Sunday, 6 August 2017

"Shakespeare IV": A Castle's Sunday Stroll...

"5043 Races Through Widney Manor" (Pic - R.Postill)
Hi all. Each summer Sunday the "Shakespeare Express" operates on the main line between Birmingham Snow Hill and Stratford-upon-Avon. Today was no different and so bright and early on this sunny morning I was on my way to the former 84E to volunteer for another day on the Support Crew. I arrived at around 6:30am and found the rest of the team already preparing the impressive Castle on the shed frontage. As the minutes pass by the engine is slowing coming around whilst busy hands oil the motion and buff up the brass work. I was on the ladders cleaning the nameplates. The many letters of "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" require a fair amount of elbow grease to clean well but the result on the beaded nameplate is typical Great Western elegance. I can't help thinking "Defiant" will be an easier nameplate to clean though! In the warm sunshine of this August morning, nothing could detract from the nostalgic atmosphere of a Great Western express passenger locomotive awaiting the off...
Our scheduled departure with the ECS for Snow Hill was the usual 9am and so the shining 4-6-0 hissed over to the waiting train about an hour earlier. Under cloudless skies she awaited the road, no doubt looking forward to a casual Sunday stroll through the rolling fields of the Warwickshire countryside...
Right on time, 5043 whistled up before Driver Phil Cowley opened the regulator. Taking the Castle to sea, the eight coach train was soon accelerating towards the city centre with ease. Its interesting to listen in over a cuppa' in the Support Coach as the Castle gets underway on route to Moor Street and ultimately Snow Hill. The 'cold' engine gradually warms through as the minutes pass, easing the exhaust into a sharper tone. It takes time for a four-row superheater to thoroughly acclimatise! At Snow Hill, heads are turned as the 4-6-0 tears into the stiff gradient hidden within the tunnel on the station approach. Arriving into the platform, excited passengers are already there waiting to join the 10am departure for Stratford. Once the "Earl" was on the front of the train, some of us trotted off to the local shop to grab 'supplies' (mainly junk food!) and one of the lads kindly treated us to a Costa.

Back at the station, 5043 was raring to go. On board the Support Coach I was again on bacon duty, slaving over the cooker in the fat fumes as the first few stations of the North Warwick line passed by the window. Down at Stratford, the Castle was watered in the usual way before dropping back onto the train...
With Stratford now behind us, 5043 was soon strolling back to Birmingham via the Claverdon route. The chat aboard the Support Coach was the usual - all things steam and a general round of putting the world to rights...we're good at that! Its quite nice to sit back and listen to the "Earl" at work as countless fields and luxurious properties pass by the window on route to Hatton junction. Once back at Snow Hill, the "Earl" was swiftly run round in preparation for the second round trip of the day. The Birmingham layover is minimal on the second trip and it doesn't seem like two minutes until we're "on the move" again. Slipping down to Stratford at 45mph tender first is a leisurely affair for the double chimney beast, quite literally a walk in the park...
"Arrival at Henley" (Pic - J.W.Hinks)
At Stratford, 5043 was watered a final time in readiness for the last departure homeward. Passengers in Premier Dining can enjoy a High Tea on the way home, experiencing a most pleasant bygone era of opulence as the scenery flashes by. Leaving Shakespeare's birthplace right on time, the Castle was in good voice as she climbed steadily towards Wilmcote. From there we crossed over onto the Claverdon line and enjoyed an easy run to Hatton before a spirited jog along the Solihull line. David Chandler captured this amazing shot of 5043 as she tore towards Widney Manor. I think it clearly shows the excitement and true nature of main line steam. This is it, its as real as its ever going to get - just brilliant...
"A Castle In Flight" (Pic - D.Chandler)
All too soon, the regulator was closed for the Tyseley set-down after a cracking run. From Tyseley we ran to Moor Street where an amazed gaggle of onlookers excitedly fumbled for their iPhone's and tablets. The engine was the subject of many pictures in just a few moments, that is until she let out one mighty roar from the chimney as the first bark of her revolutions was ejected skyward. The noisy engine then roared into the gloom of Snow Hill Tunnel, blasting easily up the gradient. As the tunnel envelopes the engine, all traces of light depart the footplate except for the round pulsing glow through the gap in the firehole doors. Heat and steam engulf all whilst the rhythmic bark of the chimney overcomes every other sound imaginable. Through the darkness eventually comes a trail of light, reflecting into the gloom carried by the two snaking rails which steer the engine. At last the Castle emerges, leaving a thick cloak of smoke and steam exiting the tunnel in her wake, like the breath of a dragon. In the days of steam it wasn't uncommon for the heavy freight trains to get stuck in the damp tunnel and many a tale is still told of coughing young Fireman appearing from the gloom to summon the Station Pilot for a pull!

