Saturday, 9 September 2017

Statfold Barn with Fabulous "Fiji"...

"Smiles All Round On Lautoka No11" (Pic - B.Bryan)
Hi all. Crewing for the delightful Statfold Barn Railway has been a great pleasure over the last few years and we've been lucky enough to drive and fire a fair number of their fine machines. One name however has been at the top of my to-do list for a good while now: "Fiji". This huge Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 was built by the Leeds firm in 1912 as works number 972. Constructed for CSR's Lautoka sugar mill in Fiji, the requirement was for a powerful locomotive with a wheelbase short enough to cope with sharp curves but a fuel capacity large enough to complete an 82-mile round trip with a potential train of 260 tons. On 2ft gauge tracks, 972 is a large engine and I've been looking forward to driving her for a long time. Today, at the SBR's September open day, the opportunity had finally arrived and I was rostered as "Fiji"s driver. I did take her for a trip or two a couple of years ago at a family do but this was my first full day. We arrived at the base of the SBR at just before 6am and the large tender engine was found in the High Level platform as the first of the days sun shone down...
972 worked at Lautoka until around 1958 when she was stored. The mill owners overhauled her for the 75th anniversary of the opening of the mill in 1978 and she ran during the celebrations. The largest indignity for any steam locomotive came in 1985 when a new tourist operation in the area: the Coral Coast Railway Company: took No11 from the mill. The tender was fitted with a diesel engine and hydraulic drive whilst the back of the firebox was cut off to give space for a gearbox. The full diesel conversion resulted in the engine being used for pleasure trips as a shadow of her former self. Thankfully, she was rescued from Fiji in 2011, arriving at Statfold the following year. A painstaking (and no doubt very expensive) restoration took place and 972 finally breathed steam again in 2014. We all remarked what a beautiful engine she was when Statfold unveiled her that year and all credit to them for pulling it off. The footplate is big enough for a party of ten...
Paul: an FR & WHR Driver: was booked as the fireman and we spent the next couple of hours preparing the engine together. Our duty today was the ever intensive High Level service which operates with a rake of three coaches top and tailed by two steamers. Our partner today was my favourite: the Bagnall "Isibutu": crewed by another Paul & Mick. Whilst fireman Paul buffed up "Fiji"s brass work, I went around with the oil cans. She carries Walschaerts valve gear and most items are accessible outside the framing. A large Wakefield lubricator is mounted on the drivers side to feed the axleboxes, partnered with a smaller cylinder oil example...
"Filling The Tender Pots" (Pic - Mark of SBR)
Just after 8am, we wandered over to the snap van to grab some breakfast. A sausage & bacon cob is most welcome on any Statfold morning...
The usual 8:30am Safety Briefing took place on the lawn and, with all procedures for the day now freshly in mind, we returned to No11. Paul added a few shovelful's of coal to the fire and this produced a thick acrid smoke. You only have to show this coal the fire to get a lot of smoke; a trait that was going to continue throughout the day...
At around 9am, with the 'Goose' Railbus having cleared our path, "Isibutu" was given the signal to take out the first HL train. Being 'on this side' has its advantages as you aren't sort of confined by the many movements which are required to set-up a days running on the Low Level railway - you just go. The green Bagnall hauled us easily around the railway with the ECS before we arrived at Oak Tree loop...
"Isibutu" patiently waited for the railbus to return from Statfold HL...
Whilst Paul got the water level up ready for the boiler to sit nose down on the car park bank, I went around the engine checking all was well. I'd primed the Wakefield well over 50 turns before moving off but a couple more doesn't hurt to make sure all is primed and working prior to the commencement of passenger runs...
In sunny conditions, a Low Level train hauled by "Liassic" and "Marchlyn" passes by the larger bulk of "Fiji" as we await our path...
Once the 'Goose' had exchanged tokens with us, the Bagnall took the train easily up to Statfold and provided the days first attack on the 'very steep' climb back up into the HL platform. My nerves were slowly building on the way back, ready for my first round trip with "Fiji" on the HL. With the signal 'off' and a "Right Away" from the Guard, we drifted down onto the concrete road past the signalbox. As we chugged out past the tram shed, "Fiji" felt the weight of the coaches and "Isibutu" on the tight curve. We then drifted down to Oak Tree before negotiating the balloon loop. The run back from the balloon loop is steady until the foot of the hump of a bank up to the Oak Tree passing loop. Here, one notch back, "Fiji" was given main valve to ascend the hill. She went up there beautifully and I reckon if you hit it a little quicker (you can't because of the Bagnall's distinct dislike of corners!) then pilot valve would be enough. However, with a sniff of main she was a joy and we pulled up at the stop board before a chat with "Isibutu"s driver Paul. Paul is a reader - "Hi Paul!"...
"Chatting With Driver Paul" (Pic - B.Bryan)
It was at this point that I looked across to fireman Paul and said "well isn't this extremely pleasant". What a lovely old thing. From Oak Tree we steamed back up to Statfold where main valve was again employed for the steep climb to the terminus. "Fiji" went up there very well too, pulling hard on a climb that tests the strongest of engines. One trip done, we sat down in our seats for an easy trip. Due to the Bagnall only having four wheels to employ for driving purposes, I did hold our weight on her runs today...no point thrashing either of these fine locomotives. After "Isibutu"s trip, we were on the front again and are captured in the same place awaiting the 'Goose'...
