Sunday, 29 January 2017

Evesham Vale: A "Monty" Fine Day...

Hi everyone. Today I was rostered to drive at the 15" gauge Evesham Vale Light Railway - my first turn in Worcestershire for 2017. I rose this morning to murky conditions; rain and fog in a stifling abundance. My drive along the A46 towards Evesham was pretty good considering and I arrived at the EVLR base of Twyford Station not long after 8am. The traditional McDonalds breakfast was then enjoyed: can't do without it...
Stepping into the Mess Room I found the appropriate keys before walking into the engine shed to find the loco for the day: "Monty". I was quite relieved to have the red 0-4-2 over "St Egwin" as the forecast for the remainder of the day was anything but promising. With the shed door opened, I pushed No300 out into the damp morning air. Still warm from yesterdays efforts, it wouldn't take long to get "Monty" up to pressure. I cleaned the grate and checked the tubes and fusible plug. The smokebox was also checked: bone dry as normal. With 1/3 of a glass of water in the boiler all was well in readiness for lighting up. Some paraffin soaked rags were then employed to do the honours...
The draw from the warm chimney soon turned the rags into a blaze...
With the rags burning away on the grate, I added a selection of wood from the nearby bucket. The telling crackling then began and a lethargic trail of smoke rose steadily skyward from the chimney. The coal in the bunker was the usual open cast stuff from Ffos y fran and so I employed my usual method of blacking out the orange flames with a level covering. The artificial draft was provided by the trusty airline and the fire was then left to get on with it. It was then time to set to with the cleaning implements: Peek for the brasses, Pledge for the paintwork. The oiling/greasing process on "Monty" takes next to no time at all. She only has a couple of oiling points for the motion oil, plus a mechanical lubricator to feed the cylinders. The greasing is a quick job undertaken with ease. The hard labour that is often experienced with standard gauge machines is not missed on 15" gauge. The atmosphere on shed is fairly stress-free...
With a cleaned, polished and oiled engine ready to go, it was time to take "Monty" off shed. The former "Markeaton Lady" moved gingerly from her shed road, expelling varying amounts of condensate from the drain cocks. Leaving shed as cautiously as possible gives the engine a chance to get rid of some of that potentially harmful water whilst also protecting your cleaning efforts from a cough of mess from the chimney! The engine was taken steadily to the mouth of the yard where the usual blow-down procedure was undertaken. Though the boilers run on treated water, this daily blow-down helps release any deposits left by the water during evaporation. The valve is situated on the throat plate and its opening lets rip a violent roar of steam...
"Off Shed With Exmoor No300"
With the blow-down complete, "Monty" was backed onto the waiting 10:30am train. With 15 minutes to go, I opted to have another cuppa'. It didn't look like the first trip would run but some passengers turned up last minute. We steamed out into the calm of Evesham Country Park with "Monty" throwing white steam over her shoulder. The load was a modest three coaches and No300 took them easily around the circuit. The 11am trip was a little more well loaded and is seen here at Evesham Vale...
Departing Evesham Vale in a cloud of steam, we were homeward bound...
"The Road Ahead"
Days at Evesham tend to go on much the same: pleasant and calm. The passengers are mostly young families though you do see an enthusiast or two from time to time. By the time the 12:30pm trip rolled around I had opted to light the lamp as the weather was coming in darker all the time. The rain became constant though it wasn't heavy enough to be a real bother. "Monty" was steaming fine...
