Sunday, 31 May 2015

A Grand Day Out on 3803...

Hi there everyone. Today myself and Eddie were rostered aboard the 2884 Class No3803 at Shackerstone. Having been informed (rather late really) of a Footplate Experience course this morning, my sign in time moved forward to 5:30am. Having arrived and unloaded the car, I wandered up to the shed carrying all of my cumbersome kit. Falling into the shed I turned on the tea boiler before getting changed. The 38' was sitting at the front of the shed, with "Sir Gomer" tucked inside. Having completed all of the usual checks, I immediately set to lighting the engine up. A thick back end fire was made up around the back corners and under the firehole door, in order to be pushed forward later on once the coal had properly caught. With the fire lit and crackling away, it was time for a hot cuppa' whilst admiring the old Great Western freight engine...
The next hour was spent tending to the fire and making it up gradually. The 38' was singing away but, as she wasn't used yesterday (only warming fired), she wasn't as quick to come round as normal. Driver Eddie soon arrived and we had a cuppa' and a natter. Eddie then set to oiling the many, many oiling points on the 2-8-0 whilst I continued to tend to the fire and clean the barrel. All the time, 3803 was slowly making steam. The Footplate Experience participant turned up at 8am as planned, greeted by Foot Ex front-man Mark. As Eddie was still oiling up between the frames, I took the gent through the basic safety rules of the footplate and the controls at hand...
At 9:45am the engine was standing in a very wet platform 1 and was ready to depart for Market Bosworth on the light engine trip. The guests of the participant took this opportunity to visit the footplate and take photographs...
With the token on board and the participant at the helm, 3803 steamed out of Shackerstone and down towards Market Bosworth. The rain was proving annoying by the time we passed through Carlton and so I made preparations to rig up the very best in Great Western weather proofing: the storm sheet. The sheet was affixed ready for our tender first departure from Market Bosworth and made a bit of a difference going back. The weather was certainly not on our side this morning. The 38' meanwhile was now good & hot and was steaming well on this first trip. Our current coal is a Scottish brand I believe and, though extremely smoky, seems to do the job if you put enough in. At 10:30am, the 38' is pictured waiting to depart Shenton in the rain with the stock, forming the second part of the Footplate Experience run...
Having returned to Shackerstone we were thanked for the course and we duly thanked the happy participant. He and his family certainly seemed to have enjoyed themselves, which is always good. I like doing the Foot-Ex's but some footplate crew don't like them: each to their own. The loco duly ran round and took up her place at the head of the now slightly late 11:15 train. Having coupled on swiftly, we departed for Shenton in a cloud of steam. The engine was performing well and a quick run round at the terminus was rewarded by making up a few minutes. Unfortunately, at Shack, we had to chuck a bucket full of coal in the tender as the fast burning Scottish variety was really disappearing fast. During the coaling procedure we had a few minutes to quickly cook our breakfast...Chef Eddie was on hand with my shovel in order to knock up some bacon & egg cobs! The engine was soon at the head of the late running 12:30 trip and the weather had improved enough to remove the ghastly storm sheet...
The 12:30 trip proved successful once again, with 3803 steaming well and a good few passengers on the train despite the wet morning. From the 1:45pm trip onwards, we were joined on the footplate by our mate David. David had turned up all smart, wearing a tie to boot (something I've never seen adorn his neck). The tie lasted a full five minutes before being ripped off and disappearing into his carrier bag with the expression "I hate ties" being uttered in anger. David duly pulled some coal down as we were about to witness a spectacle: Eddie the Late wielding a shovel!...
Eddie fired the 1:45 trip whilst I drove. Its nice to be able to split the day for a bit of variety sometimes. I always enjoy a day with Eddie & Dave; they make great company on the footplate. However, I doubt they feel the same about me as I spend my time constantly chuckling in a ridiculous manner as they look on in disapproval! At Shenton, our rogues gallery of couplers-up found David doing the honours...
A shining BR Black-liveried 3803 is seen here waiting to depart a tranquil Shenton with her 5-coach train. Eddie is just making up the fire...
I was also driving for the 3pm trip, with David taking up the coal shovelling role. Eddie rode in the fireman's seat, surveying the scenery. At Shenton, the rogues gallery of couplers-up captured another mug-shot: Eddie doing the rampant elephant party piece...
We returned to Shackerstone hauling the 3:35pm train with ease. The engine was certainly performing well today and the passengers seemed glad to see her out & about. The engine is spotted during uncoupling at Shackerstone ready to haul the final train of the day: the 4:15pm, though we would need to take another bucket of coal before that...
The 4:15pm trip saw Eddie back on the handle with me on the shovel, and David offering the very best of his constructive (perhaps not the word?) criticism (yes that's certainly the word!) throughout the run: all in good fun!
"Driver Eddie Gets 3803 Away From Shenton"
The engine continued to steam well and, despite David's best attempts to make me over-fire the last one back, the engine rolled into Shackerstone with a quiet 180psi on the clock, 1/2 a glass and a fire thin enough to pretty much poke through and leave. The loco was swiftly uncoupled and pulled up to No11 point in order for me to set the road. Road set, it was time for a quick crew picture after an enjoyable day aboard the old sixteen-wheeler: cheers lads for a grand day out...
"Rogues Gallery on 3803"
After our vane crew shot, 3803 steamed up through the dock road and into the shed for disposal and stabling. The fire was deadened, the boiler filled and everything isolated and secured as normal. As the booked driver, Eddie filled out the FTR report for the day whilst myself and David cleaned up the cab. The loco had done well today and, despite her 10-year ticket being up after this season, is still going strong if handled with care. Considering how many miles she's completed, she's still in good shape. On a final note, throughout the day I'd been filming bits on & about the engine, culminating in the edited video you see below. Have a watch and join us for a brief insight into what we do each day on the footplate of 3803 at the Battlefield Line...

