Sunday, 27 September 2015

Return to "Cumbria": The Age of Austerity...

Good evening all. Well, another very enjoyable day aboard "Cumbria"; the visiting Hunslet Austerity currently operating Battlefield Line steam services. I was rostered as Driver once again today, this time with my good friend and colleague Mick on the shovel. We were joined on the footplate by trainee Julia, making up the footplate trio. The day began at 06:30. There was a chill in the air but the sky was clear as I made my way along the ash pathway towards the engine shed. Inside, the warmth was still beaming from the red bulk of "Cumbria": fresh from yesterdays antics. Having changed into my overalls and welcomed Mick & Julia, it was time to get started. Mick got underway with the fire preparations whilst Julia began the laborious task of cleaning an engine that's steaming up indoors. I meanwhile was making my way around the engine in the usual fashion, with an oil feeder in one hand and a torch in the other. My pockets are normally stuffed with rag at this point, in order to wipe away the unavoidable oil spills. By 07:30, "Cumbria" was smoking up the shed as the fire began to catch onto the fresh coal...
A peek through the firehole doors reveals the beginnings of the fire...
The three of us went about our morning tasks whilst chatting and drinking tea at regular intervals. With the oiling up soon completed and some steam on the gauge, we decided to take the Austerity outside. The shed begins to sweat after a while and its a shame to see the efforts of the cleaner ruined by the residue falling from above. Once outside, the fruit of Julia's efforts was evident as the tank and dome were shining. Mark duly arrived with our 'Footplate Experience' participant for this mornings course and I duly showed him around the engine and explained a little about her design, pedigree and history. Mark then showed him around the shed whilst the three of us washed up and got changed ready for the day ahead. The 'Foot Ex' courses take the same format each time. First we do the safety briefing, the loco chat and explain the controls on the footplate. Then, we take the loco to Market Bosworth light engine, returning in the same manner without fuss. To complete the course we take the passenger rake for a full round trip of the line, returning to Shackerstone in time to run round and water up ready for the 11:15 public departure. "Cumbria" is spotted waiting to depart Shackerstone with the 'Foot Ex' round trip with the coaches...
Today the 'Foot Ex' was most enjoyable to do. Once we'd left Shack the weather improved greatly and a clear blue sky and warm sunshine were the order of the day. Our participant picked the job up lovely; he was a pleasure to teach. Mick had things well in hand on the fireman's side whilst I explained the various parts of the line and the things we should be looking out for to the trainee driver. Mick caught this shot from the fireman's side as we marched happily up Shenton Bank with the returning 'Foot Ex' trip...
"The Road Ahead" (M.Jones)
The 'Foot Ex' guy seemed to really enjoy himself and thanked us for our efforts once we arrived back at Shackerstone. He then went off to enjoy the buffet with his family on the first round trip of the day. No such rest for us as we sprung immediately back into action to get "Cumbria" ran round and watered up...
Mick is enjoying the weather from the less than comfortable position atop the tank...
The locomotive was soon coupled up to the 11:15 departure and the rather pleasant weather seemed set to continue throughout the day. "Cumbria" was in good shape as we prepared to create vacuum and todays 'office' looked rather impressive...
Leaving Shackerstone a few minutes down, "Cumbria" got the weight moving with ease. Having collected the single line token from the box and eased through the slack, the saddle tank had the train accelerating well once we'd cleared Barton Bridge. The engine was once again in good voice and was shouting her head off as we rumbled past Congerstone. Shutting off for Hedleys with a good long blast on the Midland whistle, the engine rolled towards Carlton in full reverse; as per slide valve practise. Mick was right on the button on the fireman's side, keeping things quiet using the injector but with the needle never really leaving the red line. We sauntered into Bosworth quietly due to the 'Heavy Horse Weekend': we didn't wish to cause a Wild West Stampede through the village! Once out of the platform and up to Deer Park, we accelerated once again with "Cumbria" telling the world she was coming. Romping through Far Coton and out towards Bosworth Battlefield, I shut off and assumed full reverse before reaching for the vacuum brake on the descent of Shenton Bank. We clanked neatly into Shenton with steam to spare and came to rest at the end of the platform, just as always. Once run round and back on the front of the train ready for a prompt departure, breakfast was served. It was absolutely divine...
Once you've done all the preparation and the first few trains of the day on a full size steamer, breakfast is most definitely the most longed for! With the first train complete, it wasn't long before we were chugging down to Shenton with the slightly late running 12:30 trip. For the 13:45 train, Mick was on the handle whilst I did the firing. The Austerity was once again steaming particularly well and was no trouble. The engine was getting smartly away from station stops with the 4-coach train; attempting to catch up the time lost unloading and loading many passengers at Market Bosworth. The 15:00 departure was running about 20 minutes late and is seen waiting to leave Shack whilst more passengers board...
Mick and Julia take a break at Market Bosworth whilst more passengers join the train...
After a good run to Shenton, "Cumbria" ran round ready for another prompt departure. She is seen here during the stop at Market Bosworth on the return trip...
By the time the final train of the day (the 16:15 off Shack) came around, I think its fair to say we were all starting to wear out. The engine was still going well but it had been a long and very hot day. Mick drove us neatly out of Shackerstone with the 20 minutes late final departure, with "Cumbria" smoking up a storm near Barton Bridge...
Mick gets "Cumbria" underway as we accelerate away from Shackerstone... 
Soon enough, the engine was waiting to run round at Shenton ready for the final run home...
"Cumbria In The Headshunt" (M.Jones)
By this time of the day the fire is generally getting 'dirty'. The bed will be starting to clinker with ash and the primary air coming through the grate won't be able to do its job. Over 50 miles of steaming had taken its toll on "Cumbria"s fire and Mick decided to make life easier for himself on the final trip back by completely cleaning the fire. Wielding the heavy fire dart around the cab, he'd soon broken away the clinker and was adding some good shovelfuls of fresh coal ready for our imminent departure...
With the fire made up, "Cumbria" builds up pressure whilst Julia looks on...
With the right away received and a blow on the whistle, "Cumbria" chugged out of Shenton with the days final train. Her voice echoed across the Leicestershire countryside as the last of the days sun shone against the maroon livery of her tank. During our final Market Bosworth break, we had the new 'must': a footplate selfie!...
"Driver Sam, Fireman Mick, Trainee Julia - A Grand Day" (J.Ross)
From Market Bosworth back to Shackerstone, the cleaner fire now blazing away in the box was evident as "Cumbria" steamed brilliantly. Mick had the engine quiet with the injector running as we dropped into Shack and handed over the single line token to the bobby. With the Hunslet uncoupled and through No7, we steamed up to the ground frame (No11) and duly proceeded into the shed for disposal. Then came the usual disposal process: deaden the fire, fill the boiler, isolate everything and clean the footplate. Dragging our belongings down the steps in the traditional end of the day manner, we all fell into the mess area for a wash. All in all it had been a grand day out and I must thank Mick & Julia for their helpful and comedic company! Best Regards, Sam...