It was a steady day for the EVLR. The post-Christmas winter months are never the most prosperous for the steam railway sector and a fluttering of passengers, particularly on a damp day like today, is all you can really expect. Prior to our departure with the 13:30 trip it was time to enjoy my lunch by the fire-side. One thing you are very rarely short of on "Monty" is warmth - a good engine for today... 
The attractive headlamp was burning brightly as the rain continued to fall...
I was having a very pleasant, if quiet, day on the former "Markeaton Lady". The engine steamed well and pulled well as normal. Its an effortless machine. As long as you keep the fire light and bright she'll steam like no tomorrow and you can't help but want to put three or four more coaches behind her. She's a very nice engine to be on...
"A Desolate Play Fort With 'Monty' On The 14:00 Trip"
Returning to Twyford ready for the 14:30 train, Mike the Guard spun us on the turntable. Passengers often gather to watch us spin...
The photographs don't really do justice to how dark it was. The light seems to fill the camera but in reality it was quite a dark day. "Monty" was still going well as we awaited departure with the return run of the 14:30 from Evesham Vale...
Back at Twyford the traditional EVLR 'Tea & Cake' was delivered to the engine: a vital uplift during a wet day like this: "Yum"...
Due to lack of interest the 15:00 train didn't run. In reality we enjoyed our nice hot cuppa' and our cake in the cosy covering of the booking office. It was decided that "Monty" would run one more trip and then the diesel engine "Cromwell" would be summoned to work the last train of the day, allowing the 0-4-2 to go on shed for disposal. The arrival of some passengers saw us preparing for the off and we soon departed with a 15:20 departure. "Monty" had a light fire ready for her final run...
"Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends, Once More"
The object of the last run of any day on steam is to run the fire down and prepare the engine for disposal as much as you can. There is little sense in pulling back on shed with a whopping great fire, pressure on the red line and boiler filled to the whistle. Naturally you can't run with no fire at all but the lesser the better as long as you keep the welfare of the firebox and tubes in mind. Too much cold air through a fire bed that is too thin will result in a chill. By the time we arrived at Evesham Vale "Monty" had 130psi on the clock and 1/2 a glass of water on a thin but bright fire - just what we want...
The exposed nature of the boiler tubes can be seen in the firebox...
Trotting casually over the hill back to Twyford with the final train of the day, "Monty" coasted easily down towards the station. We turned her once more on the turntable and she was then watered on the column whilst "Cromwell" meandered out of the yard. The diesel backed down onto the 3-coach train whilst I prepared to take "Monty" on shed. This pair were once a common feature at Markeaton and both are now reunited at Evesham. I believe the Markeaton Park Light Railway was closed and pulled up at the back end of last year and is now just a memory. Happily, the engines live on...
"Markeaton Engines Reunited at Evesham"
Steaming back from the yard mouth through the groaning point work, "Monty" was stopped outside her shed whilst the tail disc of the 16:00 train - hauled by "Cromwell" - slipped into the distance. It was then time to dispose...
The fire was cleaned and deadened, the ashpan was emptied and the boiler filled before I backed "Monty" into the shed on her remaining breaths of steam. The engine was then dried and polished, as is the EVLR practise of keeping things nice. "Cromwell" soon returned and marshalled the stock for stabling until next weekends services. It had been a pleasant day once again at the EVLR and I must thank Adrian & Sandra for their continued hospitality. I always have a nice day there. Cheers all, Sam...