Once run round a final time and having been photographed within an inch of her life, 5043 is readied for the ECS run home. It could well be all in my head but many a spectator on the ECS trip barely looks up from their paper as we pass through, acting as if a steam engine on the twenty-first century main line is nothing short of a mundane sight! Once back on Tyseley land, the empty "Shakespeare" stock slowly descends into the middle road, settling down just shy of the crossing. The Class 08 is then rudely awakened from its evening slumbers to shunt release the steamer. I was asked to work the signalbox for the shunting moves...
Once the 08' has drawn the stock clear, the road is set for Platform 1 and the shunter is given the signal to set back. Slowly but surely, the ECS is rolled back into its stabling position. The diesel is then held inside the starting signal: set to the "on" position below: and this then allows the Castle to be given the road. The engine then slinks back to the safety of the shed ready for disposal...
Finally, the Castle rests on the shed frontage after another successful day out on the national network. This wonderful piece of GWR engineering has been turned from an unbelievable wreck into arguably one of the main lines most formidable performers by the team at Tyseley. As the heat radiates from her resting cylinders, you can almost sense the "Earl" dreaming of that next trip...
I was soon on my way home from Tyseley after another tremendous day out. The Castle is a work of art and it is an absolute pleasure to be part of the team. I must thank the lads at 84E for their continued hospitality and of course the photographers who have kindly sent in images for use in this post - thank you. Until next time, Sam...

Friday, 4 August 2017

"The Wedding Belle" On The Great Central Railway...

