Thursday, 31 December 2015

Happy New Year: The Goodbye 2015 Review...

Well everyone, its "hi" from me for the last time in 2015. The last day of the year is upon us and so begins my review of the last 12 months. As usual, ,there's too much to say in one post so I'll try to condense it as much as I can. There have been a lot of highs and lows this year, spread over 109 posts which all feature on this blog. To begin the review I suppose we'd better start with my railway of eight years: Shackerstone, otherwise known as The Battlefield Line. 2015 began with a New Years Day driving turn on 2884 Class 2-8-0 No3803...
During the early part of the year, a small team based at Shackerstone undertook the repaint of No3803 into BR Plain Black livery. The transformation is featured in detail on this blog - click here to read the story. Steam trains returned to the fields of Bosworth in March, hauled by visiting 5101 Class 2-6-2 No4141. I crewed 41' twice during its stay on the old ANJR metals and am seen below on a driving turn during the Steam Up weekend...
"Driving 5101 Class No4141" (Pic - D.Hanks)
Despite my upsets with certain individuals, I continued to volunteer on the railway and had some very enjoyable days driving No3803. My final day with late coming companion 'Eddie the Late' took place in May: the end of an era...
My final driving turn at Shackerstone came in September: the second of a pair of outings with visiting Austerity 0-6-0 "Cumbria" - hired in to deputise in the aftermath of the demise of 3803. The last day on "Cumbria" was enjoyed in the company of my good friends Mick & Julia and we had a very pleasant day aboard the red industrial...
"Last Day with Cumbria Selfie" (Pic - J.Ross)
Those that know me will know what a hard decision it was to give up on Shackerstone. It wasn't the railway (I wish it every success), it was just certain individuals which seemed determined to cause upset to others. A lot of my fellow driver mates had left too for very similar reasons, further reducing my enthusiasm. It was a real shame and, in truth, I'm still gutted (but what can you do?). Moving swiftly on, 2015 saw some more very pleasant outings crewing at the wonderful Statfold Barn Railway...
In March we had the wonderful Bagnall "Isibutu" whilst in June I had a faultless day driving the Peckett 0-6-0 "Harrogate" - memories of both are greatly treasured...
"Driving the SBR Peckett" (Pic - G.Cryer)
Statfold continues to be great fun for us lucky enginemen who are kindly invited to drive & fire for them at their open days. If you haven't visited yet, I can highly recommend it. We'll (hopefully) have three more open days to help with in 2016 and of course the new improved MTEW event has now moved venue to the SBR. The SBR's brand new 'Miniature Steam Rally' will take place over April 23rd/24th. Going further down the gauges, I am led to talk about my Miniature Locomotives...
Both "Maisie" and "Achilles" have had occasional outings this year, being juggled around between work commitments and railway commitments. The C1 is now awaiting a steam test whilst "Achilles" should be out and about tomorrow on New Years Day. The latter has had a lot more repair work carried out during the year, holding back running until recently. A newcomer on the scene for me in 2015 was the Evesham Vale Light Railway...
Naturally, as seen on this blog, I've visited the EVLR many times in the past but the driving/firing side was pretty new to me. I had my first turn in April aboard Exmoor No312 "St Egwin" and thoroughly enjoyed it. Since then I think I've done six turns in total. Its a lovely little railway, nestling in the pretty setting of Evesham Country Park. Another newcomer for me in 2015 was Tyseley Locomotive Works...