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Tyseley: A Free Running Exhaust...

Hi all. Today I was over at Tyseley again for their weekly volunteer working party. Efforts once again centred around 7029 "Clun Castle" and a good team turned out. I joined Phil & Nathan for a lovely breakfast at the Tyseley Corner Cafe on route (rude not to!) and this contributed to the start of a pleasant day. Work in the afternoon involved fitting parts of the exhaust system and blast pipe. 7029, like 5043, employs the later double-chimney arrangement of the Castle class and thus has a large, double blast-pipe casting. Its quite a thing and is a good four-man lift. Its interesting to study, whilst this work is ongoing, the exhaust abilities of these four cylinder machines. A free running exhaust is often key to the success of a steam engine. The freer the engine can run, the better she'll go. I've known powerful engines in the past to be restricted by their exhaust abilities. Its a fascinating subject and I look forward to seeing 7029 in action on the main line when that time comes. Today was also the first time in around 12 years that I didn't have my annual outing to the GCR's Winter Gala. I thought about it - and they had a great show on offer - but the thought of countless cold, wet enthusiasts bashing me half out of conciousness with their rucksacks all day again put me off. Cheers all and thanks for reading, Sam...

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Tyseley: Braving The Cold - A Bleak Mid-Winter...

"In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan" - words from the 1872 carol penned by English poet Christina Rossetti. Today was certainly an echo of a bleak midwinter as I headed over to Tyseley. Rising early to see the frost heavily settled on the neighbours cars I couldn't wait for the dulling chill that would no doubt be the case at the former 84E. When in steam these imposing main line machines have an almost herculean ability to provide heat but during their seasonal rest period they become warmth robbing heat fiends! Every ounce of temperature enhancing energy is absorbed by these metal entities as they slumber peacefully in their respective positions. After a visit to the local Toby for a breakfast with Phil, we proceeded in convoy over to Tyseley. I met up with the gang in the warmth of the office before we set to work on "Clun Castle". I'd opted for a reasonable half a dozen layers today and found the cold fairly tolerable. Its always a pleasure to help do the odd bit on 7029 as she slowly draws ever-nearer to a return to steam. Down the shed, sister ship 5043 was waiting in the wings, having been cleaned up by the midweek cleaning team. She always looks a treat after their visit...
Behind 5043 stood the Tyseley representative of that oh so numerous class of Great Western 4-6-0 that flooded the Midlands district of the Western region: the humble Hall Class 4-6-0. No4965 "Rood Ashton Hall" is Tyseley's 'Shakespeare' engine. The two operational GWR ten wheeler's always provide an impressive sight as they await their next turns on the main line. Upcoming tours can be viewed here. 4965 is a striking machine and a beautiful example of the level of engineering work carried out here. There are Halls...and then there is this one...
I spent another very pleasant day at Tyseley helping out on various tasks surrounding the Drivers side of 7029. Bit by bit the engine is coming back together! I left the former 84E shed at just before 5pm for the journey home, taking in the various intoxicating smells of the countless Sheldon takeaways on route. The dark of the Winter evenings is counteracted here by the blaring lights of pizza parlours and chip shops. By the way, I have a new book; the main focus being the steam era goings on in Birmingham...
The book is "Birmingham Footplatemen", penned by Fireman Dennis Herbert who served his time on the footplate at Tyseley shed. It provides the essence of the romance of steam coupled with the grimy mixture of soot and elbow grease that was the harsh reality of the profession at the time. Gone were the glory days of the 1930's and here was the decline of steam on the main line...or so they thought! The book is a good read, although I'm only part way in so far. Having enjoyed Colin Jacks' book "Through The Links at Tyseley" I felt another Birmingham based book of memoirs would also be enjoyable. I'll see how I get on. Many thanks for reading once again folks. Next weekend already has one day booked: Sunday: I'm off to Evesham. Cheers all, Sam...

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Statfold Barn: Polish & Buff...

Hi all. Today was the annual Statfold Barn 'Cleaning Day'; a chance for the volunteers to head over to this wonderful narrow gauge set-up and clean off some of the dirt we created in 2016. A cleaning day is a small price to pay for the amount of enjoyment we get from crewing on the SBR's popular Enthusiast Days. I arrived at just after 9am, devouring my now traditional McDonalds breakfast on arrival - I should buy some shares in that place! The many faces of Statfold were pulling in one after the other, with people coming from all over the UK. One really nice feature of volunteering at the SBR is that there are people from across the preservation spectrum, providing a varied wealth of knowledge and experience. I immediately teamed up with my old mate JB who was on form with the 'character building insults' from the word go! With a hot cuppa' in one hand and a rag in the other, we set to cleaning my favourite engine in the SBR fleet - "Isibutu". I don't know what it is about this lovely Bagnall 4-4-0, but there is just something about her. JB was busy with the brass polish, buffing up the nameplates...
JB's threat of "you blog me and I'll blog you" fell on deaf ears - he doesn't have a blog! All around us, the other SBR steeds were being cleaned to within an inch of their lives. There must have been well over 20 volunteers busily working away. Even the out of ticket engines were getting a polish...and the diesels too! The SBR's award winning fleet looks fabulous when cleaned up, with its well-travelled selection of engines standing proudly around the turntable. At lunchtime we had another cuppa' and some snap before returning to the roundhouse to begin cleaning the 2ft 6" Mallet. We'd cleaned "Isibutu" thoroughly and she looked a treat, sitting between two diesel types...
Its hard to take photographs in the roundhouse with my limited skills - other people seem to manage just fine! Over the way were "Jack Lane", O & K No614, Port Class "Sybil Mary" and the wonderful Avonside "Marchlyn"...
The Fiji pair had been cleaned very well and looked beautiful. Nos 11 & 19 worked together abroad and are now reunited at Statfold; one of many pairings here. No11 is now named "Fiji" and is a popular SBR engine...
The cleaning day wrapped up at about 4pm and I was soon heading for home along the A444. The SBR fleet is now shining and they will now be awaiting their dry exams and steam tests in February time. The first SBR Enthusiasts Day of 2017 is on March 25th and our second miniature steam rally - this year dubbed the "Giant Miniature Weekend" - follows in May. Tickets for all SBR events can be booked here. Many thanks indeed for reading folks. I can't wait for the next open day at Statfold! Cheers, Sam...

