopped, losing about another 3 minutes and using more steam to start up and attack the bank from stationary. Nevertheless, "Alice" did well. The run round at the base was brisk but correct, though we only had 4 minutes before the next departure due to our lateness. We left slightly late with the next train (an annoyance of ours!), only to be held up at Bala losing further time. There was also a wait at Llangower on this train and so the break at the base was lost again. Nevertheless, we battled on. On this trip, with me firing again, the hot weather was beginning to cause me injector problems. But, with some tweaking, they kept working. Eddie runs "Alice" round here at Bala with the just-arrived 2:25pm train...
Oiling before the return...
A portrait of "Alice"...
"Alice" runs passed the ground frame which I had just used to allow her access back onto the main line during the run round...
"Alice" is seen here having just backed on to the bang on time return run...
Here I am seen doing up the slightly (much!) lighter than standard gauge screw link coupling...
Here, "Alice" is marching along beautifully with the returning train, leaving Bala...
However, the gremlin then struck again as "Alice"s firemans side injector refused to play ball. A combination of the hot weather, warm feed-water and some crud in the feed line was the cause I believe. Having used the drivers injector for most of the run to Llangower, I had managed to sort the problem with the fireman's side as we continued for home, still on time. With the crud freed and the injector working perfectly again, "Alice" left Llangower only a minute or two down, steaming well and in fine form...
Eddie: looking like Toad of Toad Hall in this picture for some reason: was pleased, as was I, that time was kept in difficult circumstances...
However, true to form, the fine fickle finger of fate then appeared from the clouds and a problem with the track was spotted ahead. "Alice" was carefully brought to a stop before assistance was called. The problem wasn't serious but did require some P-Way tools to sort. As quickly as possible, the train was secured and the passengers informed of the slight delay before "Trigger" and the very reliable BLR track team appeared. The track was rectified to a high standard in quick time, rigorously checked and then given the OK. They were very efficient I must admit. There was then the time-saving suggestion of "Trigger" hauling us back to save the diesel having to clear the section with the token before we could continue, as per the rules. However, the gremlin struck yet again as the tow bar had been left behind! The diesel then returned to the base before we were allowed to continue, at full steam, on our journey. "Alice" romped up the bank with the returning train in good voice, though was very 'hot' from standing at the foot of the bank with a good fire (we had been ready to attack you see, before we stopped). Therefore, as well as arriving at 4pm: the next departure time(!): "Alice" blew off...a cardinal sin! The gremlin strikes again!...
"Alice" Blows Off
We ran the little engine round as quickly as possible, but not before Eddie accidently soaked my shirt with the hose as he removed it from the tank...this gremlin certainly knew how to do the job right! The last train left 15 minutes down unfortunately, but it could have been much more if the team hadn't been so effective and the engine so reliable. The passengers certainly understood and we received many pleasant comments as to how the day was handled in sometimes trying circumstances. Well done everyone! We completed the last journey without mishap (thank goodness) and "Alice" returned easily with happy passengers. It had been a most eventful day, and far more stressful than usual...but interesting none the less! After all the thank you's and goodbyes, it was time for home again with a 120-mile journey ahead. Cheers guys, Sam...

Saturday, 21 June 2014

I Don't Believe It..."Alice" Again...

