Saturday, 30 September 2017

An "Earl" On The "Shropshire Express"...

"The Castle Strides Past A Packed Chester Racecourse" (Pic - C.Morrison)
The end of every main line steam tour marks the completion of another great adventure. Today, the immaculate Castle Class 4-6-0 No5043 "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" was out and about in damp conditions on route to Chester. "The Shropshire Express" was essentially a repeat of last years similar excursion which traversed the WCML route on the outward path before returning via Chirk and Shrewsbury, taking in the sharp climb over Gresford Bank. Last years Chester report can be found here and, having enjoyed the 2016 outing immensely, I was very much looking forward to todays trip. Rising early is the norm on a day out with steam and, before sunrise, I was on my way to McDonalds for the all important breakfast stop before continuing to the former 84E. "Edgcumbe" was just about to move outside into the crisp morning air, her fire having been lit a few moments earlier. Hissing gracefully forward, 5043 came to rest in the usual spot as first light came up...
We had a 'full crew' today and the engine was oiled and cleaned amidst the usual shed banter. I was given the job of cleaning down the running boards and then shining them up to bring out the gloss finish. The midweek cleaning team had already given 5043 a fine going over and she looked stunning as she awaited her move across the road to the waiting stock. Our departure from Tyseley was scheduled for around 9:15am and so the Castle was on the train a good hour before. Having had a wash and got changed, I took the opportunity to photograph the Castle in the same spot once again. It is often remarked that I must have hundreds of the exact same shot...I do...
Right on time, 5043 whistled up before Driver Ray Poole started the train away towards our passenger pick-up at Wolverhampton. Tony & Craig were busy in the kitchen preparing crew breakfasts and ensuring that the Castle left a scent of sausage and bacon in her wake. Tiptoeing through the Birmingham suburbs, the "Earl" rounded the bend at St Andrews junction, heading ultimately for the Sutton Park line...
"5043 On Route To Chester" (Pic - G.Gifford)
After Wolverhampton we enjoyed the usual fast running to Stafford and Crewe, before the final part of the run past Beeston Castle and into Chester. I hopped out at Chester whilst the passengers alighted in order to grab a quick snap of 5043 as she awaited the call to set back towards the junction which allowed access to the adjacent yard. This is where we would be spending our afternoon...
With the passengers all off the train and no doubt ready for their afternoon in the city, 5043 was given the signal to set back. We were soon in the yard opposite Platform 7 and thus our four-hour layover began. The Castle would be checked over, oiled, watered and coaled during this time and the Support Crew would of course need feeding! The Castle was detached from the ECS to be watered towards the rear of the set, where our hoses would reach. Naturally, right on cue, the heavens opened and the persistent rain continued during our stop in Chester. 5043 happily simmered away whilst a drenched Support Crew scurried around doing the necessaries...
"5043 In A Very Damp Chester Yard" (Pic - f22photographie of Flickr)
Anybody who thinks a day on a Support Crew is easy should very much think again. Once you've lifted 60 bags of coal up into a cab from floor level you can tell me its easy. I've had several full days on footplates at various preserved railways that were a piece of cake compared to that one task! Anyway, with our various jobs complete, our saturated team re-boarded the Support Coach for a spot of lunch. Tony & Craig had prepared some cracking burgers and these were enjoyed over a refreshing can of Coke (Diet of course). 5043 was steadily steam heating the stock ready for the return run and so we were nice and warm as we put the world to rights and honed our people watching skills.