Friday, 25 September 2015

Atlantic Report No10: A Spectacular Return to Form...

Hi everyone. Today was a very brief outing for my 3.5" gauge C1 Atlantic No4436. The engine didn't attend the last Third Wednesday CMES steam up due to the adverse weather encountered on that evening and has sat quietly in the workshop ever since. This afternoon, with 'Eddie the Late' having said that he was free, we decided to go up to Ryton for an impromptu steam up. Having unloaded and raised steam, the Atlantic immediately started acting up. The safety valve was refusing to go off or shut down when required and the handpump simply wouldn't work. Having messed around with the engine for a while at various boiler pressures, I decided to kill the fire and blow her down as I had no means of putting water in without going around the track. The handpump will have to come out to be looked at but that isn't a particularly hard job, and the safety valve needs a new central spigot I think. Meanwhile, over at the bay of the late, Eddie's Don Young designed Midland 2P had raised steam and duly hissed out onto the track...
Eddie enjoyed a few laps of the track with the 2P steaming and pulling well: it looked a picture going round. Meanwhile I was shouting and swearing at my Atlantic, and congratulating her on the spectacular return to form after a spate of successful outings. The all too familiar feeling of failure had returned and in a way it felt like coming home! My spirits were raised slightly when Ed offered me a drive of the 2P; an engine I hadn't driven before. My god it goes like stink: drive it like you stole it for best results! Honestly, it steams well and watching the inside Joy valve gear flying around at speed is quite mesmerizing. The Atlantic will get fixed over the next couple of weeks and is due to appear at the annual Midlands Show up on the Fosseway later next month. It'll have to be polished within an inch of its life before that and will probably receive some more derogatory nick-names too! All the best guys and thanks, Sam...

Saturday, 19 September 2015

"Cumbria": Driving An Austerity...