Due to the demise of my commitment to Shackerstone, a friend of mine suggested that Tyseley were looking for volunteers to help with their main line stud of ex-Great Western locomotives. Naturally I was very interested and went along in early October for a day in the shed. Since then I've had the chance to fire and drive Pannier L94 and been out on main line trips behind 4965 and 5043 respectively. Thus far, Tyseley has provided a very rewarding and encouraging experience...
Seeing these mighty engines in action on Network Rail metals is now the only true way to capture the magic of the bygone age of steam. Preserved railways have the unrivalled ability to recreate the atmosphere of the past but, allas, all are limited to 25mph running when the public are involved. Experiencing a well looked after engine like "Rood Ashton Hall" tearing along in between modern day commuter services is really something to treasure. Finally, just for fun, lets mention just some of the Days Out...
In January I paid my annual freezing visit to the Great Central's Winter Gala whilst in February we were at Chasewater to wave off RSH 0-6-0 'Nechells No4'...
MTEW returned to Market Bosworth in April (and was a great success despite diesel haulage on the railway) before my 'wind down' holiday in Devon a month later. In glorious May sunshine, Heavy Tank No4277 "Hercules" stands at Kingswear during a lunch break alongside the River Dart...
June's big day out was the much blogged about 'Great Manx Adventure'. We did ALL FIVE of the Isle of Man's main railways in a day, flying out from Liverpool. It was a great experience and a real pleasure, having learnt to deal with the local cuisine and mastered the phrase book. Ed even squeezed in a 'Three Course Challenge'. Again, you can read all about it on this blog...
July saw a rare summer visit (we normally only do Winter diners!) to the Severn Valley Railway. Two Bullied Pacific's were in action, including 34027 "Taw Valley"...
August soon came around and we had an impromptu return to Bala. 'Eddie the Late' accompanied me on this grand day as part of "Jack Lane"s Welsh holiday...
"Eddie The Late Loves A McDonalds"
We had been sent to Wales to 'Engine Rep' for "Jack Lane" (an SBR resident). For us, it was an easy day and like 'coming home', having driven and fired the Bala Lake a few times in recent years. It was a lovely day...
I had a few more little outings later in the year, ending on Boxing Day with a brief visit to the GCR for a ride behind the huge 9F class No92214...
Well, I suppose I should end it there folks. Its been another mad year with steam, but another very enjoyable one. I'm enjoying volunteering at places like Tyseley, Statfold and Evesham and am managing to vary my interest with days out to other railways and preservation centres. I must thank the many friends I've amassed through the heritage sector, and of course thank recurring blog characters such as JB, Gay Dave and master of the 'Three Course Challenge' and everyone's favourite late arrival Eddie the Late. I must also thank the photographers who kindly send me in photographs for use on the blog when I haven't had chance to taken any on a given day - thank you. Finally, I must thank YOU, the readers, for continuing to read this complete and utter tosh - I really appreciate it. So, without further ado, its a Happy New Year from me and here's to another fine year with steam - Happy 2016 Everyone. Here's wishing you good coal, strong oils and plentiful quantities of steam. All the best, Sam...