The video turned out as I wanted really, something to look back at, ay. The day had been most enjoyable and I must thank Eddie & David for putting up with me once again: they deserve a medal after spending a full day with me! Thanks for reading guys, Sam...

Friday, 29 May 2015

No Steam at Trago...

Hi there everyone. Today on the way home I decided to try and pop to Trago Mills. Trago is a large shopping outlet over at Newton Abbott and has a 10.25" gauge line in the grounds of its adjacent family fun park. The Bickington Steam Railway runs for 2 miles around the grounds of the site, through some nicely wooded areas. The line has a couple of impressive steamers in its care and I had emailed ahead in the week to check that one would be out. Unfortunately, like all the best laid plans, the steam engine did not appear. The weather wasn't the best I will admit but the place did look busy regardless. When I arrived at the car park station area, I was very disappointed to see the blue liveried diesel loco. Faced with a final chance of maybe seeing a loco outside the shed, I walked up to the other station...
Unfortunately, having walked around in the rain for a bit whilst Maisie looked on in bewilderment from the dry, cosy setting of the car, I couldn't find anything else but the diesel: "bugger". Oh well, better luck next time I guess - can't win them all. With that it was time to jump back into the car and endure a mind numbing and completely hideous 7-hour journey back home, with the joy of stop-start traffic on the M5 caused by holiday makers returning home after the school break. Cheers all, Sam...

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Return to the "Kingswear Castle"...

Hello again. During our walking tour of Dartmouth today we had opted to take a 75-minute cruise aboard the 1924-built paddle steamer "Kingswear Castle". Regular readers will know that we did the trip last year and it proved very successful. Our sailing was due to depart at Midday so we made sure that we were at the pontoon in good time. The paddle steamer was simmering away happily at the far end. What is interesting to note is that the engine is constantly turning over even whilst at dock, probably to continuously draw the fire...
Having had our tickets checked, we climbed on board and found a seat. The "KC", as she is known, is a popular vessel in these waters and, though not fully loaded, was well patronised on this early cruise. I'm sure the afternoon cruises are even busier...
Departing the Dartmouth pontoon on time, the "KC" sailed down the river towards the open sea. This is the English Channel of course...
Having made a full turn against the channel, the paddle steamer worked back up river. The friendly staff aboard the vessel once again gave an interesting and humorous commentary throughout the voyage. The steamer also has a fully licensed bar on board and I enjoyed a beer in the sun whilst surveying the scenery...
Views forward up and along the River Dart...
Behind us was the wheelhouse and engine compartment. The "KC" is the very last coal fired paddle steamer and is at home on the Dart; the location for which she was built. The engine, slightly older than the vessel herself, is shown below in a short video clip...

The cruise was once again fantastic and we enjoyed some great weather...
The river also allows some great views of the steam railway...
All too soon, our cruise came to an end and "Kingswear Castle" came to a gentle stop at the Dartmouth pontoon. Once tied off, the passengers disembarked happily. I can whole heartedly recommend this trip. Its relaxing, nostalgic and interesting. The paddle steamer is a piece of Dartmouth history and, I feel, a must do. Thanks all, Sam...

A Seaside Outing: The Dartmouth Steam Railway...