Hi all. When one thinks of the typical industrial steam locomotive, one name will come out on top nine times out of ten: the Hunslet 'Austerity'. These powerful 0-6-0 saddle tanks were strong old things, employing 18" x 26" inside cylinders coupled with a boiler pressed to 160psi fastened upon 4ft 3" wheels. Their design allowed them to move loads of up to 1200 tons on the level and they were extremely popular. The design became the standard British shunting engine during WWII and they continued to be built post-war for various tasks. In total, 485 of them were produced. They were just good engines. Their strength and stamina as well as their relative cheapness has meant that many have made it into preservation: approximately 56 examples still exist in one form or another. The recent demise of the GWR 2-8-0 No3803 had left Shackerstone with a steam crisis but, as luck would have it, an engine was coming available for hire at the very beginning of September. Drum roll cue please: it was an Austerity. This engine is a 1953-built War Department engine; No3794 "Cumbria". I was fairly overjoyed when I was offered a couple of turns on "Cumbria" as I love industrial steamers. JB has always referred to them as "ignorant industrials". He is correct, they were built for a certain purpose and they fulfilled it easily. However, the Austerity is arguably a more refined engine all round and I was immensely looking forward to today.

I arrived at Shackerstone at 6:30am, quickly followed by Fireman David and Trainee Luke. The engine was soon simmering away happily whilst I began to oil up. Jason then started the Class 73 electro diesel before dragging "Cumbria" down to the North End through the morning mist, ready for coaling. Soon enough, the bunker was full...
"Cumbria" was then returned to the shed so that I could continue with the oiling. This engine is on wick-feed boxes. This uses worsted wool trimmings and capillary motion to feed droplets of bearing oil down to the brass. A common fault with these axleboxes is allowing water to enter, thus displacing the oil. The oil will rise up and then sit on the surface of the water. The trimmings will then become impregnated with water and the brass will receive no oil and will probably run hot. This problem is cured during the morning checks. If the box has water in it, a small pump is used to suck out the contents of the box and, once clean, fresh oil is added until full. The trimmings will then begin to feed once again...
Oiling up the heart of an Austerity requires a little more contortionism. Everything on the inside means exactly what it says. Access is either via the pit or via crawling in over the weigh shaft beneath the barrel. Having checked around underneath to see that nothing was dropping off, I opted to squeeze in over the top of the motion. I just feel its easier that way, not that the occasional word of profanity isn't used as you wedge yourself in between the eccentrics and big ends. With the internals successfully oiled my tasks were complete. Luke had done a good job of shining up 3794 and, with David having built up 100psi in the boiler, it was time to move her outside into the now shining sun...
With the engine now pretty much ready to leave shed, it was time for the three of us to change into our good overalls. Soon enough, "Cumbria" was taking water on the column...
The first train of the day (the 11:15) left pretty much on time. The chunky Austerity found the 4-coach load complete child's play and was knocking an easy 22mph as we coasted down into Market Bosworth. This engine has one hell of a bark: she really talks. Having got the weight moving you can notch right up to 3rd notch and give her most of pilot valve and she'll accelerate happily and keep the steam but, even at that, the noise is almost deafening from the chimney. The red six-coupled is quickly being dubbed 'The Volcano'! Anyway, at Shenton, after a most enjoyable run, the 0-6-0 is seen at the head of the waiting 11:50 departure for Shackerstone...
Having left Shenton, it wasn't long before we were back again! The day flies by when you're busy. Having to water each trip certainly eats away the time...
A drivers eye view ahead as "Cumbria" awaits the 'Right Away'...
I drove the returning second trip back to Shackerstone with a smile on my face. This engine goes really well indeed. Its quite a pleasure to be on when the fireman has it just right. For the third trip, David was on the handle and took us neatly to Shenton...
I was on the shovel for this journey and found that a thin but bright fire with an extra few rounds at the back end and in the corners did the trick. 150psi was easily maintained and the injector used to quash potential blowing off as David closed the regulator. Here, David gets "Cumbria" into her stride whilst climbing Shenton Bank with the 14:20 train...
The road ahead as "Cumbria" climbs northward...
"Cumbria" was steaming well for me and I was happy in my work as she chugged her way through Far Coton cutting. At Market Bosworth, the engine waited out the 2-minute booked stop with the valves just starting to feather...
I then took over once again for the 15:00 departure from Shackerstone, during the return run of which we were joined on the footplate by well meaning late arrival 'Eddie the Late'. "Cumbria" is spotted awaiting departure from Shackerstone with the final train of the day, having just taken water on the column...
David returned to the handle for the last trip, allowing me to continue firing. "Cumbria" was still going well and proved no trouble. Having run round at Shenton, the 0-6-0 was soon barking happily up the bank in the light of the setting sun. I sat on the fireman's seat with my boots up on the tea tray, watching the last of the days sun settle over the green fields, listening intently to the beat of the engine working away. At that moment, I remember thinking that life on the footplate probably doesn't really get much better than this. Waking up from my dream, it was time to run the Austerity down. No, that doesn't mean start calling her names, it simply means reduce the firing rate as far as reasonably practical in order to ensure that we arrive on shed with as little fire as possible ready for disposal. Sure enough, the Hunslet was soon in the shed with a dead, clinker free fire... 
Putting an engine to bed is an affair of two feelings: tiredness and reflection. The last thing you want to do when you're covered in soot and oil from head to foot is start wielding an 8ft long fire dart through mounds of smouldering ash and mess in the sweaty environment of a footplate engulfed by the spluttering steam jet of a sluggish injector begging for more pressure. However, once all is done and the boiler is full with the fire deadened, the atmosphere is, at last, a calm one. The engine sits quiet but creaking and groaning as if she were alive: man never created a more seemingly mortal machine. As you pack up your things and leave, she's simmering the night hours away, warm and content; her days work done. All of this we do for the love of our steam engines and I've never regretted it for one second. A lovely day all in all. Thanks to David & Luke for a grand old time. Cheers all, Sam...