Without going on too much, the day continued just like that: we pulled a trip, they pulled a trip. Passenger numbers were strong throughout the day and both the Low Level and tramway were equally busy. I was thoroughly enjoying myself aboard "Fiji" and was impressed with her responsiveness and riding quality. Paul meanwhile had no trouble keeping the pressure near the red line as 972's large boiler is free steaming and provides plenty of capacity for her cylinders. Firing-wise we probably had a thicker fire than we needed but on this sort of job you need to "get um' hot" but keep them hot too. You don't want cold air rushing through a thin fire bed on gradients like this and with "Fiji"s lack of a brick arch you don't fire on the run. After all we're here to not only crew the engine but safeguard her well being too...
"Tailing The Bagnall" (Pic - T.Easter)
With a breath of steam leaving the chimney as we approach the car park bank, I'm about to open the regulator further to help "Isibutu" up the hill...
"Holding Our Weight" (Pic - M.Howard)
On the next trip, "Fiji" makes an impressive sight on the balloon loop...
"The Hudswell In The Balloon Loop" (Pic - M.Howard)
A fun aspect of Statfold is always the side by side running...
"972 And 14" (Pic - I.Goodman)
Thick smoke coughs from the balloon stack chimney as I lean out from the cab approaching Oak Tree from Statfold HL...
"Driving HC 972" (Pic - I.Goodman)
The coal provided good heat for the boiler but as I say it was very smoky stuff. Even a shovelful turned the exhaust black! "Fiji" carries the balloon stack style chimney that is designed to reduce the risk of throwing sparks. Of course, in the Fijian sugar fields, hot sparks being ejected is a massive no! Here, the engine awaits an afternoon turn as the changeable weather turns back to sun from an impromptu downpour. Note the double skin cab roof designed to induce air flow...
Another fun factor of "Fiji" is her chime whistle. The massive brass chime sits atop the dome and its steam valve is unusually opened via a threaded rod connected to a control in the cab. Known as an 'Elephant Blaster', the whistle is fantastic in operation and a pleasure to use. Anyone that says they don't like blowing a steam whistle is a liar! It worked a treat as well, we didn't see a single Elephant...
"Approaching The Balloon Loop" (Pic - T.Easter)
Mark the Guard caught us chewing the fat on the tail of a late afternoon train...
"Chatting" (Pic - Mark of SBR)
All too soon, although we reckon we did about 20 trips, it was time for our last train of the day and "Isibutu" led us around the balloon loop for the last time. A rainbow hovered above Cogan Halt as we approached...
"Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (Pic - T.Easter)
Seconds later, the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down. It was certainly a downpour, it was pouring down like no tomorrow. Myself & Paul did our best to huddle into the corners of "Fiji"s cab but unfortunately it is actually a sun cover rather than a rain shelter! It was just absolutely horrid I can tell you...
Our misery was turned to humour at one stage when we saw "Sybil Mary" attacking the bank with the final LL train. Driver Ian was soaked...
As the rain slowly relented, I made a few final checks around "Fiji" before "Isibutu" took us homeward with the last train of the day. We'd had a great time...
As we arrived back into Statfold we could see the other 14 engines lining up in the headshunt yard ready for the cavalcade. Once the train was stabled in the HL platform "Isibutu" was removed and went down to the headshunt via the LL station. We thought we were going to miss out but a last minute call saw us drop down the bank with the coaches still in tow. Nick then beckoned for us to start the whistle off. Therefore, I opened the whistle and "Fiji"s chime blasted out across the fields. The others sat there watching until I beckoned them to get started and the following chorus of screaming whistles was enjoyed by the saturated crowds...
"A Fijian Whistle" (Pic - T.Easter)
Fun over, our final move was to push the three coaches back up to the HL platform. I didn't know if we'd do it but, having pulled forward slightly, I assumed full reverse and gave "Fiji" some regulator. At full pilot, she got the coaches onto the climb with Will working the sanding gear - a feature I would have loved to have known about earlier when I was struggling with adhesion after one of the downpours! Sure enough, when I gave the 0-6-0 main valve she kept her feet admirably and lumbered backwards up the hill. Train safe and secure, we handed over "Fiji" to our relief crew ready for her jaunt on the evening train later on tonight. What a fabulous day...
Well that's it folks after another great day out on the Statfold Barn Railway. "Fiji" is fabulous - no doubt about it. I must thank fireman Paul for his company today and of course driver Paul and fireman Mick for being our partners for the day. Will deserves great thanks too for rostering us - thanks mate. Finally, thank you to the photographers who have kindly let me use their images in this heavy post. I really like "Fiji" and its a pleasure to have now driven her for a day. Thousands of miles from the sugar fields of her old life, 972 enjoys a happy retirement on the SBR in her original steam form for all to enjoy. Although "Isibutu" will always be my favourite, "Fiji" has to be the jewel in Statfold's restoration crown. Cheers all, Sam...

Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Final "Shakespeare Express" of 2017...

Hi all. Today, in bleak and drizzly conditions, the final "Shakespeare Express" of 2017 ran between Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon. On the roster once again was the beautiful Castle Class 4-6-0 No5043 "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe". That makes it eight of a possible eight for the four-cylinder machine and what a season it has been. This was my fifth "Shakespeare" on the Support Crew and so, with the massive risk of repeating myself, I'm not going to write a full post about today. Included below are a few captioned images to tell some of the story. Rest assured it was another enjoyable experience and a fitting end to a Great Western summer on the North Warwick line. Here, 5043 summons her strength as she moves off shed for the final time, at least for this "Shakespeare" season anyway...
Its 8am, and 5043 is waiting patiently at the head of the eight-coach ECS for Snow Hill. The bark of her double chimney will soon be echoing through the slowly awakening Birmingham suburbs as she tiptoes into the city centre...
Its now coming up towards 2pm and the Castle has recently arrived at Snow Hill and is being prepared to run round ready for Train C back to Stratford...
After watering and servicing, the immaculate Castle waits under changeable skies for the final departure of the season back to Snow Hill, via Claverdon...
David Chandler was once again out & about at the lineside and kindly sent in this image without me even badgering him for it - thank you mate!...
"5043 Bursts Under The Bridge At Stratford Parkway" (Pic - D.Chandler)
After a cracking run back with the final train, 5043 simmers at Snow Hill in the fading afternoon light of this dull September Sunday...
Later on, the engine waits to be shunt released once back at base at Tyseley...
A footplate ride back to the shed aboard "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe"...
Finally, a Castle at rest back on the shed frontage...
With that, as the immaculate 4-6-0 simmered quietly reflecting upon a bright summer, it was time for a cuppa' before heading for home. What a great season its been on the Stratford trips. Its been a great experience and, once again, a pleasure to be out with the Tyseley team. Thank you to them for their continued hospitality - its a privilege to be involved. Thank you also to those who keep this blog read - I appreciate it. And so the curtain closes on another "Shakespeare" season, though I'm already looking forward to 2018! The full story of the "Shakespeare Express" outings can be found in previous posts. "The king's a beggar, now the play is done: All is well ended, if this suit be won"...quite aptly taken from "Alls Well That Ends Well". Cheers all, Sam...