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Tyseley: The Winter Break...

Hi all. Today I was volunteering over at Tyseley for one of their regular Saturday working parties. I arrived at just after 10am and immediately met up with everyone's favourite sleeper-in "Eddie the Late" who was on a jolly from his selfish man's residence in Norfolk for a date with the Duke. Ed is a supporter of 71000 "Duke of Gloucester" and quite a few followers of the unique 8P Caprotti were down to see progress on her today. Like most steam sheds at this time of the year, the many steeds of Tyseley were standing around silent and cold. The chilled hulks of dormant engines always gather condensation as they sit awaiting their chance through the Winter rest period. Quite a few other groups were down today, including a gang from "Kinlet Hall" and "King Edward I". The works was actually a hive of activity today, though the pannier duo of 9600 & L94 stood idle. It will be nice to see them out & about again in 2017...
Our small gang were busy with the ever progressing overhaul of Tyseley's flagship engine: the double-chimney Castle Class 4-6-0 No7029 "Clun Castle". She is now looking very much like an engine again, though there is still a long way to go. Even though she looks pretty much complete, the untrained eye would be surprised to see just how much work remains. I suppose the phrase "it'll be done when its done" is all you can say. However, the progress is very much there and it will be fantastic to see this historic Castle move under her own steam once again. Who needs to say it with two chimneys when you can say it with four?! It'll be a great and loud occasion...
What is interesting whilst studying the Castle, and indeed other GWR four-cylinder types, is the Walschaerts valve gear set-up between the frames. They use a divided drive with the two inside pistons driving the leading axle and the outside pistons driving the main crank axle. An axle-mounted eccentric is used instead of a return crank and the expansion links swing from a common cross-shaft, being driven from the bottom by the appropriate eccentric. Rocking levers then transfer the valve positioning motion from the inside to the outside valves. There is a good demo video here. Its an interesting set-up and one that obviously works very well. After a very enjoyable (if chilly) day at Tyseley, I headed for home at just after 4pm. For those interested, the Vintage Trains website is here with a variety of tours on offer for 2017. Cheers all, Sam...

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Nene Valley Railway - A Soaking Standard...