Saturday, 12 September 2015

A Grand Day's Driving at Statfold Barn...

"Leaving New Road" (G.Cryer)
Good day everyone. My day today started like most; at dawn. It was the day of the final SBR Enthusiasts Day of the 2015 season and, as usual, it was going to be a cracker. Having battled through horrendous rain on my way to Statfold, the deluge had restrained itself to a light drizzle by the time I arrived. It was that fine rain that always soaks you through! My fellow engineman: JB: was already there and had a good fire lit in ex-Lautoka No19. The engine was singing away to herself whilst John made preparations about the footplate. Having changed into my overalls and coat ready for the damp morning conditions, we duly trotted off to the tea room for a cuppa'. All around, the other 14 engines in steam today were gradually coming to life. Tea drank and loco prepped, we soon received our first call. No19 hissed cautiously onto the turntable, spilling plenty of water from her drain cocks. The engine was then backed steadily down on top of Brazil class "Howard". Once coupled up, the stage was now set for our first train, scheduled for just before 9am. No19 sat quietly with a light but bright fire...
No19 is seen here heading up the rear of the first outward train, along with "Howard"...
The footplate of No19 is surprisingly roomy. This chunky 0-4-0 employs Walschaerts valve gear to put the power down and has a handy steam brake for relatively trouble free stopping. The fairly reliable injectors provide the water feed to the boiler and the regulator is quite smooth in operation. All in all, she's a fairly pleasant thing to be on...
At this time on a damp and drizzly morning, nothing could be better than a piping hot sausage & bacon cob and a nice cup of tea. We do get looked after at the SBR...
Stomachs replenished, it was time for the 0830 Safety Briefing. Following that, with the persistent drizzle still at it, the first train was almost ready to depart. The ensemble would be led by the 0-6-0 diesel locomotive "Badger", hauling the ex-Lynton coaches with "Howard" and No19 tailing. At Oak Tree, No19 would be split off ready to return the single line token to Statfold Jnc Box. The maroon four wheeler hissed back up the line easily light engine, before being stabled in the Goods Siding. Soon enough, with the correct signals received, the engine was brought into the old bay platform to couple up to the waiting freight train...
We would haul the freight around the entire line, with "Sybil Mary" and "Statfold" hanging off the back. John was on the fireman's side making up the fire with the smoky Scottish coal, whilst I made preparations for departure on the drivers side. Leaving Statfold Jnc, the full weight of the freight train attempted to push No19. The steam brake was fairly effective and managed to 'slow them up' without argument, even on these wet rails. The train ran easily to the balloon loop, otherwise known as 'New Road', where No19 is seen sparkling in the sun...
The engine was already proving herself to be a good steamer and a strong puller. She was oiled up a second time at New Road in order to just make sure everything would stay cool. It never hurts to put more oil in if you get chance. The engine pulled the train back up to Oak Tree easily, attacking the bank in fine style, before making an evocative departure...
"Smoke & Steam at Oak Tree" (G.Cryer)
Having had a good chuff up into Statfold Jnc with the freight train, No19 was uncoupled. The signalman then called the engine back down to the box where she was immediately put onto the next passenger departure. I think this was just to speed the job up a bit. All around us, visitors were flocking in. At least 1500 guests were booked in for today and it was going to be a busy one. Anyway, our second run was most enjoyable and No19 performed equally well. The third train was driven by a very restless John, and wore a special headboard...
This time I was working on the fireman's side and, I must admit, things were very easy. As long as you kept the holes filled on the grate, the Hudswell would find the job no trouble. We are seen here at the foot of the bank about to attempt the final climb to Oak Tree...
"No19 In Full Flight" (G.Cryer)
We must wish Phyllis a very pleasant 75th Birthday and we hope she enjoyed the ride and the headboard. Back at Statfold Jnc, No19 was duly turned on the turntable to the delight of onlookers. The turntable demonstrations certainly bring in the punters. It is perhaps not as impressive for the crew as sometimes you have to go around and around until everyone gets that perfect shot. We were dizzy! The fourth outing for us was with a third man on the footplate: Martin. Martin is one of the SBR's footplate inspectors and carries out crew exams, both written and practical. Today was the occasion of my Driver's Exam. Regular readers will remember that I was passed to drive at the SBR last October as a 'Passed Fireman': a Fireman able to drive if required. Today involved taking the final leap to full Driver and Martin was to join us on the footplate for a round trip to watch over me. We are seen here on that very trip, leaving New Road bound for Oak Tree...
"No19 Whistles" (G.Cryer)
The locomotive was still performing very well and I am pleased to say that Martin passed me. I am now officially an SBR Driver! I am very pleased indeed. After this run we were once again placed on the turntable before being released to relax on the shed...
After a short break, and a cheeseburger each, we steamed down off the shed ready to take up our place at the head of our final passenger departure of the day. This run was also most enjoyable and No19 was a joy...
"Final Trip" (G.Cryer)
It was so strange being on the wrong side of the cab. John has been my regular driver at both the SBR and Shack for many years and so having him as a fireman was most odd! He did comment afterwards that he had "only driven one trip"! It was a good laugh. The obligatory crew selfie soon followed, with John (JB to his friends) caught off guard...
John drove the engine about for the final few moves of the day, which saw No19 doing some shunting about the yard and station. She was then moved to the Goods Siding to make ready for the end of the day line-up...
Well folks, that's about it. The SBR September do always includes an evening exhibitor train (a private one like) and this was to be hauled by the Fiji sisters: No19 and "Fiji" herself. This meant that we did in fact handover No19 at around 5:30pm, to another crew. We had given her a good end of the day clean but the usual disposal wasn't required: bang on! After a fantastic day in great company on a lovely engine there was nothing else left to do but, yes you've guessed it...have a beer! I must thank the SBR for having us once again and thank John for putting up with me on board this pretty little engine. Finally I must thank Mr Geoff Cryer who kindly sends in pics for me to use of his days out at Statfold. Thanks Geoff! You can see his fantastic Rail Diaries by clicking here. A grand day. All the best, Sam...

