Sunday, 30 July 2017

"Roger" The Wren Goes To Welland...

Hi all. On this glorious but threatening morning, myself and JB were on the road heading for Welland. After a fairly wet week and even more heavy rainfall overnight, we had elected to take John's trusty 1982 Land Rover as my BMW would sink at even the sight of mud! It was the third and final day of the 2017 Welland Steam Rally - the 53rd annual event of its kind. There would be traction engines, steam rollers, showmans engines, cars, lorries, tractors - you name it! We had again been rostered to crew one of the SBR engines on the 2ft gauge demonstration railway, laid as part of the 'Road Making' display. Welland not only has an impressive line up of exhibits but also provides several working demonstrations from wood sawing and threshing to ploughing and tractor pulling. There are two railways on the site: the 2ft gauge one and a standard gauge track known as the Great Welland Railway. After a good chug down the M5 towards Worcester, we reached the rally a little after 07:15. Having gained access and proceeded through the site to the ploughing field, we found the loco - "Roger" - waiting with the tippers under the blue skies...
Last year "Howard" (formerly "Paddy") - the vertical boiler engine - did the honours but the little Kerr Stuart Wren, built in 1918, could not have been more appropriate. "Roger", works number 3128, worked at the Imperial Smelting Company in Avonmouth, Bristol. In preservation it has travelled to Canada, returned for overhaul at Statfold, gone back to Canada a second time and then been bought by Statfold. "Roger" now lives a quiet existence on the Garden Railway, working alongside "Howard". The Kerr Stuart Wren's were a popular 0-4-0 contractors locomotive, eventually numbering 163 examples and employing the simple Hackworth valve gear. A punchy and capable little engine, the Wren's were used in various applications. It was my first time on "Roger" and, having checked around to make sure all was well, I lit the fire...
We had a small, damp rag which we managed to get some paraffin onto but it still smouldered on the grate barely clinging to life. The small chunks of wood we had had also got damp on the footplate overnight and so I just opened the damper and hoped it would take. The adjacent SBR steam shovel had more than enough wood to light up on so we pinched some of that too! Damp rags and damp wood, ay? Suddenly memories of Shack came flooding back into my head...can't think why. Anyway, with the wood slowly beginning to crackle on the bars, a lazy plume of smoke rose steadily skyward from the tall, stovepipe chimney...
With the embryo fire slowly taking to the wood, I piled on some of the Welsh coal. In the words of a legend..."you've gotta' get um' hot" for the Welsh stuff to burn, otherwise it sits there providing nothing but a kick in the pride. JB meanwhile was going around the few oiling points with the cans. Everything is on the outside and easy to get at with this basic little engine. What a nice old thing...
With the engine oiled and the fire doing its own thing, we wandered down into the catering area to "grab some snap" as JB put it. Thankfully, we found some. A cuppa' and a Full English in the sunshine was most welcome...
Having enjoyed our breakfast, we trudged back across to the engine through the increasing abundance of mud. She now had 20psi on the clock and was bubbling away nicely with the Welsh coal having taken well. Very pleasant...
We can see from the basic outline of the Wren just how 'workmanlike' it is. There is no manifold as such. The steam valves come off the dome and the injectors are situated just above the expansion blocks. Therefore you can only comfortably inject when stood alongside the engine. Obviously the plan was for them to be stationary most of the time, chugging only short distances on their respective railways. The basic driving controls include a reverser, regulator and handbrake...
As the pressure within 3128 slowly climbed towards the red line, we decided to have a pull up the short track. I assumed full forward and opened the regulator to warm the cylinders. I then did the same in reverse and then forward again, clearing most of the condensate. With a pip on the extremely shrill whistle, I opened the regulator further and after a little hesitation the engine edged forward. Hissing like a 60s Black Five, "Roger" chugged up the rocky track work towards the top. We had a pesky drain cock or two that wouldn't shut - something that would require a careful choice of swear words to sort later on! After two trips back and forth, 3128 was warming through nicely and JB took over the regulator. I decided to go off and have a walk round before the inevitable rains came. The Met Men had promised a violent storm in the afternoon so I was taking no chances. Over on the Great Welland Railway, a familiar engine was on service - "Bellerophon". I last saw her the other week at Foxfield...