Hi everyone. A Happy New Year to you all and I hope that you had an enjoyable Christmas eating and drinking until you could no longer speak - I know I did! I was at a loose end during this hideously wet New Years Day and so decided to jump in the motor and head off in search of steam. Most of the local lines would be running but I fancied trying something different. Around 50 miles east of us lies the Nene Valley Railway, a 7.5-mile long standard gauge set-up which I've never managed to get to in the past. Having checked their website to ensure that a steamer would be rostered, I set off into the damp gloom of this horrid day. It took me just over an hour to reach the NVR's saturated base at Wansford and, having parked up, I scurried into the ticket office to escape the downpours. I had hoped that I would drive out of the persistent rain on the way over but as my ever decreasing run of luck would have it I think it was actually worse at Wansford! Anyway, ticket purchased, I walked out onto the wet platform and up onto the footbridge. Photography wasn't going to be easy today but I did manage to get the odd snap. The Wansford footbridge offered a good view across the loco yard towards the running sheds, with a few NVR residents in sight...
The next departure would be the 11:45am off Wansford and this service duly rolled into the platform behind recently restored BR Standard 2 No78018...
"78018 Pulls In From Peterborough With A Mk.1 Set"
The Standard 2 drifted casually through the platform and came to a halt at the top end. Drenched passengers began to board the steam heated Mk1's whilst a handful of us mad enthusiast types attempted to get a picture of the loco. 78018 is usually based at the Great Central Railway at Loughborough and returned to service in October last year after a painstaking overhaul. She last ran under her own steam in 1966 and so I have to take my sopping wet hat off to her owners - the Darlington Railway Preservation Society - and the GCR for such a nice job. She looked a treat in the rain today...
I boarded the train behind 78018 and immediately assumed my usual position when travelling on preserved metals: the window! We left Wansford a few minutes down and steamed out past the sheds and through the tunnel. Wansford Tunnel is 616 yards long, making it the fourth longest tunnel on any heritage railway in the UK. Blasting out the other end of the tunnel the engine shut-off steam to coast towards the small station at Yarwell Junction. The Mogul was duly uncoupled by a drenched cleaner who was no doubt enjoying his first day swinging about amongst the steam heat and vacuum hoses. Yarwell is roughly a mile from Wansford and is the NVR's westerly terminus...
Uncoupled from her train, 78018 hissed steadily forward before the cleaner set the road for running round. The Mogul then ran backwards, with her safety valves feathering. I believe that the Standard 2's are an ideal size for most preserved railway work...
The Mogul disappeared into the distance before heading back towards us on the correct road. The loop at Yarwell Junction is pretty lengthy in order to stable a good sized train. Today however there were only four coaches in the rake and so the engine was well within the platform limits. Soon enough she was coupled back onto the set...
"78018 Readies For Departure From Yarwell Junction"
The NVR started its preservation life with a wealth of international locomotives and coaching stock. International stock often sits outside the typical British loading gauge and so the platform distance from the train at the Nene Valley is greater than you would see on most heritage lines. The Mk1's have been fitted with wider step-boards to compensate for this extra distance between train and platform...
Departing Yarwell in a cloud of smoke & steam, 78018 roared away back towards Wansford. The coaches rocked & rolled along behind her as she stomped into the tunnel. As we rolled into Wansford to pick-up more passengers, I was sitting down with a nice hot cuppa' from the Buffet Car and thinking what a pleasant (if damp!) experience this was turning out to be. Even rainy days with steam can be enjoyable...
Wansford station originally opened in 1845 and was part of the Northampton and Peterborough Railway. This was absorbed into the LNWR prior to the grouping of the 'Big Four', after which the station became LMS territory. The old station building at Wansford isn't currently in use but it provides an attractive piece of railway architecture. The NVR is fairly flat and so the 2-6-0 had hardly any work to do during the run to Peterborough. The Driver was certainly giving her some stick mind - he certainly liked to get away from the stations quickly! Soon enough we arrived at a very wet Peterborough Nene Valley station, nestling in the shadow of the East Coast Main Line...
The Nene Valley built the Peterborough station during their extension project in 1986 and the locomotive once again runs round here before returning to Wansford...
The poor old cleaner once again had to get oily hands whilst uncoupling 78018 before she hissed backwards to take water at the column. The engine then ran round...
