Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Beautiful "Earl" On The "Shakespeare Express"...

"A Castle In Flight" (Pic - D.Chandler)
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more" - a quote from Shakespeare's "Henry V". Today Tyseley's flagship steam service: the "Shakespeare Express": would have its first outing of the 2017 season, taking in two round trips to the birthplace of the famous playwright from the industrial heartlands of Birmingham. Vintage Trains, the 84E-based operating arm, has been running these specials on an annual basis for years now and they are arguably one of the most (if not the most) value for money experiences involving steam on the main line. As Support Crew, we go along and do the usual - help with coaling, watering and any other tasks surrounding the general welfare of the locomotive and stock. I arose at 05:30 this morning ready for my journey up the M6 into Birmingham. As the late great Johnny Cash once sang "Then I fumbled in my closet, through my clothes and found my cleanest, dirty shirt. Then I washed my face and combed my hair and stumbled down the stairs, to meet the day". Wonderful words seemingly true on steam days - a bright & early start is a must. I felt much better after my McDonalds though...
Arriving at Tyseley at around 06:45, I wandered down the oh so familiar pathway to the loco works. The adjacent London Midland depot was alive with rumbling units awaiting duties after their overnight maintenance. The days traction: No5043 "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe": was already outside the shed with a plume of smoke drifting steadily skyward from the double chimney...
The team were busy oiling and cleaning the already immaculate Castle Class 4-6-0, although I was set to work buffing up the cab roof to get all the smuts off. Even after nine full years in main line service, the "Earl" is a pleasure to polish and comes up like new. This is surely a testament to the love and care lavished upon her at 84E. Our ECS departure time was scheduled for 9 o'clock on the dot and so the Castle went over a little before 08:30. The slumbering Class 08 was rudely awakened by a hissing shove from the "Earl" in order to clear it from her path as she left shed...
Once clear of the motor points, 5043 was given the road to slink gently backwards onto the 8-coach set. Buffered up and coupled on, there was a moment or two to capture the Castle simmering gently at the head of the train. I've said it before, I'll say it again...what a handsome, muscular looking machine!...
As departure time neared, our Guard (Phil) was making his final checks. I meanwhile was put to work on arguably the most important morning task - cooking the crew breakfasts! Our usual (and highly experienced) chef Tony wasn't with us today and so I had to turn my hand to a conservative effort of not burning the bacon...
As 5043 trotted through the slowly awakening suburbs of Birmingham, I was slaving away over the cooker with the much needed help of young Ed. The abuse hurled at a destroyer of breakfasts aboard the Support Coach is always at the back of the mind in these situations. As the bacon and sausage cobs slowly left the kitchen side in order to be devoured by their various parties, I slowly began to fill with relief. By now the Castle was barking away up the strong gradient in the gloomy confines of Snow Hill Tunnel, her labours echoing throughout the train. Arriving into our usual platform the final sandwiches were given out and I could theoretically relax. Cooking crew breakfasts is stressful! 5043 ran round her train at Snow Hill ready for our 10:00 departure to Shakespeare's Stratford upon Avon...
"The Guard Brings 5043 Onto The Waiting Train"
Right on time, the Castle hissed away from Snow Hill and dropped down the gradient towards our second pick-up at Moor Street, in the shadow of the Bullring shopping centre. Leaving there, 5043 picked up her eight coaches easily and strode tender first towards Tyseley. Listening to the engine working away at around 30mph and a breath of steam is wonderful - not a bang, not a knock, not a clink...its beautiful...what a machine. Looking out across the rolling Warwickshire countryside as the seemingly huge wheels of the engine roll around effortlessly beneath her is quite a thing. After a final pick-up at Henley we dropped into Stratford down the Wilmcote bank. There, 5043 ran round the train before watering commenced...
Whilst the Castle was preparing for departure, I was back on the cooker again. The team had trotted across to Morrisons during the layover and had returned bearing burgers. To be fair, they turned out alright although we must have smelt like a flying barbeque with the screaming cry of the double chimney Castle being tailed by clouds of greasy smoke from the support coach! Once safely back at a stand in Snow Hill, I ejected quickly to grab a shot of the 4-6-0 before the public turned out...
The second Snow Hill layover is shorter than the morning one. 5043 duly ran round her rake of chocolate & cream coaches before assuming her place for a tender first departure. Back at Stratford, passenger and photographer Maxine Tait caught me collecting hoses after we'd topped up the tender again...