Hi guys. When we did our first Bala Lake trip of the year last month, we were in disbelief at the weather forecast: wall to wall sun! This gave us the chance to take the open-top sports car of a Quarry Hunslet that is the wonderful "Alice". That weekend we enjoyed two marvellous days with the red 0-4-0 and it couldn't have been better. This time we were planning torrential storms fit only for a cabbed engine like "Maid Marian". However, despite our depressing predictions, we could not have been more wrong. There must have been some kind of special planet alignment in a parallel universe somewhere lightyears away as, unbelievably, the sun was shining on Bala again! Eddie commented that in his 15 years of crewing for the BLR, he has never had "Alice" twice on the bounce! We were so pleased to wake up this morning to sunshine and take "Alice" again. On a day like today, there is no better engine. We arrived at the engine shed ready to go at the usual start time of 8:30am, before setting to work. Tubes cleaned, smokebox swept, ashpan emptied and fire lit, "Alice" simmers on shed...
Here, the diesel locomotive "Bob Davis" (known as "Trigger") performs her daily duty of dragging out the stock ready for cleaning, whilst "Alice" looks on under blue skies...
Having enjoyed a leisurely preparation, we took a sparkling "Alice" up to the headshunt for coal & water at around 10:45am. By 11am, the loco was stood simmering nicely at the head of the train, patiently awaiting the first departure...
Today was one of those wonderfully easy days. We each fired two trips, and drove two trips, with pleasant company in Bobby as the Guard. "Alice", as usual, was in very good form and performed well during this, one of her countless 40-mile day's out...
"Leaving a Sunny Llangower"
After four very enjoyable journeys, we disposed of "Alice" before scraping off the grime and later heading down to the Eagles again. "Come on Eddie, surely not 3-courses again?...If you insist". Cheers guys, Sam...

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Llangollen Railway...

Hi all. Today myself & Eddie were on route to Bala again. Our normal route takes us via Knockin, over the pass and down into Bala on little used mountain roads. However, the alternative route along the A5 takes you through Llangollen and, on a lovely day like today, a visit to the railway was on the cards! I hadn't been to Llangollen for years and as it was probably the first ever time that we've been heading to Bala and the railway hasn't been running a Thomas event, it seemed a good time to call in. As we gradually neared the town, a huge selection of hideously slow moving agricultural vehicles almost seemed to have put pay to our 3:05pm train ride: the last run of the day on the midweek timetable. Luckily, on time and tractor free, we made it with a bit of time to spare. As promised on the website, the wonderful BR Standard Class 4MT Tank No80072 was on service and stood glistening in the platform at the head of a 5-coach train...
Having spotted the tank, Eddie was in his element. He is a big fan of Cox; a man very influential in steam locomotive design of the period, and he of course did have a hand in the making of the Standard Classes. In 1958 for example, Cox became the Assistant Chief Mechanical Engineer. For anyone who isn't in the know, the Standard Classes were designed by BR following nationalisation and took almost everything good from previous steam locomotive designs to make them reliable performers whilst also providing ease of maintenance and making them more user friendly. The Standard Class 4 was no exception, with outside Walschaerts valve gear employing both oil pots and grease nipples, as well as seats in the cab for the crew, both injectors on the fireman's side, good weather-proofing, rocking grate, rocking ashpan and so on. They were very well thought out designs and I know it will please Eddie to read that I thought that! With a boiler pressure of 225psi and cylinders at 18" x 24", the 4MT's were powerful engines and carried 2000 gallons of water. The total class output was 155, and 15 have been preserved. 80072, based at Llangollen, was built in 1953 and had a working life of only 12 years, having been withdrawn in July 1965 and sent to Barry. Rescued in 1988, the engine returned to steam after a pain staking restoration a couple of years ago. It was soon time to board the blood & custard liveried coaches ready for our ride to Carrog...
"The Best of Cox: 80072"
The Llangollen provides a beautiful journey, particularly on a day like today. The track seems to snake through various wooded glades and then across open fields, following the winding course of the River Dee. The Standard Class 4 was certainly in good voice and the driver was definitely giving her some 'last run of the day stick'. With four very loud equal beats leaving her chimney and echoing through the trees, the big black 2-6-4 was soon at Berwyn...
Leaving Berwyn, 80072 made a cracking start, rocking from side to side as she accelerated the train in no doubt second valve!...
"The Land Is A Blur as 80072 Tears Along"
The shut-off for Carrog came as a great disappoint as we could have quite happily listened to the roaring tones of 80072 all day long. Soon enough though, the engine was simmering at Carrog as the trainee fireman uncoupled the stock...
The big 2-6-4 duly ran round at the current terminus, as the sun continued to shine...
A rear view portrait of 80072, showing her elegant and yet very powerful looks...
The loco was then recoupled for the return journey, before a break of about 25 minutes ensued. During this time, the fairly chatty driver came to talk to myself and Ed. We managed to extract most thoughts about the line's locomotives from him and, to our surprise, he said that the Standard Class 4 was..."a good engine, but she ain't no Manor". This gentleman was clearly, as he stated, "a Western man", meaning he liked to drive engines standing up, tender first in sleet & snow...and fair play to him. Jokes aside the Western's have many pro's to be admired but, to me, the Standard Classes give out very good performances whilst also providing the creature comfort required for us preservation amatuers! Before long, 80072 was cruising back along the winding route towards Llangollen, taking it a little easier on this flatter run...
Back at Llangollen after an enjoyable run, 80072 took a well earned break: another beautiful old gal...
"80072"
It was then time to walk back up into the village to fetch the car and continue on to Bala. 80072 is seen here from the road bridge...
A last look at 80072 and Llangollen Station, alongside the beautiful River Dee...
"A Wonderful Setting"
Following this enjoyable visit it took us around 45 minutes to make Bala and, after a wash & brush up, it was off to the Eagles for, yes, as Eddie is with me, he insisted on three courses again! Cheers guys, Sam...

