Saturday, 27 February 2016

Churnet Valley Railway: Winter Steam Gala...

Hi everyone. The Winter months often herald the arrival of two things: low levels of light and high levels of boredom for the steam enthusiast. Thankfully, on this extremely cold weekend, the Churnet Valley Railway in North Staffordshire was holding its Winter Steam Gala. Myself and JB decided to go along for a visit and so at 8am this morning we were creeping onto the M6, northbound towards Stoke-on-Trent. The Churnet Valley Railway operates heritage trains on a 5.5-mile route between Froghall and Leekbrook Junction, with the main operational base being Cheddleton Station. Formally part of the North Staffordshire Railway's Churnet Valley line, today's CVR began its preservation life in the 1970s. Since then it has gone from strength to strength and now boasts a thriving steam fleet as well as an enthusiastic band of operating volunteers. Froghall Station is just under 70 miles for us and we arrived at around 9:20am. Having purchased our tickets and wandered out onto the freezing platform, a shrill whistle was soon heard on the wind. Sure enough, in rolled the top and tailed first train of the day which would make up the 9:45am trip. Heading up the BR stock for the departure would be S160 2-8-0 No6046...
This huge beast of an engine weighs over 135 tons and was built by Baldwin's. For those not familiar with the USATC S160, it is an American contraption which found itself on British soil during the Second World War. They helped out on Britain's railways during the conflict, hauling heavy freight across the country. In all, 2120 of these engines were built and they worked on railways in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America. 6046 herself is a Churnet Valley resident and is quite striking in her gloss black livery. The engine has recently returned home after having heavy repairs carried out at Tyseley, following an incident last year in which water carryover destroyed the left-hand cylinder. Although American stuff isn't really my thing, it is interesting to note the differences between their engines and ours as well as appreciating the contribution that the S160s made to WWII...
"USATC S160 No6046 Awaits The Right Away"
Whilst I was staring deep in thought at 6046, JB had meandered through the amassed hoards and found us a seat in the steam-heated lead coach. With a loud blast on the 2-8-0s piercing whistle, the train was away. A banking engine would be tailing the S160 as far as Leekbrook; the big Yankee engine continuing alone from there. A trolley service soon passed and we enjoyed a hot cuppa' whilst perusing the timetable...
After a pleasant run along the chilly Churnet Valley, it wasn't long before 6046 rolled into Cheddleton. Though the CVR terminates a mile after Cheddleton at Leekbrook Junction, the track continues across the moorland and the railway is graciously allowed to take advantage of this on certain days. The steeply graded route to Ipstones Loop is as challenging as 1 in 37 in places and 6046, despite her size, would certainly have her work cut out. Having roared through the 531-yard long Leekbrook Tunnel, the engine slowed to a stop so that the tail engine could be uncoupled. With a Right Away from the Guard, the S160 lurched forward and tore at the foot of the bank like a thing possessed. We soon found out why this initial burst of enthusiasm took place as the engine dug into the stiff climb. Even with a fairly easy load of 5-coaches, 6046 was working well; the Driver later reported that 50% cut-off was used to attack the bank. After 20-minutes or so of lovely crisp beats shattering farmhouse windows, the train regrettably reached Ipstones. The S160 duly uncoupled and ran forward in preparation for running round...
There are currently no passenger facilities at Ipstones: not even a platform. The desolate landscape provides only a run-round loop...
"6046 Runs Round at Ipstones Loop"
Once the big American engine was back at the head of the train, the slow descent of the route back to Leekbrook Junction began. Due to the severity of the gradient, there are numerous Stop Board's and thus progress is sedate at best. At Leekbrook Junction the train was held so that the Pilot engine (5619) could be coupled on for a double-headed jolly to Cheddleton. Back through the tunnel we went in a cloud of steam and soon enough we found ourselves alighting onto the chilly platform at Cheddleton. A shunting operation then took place so that Great Western Taff Tank No5619 could become the sole train engine, thus releasing 6046. The Taff Tank is spotted below...
"Guest Engine - Taff Tank 0-6-2T No5619 of 1925"
Having replaced the S160 as the train engine, 5619 duly got the stock away on time. This engine is actually owned by the little Telford Steam Railway in Shropshire but is hired out to larger railways due to her capabilities as a powerful and reliable performer...
JB was famished after all the excitement and thus a hot Bacon & Sausage Cob was the only way to go, finished off by a nice cup of coffee of course...
