Sunday, 2 July 2017

Shack: A Grand Old Day On "Cumbria"...

Hi all. Today was one of those days where you don't realise until you reflect on it how good it was. Three things make a footplate day enjoyable: good weather, a good engine and a good crew. Luckily today we had all three. This morning I was rostered to go up to Shackerstone to crew "Cumbria" with David and our trainee Ritchie. The red saddle tank has been the mainstay of Battlefield Line steam services since the departure of the NRM's T9 just after Easter, although a crew shortage on the railway has seen a few steam dates unfortunately covered by the DMU. We arrived at the lonely gates of Shackerstone at just gone 5:30am before our casual saunter up the dust ridden driveway. 2017 marks a full 10 years service on the railway for me. In my younger years I ended up firing most Sunday's - I couldn't do it now! After signing in and grabbing a copy of the recent notices we stumbled up the M1 widening towards the engine shed. I seem to take more and more junk along with me on each consecutive turn anywhere I go - all but the kitchen sink! Inside the shed, as the lights buzzed into life, the Austerity was revealed. What a handsome old thing...
I had a quick go on "Cumbria" last December when the lack of a Fireman saw me crew her on a trip whilst JB looked after the T9 at Shack. I did two driving turns on her back in September 2015 and was kind of looking forward to the day. The Hunslet Austerity is a wonderfully capable machine, harbouring the ability to shift 1200 tons on the level. With 18" cylinders plumbed up to a 170psi boiler driving 4ft 3" wheels, they provided 23,870lbs of tractive effort. Eventually 485 of the class were built, with this one (3794) coming along in 1953. She had a remarkably easy working life, spending 20 years on a military railway doing very little and being well cared for. She has worked her heart out in preservation as an ambassador of the Furness Railway Trust who hire her out to raise funds for the society. The heavy overhaul it had prior to returning to service in summer 2015 saw a new tank fitted as well as a cylinder rebore, new pistons and boiler repairs.