"7827 Lydham Manor, Taken From The Paddle Steamer"
Hello everyone. This week we're on holiday in Torquay and no visit to this Devon hotspot would be complete without a day out on the Dartmouth Steam Railway. With a warm sun shining in the sky, we arrived at the DSR's main station of Paignton at just before 10:30am. The first train had already left and the next train would be hauled by No7827 "Lydham Manor", departing at 10:45. There are a selection of different tickets that can be purchased for use on DSR services on either the rails, the roads or the waves. We decided to book a 'Steam & Cruise' ticket in order to ride aboard the Paddle Steamer "Kingswear Castle" once at Dartmouth. Tickets purchased, we boarded the well loaded 7-coach train...
Well loaded was probably an understatement...it was standing room only pretty much. Right on time, the BR-built Manor departed from Paignton in a cloud of steam. Having called at Goodrington Sands, the 4-6-0 got to grips with the first of the strong climbs on its 7 mile journey. The engine walked up there easily and with steam to spare, a real testament to the driving skills of the DSR team. At Churston the other loco in service today passed us: GWR Heavy Tank No4277, now named "Hercules"...
Leaving Churston the trains descend heavily, passing through Greenway Tunnel on route. The Manor sidled gently down into Kingswear along the banks of the River Dart...
At Kingswear the adoring crowds alighted from the train in order to catch the Ferry to Dartmouth. No7827 had already swiftly begun her run round and was sparkling...
Having boarded the Ferry we sailed across to the picturesque town of Dartmouth, ready for our 75-minute cruise aboard the relaxing paddle steamer. Following our cruise we ambled around the bustling little streets and visited the famous Fudge Shop before returning to Kingswear station via another ferry. As it was lunch break over at the DSR, No4277 was standing silently at the mouth of the train shed...
A portrait of No4277 "Hercules", built at Swindon in 1920...
4277 was purchased by the DSR in 2008 and is one of two Heavy Tanks on the line, the other being No5239, now named "Goliath". The tanks and the Manor currently operate all DSR steam services between them, though No7820 "Dinmore Manor" is coming down on holiday for the summer. The Heavy Tanks are really masters of any preserved railway job and are really as strong as a tank can come. We boarded the 2:15pm departure from Kingswear aboard the 'Devon Belle' Observation Saloon...
The Pullman Crest in the roof of the "Devon Belle"...
Views across the Dart as 4277 ticks along the side of the river...
A quick video clip from inside the Observation Saloon...

The "Devon Belle", despite a small additional charge, is always worth travelling in. The seats are more comfortable and the capacity is less, making it a little quieter. Furthermore, the views really open up and you can even see the shadows of the crew from the fire glow as the loco marches up through the tunnel. Soon enough, the train arrived back at Paignton and 4277 pulled forward for watering at the column...
4277 takes a well earned drink at Paignton...
All in all, another very pleasant visit to the DSR. Our rides behind both 7827 and 4277 were most enjoyable, as always. I will always recommend a visit to this railway. Despite it being a full on business venture, the engines and rolling stock are cared for and the views will better those on most, if not all, other lines. Thanks for reading guys, Sam...

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Cotswold Festival of Steam...