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Evesham Vale: A Day with "St Egwin"...

Hi everyone. Today I was rostered to drive at the Evesham Vale Light Railway. Having enjoyed a pleasant run along the A46 through the Warwickshire countryside, I arrived at the nearby McDonalds at just before 8am. The obligatory breakfast was then devoured whilst listening to the news on Radio 4. Stomach replenished, I drove the last couple of miles to Evesham Country Park and the EVLR's base of Twyford Station. Having said "hello" to owners Adrian & Sandra, I signed in before heading to the shed frontage. On the roster for today was "St Egwin": Exmoor No312 of 2003. This large 0-4-0 tender engine has been featured on the blog many times in the past and I was pleased that I would be driving her today. Having rolled No312 out of the shed and into the morning air, I immediately set to preparing the engine. The smokebox, firebox and gauge glasses were all checked before the grate was cleaned and a fresh fire lit...
Evesham engines come round with the aid of a compressed air line. With the fire just beginning to take, you simply connect the airline to a fitting attached to the smokebox and set the air to the desired feed. It is normally set so that it just keeps the smoke out of the cab, thus gently drawing the heat from the embryo fire through the tubes via the vacuum being created. "St Egwin" is a pretty engine; beautifully proportioned I feel...
With the fire lit and taking nicely, it wasn't long before "St Egwin" began to sing away to herself. I meanwhile set to with the cleaning tasks: Peek for the Brasses, Pledge for the Paintwork. Just before 10am, the engine was shining and looked a picture in the morning sunlight. I couldn't believe my luck with todays weather! The final task was to oil up. Exmoor engines are simple beasts in this regard: the bearings are all roller bearings and require a light greasing only, whilst half a dozen trimming pots and a few dotted oiling points are all she needs to keep her moving on the bearing oil side. With a blob of steam oil on each die block too, the oiling/greasing was soon over. When Exmoor built these engines, they certainly knew how to make them easy to look after! With a pip on her whistle and the hissing of steam escaping from her drain cocks, No312 moved gently off shed as the groaning yard points squealed beneath her. Leaving shed on the EVLR, you steam out to the mouth of the yard before halting for a blow-down. The blowing down process is carried out each morning before the first train and loses roughly 1/2 a glass of water, expelling harmful lime deposits which may otherwise settle inside the boiler. The engine is seen here prior to blowing down...
Soon enough, "St Egwin" was ready and waiting with the 10:30am departure from Twyford...
Slightly late (as we thought we'd have no passengers until some turned up at the last minute), "St Egwin" steamed triumphantly out of Twyford on the first run of the day. There isn't a big requirement to leave the drains open for too long as the engine is a saturated type, doing away with the hideously long steam circuit often found on superheated engines - once the condensate is expelled, shut the drains and carry on. "Egwin" steamed easily to the summit of the first climb, before dropping down gently towards Evesham Vale. The engine is seen there, awaiting departure on the 11:30 trip...
Once back at Twyford, the engine is uncoupled and then turned in readiness for the next trip. Trainee Guard Graham - "Yam Yam" (another ex-Shack man) - takes the strain of No312 as he turns her ready for the Midday train...
The weather really was beautiful today. The EVLR is a very pretty little railway and on days like today views from Evesham Vale can stretch out for miles. Here, a Drivers view from No312 as the engine climbs Twyford Bank with the returning Midday train...
I felt that prior to the departure of the 1pm train it was time for a cuppa' and a spot of lunch. This was enjoyed in the warmth of "St Egwin"s cab...
The road ahead in readiness for the 1pm departure...
Passenger loadings today were surprisingly strong, with some of the trains being full to capacity with even 4 coaches behind "St Egwin". On those runs, the engine was working quite hard, particularly when climbing Fishers Bank on the main climb to Evesham Vale - she sounded a treat! She is seen at Evesham Vale on a mid-afternoon working...
The winter service at the EVLR sees the final departure at 4pm, by which time of course the light has already pretty much failed. "St Egwin" was still performing very well as we awaited departure with the 3:30pm trip - she just did what you wanted...
I was having a lovely time driving "St Egwin" today. When leaving Evesham Vale; having given your acknowledgement to the Guard after leaving the trailing points; you could just sit back and listen to No312 taking Twyford Bank in her stride. She'd just soldier up there with ease, throwing white steam over her shoulder. Soon enough, the final departure of the day (the 4pm) beckoned and the fire was made up carefully in readiness to run the engine down on the return leg. This Welsh coal has the engines steaming very well with very little on the grate and so a light, bright fire is the order of the day...
Having enjoyed a lightly loaded final train of the day, "St Egwin" marched back up to Twyford with the fire bed having been thinned out. The locomotive was uncoupled and turned one final time in the dim light before steaming gingerly back onto the shed road for disposal. The point-work groaned under the weight of the Exmoor 0-4-0 - its surprising to note just how heavy these engines are! The shed lights are seen beaming down on No312...
Disposing of the engine requires the usual: thin the fire, empty the ashpan and fill the boiler to settle the steam. Additionally it was "Egwin"s tube cleaning night and so I cleaned the tubes with the usual cumbersome brush before scooping out the contents of the smokebox floor. The engine then enjoyed another good clean before I drove her gently backwards into the shed after a successful day out. The EVLR engines are kept immaculately and its a pleasure to see engines being treated this way. I'd had a lovely day aboard "St Egwin" and it had been a pleasure to once again volunteer on the EVLR. If you still haven't visited (despite all of my ramblings!) then please do go along and see them - their website is here. Its a very pretty little railway with lovely loco's hauling neat carriages in a pleasant setting with (if you get the weather) excellent views. All in all, another lovely day out with steam. My thanks go to Adrian & Sandra for their continued hospitality and to Graham for putting up with me on the regulator whilst he did his Guard's training. All the best all, Sam...