With the westerly points set, 78018 backed down onto the waiting stock...
I managed a low quality, rushed shot into the cab of the Standard 2...
Now for some history on 78018. She was built in 1953 at Darlington as one of BR's 65-strong class of Standard 2 Mogul's. Derived from Ivatt's class 2 types which had appeared in 1946, the 2's were small but punchy performers. Carrying a 200psi boiler feeding 16.5" cylinders with pistons connected to 5ft wheels, the class offered 18,515 lb's of tractive effort but a maximum axle loading of less than 14 tons. Their low axle weight gave them wide route availability and they were popular engines. Four have survived into preservation. 78018 is known to me as "the lost engine of Shackerstone" as she did spend her early preservation life there, minus tender. The rusting hulk languished at Shack for a few years before her current owners bought her in 1981. The restoration has taken many years but it is lovely to see 78018 back in action. The engine achieved a little fame in the harsh February of 1955 when she got stuck in a snow drift at Bleath Gill. A film was made about the rescue of the engine and the remaining wagons of her stricken train and you can see it here. The engine was luckily rescued and returned to work, being withdrawn in 1966. She is currently on loan to the Nene Valley Railway and has helped out over the Santa season. She will soon be returning to her Loughborough base...
Chatting to the crew aboard the Standard 2 they seemed happy with their plucky little engine. The Fireman remarked how well she steamed but that he had been suffering with an injector playing up. The Driver said it was a strong little engine but sometimes lacked the adhesive weight - a fact that surprised me with such a light train but I suppose the weather was pretty rough. She certainly didn't sound like she was doing much slipping on the run! Soon enough we were ready for departure...
"The Wet Road Ahead"
The soaking wet flat-lands around the NVR were desolate today...
78018 was in good voice as she strode towards Wansford...
It was a pleasure to listen to the Riddles 2-6-0 as she marched away from Peterborough - she sounds a treat. You can see the advancements made with the BR Standard range. The injectors are both on the fireman's side, there are grease points instead of wick-feeds or oil pots, the driving controls are under the drivers hand and most items have been designed with ease of maintenance in mind. They turned out to be very workable, useful engines; just as Riddles had intended them. We soon arrived back at Wansford after a pleasant run with the former Bleath Gill Mogul...
It was now time for the lunch break, according to the NVR's Blue Timetable, and so I left 78018 simmering in the platform to see what other machines lay dormant in the yard. Across the way was another BR Standard, this time a larger Class 5 4-6-0. Built in 1954, No73050 "City of Peterborough" was withdrawn from service in 2014 following expiry of her boiler ticket. She now awaits a 10-year overhaul but funding is apparently in the pot to begin this when a space in the shed comes up...
"BR Standard Class 5 No 73050"
The no doubt favourite NVR resident (for the younger visitors anyway) lay cold and damp at the bottom of the yard. The Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 "Thomas" returned to service last year after a 10-year overhaul. Built in 1947, the NVR's "Thomas" was officially named by Rev.W.Awdry and so lays claim to being the only 'real' Thomas replica if you like. The Hudswell now enjoys regular use at Thomas events, operating shuttles between Wansford and Yarwell. I believe she enjoys an annual adventure to Peterborough but this is only for special occasions. It was nice to see "Thomas"...
"Thomas The Tank Engine" - HC 0-6-0 No 1800 of 1947
The NVR has quite a few sheds dotted around its Wansford base but the main restoration shed includes a variety of machinery and has the luxury of a viewing gallery. Inside the shed stood the recently re-steamed Bulleid Battle of Britain Class pacific "92 Squadron". 34081 was built in 1948 and isn't far away from being relaunched into traffic at Nene Valley. She has moved under her own steam but I believe she is currently receiving final fitting out prior to loaded runs. She will probably be out and about on passenger trains by the summer. I must say, from the gallery at least, the job looks a lovely one and the livery is most impressive on the 'spam can' casing...
I was glad to have seen "92 Squadron" and it would be nice to return one day and have a ride behind her. Over the way there was a visiting Austerity 0-6-0 named "Swiftsure" which has also been a mainstay of NVR steam services in recent months, running alongside 78018. At around 2pm I jumped back into the car and prepared for my hour-long journey home. I was soaking wet but it had been a very pleasant little visit to the Nene Valley. I would like to go again one day, but not in torrential rain! The website for the railway is here. My thanks all for reading and once again...Happy New Year. Cheers, Sam...