Bellerophon was a hero of Greek mythology, before the days of Hercules. This 0-6-0 well tank was built in 1874 by the Haydock Foundry and employs outside Stephenson's valve gear. I was interested to learn that she carries piston valves and therefore, due to the lack of 'give' shall we say compared to slide valves, she was equipped with cylinder relief valves on each end cover. To me, this is an advancement far beyond her years as I would have thought she'd have simple slide valves...
"Piston, Crosshead and Cover Arrangement"
The Foxfield team who were crewing "Bellerophon" kindly invited me for a couple of footplate rides up and down the track...
"Riding The Footplate On The 1874-built Haydock"
Giving rides aboard a Great Western Toad, "Bellerophon" had no issues climbing the field. It must have been an easy weekend away compared to life on the 1 in 19 back home! This is a capable, smooth-riding elderly engine with power far beyond her antiquated looks. Here she is approaching the station...
After a couple of trips on the lovely 0-6-0 I jumped down and thanked the lads for the opportunity. Since I'd been chatting and riding around on engines, I decided I'd best get back to my man on "Roger". On the way I passed a very well set-up Marshall working a saw bench. The governor was perfectly set and it was a treat to listen to the single working hard as each cut was taken...
Statfold's "Mary Marshall" lines up alongside two traction engines...
Upon my return to "Roger", the engine was sat near the stone crusher having just unloaded a tipper. The stones are loaded by hand at the foot of the hill, hauled up the track by the Wren and then tipped out onto the ground...
The team of workmen then gradually load the stones into the crusher which is driven by a portable engine dating from the early 1900s. The grunting machine effortlessly munches the large stones down to a fine gravel which is then shovelled into a wheelbarrow for transport to the rolling area...
Barrow by barrow, the crushed stones (now chippings) are carted up to the nearby steam roller before being tipped out, raked and rolled. The Wren meanwhile can steam up and down for the publics enjoyment whilst the road is rolled by the 10-ton Aveling "Alfie". The process is then repeated throughout the day...
"SBR's Wren 'Roger' Meets 'Alfie' The Steam Roller"
The display is completed by the addition of several items of plant, vintage signage and period costumes. To be fair to the chaps involved, it looks really good and yet it is only a tiny part of the overall attraction list offered by the Welland rally. Just over the way from us, Statfold's mighty Erie Steam Shovel was working hard in a pile of dirt. This impressive (and fairly frightening) machine is a joy to watch in action...
Whilst JB had another jaunt up and down, I nipped across to the Ice Cream Van and got us some horrendously expensive Ice Creams. Very nice they were too!...
Ice cream devoured, JB went off for a walk around the site whilst I trundled back and forth on the Wren. With the fire burning quietly on notch one of the damper and hardly any water being used, the engine was a pleasure to drive. The one irritation was the hissing of the drain cocks. I spent some time under the engine oiling the linkage and tightening up some bolts before resetting some of the closing positions on the cocks. This improved things no end and the hissing disappeared. With the steam noises gone, the Wren barely murmured as she strode easily up and down the short line...wonderful! When JB returned he was brandishing two hot cups of tea which we duly enjoyed whilst watching the Erie at work. Around mid-afternoon, I went down to the fair...
Amongst the various rides and stalls stood the line-up of beautiful Showmans engines. Brasswork sparkling and dynamo's singing, they made for an impressive sight. There were some conversions (poor old rollers having been cut up to make a showmans) but the majority were beautiful originals...
If I win the Lotto I wouldn't mind a Showmans engine! Back at the Wren, the Erie steam shovel was still proving a popular attraction as it munched through the piles of dirt. Visitors stood around it for ages...