Today Ritchie lit "Cumbria" up on a good helping of dry wood and paraffin rags. The engine immediately began to sing away to herself. Before 7am the 04 shunter growled into view outside the shed and we were taken down for coal in the first of the days sun. The weather looked most promising as we waited on the loading ramp for coaling alongside a rather nice looking Class 33...
"Cumbria" crackled away to herself whilst the JCB loaded the bunker with coal. The engine was then returned to the shed area for preparations to continue. Myself & Ritchie went around the engine cleaning her wheels whilst David checked her over. The "Not To Be Moved" board stood proudly on the front lamp iron...
When sufficient steam was raised, the engine hissed gently forwards to halt behind No11 point. With the road set, she steamed cautiously backwards towards the shed in order to ash out over the pit. Ritchie kindly elected to wield the rake and hose beneath the simmering Austerity: "ahh the romance of steam". Our "Footplate Experience" participant then arrived and I discussed with him the merits of the saddle tank whilst preparations were concluded. Soon enough, we were watering on the column ready for our light engine outing to Shenton...
The 'Gold' Foot-Ex sees both a full light engine run and a full loaded run take place. The trainee driver is talked through the various controls on the footplate on the light engine trip, gradually honing their skills with the engine in preparation for the trip with the coaches. The second round trip generally involves the participants family as the only passengers. What is lovely about the Foot-Ex's is that they are completely bespoke to the participant - they can learn as much or as little as they like and the detail around the engine and her functions can be as detailed or as basic as required...
"David Waits For The Off Whilst Photos Are Taken"
As we steamed back to Shackerstone with our participant clearly enjoying himself, myself & David made eye contact and both said "we're on time!". The surprise in our tones was because we've never been so on time with a Foot-Ex in clear memory. We pulled into Shackerstone bang on time at 10:30am and the engine was waiting on the train after watering at 10:45am: brilliant...
Ritchie was continuing to wield the shovel, flicking coal around the firebox with the greatest of ease. David kindly allowed me to take the first trip and as departure time neared there was a very relaxed atmosphere on Shackerstone's Platform 2. It was nice to take a moment to take in the view...
Mr Rhodes was Guarding and gave the "Right Away" a few minutes down due to some late passengers. After a pip on the Midland whistle I released the steam brake and opened the regulator slightly. The sudden rush from the drains was followed by reverse movement. Four coaches tagged onto "Cumbria" is no issue for her and she set off southward without a care. The token was collected at the signalbox and the starter showed "off" for our entrance into the section. There is a 5mph slack up the cutting to Barton Bridge but once the train is clear you can open up a bit more to climb towards line speed. With the weight moving I'd moved up to second notch on the reverser, adjusting the valve position to become slightly more economical. Due to the short valve travel on the Austerity I'm not overly keen on racing her on third notch as the valve travel is minimal at that and I think you can bind an engine that way so I tend to run at second notch unless she's ticking along with little regulator. After a pleasant run to Shenton the engine was soon waiting for the return trip...
"Waiting To Leave Shenton On The 11:50am"
Once you get underway with the passenger services at Shack the day really starts to fly. Here we are having arrived with the 12:30 ex-Shackerstone in glorious weather. David inspects my photography from behind the bunker...
On the first train, David had kindly ordered us some breakfast from the Shenton café. This was duly delivered to the footplate on the 12:30 trip...
Uncoupled, "Cumbria" whistled up before setting back towards the headshunt...
With the engine back on the front of the train ready for the 13:05 off Shenton, David was tucking into his breakfast. He did of course welcome photographs being taken at this point: I love a good eating shot...
With another "Right Away" from the Guard, off we went. The engine climbed Shenton Bank with ease and was soon striding through the Leicestershire countryside towards Far Coton and Market Bosworth...
Ritchie had the Austerity singing to him as we shuffled along the track. When everything is going well, a humble 'ignorant industrial' can be as good as any engine. The day was going rather well up to now...
Here we have an arty view of the road ahead behind Driver David...
Shutting off as normal at the nearest bridge to Market Bosworth, David rolled in from Shenton with the vacuum brakes rubbing. There is a 15mph slack over the cattle creep at Deer Park and then it slows to 5mph down towards the Goods Shed and across the footings of the new turnout. As we waited for the green flag in the platform I jumped out to catch another shot of "Cumbria"...
Driver David checks the vacuum gauge as we head through the woods towards airport bridge. The normal reading is 21 inches unless you're on a Great Western...
Upon arrival back at Shackerstone I uncoupled the loco from the stock before wandering down to the points to set the road. The Austerity duly drew forward to wait behind No7 disc signal ready for the run round...
She was soon ready and waiting with the 1:45pm departure for Shenton...
David kindly allowed me to drive the 1:45pm outing whilst he took up duties on the shovel. This gave Ritchie a break in these hot conditions. There wasn't much of a breeze unless you were moving and so whilst stationary the cab became pretty stifling. I had another lovely trip driving the red 0-6-0 and it wasn't long before the 3pm outing beckoned. I had collected the necessary implements for the journey...
I elected to fire the 3pm train just to keep my hand in. Looking into the box with the air drifting across the blade of the shovel, I could see the front end was a little thin. Getting the front corners on "Cumbria" isn't the easiest due to the shape of the deflector plate. Although the deflector is necessary for protection, especially when firing on the move, the angle is such that a comfortable shovelling position is almost impossible to achieve. The trick seems to be to tap the ring with the base of the blade and use the momentum to flick the coal forward, thus covering the front corners. If you keep the box covered this thing will steam like no tomorrow. I had a nice trip firing the old girl...
"Watering For The 4:15pm Working"
For the final train, after topping up the saddle tank one last time, David was on the handle for the run to Shenton whilst I fired. The engine was still steaming beautifully, no doubt helped by Ritchie dragging the iron around the grate, freeing off any clinker and drawing it back under the door just before the previous train. At Shenton, after running round, the Austerity sat happily at the head of the final train home which David kindly let me drive. I'd managed to roll in from the disc signal at last and buffer up to the train without using the regulator again. The dome mounted regulator will take any opportunity to not seat correctly if the steam circuit remains pressurised when its closed. The trick is to roll in with the regulator shut, discharging the steam circuit so that the pressure inside the boiler seats the regulator valve correctly and then it doesn't pass. If you squeeze up and then shut down she'll pass heavily and the steam lock that ensues (steam in the chests forcing the valves hard against the face) will make it very difficult to move the reverser. This is also the case when disposing of the engine as if you roll in correctly and stop with the regulator hard shut she won't pass but she'll lose a lot of water overnight if she's left passing badly. All good fun...
Leaving the Shenton slack (5mph over Ambion Lane), "Cumbria" got the train moving easily as her voice echoed across the adjacent fields. I couldn't resist a warble on the Midland whistle at this point as we crested the climb in a good stride. After a final set down at Market Bosworth we continued back to Shack and, having uncoupled, we steamed back to the shed via No7 and No11 points...
I cleaned the grate with the irons before closing the doors and shutting the blower. "Cumbria" was then driven back indoors on her final breaths of steam before the boiler was filled ready for stabling. Thankfully, because I rolled in from the doors, the regulator seated correctly and not a wisp of steam was spotted. With everything safe & secure, David filled out the necessary loco report and we washed up ready for home. What a very nice day spent in good company on a happy old industrial. It was a grand summers day out. Thanks for reading all. Until next time, Sam...

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