Sunday, 27 August 2017

A Super Sunny "Shakespeare"...

"A Sunlit Castle" (Pic - D.Chandler)
Hi all. After our week away in Devon, we returned home to what turned out to be a baking Bank Holiday weekend. Today, bright and early, I was on my way over to the former 84E to volunteer on the Support Crew for Tyseley's "Shakespeare Express". Due to the gauging issues which have plagued the regular engine No4965 "Rood Ashton Hall", the larger Castle has been the mainstay of the 2017 season. Today was no exception and an immaculate "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" was edging gently outside as I arrived at the shed. Whilst the rest of the team busied themselves around her with the oil feeders, I grabbed some rag and a set of ladders before setting to with the Brasso. With the sun beaming down, it was already warm at 7:30am and a lovely day was in prospect as the "Earl" brewed up patiently...
At 8am, under blue skies, the "Earl" hissed into life in readiness to go off shed. Reams of condensate filled the air as she summoned her strength to move forwards...
Tyseley engines benefit from a hard working gang of cleaners which turn up during the week between the "Shakespeare" services. They had once again made sure that the "Earl" was shining for her Sunday appearance and the 1936-built 4-6-0 looked a real picture as she awaited departure with the ECS for Snow Hill on this cloudless morning. I think I have about 300 shots or so now of the Castle stood in the exact same spot. I suppose I should really get more creative...
With a little time to spare before the off, I wandered down the yard to have a look at a brief visitor to 84E: "Oliver Cromwell". Built at Crewe in 1951, No70013 had recently arrived at Tyseley from her base at the GCR. In a few days she'll be off to Didcot to collect the blue King before towing her to Old Oak Common for the open day next Saturday. The Britannia made an imposing sight in the sunlit yard...
Back at 5043, "right time" was nearing...
In an effort not to bore regular readers too much, I won't go into massive detail about the goings on today as it was the usual "Shakespeare" format. Instead, I'll just caption a few of the pictures below. After running round the ECS at Snow Hill, 5043 is brought onto the 10am departure for Stratford (Train A)...
After a pleasant run down to Shakespeare's birthplace, we watered the Castle in the usual manner before she backed onto the waiting train. As we have a fairly long layover here I decided to wander over the footbridge and photograph the simmering loco. Unfortunately, the warm sunshine did little for me except create a sea of haze. It was very warm down in Stratford and the rather clement weather duly called for an ice cream and a slush (we know how to live!)...
After returning to Birmingham on Train B, our short run round at Snow Hill was followed by a prompt departure back to Stratford. After watering and servicing, I had a second attempt at the 'waiting for departure shot' with 5043. This one turned out considerably better as the beautiful "Earl" simmered in the sun...
With the sun still shining, the "Earl" left Stratford behind and jogged homeward under the wonderful blue skies. Not to be poetic but a thoroughbred Great Western engine tearing through the green fields of the Warwickshire countryside on a summer Sunday afternoon like this is quite pleasant to experience!...
"A Countryside Castle" (Pic - D.Chandler)
Having the Support Coach right behind the loco on the homeward runs does have its advantages as when we pull up I can grab a shot before the mass of onlookers arrives. 5043 is pictured just after arrival at Snow Hill...
As usual the final run round was followed by a prompt departure back to Tyseley with the ECS. The "Earl" descended into the 'middle road' ready to be shunt released by the Class 08 diesel shunter. Another job well done...
With the train out of the way, a still sparkling 5043 steamed back to the shed...
Finally, the engine rests on the shed road after another successful day out...
There you go then folks - another grand day out with the "Shakespeare Express". I've tried not to ramble on too much with this one as the pictures speak louder than words. Today was another interesting, enjoyable and humorous day out on the Support Crew, if a little warm! I must thank Tyseley for their continued hospitality: its a pleasure to be involved. I must also thank David Chandler for continuing to put up with me badgering him for images - thanks David! All in all, another great experience. Next week is the last "Shakespeare" of 2017 - don't miss it. Cheers all, Sam...