As the day drew towards its close, the numbers of visitors slowly began to thin out. The threatening darkness of the rain clouds coming into view across the hills made everyone think about dropping their fires. We had a few more runs up and down as we awaited the call to knock off. "Roger"s extremely shrill whistle had to be used with care - "Tinnitus" would have been a more appropriate name! In the end we were cleared to dispose the Wren just after 4pm and Britt duly employed the dart to thin out the fire...
We always leave a bit in there though to keep her warm...
Once the fire had been deadened, the boiler was filled and the gauge glass isolated. The pressure was now down to around 80psi and the engine was made safe & secure. We isolated the clacks and checked all the valves, taking our time so as not to miss anything (as you do). By now the rain was starting to fall and our final job was to affix the chimney cap to keep some heat in the engine...
"A Last Look at 'Roger' The Wren"
The chimney cap, though it can make engines 'sweat' a bit at the smokebox, helps to hold the heat, preventing it leaving via the chimney. The slower we can cool an engine down, the better. We have a variety of materials within the boiler of differing expansion rates and so cooling it down slowly is as important as steaming it up slowly. Doing things during disposal like filling a boiler from empty to full with fresh cold water is a massive no. Anyway, after a very pleasant day out, we retired to Britt's Landy for the run home. We were thankful to have brought the 4x4 and not my BM as the 'truck' is much more at home wading through the mud. My car would have been sunk, with only the aerial poking out above the dirt! I must thank Britt for a lovely day, and for driving us down to Welland. I must also thank Statfold Barn for another great opportunity with one of their engines. Cheers all, Sam...

Sunday, 23 July 2017

5043: Double Chimney Magic On The "Shakespeare Express"...

"5043 Drifts Through Wilmcote" (Pic - R.Wasley)
"Shall I compare thee to a summers day?". Well, todays outing of the Castle-hauled "Shakespeare Express" took place in very fair weather, with only the occasional shower breaking the warmth of the afternoon sun. I arose at around 05:30, arriving at Tyseley an hour or so later. Naturally there was the traditional stop for a McDonalds breakfast on the way - I should have bought a ton of shares years ago...
Sitting in the car park eating my breakfast, the morning drizzle was just beginning to slow up and the prospect of more pleasant conditions beckoned. Down at the rear of the shed, the team were already busy with various tasks on and around the Castle Class 4-6-0 No5043. I was asked to gather and fit the hoses required to fill the tender, once I'd polished away the rust from the engines usually shining buffers...
The engine looked a treat as she prepared to leave shed for her second outing of the "Shakespeare" season. With much hissing and expelling of condensate, the 1936-built express locomotive moved forward from her resting place and onto the running line. After a few runs up and down to clear the steam circuit, she was dropped onto the head of the waiting 8-coach train. Our ECS departure for Snow Hill was scheduled for 09:00 and the headboard and lamps were duly fitted in readiness for the off...
With the Support Crew and Stewards aboard, the empty train left a gloomy Tyseley right on time. Strolling through the slowly awakening Birmingham suburbs, the Castle left nothing but a lonely trail of steam hanging lethargically behind her. I wonder how many people know we're there as we slink under bridges and through desolate platforms on our way towards the centre. Passing through Moor Street, the Castle made all around hear her voice as she hit the steep gradient in the Snow Hill tunnel. The mighty roar from the copper-capped chimney is enough to turn the least interested of heads as her efforts echo around the station. Arriving with grace and elegance into the platform, a few eager passengers were already there awaiting our 10:00 departure for Shakespeare's Stratford. Whilst the engine crew ran 5043 round, a couple of us strolled out onto the quiet streets to the local Tesco Metro in order to pick up some breakfast implements. Our return saw the BR liveried Castle back at the head of the stock in tender first formation. We boarded the train at the Support Coach and I was duly crowned King of the Cooker once more...