Whilst we enjoyed our cobs during a brief moment of remotely warm sunshine, our former tail engine forged through the platform with a non-stop service for Leekbrook Junction. This engine is TKH 0-6-0T No2944 "Hotspur"...
"Stand Back From The Platform Edge: The Next Train Does Not Stop Here"
Stomachs replenished and toes turning blue, we decided it was time for a wander around the loco shed and prep yard. The TKH soon returned with the Local set and the S160 then took over to provide the power for the next departure to Froghall...
Inside the locomotive shed stood the frames of another S160: No5197. I believe that this engine is owned by the same chap who has 6046 and it too has worked in preservation. It is gradually nearing the end of an extensive overhaul; her boiler lying only feet from her chassis. These American types have huge all-steel boilers which sit atop bar frames for ease of access and maintenance. 5197 sure is coming along and soon enough the Churnet Valley will almost certainly boast a pair of working S160s...
The nearby Carriage & Wagon shed was also open for viewing. Though there was only a wagon in there as a 'work in progress', I felt that the equipment available for the volunteers/staff to carry out their tasks was worth a shot. With the right equipment, you can do great things...
Having found our way over to the prep area, we found the TKH lounging in the sun. A TKH is another foreign engine. In fact, the TKH is a product of Poland and they were very successful shunting engines. Their success resulted in 477 of them being built between 1948 & 1961. I know of at least half a dozen examples that now live in the UK and most of them have worked at one stage or another. The class was never native to Britain in their working days but budding preservationists heard of their talents and began importing them. Little did the Polish engineers who built them know that these chunky tank engines would find themselves one day hauling passenger trains for tourists on Britain's heritage railways. 2944 herself was built in 1952 and is one of a pair based on the railway. Along with 6046, she provides the basis of the Churnet Valley steam fleet...
Along the sidings we found a tell-tale pile of steam locomotive bits. The first clue was a set of wheels - "leader" said John. We then found two intermediates and a crank axle before the penny dropped that I had remembered a forlorn Stanier 8F residing here. We soon discovered the rusting frames of No48173 of June 1943; an 8F that needs a substantial amount of time and money to ever see steam again. Rumour has it 48173 is on the cards once the two other 2-8-0s are complete: lets hope so. Whilst we contemplated a lottery win, a familiar ticking was heard in the distance. The Taff Tank was approaching from Consall and was slowing up for a water stop as I snapped her...
During the water stop, 5619's Leekbrook Pilot was attached - this role being performed by "Hotspur" the TKH. Once coupled up, the unusual pairing pulled forward into the platform...
"A Polish TKH Pilots A Taff Tank"
Having crossed the level crossing to watch the departure, 2944 and 5619 got underway. The TKH was certainly showing signs of strain and primed away into the distance; the drain cocks being opened a few panels down the line...
Cheddleton Station is an attractive little country stop. The station opened in September 1849 and is still happily serving passengers today...
With 5619 now on the Ipstones route, 2944 returned to Cheddleton for stabling. She would relieve 6046 on the Local and form the 1:56pm departure. Myself and JB joined the Polish tank on this trip and enjoyed a pleasant ride to Froghall in the warmth of a cosy BSK. Upon arrival at Froghall, 2944 is seen again...
The tank engine was duly uncoupled and ran swiftly around the train in readiness for a prompt departure back to Leekbrook via Consall and Cheddleton. Its nice to see industrials: imported or not: still serving a useful purpose on preserved lines. The Churnet Valley is unusual for me in that, in the future, two S160s and two TKH's (as the line also has No2871 under overhaul) will provide all steam services. It just shows how useful certain designs from other countries can be, whilst also providing a varied and cultured roster for the visitor. The striking green No2944 "Hotspur" is seen here preparing for the off...
With 2944 having stormed off into the cold afternoon air, JB decreed that it was time for another cuppa' in the Tea Room. Having enjoyed a nice brew by the fire in an attempt to get some of the feeling back in my fingers, a thundering rumble heralded the arrival of 6046 again. We decided to stay and watch her depart with the 3:20pm train before heading back to the BMW for some warmth and the run home. Never has one been so forceful with the term "get that bloody heater on!". I must thank JB for his company today as we had a most pleasant day out despite the dark and bitter weather. The Churnet Valley Railway had provided a pleasant and interesting day out amongst a varied selection of loco's. It was of course most pleasant to see the Great Western's No5619 but the quirks of the two foreign engines really did provide something different. Many thanks all, Sam...