Friday, 11 September 2015

Statfold: September Preparation with No19...

Hi there everyone. This afternoon a good few volunteers were over at the sunny retreat of the Statfold Barn Railway, preparing engines for tomorrows open day. I arrived at just after 1pm and immediately set to cleaning Brazil class 0-4-2 "Trangkil No4". Not far from No4 was my steed for tomorrow: No19, known to me as 'Little Fiji'. Built in 1914 by Hudswell Clarke for the Lautoka sugar mill in Fiji, this pretty 0-4-0 is a strong little engine. The only survivor of a class of only two, No19 was brought to the UK for restoration at the SBR and now looks resplendent in her shining maroon livery. This is a far cry from how she looked when she arrived. My tasks today mainly involved cleaning the engine. She carries quite a lot of brass, mainly in her cab, and this looks lovely when buffed up...
Later in the day I lit the engine up, attempting to warm her through ready for tomorrow. Though a 6am start was in prospect, she'd need enough steam to move by about 7:40am, and then we were due off with the first train just before 9am. I always think a good warm through is necessary for maintaining a healthy boiler anyway and, crackling away with some dry fresh wood alight in her box, No19 came quickly towards the boil. I left the engine at around 5:30pm with everything isolated and ready for tomorrow.
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Sadly, today was not all about enjoyment. Early this week we were given the sad news that long time SBR volunteer and photographer Jeff Cogan had passed away, during the early hours of Monday morning. Ever a friendly face to chat to, Jeff will be greatly missed by all of us at Statfold. Even outside SBR territory, we would often bump into him & Ken at various railway hotspots and Jeff would always find time to talk to us. Our thoughts are with Jeff's family and friends at this very sad time and we will surely miss him. Statfold will certainly not be the same. As a mark of respect for Jeff, the beautiful Bagnall 4-4-0 "Isibutu" was polished up and dressed with a black ribbon and Jeff's headboard. She will run like this throughout tomorrows open day. RIP Jeff, you will be missed...
Thank you all very much for reading folks