"Got Any O's?" (Pic - M.Tait)
Jobs at Stratford include pulling coal down, watering the tender, changing the lamps and the headboard and the crew will also check over and re-oil the loco. Its a fairly leisurely affair as there is a good layover time, allowing onlookers to view the Great Western engine with time to spare. Soon enough, our final departure homeward arrived and the Castle was soon barking towards Wilmcote once again. Back at Snow Hill the engine was ready for a final run round prior to her ECS run back to base...
A run round capture of "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" at Snow Hill...
Our end of the platform soon cleared once 5043 was out of sight...
The "Shakespeare" stock returns to Tyseley via Moor Street and Small Heath, descending into the yard and into the middle road. There, 5043 waits to be shunt released by the Class 08 diesel shunter...
"Ready For A Rest"
A tender first arrival means no need to turn and the Castle (once free) steams back to the shed via the motor points for disposal and stabling. What a pleasant day it had been, strolling through the Warwickshire countryside with a Great Western express engine. For more information on Tyseley's signature excursion - click here. Thank you to everyone at Tyseley for another great day out - always a pleasure and a privilege to be involved. Thank you to Maxine Tait and David Chandler for kindly sending in images for use in this post and thank you all for reading. Cheers then, until next time, Sam...

Friday, 14 July 2017

"Sir Gomer" - The Foxfield Adventure...

"Peckett 'Sir Gomer' Does The Banking" (Pic - G.Nuttall)
Hi all. Longer term readers will no doubt remember my many travels with Shackerstone's 0-6-0 saddle tank "Sir Gomer"; their faithful, chunky Peckett. She was the first big engine I 'worked' on as a trainee and for this reason she's always been special to me. When the railway decided that it wanted to favour larger, more glamorous locomotives the Peckett was shipped off on various short term hire jobs around the country. On all of those visits I went with her for a day on a different railway and to check she was OK. In light of recent goings on in the past 12 months, I was nothing short of astounded when I was asked to accompany "Gomer" this weekend for her visit to the Foxfield Railway in Staffordshire. Boasting the steepest adhesion worked gradient on any preserved railway, the Foxfield is a haven for industrial steam. No1859 would join six other industrial workhorses for a steam gala celebrating 50 Years of preservation on the ex-colliery line. This morning, bright and early, I was in the car and heading up the A50 towards Stoke. I arrived at the Foxfield base of Caverswall Road Station, just outside Blythe Bridge, at around 06:30. "Gomer" was on shed alongside the elderly Haydock "Bellerophon"...
I duly met up with Driver Nigel and Fireman Andi, who would be taking charge of the Peckett today. I helped Andi clean the engine whilst Nigel went around with the oil cans. When "Gomer" went into the shed to ash out over the pit, I joined Nigel underneath to do a quick FTR. Its always best to check around a locomotive after road travel. You're looking for anything that's hanging off, split-pins missing, loose bolts, severe signs of wear or lack of lubrication etc. Nothing was found to be amiss under the Peckett and so she steamed back outside, clearing the way for other engines to use the pit. Andi then buffed up the saddle tank and the liberal coating of hideous blue was soon shining in the dim morning light. The old gal' looked quite nice...
Our off-shed time in the working timetable wasn't until 09:30 and so, with nearly an hour to spare, we wandered off to grab a breakfast in the café. The "One Legged Shunter" certainly does a nice fry up...
Stomach stuffed, it was time to head back to the waiting Peckett. "Bellerophon" was getting ready alongside an RSH and a very nice little 14" Bagnall...
Our first move was a light engine run down to Dilhorne Park; the current passenger terminus of the railway. The line was built to carry coal from the Foxfield Colliery down to the exchange sidings alongside the main line at Blythe Bridge - a run just shy of 3 miles. The railway was laid with minimal earthworks, resulting in stiff gradients and tight curves. The bank out of the colliery is what brings visitors to Foxfield for their industrial galas. The demonstration freight trains and their chunky steeds must negotiate a bank which averages 1 in 25 and steepens to 1 in 17 at the worst. I did wonder how "Gomer" would get on. Her health in recent years hasn't been the best and her timing needs some work. She really needs some TLC. She was however always a willing and powerful engine so I knew she'd give it a go regardless. The team at Foxfield had already steamed and FTR'd her yesterday and this had included a run up the bank. Although they commented that she'd do better if she was 'well', she managed 6 wagons and this would be her maximum solo load for the gala weekend.