Hello everyone. This was a last minute outing to the 12-mile long Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway at Toddington. The annual Cotswold Festival of Steam Gala would be taking place over the bank holiday weekend and the line-up was too good to miss. With the bill topped by two Bullied West Country Pacifics and a Modified Hall, the trio would also be joined by four resident engines to complete the theme: "Speed To The West". I arrived at the GWSR base of Toddington at around 8:40am and was greeted on arrival by the parking staff. Having purchased my ticket and walked onto the platform, I was met with the pretty sight of the double-headed 9am departure. Headed by the immaculate Heavy Tank No4270 and visiting "Raveningham Hall", the train would run to Cheltenham Racecourse via a non-stop blast through Winchcombe. I decided to join this train and picked a good 'window position'. The pair got away smartly and showed off their true Great Western pedigrees as they took off along GWSR metals. Upon arrival at Cheltenham I left the train to see the immaculate Hall Class 4-6-0, built at Swindon in 1944...
"Raveningham Hall" is an ex-GWSR resident and was visiting this weekend from the West Somerset Railway. The lovely 4270 was built in 1919 and completed her restoration at Toddington. I really like these Heavy Tanks. Interestingly they are driven off the second driving axle rather than the third, unlike the 28/38xx types, resulting in a shorter connecting rod...
Having watched 4270 run round I reboarded the train and found a seat with a cuppa'. Despite it being May the weather wasn't the warmest and so the sanctuary of the coaches provided a warm haven. A film crew filming a documentary for Channel 4 happened to sit by me and chatted about what they were making; an unusual conversation that was...
Having left the Hall at Cheltenham awaiting her next turn, 4270 marched back towards Winchcombe via Gotherington. The GWSR countryside is lovely...
I alighted at Winchcombe in order to catch the goings on at this bustling passing station. Clearing the next section to make way for 4270 was BR-built No7820 "Dinmore Manor", hauling a freight train bound for Cheltenham Racecourse...
In the bay platform at Winchcombe was a third, out of steam Bullied. This is Merchant Navy Class No35006 "P & O". The massive pacific has been undergoing restoration at the GWSR for a long time and is now nearing completion. Built in 1941 and rebuilt in 1959, the engine is massive, weighing in at around 95 tons without the tender! The engine has had some test steamings but has yet to make it to the magic blowing off pressure. The engine will however be running, so they say, by the summer...
Members of the 35006 group were aboard the footplate of their engine allowing visitors on board. Taking a look at the almost space age controls of this Southern giant, we can see how Bullied's innovations made a change from the designs that preceded them. 100mph performances were not uncommon and the overall bulk of the engine made for a very strong machine. The slightly smaller West Country and Battle of Britain classes could only boost the Southern image...
Having put a fiver in the 35006 donation tin, I carried on walking around the station. The TPO coach houses an impressive model railway whilst the station building boasts a pleasant tea room. As part of the gala attractions the Carriage & Wagon department was open for tours and, though not a C & W enthusiast myself, I thought it was worth a look. Well, what a place. Shackerstone wagon repairer supremo Graham has been talking about this place for a good while and seemed quite in awe of it: quite rightly so! I walked into the new building which houses a workshop and a purpose built paint-shop. This converted TSO is now the GWSR Santa coach and was receiving some attention...
The carriage & wagon works transforms rolling stock from tattered lumps to immaculate pieces of rail engineering over a matter of months. My guide explained that it takes about 3 months to overhaul a coach from start to finish, depending on the amount of work required. They had three coaches in the works today, as well as a few wagons. Each of the coaches was in a different state of repair from just started to nearly done. The guide explained that the process involves volunteers working on them four days a week...yes, you read it right, four days a week. As well as the building itself they have all of the equipment (including their own fully serviced lifting jacks) required to do the job. Its a great place; a really tremendous concern. Out the back of the carriage works stood the standby loco for the morning shift and currently the oldest working GWR engine so I'm told: 2-8-0 No2807...
At the back of the carriage shed you could see all of the comings and the goings on the line. Here, one of the stars of the show: West Country Class No34092 "City of Wells": arrives from Toddington...
"City of Wells" is currently only carrying the name "Wells". I believe this is because she is waiting for the Bishop of Wells to re-christen her when he/she gets a free day! 34092 is based on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and has gained the name "Volcano" during its preservation career. This is because she is fitted with a Giesel ejector system which creates a pretty atomic exhaust when working hard. With "Wells" having cleared the section, sister engine "Wadebridge" duly departed. Next down the line was 4270 again...
With the section clear once again, the loud and very nippy 6960 got the freight train away in smart style...
Returning to the platforms of the station I enjoyed a fresh cuppa' before awaiting the next Toddington bound train, hauled by 34092...
As I crossed the bridge the assembled hoards were already boarding the coaches...
With the Planet's Favourite Prairie No5542 having cleared the line, "Wells" got her train away. The West Country class put in a spirited performance and had the 7-coach train up to line speed before long...
Back at Toddington I caught a glimpse of some of the road steamers in the yard...
Burrell 'Devonshire' Engine "Coeur De Lion" of 1913...
Just behind the road steamers was the terminus of the North Gloucestershire Railway; a thriving little 2ft gauge operation. This line has four steamers in its care and two of them were in action today. Here is one of them, No15, simmering in the car park station awaiting the next up train...
With No15 showing no signs of movement, I wandered over to the platforms to watch the next train leave. This train was hauled by the Manor Class No7820...
Out in the car park, Barry Wreck No2874 stood forlorn and awaiting much attention...
Soon enough, there was movement on the narrow gauge. 0-8-0 Henschel No1091 had just arrived whilst sister 0-8-0 No15 had taken up her place at the head of the next train. The NGR trains roll down the bank to their base at California Crossing where I believe a shed tour takes place. The train then continues to Didbrook where the loco runs round before coming back up non stop. The run isn't much, about half a mile, but its nice to see a thriving little operation looking after historic engines...
Over at the station by now crowds were gathering to see the days highlight, though the wrong way around: double-headed Spam's. The nickname 'Spamcan' was forced onto the air-smoothed Bullieds as they arrived on the scene at the same time as the American processed meat product did. Here, "Wells" and "Wadebridge" get away from Toddington with a fully loaded 7-coach train...
Having watched the two Bullieds depart I decided it was time to call it a day. We're off on a short holiday tomorrow and I really should start packing. All in all the day had been fab. Seven engines in steam plus the NGR pair and some roaders, packed trains and an intensive timetable: what more could you want. The GWSR certainly know how to put on a gala. Well done to them and all of their volunteers for putting on a great show: I really enjoyed it. All the best guys, Sam...