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Very Sad News: A Tribute to Ken...

It is with great sadness that I must write that Ken, a good friend and the builder of "Achilles", passed away on Thursday night at the age of 91. Regular readers will know of my involvement with Ken over the years and it was his kindness and generosity that led to me eventually owning his beloved 5" gauge tank engine. Ken built the engine from scratch in the mid-1980s and spent 3 years in his home workshop doing so. The locomotive was completed by 1987 and Ken was in fact running the engine on the day that Coventry City won the FA Cup. I first became involved with Ken and the engine in 2009 and, despite mechanical faults, Ken was determined to keep her going. In 2011, Ken paid me the most generous gift: the ownership of his locomotive...
Since then, Ken continued to be a great help to me as I learnt the various trials and tribulations of steam locomotive ownership and their various needs. He was very supportive and was instrumental in encouraging me to delve further into the hobby. As a former tool-maker, Ken could turn his hand to almost anything engineering-wise and, even if something was readily available off the shelf, would relish the chance to have a go at making the component himself. No engineering obstacle was too great. Particularly in my younger years, his experience and unassuming nature were inspiring. Ken also continued to regularly come to the track when he knew "Achilles" would be out, as seen here in 2012 when Ed is seen on the regulator...
"Achilles, Ed and Ken" - 2012
Throughout the various repairs and overhauls that I've since carried out on "Achilles", Ken was always kept in touch and often gave good advice on things which I wasn't sure of. After the repaint of the engine, Ken came along to be reunited with her in steam in September 2014, the picture below later appearing on the cover of the CMES newsletter...
Outside of railways and model engineering, Ken was a keen musician and learnt the Saxophone and Clarinet during his 80's! There would be many a Steam Up afternoon where Ken would be playing his Sax to the enjoyment of onlookers and passing steam drivers. Also, "Achilles" wasn't the only engine Ken built. He also made a lovely 1.5" Allchin traction engine and a 3" Atkinson steam lorry. His final project was a 3.5" Heilan Lassie. Ken even came along to Shackerstone on one occasion back in 2011, enjoying his first ever footplate ride on a standard gauge locomotive in the form of GWR 3803. I am very sad to be writing this post and I believe that CMES has lost a very committed, kind and experienced member. To me, he was a very kind and generous friend and an individual who's can-do attitude was second to none. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him and I am very sorry to be saying goodbye. Rest in Peace Ken.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Tyseley: A Chilly Day...

Hi everyone. Today was another most enjoyable day volunteering at the former 84E: Tyseley Locomotive Works. I arrived at around 10am in chilly weather. The Winter is really biting at the moment and creates little more than a distinct longing for Spring. Todays activities again centred around 7029 "Clun Castle"; the 1950-built Swindon 4-6-0. "Clun" is gradually nearing the end of an extensive overhaul and it has been my privilege to help with some of the ongoing tasks in recent weeks. Below, we see an unusual view inside a locomotive firebox: the lead-lamp hanging up on the tube-plate creating an impressive image...
"Through The Firehole Door" - Great Western Castle
As can be seen, the locomotive firebox is made up of several hundred rivets and stays. The small tubes we can see are the Smoke Tubes, whilst the larger tubes are the Flue Tubes which will later surround the superheater elements. One very noticeable missing feature is the brick arch. The arch protects the tubes and flues from incoming waves of cold air which access the firebox through the firehole door. The arch is also inclined so as to divert the hot gases up into the combustion area towards the crown. Naturally the engine will also have a fire-grate and an ashpan when complete. However, it is only with back-to-basics views like the one above that we can appreciate the construction methods involved in steam boilers. All this helping out at Tyseley has proved a fantastic learning curve so far and I am very much enjoying it as there is always something new to get involved with - I should have done this years ago. Best Regards, Sam...