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Great Central Railway: A Boxing Day 9F...

Hello all. I hope you had a very Merry Christmas and that you ate and drank until you dropped yesterday: we had a lovely time. This morning in blustery weather I was making my way over to the Great Central Railway for a little Boxing Day steam before another family party this afternoon. I arrived at the GCR's Quorn & Woodhouse station at around 10:45am and was immediately joined by fellow ex-Shack man 'Pockets'. We wandered over the foot crossing and up onto the windy island platform. The NAAFI Tearoom, set underneath the road bridge, was just opening and already had a warming fire crackling away in the grate as we settled down for a hot cuppa'...
Services on the 8-mile long GCR would today feature two locomotives, as part of the railways Christmas Holiday trains. Whilst enjoying our tea, we were joined by Phil (SBR) and his daughter Louise. It wasn't long before the all too familiar rumbling of an arriving train shook the café and we ventured out to board the train. At the head was the seemingly overweight bulk of BR Standard 9F No92214. This engine is a regular GCR performer, having been purchased for use on the railway in early 2014. We came to see her back then at the 2014 Winter Gala, where she wore the lined Mixed Traffic BR Black. Unfortunately, the lovely but inauthentic black didn't remain and the '9' now wears BR Green in a kind of 'Evening Star' style: you can't beat a Black 9F. Anyway, 92214 was in good voice as she got the weight of the five coach train away from Quorn with ease. Soon enough she was throwing white steam over her shoulder, effortlessly making her way towards Rothley. Big engines are at home on the GCR but the flat route with lightly loaded trains is really childs play for them. The 9F soon arrived at the terminus station: Leicester North: and many passengers, including myself, jumped out to capture her running round...
92214 was built at Swindon in 1959, being withdrawn only six years later in 1965. The working lives of these popular engines, with their numbers eventually totalling 251 examples, was painfully short and most were 'like new' when the scrapyard beckoned. Happily, this one was rescued in 1980 to begin a new life in preservation, returning to steam in 2013 on the NYMR. Here, the engine runs round at Leicester North...
Having rejoined the train, a whistle from the Guard heralded a prompt departure. The 9F sailed easily towards Loughborough whilst we enjoyed some lovely grub from the Griddle Car. A piping hot sausage, bacon & egg cob is always welcome on these Winter mornings! We arrived at Loughborough in good time and spotted the pretty sight of Black Five No45305 sat steam heating the Dining Train. Unfortunately the bright sunlight did little to help my photography and so the image below is poor quality...
In order to reach my family appointment in good time, less than 20 minutes later I was riding out behind 92214 on the next departure, leaving the Black Five behind...
Its only a short jog up the double track for the 9F to reach Quorn and she is spotted at the end of the platform awaiting the 'Right Away' to continue on to Rothley...
A final look at the shining bulk of 9F No92214...
A short but sweet visit to the unique Great Central Railway and its big engines working short trains on double track. Its a very pleasant railway: lots of atmosphere and things generally looking right - long may it continue. Right, with that, I'm off to my family do - "lets have a beer". Merry Extended Christmas! Best Regards all, Sam...

Monday, 14 December 2015

Merry Christmas...