At 09:30 we departed Caverswall Road and steamed light engine towards Dilhorne. The engine romped along quite happily through the pretty Staffordshire countryside and we arrived at Dilhorne shortly after. Here we had a good 15-minute or so break whilst we waited for two locomotives to come up from the colliery and clear the section. There had been a sunrise photo charter which had left shed at 06:30. Once this train was clear we could descend the bank to the colliery yard ready for our first attack on the climb. Meanwhile, "Gomer" simmered happily...
"1859 Simmers Quietly At Dilhorne Park"
Dilhorne Park station nestles in a wooded sanctuary just at the summit of Foxfield Bank. All you could hear was the singing of the birds on this calm Friday morning. The poetic peace was soon shattered however by the almighty roar of a pair of Austerity's ("Whiston" & "Wimblebury") marching confidently towards us up the hill...
With the two saddle tanks clear of the section, "Gomer" was cleared to run down the bank light engine. However, as the two Austerity's were running slightly late, the passenger train had arrived behind the two 14" 0-4-0s and therefore it was decided to go with them down the hill. We steamed over as a trio to collect the wagons left by the 18" twins and prepared to go down to the colliery. With no continuous brakes available, a brakeman was employed to pin down the wagons. Each wagon is braked individually and so starting them on the flat requires quite a pull. The "pull test" is then performed to ensure that no wheels are locked before clearance is given to descend the bank. All of these different practises were interesting to study and I guess you can only really see things like this at Foxfield...
At the colliery "Gomer" was uncoupled and we ran over into a spur to take water. The two 0-4-0s meanwhile dragged the wagons down so that they were behind us ready for our attack on the bank...
"Sir Gomer", built in 1932, spent her working life at Mountain Ash colliery in Wales. She endured a difficult 49 years hauling countless coal wagons back and forth until she was retired in 1981. This visit to Foxfield heralded the first time that the Peckett had been in a colliery setting for the last 36 years. It was all quite poignant really, seeing the engine alongside the pit head gear...
Tank full, we rolled back towards the waiting wagons - six minerals and a brakevan. This was "Gomer"s only solo run up the bank today and I was very interested to see how she'd do. Fireman Andi made up a good fire for the ascent...
The bank stretched out before us through the spectacle...
With reams of black smoke bellowing from the chimney and both valves up ("gotta' get em' hot!") it was now or never. The Guard gave his whistle and away we went. The load wasn't much on the flat as we roared through the colliery yard...
"Up The Bank With The Peckett" (Pic - G.Nuttall)
With the bank beneath her wheels "Gomer" was given most of what she'd got and her out of beat exhaust echoed all around the colliery. "I think I can, I know I can, I hope I can!". One by one the gradient gathered up the wagons and the speed began to drop. The engine banged and rocked and you had the sense she was pulling like never before. The pressure needle descended gradually as the demand of the cylinders outweighed the boiler output. On a bank like Foxfield there's nothing you can really do but pile up the fire and keep the doors shut. The steepest section at 1 in 17 really got hold of "Gomer" but she strode towards the summit with the needle nailed at 120psi. We were nearly there...
With a screaming whistle "Gomer" asthmatically topped the punishing climb and Driver Nigel shut-off gradually to keep the wagons pulling against the gradient, preventing snatching. Coming to a halt in the Dilhorne Park loop, "Gomer"s valves lifted once more as the steam pressure was replenished following the first of her great labours. Nigel said "what d'ya reckon then?"...I replied "bit steep mate". Well done old gal'...
As we waited in the loop for "Bellerophon" to arrive on the vintage Knotty Train, I couldn't help but think how much better "Gomer" would have done in good nick. Who knows. When the old Haydock arrived, 1859 moved across onto the Knotty rake and away we went. Weighing no more than 50 tons or so, the heritage train was easily pulled towards Caverswall Road by a wheezy "Sir Gomer". The tight curves are evident below. Apparently when the line was built the local landowners didn't want it providing an eyesore on their land so it had to find a route of its own across the fields...
At 12:10 (or there abouts) we arrived at Caverswall Road...
The Austerity's were next to depart for Dilhorne, pulling the Mk1 set. Once they were clear, "Gomer" ran round the Knotty Train...