"N15 'Sir Lamiel' Hauls The 'Wedding Belle' Evening Train"
We were very fortunate this evening to be invited along to celebrate the wedding of our good friends Mick Jones and Julia Ross. Jonesy (or MJ as we know him) used to be a Shackerstone regular along with us and today he & his bride tied the knot before their reception on the Great Central Railway at Loughborough. Could there be a more appropriate setting? Mark picked me up at around 5pm-ish for our trip up the M1 and A46 to reach the base of the GCR. The weather was fine as we trotted up Great Central Road to the entrance of the station before descending the stairs to the island platform below. The wedding train was still out up the line on the second round trip of the daytime celebration, so we wandered down to the loco shed to see what was going on. The NRM pairing of "Oliver Cromwell" and "Sir Lamiel" were resting in the pleasant evening sunshine. "Cromwell" took part in the famous "Fifteen Guinea Special" - the last steam hauled passenger train on British Rail on August 11th 1968...
As the only two visitors in the yard, we soon got chatting to one of the crew. It turned out that "Lamiel" would be hauling the evening train, top and tailing with the 8F 48624 which had pulled the daytime workings. I'm always pleased to see "Sir Lamiel". A King Arthur Class 4-6-0 built in 1925, the engine isn't far away from retiring for her 10-year overhaul. A unique survivor as the last of her class, 777 is a lovely old thing...
First built by the LSWR, the N15 class eventually numbered 74 examples. With two outside cylinders driving 6ft 7" wheels, the class made for an imposing 4-6-0. I love the lines of this engine. Everything is so meaty, from the con rods to the stuffing boxes. It just looks bulletproof. It is also refreshing to see an engine in pre-nationalisation livery, with "Sir Lamiel" carrying the Southern Railway's malachite green...
Having admired the old Southern engine, we walked back along the ash pathway towards the station. The Class 2 pairing were basking in the sunshine - 78018 and elder cousin 46521. These engines are ideal for most preserved railways...
As we crossed over the boarded crossing, I noticed the shunt signal rise to the 'off' position and sure enough 48624 duly rolled in from Leicester North. The bride & groom had specifically chosen the Eight Freight to haul their wedding train. She looked immaculate, obviously having benefitted from a buff up by the cleaners...
The only surviving 8F built by the Southern Railway, 48624 was completed at Ashford Works in 1943. Tonight she was hauling a rake of seven immaculate coaches - the full set of the "Great Central Pullman"...
After greeting the bride & groom, we headed to the bar to grab a pint. Ale in hand, we wandered up to watch "Sir Lamiel" buffer up to the train at the northern end. Being derived from LSWR practise, 777 has several T9-esque features: the handles, gauges, regulator, firebox door and Dreadnought ejector are identical. Myself, Batesy and Will stood looking at the old N15 for quite some time over a pint. Its just lovely...
"Summer Comes Soonest In The South"
Down the platform, the 1920s style band was getting underway as passengers enjoyed the mood prior to the 7:30pm departure...
We boarded the train on one of the lounge cars. These have been decked out to feature lengthways seating for parties like this...
Right on time, we departed Loughborough for the run to Leicester North. There was a great atmosphere on board the train and as we neared Swithland the buffet was served. Very nice it was too. Soon enough, after a pleasant chug through the Leicestershire countryside, the train came to a halt at the terminus. We only had a minute or three whilst the token was exchanged between the loco's so I grabbed a quick shot of the 8' down the platform whilst the catering staff took a break...
From Leicester North, 48624 took the strain as she hauled us back to Loughborough. "Sir Lamiel" simply hung from the rear of the train, although the 10-coach or so load (with the N15) seemed no effort for the 8F. Pulling back into Loughborough, the train came to a halt in Platform 2 and the band started up again for another hour...
The theme for the wedding was 1920s and so the platforms were awash with characters that resembled a lodge meeting of the Peaky Blinders. It was proving to be a very enjoyable evening and was a great thing to experience. Down at the far end, 48624 was resting after pulling the train back from Leicester North...
We were particularly impressed with the veranda coach situated just aft of the locomotive. The Cromwell rake is amazing to say the least and seems the perfect stock for a railway wedding like this. We were also impressed that there were two steamers on the train. Apparently a diesel had been the initial choice but this was rejected in favour of steam - can't fault that!...
The 8F's Midland tender was carrying the headboard...
After grabbing another drink, we reboarded the stock ready for the second evening departure at 9:30pm. We were surprised to get two rides but you can't complain! This time "Sir Lamiel" hauled us through the increasing darkness as far as Rothley Brook, just north of Rothley station. There, the train reversed and 48624 hauled us southward once again. The driver gave her a bit of main valve as we climbed the bank towards Swithland and the run through Quorn was quite energetic shall we say. It was great. Watching the darkened outline of the 8' swaying impatiently through the veranda window, I couldn't help but think of lyrics from Dave Goulder's "Eight Freight Blues"...

Smoke in my eyes
Soot in my hair
Cinders in my shoes
I'm watching a needle falling away
And singing the Eight Freight Blues
Lyrics by Dave Goulder

If you haven't heard that tune, give it a listen on Youtube. I can't describe in words what a nice evening we had, particularly for us steam enthusiasts too. It was lovely. Once back at Loughborough, arriving at around 10:30pm, the 8F disappeared into the darkness for disposal on the shed...
The quiet platform looked a picture with the Cromwell set as the passengers gathered their belongings ready to alight...
We left at just after 11pm after a great evening out, experiencing a bygone era of opulence and style. Congratulations to the new Mr & Mrs Jones - we wish you all the best for the future and thank you for inviting us to be part of your special day! For me, it was the best wedding I've been to...really good, something special. Thank you all for reading and well done to the GCR for pulling it off. Cheers all, until next time, Sam...