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Achilles Report No58: Returning to Steam...

Hi everyone. Today, at long last, "Achilles" appeared at her home track of the Ryton Pool Miniature Railway (CMES) once more. This appearance was her debut/trial steaming in operation, as she had only run whilst on blocks so far. The blue tank engine was unloaded from the slightly bemused BMW (its first meeting with steam locomotive grime!) onto the approach line at around 5pm, and the engine was duly steamed up. Everything, so far, was going to plan. Hooked up to the trusty RPMR-liveried driving truck, the loco came around nicely and was soon ready for action...
With a loud whistle, the locomotive hissed gently forward, expelling lots of water from her cylinder drains. The engine was then moved over, via the traverser, to the run-up-rail. Here I decided that it would be a good idea to 'warm' the cylinders before 'going mad' and heading out onto the track because, once you're out there, if you drop to bits you're stuck! Slowly but surely, "Achilles" trundled down to the carriage shed and then back up, and down, and back up. After a few runs back and forth the exhaust seemed less condensed (less condensation in the steam circuit/cold cylinders) so I decided to try the track. Through the bendy beam we went and then came the third consecutive oiling inside of 10 minutes. Due to the addition of the four new trunnion bearings and the rear pair of brand new axleboxes, the loco was heavily oiled so as to prevent any running hot. Soon enough, it was time to take the plunge. I climbed aboard the truck, selected forward gear and opened the regulator...my face wincing at the no doubt approaching self-destructing explosion! But, wait...it hadn't blown up...all was well...it even moved...and the bells of hallelujah rang down from the heavens! Easily and freely, "Achilles" steamed around the track and past the carriage shed before attacking the bank in gentle fashion. Half way up, I stopped to check her over. All was well and everything was working: spot on. So I continued, through the station and back to the steaming bay where the loco was watered. The blue tank then steamed further on and made a few consecutive laps but was definitely not her usual self. The various checking-over stops did allow the newly painted loco to be photographed though...
The laps continued and the loco, though fighting with me a bit, continued to run herself in at her own pace. And then, just like the never-ending hanging of the "Achilles" repair albatross around my neck, the fine fickle finger of fate pointed down from the sky and burst the steam pipe to the cylinders..."cheers mate". In reality my suspicions were aroused by the lack of steaming ability. The engine was struggling to even keep 50psi whilst on the run (very unlike her) and the fire refused to remain bright no matter how much rock you put on it. The constant jousting match with the fire irons provided little aid and my intuition of "if you think its not broke it probably is" came into play. I've got into the mentality now of model steam engines..."if you're having a problem, and thinking its a simple fix, think again...and get your spanners out". To be fair though, I have been through the mill a bit of late...if I think its a coal problem the back wheels will probably fall off...etc. Anyway, enough of my moaning...the loco was retired from the track after I discovered a fracture on the nipple which joins with its nut to connect the steam pipe to the steam chests. This repair will require removal of the spark arrestor, blower, superheater and wet header...I cannot wait...*insert hideously sarcastic face here*. Ahh well, another learning curve. However, there is one thing, my anger will ensure that the locomotive gets repaired, some way, some how...
Achilles - "Better Luck Next Time, Sam"
Thank you for reading guys and look out for an "Achilles" post no doubt in the near future, either documenting its repair or its conversion to electric! Best Regards, Sam...