Our next departure wasn't until 13:00 and so a nice cuppa' was next on the agenda. The two 0-4-0s would have to arrive back with the Mk1's and then shunt them over into the yard before the Knotty rake could use the platform anyway. We had a nice run down to Dilhorne with the pretty little coaches before running down the bank once more, this time with the Dubs tank. Back in the colliery, Nigel & Andi did some coaling the hard way - shovelling from a mineral wagon behind the engine...
Once coaled, we rolled forward for water. A bit of sunshine provided another opportunity to capture "Gomer" alongside the pit head gear. I believe the colliery closed in the late 1960s - the end of an era...
I was kindly allowed to do some driving on the next trip, banking the Dubs crane tank and her wagons. It was to prove a whole new experience...
The Dubs tank whistled up, to which I replied from "Gomer". With a snatch of the coupling she got us underway and the 0-4-0 was soon attacking the foot of the bank in fine style. As the weight began to hold back I was instructed to provide some steam and "Gomer" pushed into the brakevan with her helping efforts. As the gradient steepened I opened the regulator further and "Gomer" continued to push for all she was worth. This time not all of her strength was needed and thus the pressure needle stayed further northward than last time. I'm not convinced that the timing issues aren't affecting "Gomer"s ability to exhaust, hence the lack of steaming the harder you work her. She never used to be like that. After a very enjoyable trip on the handle we descended back to the colliery with the wagons before being shunt released to water once again...
The RSH & the Bagnall double act had returned to the colliery yard and had marshalled the next train - a 12 wagon formation. "Gomer" would bank the pair up the hill, although I'm fairly certain they might have made it alone the way they were going! "Gomer" was really just holding the brakevan!...
"Banking The Long Freight For The Two 0-4-0s"
At the summit of Dilhorne we awaited the all clear to go back down one last time in preparation for the final ascent of the day...
The freight had been shortened for the final ascent of the day and, once again, old "Gomer" was being dragged rather than doing the pushing! The two 14" four-wheelers were unbelievably feisty for their size...
At Dilhorne Loop we were held briefly before being cleared to run back to Caverswall Road in the same formation. The two 0-4-0s led the way and "Gomer" blew off loudly on the back of the train all the way back. The sun was now out for the evening...
At the outer home signal the two 0-4-0s left the wagons and steamed onto the shed, leaving "Gomer" to propel the freight up into the loop for stabling. From there we dropped back down to the signalbox before being given the road to trundle into the yard. Groaning through the point work, 1859 came to rest on shed...
The usual disposal procedure then took place: deaden the fire, fill the boiler, isolate the necessary. All around us the familiar end of the day noises were evident: the clanking of fire irons, the ringing of shovels and the oh so rhythmic slurping of injectors. The engines were also having their smokeboxes cleared of any char...
"Emptying The Smokebox On Newly Overhauled 'Wimblebury' - Austerity"
As the seven industrials were bedded down for the night, I couldn't help but think how well "Gomer" had done given her current condition. A hard life spanning 49 years at the pit won't have done her any favours but even with her timing off she pulls well and is always willing to steam. Hopefully one day the old girl will be right - even if I do have to wait until my Lotto numbers come up...
"A Last Look At 'Sir Gomer' - Peckett 1859 of 1932"
I must say that the Foxfield Railway certainly is a haven for industrial steam. Its lovely to see these old workhorses strutting their stuff with authentic wagons. The climb out of the colliery is audible if nothing else, although it is definitely a "bit steep". I must thank the team at Foxfield for their kind hospitality today, and for trying their best not to let "Gomer" over do it. That's another railway done on the footplate - five now in total with 1859. Another unique steam experience. I did some driving and some banking and pulled a train with pinned down brakes - that's another first! Thank you kindly to Mr Nuttall for sending in two of the images used in the post. Finally, thank you all for reading - sorry for the heavy post. I'm sure if you search on Youtube there are stacks of videos of "Sir Gomer" at work. Best Regards, Sam...

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Ryton Steam Day: A Sweet Pea Story...

Hi all. Today was the second annual 'Steam on Sunday' event at the Ryton Pools base of Coventry Model Engineering Society. Making up my second of only two rostered turns this season, I was on the list to crew. The raised-track RPMR runs on Sunday afternoons between Easter and the end of September, offering rides at £1 a go to the ever growing numbers of visitors that frequent the park. I arrived just before 11:30 and found a busy scene at the steaming bays. If I remember rightly, six steamers turned out - three of which I'd never laid eyes on before. The trusty 'flying battery boxes' were also out in case of a failure with the steam division. Emma had already brought the Sweet Pea "Diane" - built by the late CMES engineer Dan Wooley - out into the late morning sunshine in preparation for steaming...