Right on time, 5043 left Snow Hill in a cloud of steam before descending into the dark of the tunnel towards Moor Street. Further pick-ups at the latter and Tyseley were followed by a steady run towards Henley. Its a beautiful piece of railway the North Warwick, with plenty of unspoilt countryside, open pastures and rural farms. As the sizzling bacon butties slowly left the kitchen, again my relief at not burning the much loved food arrived. 5043 left trails of white steam hanging over the train, coupled with the aroma of bacon! After a final pick-up at Henley, the Castle arrived at a much sunnier Stratford-upon-Avon. We reeled out the hoses and when the Caste arrived and was made safe we were cleared to water her. With the task complete, the engine was dropped back onto the train for the remainder of the layover...
"An Immaculate 5043 Awaits The Road At Stratford"
Its a fairly long layover now at Stratford - an hour or so - not only for operational reasons but also to allow the Pullman staff to change the covers in readiness for the Sunday Lunch passengers. They serve a full Breakfast on Train A, after which those diners tend to spend the day in Stratford before returning on Train D. Trains B & C see the full works of a Sunday Lunch served atop the shining white table cloths of Premier Dining - its all very civilised. Our 12:41 departure for Snow Hill soon came around and we departed in fine style. I noticed a familiar face on the platform at Stratford Parkway - Malcolm Ranieri- who kindly let me use his image of the Castle drifting through the platform having just shut off on the approach...
"5043 At Stratford Parkway" (Pic - M.Ranieri)
We had a good run up Wilmcote bank, with progress slowing at the top to allow for a speed restriction imposed on the platform at the station. Once clear, the Castle accelerated towards the cross-over for the Claverdon branch. This single line route leads us up to the Birmingham - Oxford main line at Hatton North Junction. From there, the 4-6-0 sprinted merrily alongside the M40 towards Dorridge, Solihull and finally Tyseley, where we are captured arriving...
"5043 Arrives at Tyseley On 'Shakespeare Express' Train B" (Pic - D.Chandler)
There was a short operational stop at Tyseley to allow a Chiltern Railways service for Snow Hill to overtake us...
"Awaiting The Road At Tyseley" (Pic - D.Chandler)
With the road given, 5043 strode loudly out of Tyseley on route to Snow Hill via Moor Street. It always amazes me the difference in peoples reactions towards seeing a steam train on the national network. Some act as if its the most normal thing in all the world, scarcely looking up from their papers or iPhones, others stand amazed in disbelief fumbling for their cameras for all they're worth! What is also amazing - and it happens at least once or twice per trip - is how people come up and say "Is this the Oxford train?" or similar..."No, it isn't. Its a steam train?". No reply is given as they turn their backs and walk away. Madness. Anyway, after barking loudly into our usual platform at Snow Hill, the Castle ran round ready for our 14:01 departure back towards Stratford. The Castle looked a real picture at the head of the train...
We had an enjoyable second round trip, watering and servicing at Stratford as usual. The Castle had a cracking run back up the main line, sprinting effortlessly for mile after mile. It wasn't long before we were back at Snow Hill...
Following her final run round of the day, the Castle took the ECS easily back to her base at Tyseley. The usual shunting operation was then carried out to release the engine and put the stock back on Platform 1 road. I was asked to work the signalbox in order to set the points and signals for 5043 to run back to the shed road once the 08 had cleared her path. The engine then chuffed quietly back for a rest...
On the shed, the engine rested quietly in the persistent evening sunshine, offering us all a moment of reflection after another great day out...
"5043 At Rest On The Shed At Tyseley"
Well, that's it folks - "Shakespeare Express" Week 2 is complete. As usual I must thank all at Tyseley for their hospitality and for the experience of another great day out. Its a pleasure and a privilege to be involved. I must also thank the various photographers - M.Ranieri, R.Wasley and D.Chandler who kindly let me use their images in the post. Finally, thank you all for reading. For more information on Vintage Trains and the Shakespeare Express click here. I won't be on the trip next week - we're off to Welland again all being well - but hope to be there the week after. Cheers all, Sam...

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...