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Tyseley: Another Riveting Day...

Hi all. Today I was on my way over to Birmingham for another day volunteering at Tyseley Loco Works. Its fair to say that the weather was rough - all rain and wind - with plans for it to get even worse as the day wore on. A hardy bunch of volunteers had turned out despite the rainstorm and work began at around 10am. The object of the day was to finish off riveting the foundation ring of 7029. The foundation ring, for those not familiar, is the seal between the inner and outer firebox sheets. Some call it a mud ring, as the various scales which leave the boiled water during evaporation settle in the foundation ring due to it being the lowest point. Having helped with some hot riveting the other week as the 'runner', this week I was playing the part of the 'warmer'. Here are some of the rivets prior to heating...
Wearing all the necessary PPE, three of us began riveting during the mid-morning. The job of the warmer, quite obviously, is to heat the material ready for riveting. Hot riveting is done with the metal in a literally red hot condition so that the hammer and jammer can crush the rivet into the desired shape. In the case of the GWR Castle, the design requires the crushed rivet on the outer firebox sheet to be flatter in size due to limited clearances when the boiler is placed between the frames. Designs do vary, with some engines having what looks like another rivet head almost identical to the 'factory' type crushed onto their end after riveting.

As the warmer, I was in charge of the oxy-propane torch and was warming the many rivets up on the warming table. Naturally, it is HOT work - every part of you seems to start baking! It is however interesting to do as the metal needs to be critical enough to be crushed easily without losing temperature at an alarming rate but also needs to not get so hot that it melts. There is a very fine line between good and gone let me tell you! With the rivet hot and ready to go, the rivet is taken with tongs and quickly handed under the foundation ring and fed into the required hole from the inside of the firebox. The head therefore stays on the inside, as per design. A jammer is then placed on the head to secure it whilst the hammer on the other side uses compressed air to crush the rivet with the cylinder inside bashing the bullet against the forming tool which thus repeatedly bangs the rivet into shape. It takes more skill than I've described to crush rivets but its hard to write what I mean! A row of crushed rivets is seen below, against the outer firebox sheet...

We went on riveting for the rest of the day, eventually finishing 7029's foundation ring completely. Its amazing just how many rivets go into a GWR Castle's foundation ring alone, let alone the rest of the firebox and boiler. Due to the massive pressures attempting to force their way out at every inch of the boilers plate-work, the countless fixings (stays and rivets) are necessary! Below is another video that is available on YouTube. It shows hot riveting taking place on the foundation ring of another Great Western engine - a 56XX type Taff Tank 0-6-2. The variation between designs can be spotted as you will notice that the rivet is crushed into a larger head on the upside-down firebox of the 56XX, unlike the Castle where a flatter outer head is required...
Hot riveting is very hard, loud and extremely noisy work but it is interesting to see the process in action. It is also interesting to appreciate the speed of the process. From the warming table to fully crushed takes only a matter of seconds as the room temperature and of course the chilly plate-work of the boiler will steal the heat away very quickly, making crushing almost ineffective. We finished at just after 5pm, with the persistant rain still beating down hard on the shed roof of 84E's fairly recent extension. All in all it was another very enjoyable and rewarding day volunteering at Tyseley and 7029 can now enjoy her fully riveted foundation ring. The 1950-built Castle is progressing - one more step closer to steam. Best Regards, Sam...