Emma suggested that I steamed up "Diane", which I was quite happy to do. A well made engine from the start, "Diane" is most definitely the best Pea I've driven over the years. Stoking up the boiler with the marine firebox stuffed with well soaked paraffin wood, the 0-4-0 was soon sending a plume of smoke gently skyward via the electric blower. Across the way, Dave's three-cylinder rebuilt Scot was on the mark...
Having topped off the blazing wood fire with a good helping of coal, I shut the door and let the blower do its work. The tell tale crackling heard in the background whilst you oil up is always reassuring! The Hackworth valve gear was liberally oiled and the mechanical lubricator primed to coax the thicker cylinder oil into movement. As steam pressure neared the red line at 80psi, "Diane" hissed cautiously onto the traverser. A saturated engine with a relatively short steam circuit, there wasn't much condensate to lose during her first moves. Once coupled to an easy rake of three cars, "Diane" moved forward so that the Scot could join the track behind us. It was time for a quick sandwich before we got underway...
I had a good fire in the box ready for the off...
Dave soon steamed away with his ECS behind the Scot, allowing "Diane" to reverse out onto the track. With the bendy beam closed and secure, the all clear was given to make the trip to Ryton Halt. With a pip on the whistle and the opening of the regulator, away we went. Once on the move, link up one, let her settle - forget about it. "Diane" slips along without a care - like a watch. The pressure needle hugged the red line all the way and at Ryton Halt we took water before awaiting our first passengers...
Of the six steamers that turned out for running, only five made it onto the track and only four managed to do some public hauling. A Black Five refused point blank to grip the rails and was soon failed with adhesion problems, surprising all of us. "Diane" was joined by the Scot, a pretty 5" Manor and a 5" O1/B1 hybrid. The hybrid engine employed the 2-8-0 chassis of the O1, plumbed up to a Springbok (5" B1) boiler. It made for a very chunky, powerful looking loco. Just before 1pm we started public running and the queue was steady but not overwhelming. For the first part of the afternoon the Manor was having some running repairs carried out on the steaming bay, leaving just the stalwart trio on the track. "Diane" was performing like a dream, steaming and pulling beautifully. Its a pleasure to drive it really. After a good 7 laps on the handle I swapped with Emma. The owner of the large O1 kindly allowed me to have a drive of his butch steed - thank you...
Pulling away gently with the reverser screwed right forward, as soon as she was on the move you could link back and leave it. With small wheels it had bags of power but the regulator allowed more steam than the rail condition could cope with if you were heavy handed. What a lovely thing though - a gentleman's engine. It slinks along beautifully, chirping away at the chimney with the return cranks spinning round merrily. I did get stopped at the foot of the bank and it required some ginger flicks of the regulator to prevent a slip but she took off again OK, happily lumbering up the hill. Lovely. The Manor did eventually join us and happily pulled two cars for most of the afternoon. Slightly smaller in stature than you'd expect, it was very well detailed...
The smart Manor is later captured in flight...
Emma stokes up "Diane" ready for another round trip...
Soon enough myself and Emma swapped again and I ended up driving "Diane" for the remainder of the afternoon. All of the other steamers later retired with only the O1 leaving the track in serviceable condition I believe. "Diane" meanwhile seemed to have some kind of second wind once I'd cleaned the fire and the pressure gauge happily neared the blowing off point on all of the remaining trips. Good engine! As 4pm neared, we elected to take the Pea off and begin disposal...
The marine firebox was removed, tubes swept, smokebox emptied and boiler blown down as per the usual procedure. The iron cylinders were also topped up with oil to prevent seizing when cold. This is still a great little loco...
The Pea was put back together and given a final check over before bed. I think we'd carried just over 200 people - a fairly quiet day for the RPMR these days to be fair! Several people aren't fans of the Sweet Pea's but I think they're grand. I know they have little wheels tearing round at well over scale speed and the dreaded marine boiler that so many purists fear but really these boilers actually faired very well in use..."Isibutu" is a great example! Well done "Diane" - another triumph. Thank you all for reading and thanks to all at CMES for a pleasant afternoon. Cheers, Sam...