A quick note to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of my readers. The years activities will no doubt be reviewed in the New Years Eve post as normal but for now, thank you all for reading once again over the last 12 months. This years Christmas photo is a memory from the Santa trains of 2011 aboard 3803 at Shackerstone, storming along between Bosworth and Shack. The shot belongs to local photographer Rick Eborall who kindly let me use it in the post from back then. Happier times of Shackerstone - allas, no more. Best wishes to all. Have yourselves a merry little Christmas and please read again in 2016...

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Achilles Report No71: An Engine Again...

Hi there all. Here is another "Achilles" report; No71 to be exact. Regular readers will recall that the locomotive last operated way back in June, at a CMES public steam day. The engine did alright that day but I'd already decided to attempt repairs to the two water pumps which sit between the frames. Being well over 25 years old, the pumps were life expired and needed work. Two days after running at Ryton Pools, the engine was without her boiler...
Two new pumps were made up from Reeves castings, whilst retaining the original hardened steel rams. The new pumps were ready in July but, having had a very busy summer, work on the engine got pushed back and back. That's the main trouble with having two engines to take out: having one running will always slow the rush down to repair the other and thus 'Maisie' has often been the engine of choice when running...
The engine spent the summer months in the workshop, frowning at me from afar. I kept arguing with myself to get her sorted but other things have continually got in the way. However, at last, I can honestly say she's now back in one piece. The undressed (without cladding) boiler is seen below...
The cladding was removed to assess the damage to it. Its never been much good to be honest - its work tired and very dented. During last years repaint of the engine I had decided to keep the old cladding simply to keep the engine original as it were but, having looked at it again, it needed to be changed. Enter well known late arrival and owner of the rights to the legendary 'Three Course Challenge': "Eddie the Late". Ed kindly showed me, having not so long ago gained experience whilst building his LMS 2P, how to roll boiler cladding. The brass was sourced from Kennions and, during November, we were at Ed's workshop making the new cladding. Thankfully "Achilles" only has a round-top firebox but the cladding was still very tough to make fit, particularly with its healthy ability to force itself flat again!...
Cladding successfully made, it was trial fitted to the boiler and banded up...
Having got it to fit (of a fashion) the engine entered my most dreaded and hated stage: the paint stage. The removal of the protective plastic from the brass revealed quite a shine!...
The cladding was first etch-primed...
And later it was painted into the engine's traditional blue...
Having had a few days to dry (in the house I may add - too cold in the workshop for that!) the cladding was fairly well ready for final fitting. So, today, the engine was my prime concern, having started working on it before 9am. Here, the new water pumps are fitted and piped up in readiness for the boiler to return to the frames...
Brand new water pumps in place and packed ready for use...
Later in the day, after much swearing and gnashing of teeth, the engine's boiler was lowered gently into the frames and piped up...
The boiler was neatly followed by the RH tank, the clacks, the cab fittings, the whistle, the tank tops, the cab/bunker and of course the ever clean dome cover. The engine was looking the part as the days light began to fade...
By tea-time, "Achilles" was pretty much finished and was returned to her rightful place alongside the Atlantic. There's a great deal of work that is unseen with these repair jobs. The new cladding and water pumps have required a full strip down to make happen as well as machining, painting and sealing tasks. The air around the workshop is as blue as the engine during these times, particularly when the household authorities realise that the electric heater has been on all day - anyone would think we'd drained the grid! But, thankfully, after all the work, the engine is back together and awaiting a test. I hope it goes now...the chances are it won't, but we can live in hope...
In terms of a test the main thing will be to ensure that the new water pumps work. We tried them in the sink whilst off the engine and they work pretty well. Hopefully the increased momentum of being back under the engine at track speed won't bring out anymore issues. I must thank well known "I thought we said 8 o'clock" enthusiast 'Eddie the Late' for his help and guidance once again on the matter of the cladding - that's another job learnt. All the best everyone, "Achilles" is back together for Christmas. Merry Christmas to you all. Best Regards, Sam...