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Kirklees Light Railway...

Hi guys. Today, whilst in the Bradford area, myself and Eddie decided to head slightly off course and take in a first time visit to the 15" gauge Kirklees Light Railway at Clayton West. The railway operates during midweek from Wednesday onwards at this time of the year so we thought that it would be rude not to call in. The KLR runs for 3.5 miles through the picturesque scenery of the Yorkshire countryside. The trackbed originally carried the standard gauge metals of a branch line which formed part of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, but this was closed in 1983. The 15" gauge formation was begun in midsummer 1990, with train services starting in October 1991 following the presenting of a Light Railway Order. The first stage of the KLR included only a mile of track, running as far as Cuckoo's Nest. The line was then extended to Skelmanthorpe in 1992 and further on to the current terminus of Shelley in 1997, giving the full 3.5 mile run. Most of the materials used to construct the railway came redundant from old collieries in the area, aiding the construction process massively. We arrived at the base station of Clayton West in time to catch the 11:40 train for Shelley, which duly arrived behind "Fox", a 1987-built 2-6-2 based on the Hunslet design, in shining red livery...
The KLR has four home-based steam locomotives, all of which were built by experimental engineer Brian Taylor: the railways founder. "Fox" was the first engine, completed in 1987, followed by "Badger" in 1991 and "Hawk" in 1998. The final engine to make up the foursome is "Owl", a most unusual 2000-built 0-4-4-0 bogie locomotive which employs gears and prop-shafts (similar to the American Shay locomotives) to provide drive to its four driving axles. The pioneer KLR locomotive "Fox" ran round briskly during the short layover at Clayton West and took up her place at the head of the 11:40 departure. Here we see the large cab...
Here, "Fox" is seen not long before departure as myself and Eddie prepare to take our seats...
"Ready to Go"
Leaving Clayton West, "Fox" immediately began climbing, though was fairly quiet in her voice as she hauled the 4-coach train. Rocking from side to side at a modest 12mph or so, the train rattled towards Shelley through the pretty countryside...
After passing through Cuckoo's Nest and Skelmanthorpe, "Fox" passed through the impressive 511-yard long Shelley Woodhouse Tunnel, obviously built to standard gauge proportions! The tunnel is the longest to feature on any 15" gauge railway line in Britain and is certainly an experience to leisurely pass through. Before long, we arrived at the terminus station of Shelley and the shining "Fox" was duly ran round via the turntable...
The locomotive took on water at Shelley, and the driver briskly oiled round whilst "Fox" happily simmered away...
Another capture of "Fox"...
2-6-2 1987-built Side Tank Engine "Fox"
Having climbed easily all the way up the line, "Fox" enjoyed a 'gravity trip' back down, with the driver seemingly only using the regulator to get the train up to line speed before shutting off for most of the run. "Fox" was certainly able to rest on this journey. Here I took a picture of the impressive standard gauge tunnel as we approach from Shelley...
Upon arrival back at Clayton West, the ever hard working "Fox" was run round again ready for the 12:50 departure. At this point we were about to leave until I was unexpectedly asked onto the footplate for a run with the driver up to Shelley. This was rather a surprise but one that, naturally, I couldn't pass up. Leaving on time, "Fox" began the climb towards Shelley and then climbed all the way. It seemed a lot 'flatter' when aboard the coaches but "Fox" was certainly working well. Little wheels coupled to large pistons and cylinders give her a surprising amount of tractive effort and the driver (Ian) explained that on a dry rail the loco will handle up to 7 loaded coaches rather than todays 4. He drove the engine on fairly minimal regulator and linked up to about 30% which certainly made her run. She kept an easy 10-12mph for most of the run and steamed very well on the Russian coal she was being fired on. Here, we climb the straight track towards Cuckoo's Nest...
As "Fox" chugged merrily along, it was quite an enjoyable experience being aboard a KLR engine. I was very much looking forward to passing through the tunnel, and that time soon arrived...
"There May Be Tunnel Ahead"
In the tunnel the strong headlight of "Fox" was switched on, as well as a handy cab light. The loco whistled loudly as we exited the large tunnel mouth and continued on course for Shelley. The steam-operated drain cocks, air brakes, strong injectors and large all-welded steel box all seemed to be in favour for "Fox". She is a very nice little engine. At Shelley I thanked Ian before leaving the footplate, and "Fox" duly ran round...
For the return gravity run Eddie was on the footplate whilst I rode in the coaches and we were soon back at Clayton West. Ian kindly said that we could walk into the engine sheds to look at "Badger", "Hawk" and "Owl", all three of which stood silent in the loco shed. "Hawk" in particular looked like a powerful engine, with articulated bogies set out in Garrett formation. She made "Fox" look like a bit of a toy!...
The Powerful 0-4-4-0 Locomotive "Hawk"
Having looked at the engines we decided that we should continue in our quest...(more on that in a few weeks!). It had been a very enjoyable visit to the Kirklees Light Railway and I must say that it is a very pleasant, friendly little line. Thanks for reading guys and thank you very much to Ian for allowing myself & Eddie to ride with him on "Fox": a grand wee experience. Best Regards, Sam...

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Diesel Shunting at Shackerstone...

Hi all. A busy but uneventful day today at Shackerstone. I arrived at 10:30am and was immediately put to work driving the Class 02 Diesel Hydraulic shunter "Diane". We (myself on the 02 and Jason on the 73) were shunting various parts of the shed and the south yard in order to move "Sir Gomer", "Dunlop No7" and retrieve some wagons from the south cutting. This job went on for a few hours and I also shovelled seemingly endless amounts of ash from the pit. Myself and Jason then joined the gang on 'Jessie' for the 3pm round trip behind GWR 3803 before heading for home afterwards. A tiring but rewarding little day! Cheers guys, Sam...

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Statfold Grandeur with "Trangkil No4"...

Hi everyone. Yet again today myself & John had kindly been invited to crew a locomotive at the Statfold Barn Railway, this time for their summer open day. A total of 13 of the SBR locomotives were in steam and the day began, as usual, at 6am on shed. The weather forecast was a mixture of thundery storms and sunshine though, as we lit the engines, the dark clouds were already rolling in. Myself and John were rostered on the much admired Hunslet 0-4-2 "Trangkil No4", built in 1971. "Trangkil" was the last steam locomotive to be built at Hunslet's Jack Lane works and was supplied new to the Trangkil sugar mill estate, Java, Indonesia. She worked out there for 33 years before being made redundant and was repatriated in 2004 to become part of the Statfold collection and was thoroughly restored. Since then she has become a regular and reliable SBR performer and we were glad to be aboard her today. I lit "Trangkil" up at 6am after the usual inspection, and continued to tend the fire and clean the brasswork throughout the morning. Trainee firewoman Caroline was oiling around the engine, whilst driver John joined in with the cleaning. By 7:30am, the engine was beginning to look smart...
Just after 8am, having had our breakfast and a cuppa', we were asked to leave shed and join "Marchlyn" at the head of the first train. As a positioning move, after the 9am safety briefing we would steam down the line, double-headed with "Marchlyn", and traverse the balloon loop before halting in the platform at Oak Tree Halt, where the Avonside would return to Statfold leaving us behind. As we left shed, the rain came down and we even spotted some lightning in between the regular crashes of thunder. Later, with the safety briefing complete, we returned to the engines and were prepared for the off. With a green signal and a right-away from the Guard, "Marchlyn" and "Trangkil" steamed out into the fields. Having run down the line and around the balloon loop as planned, the pair romped back up the bank and were separated at Oak Tree. The powerful 0-4-2 "Trangkil" is spotted here after the Avonside had left...
Leaving Oak Tree after having been passed by the first freight train, "Trangkil" steamed easily back up to Statfold Junction on a light, bright fire. The 160psi blowing off pressure was easily maintained and the Gresham & Craven injectors certainly provided great boiler filling capacity when required. Having had a successful first run, we returned to the shed to join the queue behind about 3 engines, meaning that 3 round trips would take place before we'd be required again. This layover allowed time for a cuppa' whilst "Trangkil" simmered merrily away to herself quietly. For the second trip, Caroline fired and we enjoyed another swift, easy but very wet journey. Following a second layover, "Trangkil" was out again, this time facing chimney first and with myself on the shovel again. This Hunslet was supplied new with a brilliantly quirky steam generator and electric lighting. She has both front and rear headlamps with both dim & full beam settings, as well as a cab light too. The generator; mounted on the drivers side near the smokebox, provides good lighting with minimal steam consumption as the input is 'governed' internally by a winding mechanism. So, for the third run at about 1pm, we thought we'd again demonstrate the lighting across the dark fields. Here, "Trangkil" arrives at Oak Tree with her very wet third journey. Note the brightly shining electric (but steam generated!) headlamp!...
"The Bright Light of Trangkil" (Pic by Geoffs Pages)
After another very enjoyable run on our third journey, "Trangkil" was proving to be a consistent and powerful performer and, apart from the occasional sticking of the backhead injector clacks, she was pretty much fault-free! Having enjoyed yet another coffee whilst on shed, John allowed me to drive our fourth and final journey at around 2:30pm. The weather, as if by magic, had changed dramatically and, if you compare the image below to the one above, you can hardly believe it! "Trangkil" is unusual to drive in a way, when light engine, as she doesn't have a steam brake, only a handbrake, and that is operated by the fireman as it stands on the opposite side of the cab to the driver. Throughout the day I'd been working the brake when light engine, but when myself & John swapped you almost felt out of control when driving! Still, as soon as you were on the train and had the luxury of air braking to stop you, all was well again. "Trangkil" was very pleasant to drive and was another good experience. She was very responsive and enjoyable to work, and the 'full size' Britannia chime whistle is certainly a popular item to play with! Here, I drive "Trangkil" around the bottom bend ready to climb the bank...
"Driving Trangkil" (Pic by Geoffs Pages)
Here I am opening the regulator slightly wider to get the weight of the train well underway at the foot of the bank. The loco climbed the bank beautifully in second notch on the reverser and about half regulator...
"Opening Up" (Pic by Geoffs Pages)
Here is a quick capture of mine when the sun went in again, showing John oiling up the large 0-4-2 ready for some shunting and the finale cavalcade...
Having performed some shunting, we took "Trangkil" down the line for the cavalcade under instructions from the signalbox at just after 5pm. All 13 locomotives again joined the line-up prior to the big finale whistle...
In front of us for the cavalcade stood the shining example of 'Big is Beautiful': Bagnall 4-4-0 "Isibutu". "Isibutu" had ran down with GP39 the Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0...
Following the cavalcade and many blasts on "Trangkil"s very loud whistle, we returned the 13 locomotives to the shed frontage where they were all disposed. "Trangkil" was disposed, cleaned and checked before we headed off for something to eat after a most enjoyable day. I must thank John & Caroline for their company as well as Phil and the owners of Statfold Barn for allowing us to crew for them again: we always have a lovely time. Another fantastic day on the footplate! Best Regards, Sam...