As our departure time neared, 5043 was prepared for our homeward run. The passengers were soon back on board and the Castle strode out of Chester, whistling enthusiastically at the several race goers who were no doubt drinking their weight at a packed Chester racecourse. I think it was the last meeting of the season. Leaving Chester behind us, the engine flattened Gresford Bank (although the double chimney ensured that the Support Coach received a good shot-blasting) before continuing to our short photo stop at Chirk station...
From Chirk, 5043 pretty much had a clear run home. She strode along happily for mile after mile and it was a pleasure to listen to her. Here she is arriving triumphantly into Birmingham New Street where our presence always seems to spark interest...
"New Street" (Pic - C.Morrison)
There is something about being with the engine at New Street which really makes me smile - I don't know what it is. Maybe its just because its such a busy location and the snorting locomotive is so well received. After dropping off passengers in the busy station, we steamed into the gloom of the tunnel before our final jog home to Tyseley. Once again, I hopped out quickly before the admiring hoards arrived...
As the final passengers disembarked, the rain was truly in for the night. The Class 08 duly shunt released the Castle; once I'd dropped between to detach the train. With the stock clear, 5043 hissed backwards before descending into the middle road for turning on the table. She looked a real picture in the pouring rain...
Once turned, "Edgcumbe" steamed back to the shed for stabling and disposal. The 1936-built Castle had done the Tyseley team proud once again and had put in yet another fabulous performance. Next time we go to Chester it is scheduled to be "Clun"! Click here for VT's website where you can book onto excursions behind these amazing machines. Thank you to the Tyseley team for another great experience, thank you to the photographers for allowing me to use your images in this post and thank you all for reading. Until next time, Sam...

Sunday, 24 September 2017

A Grand Day Out on 5542...

Hi all. Today myself and JB had a very enjoyable outing on the visiting GWR 4575 Class No5542 at the Battlefield Line. Having re-familiarised ourselves with the Small Prairie last weekend on the 1940s special, we had been looking forward to our day turn. We'd arranged to meet at the gloomy gates of Shackerstone station at 6am and, as I removed the first lock, the roaring cry of the infamous 'Drover' hummed into earshot down Derby Lane. Having proceeded in convoy along the old trackbed to the car park, we unloaded our masses of clutter before staggering to the signing in room. An enthusiastic owl provided a final chorus before no doubt heading off for its slumber: the birds were not up yet! Signed in and notices read, we trudged up to the shed and discovered 5542 over the pit. Turning the shed lights on is always a pleasure as with each clunking relay you aren't sure whether to rejoice or duck! We dropped our stuff in the real Mess area before preparations began aboard the engine.

The pressure needle was doing its utmost to register a remaining breath of steam whilst a pleasant full glass of water was revealed alongside. In the firebox there were only a few ashes scattered across the bars but I decided to remove the deflector plate and go in, much to JB's surprise. Its hot and filthy in there but I prefer to have a cleaner grate so as to save efforts later. Its also a good opportunity to check the make up of the firebox including the stays, plate work, tubes, brick arch and of course the fusible plugs. Leaving the box as a spluttering grey mass of dust, I replaced the deflector and began making up the fire. I tend to add a 1-lump thick bed of coal across the bars, then wood then a good helping of rags. I then lit the ignition rag...
Meanwhile, JB was fumbling about with the hydrostatic and steam brake lubricators: both of which are best done early. Whilst I piled in the last few planks of wood, Britt brewed up having mercilessly thumped the tea boiler into life. We enjoyed a hot cuppa' whilst 42' crackled away on her embryo fire...
Tea supped, JB started oiling the outside whilst I prepared to do the ash pan. General practise is to do this in the morning so as to prevent over cooling the night before, as well as saving heavy dust from water cast upon raging embers. 42' has a pan wash which I used before opening the very snazzy hydraulic doors. Then came the ever pleasant 'romance of steam' task of wrestling a long rake about under the engine as oil, ash, water and dust cascade down from on high. Pan empty, JB passed through some feeders so that I could oil the inside Stephenson's valve gear and driving axleboxes. The general arrangement is typically Great Western, although some fair mountaineering was required to reach some of the points from below. Inside done, JB continued oiling the outside points along the coupling rods whilst I had a quick wash. Our 'Footplate Experience' participant soon arrived for his Silver course. This experience involves a light engine trip to Shenton and back prior to the commencement of public services. We managed to clean, coal and water the Prairie before our 09:45 departure from Shack and our participant took 42' easily southward. It was a lovely morning and the 2-6-2 was soon simmering at a tranquil Shenton...
Returning to Shackerstone, we watered 42' on the column before dropping her onto the waiting four-coach train. With 30 minutes to go before departure with the 11:15, Britt went off to brew up again whilst I had a wash and got changed...
Changed and ready for the off, I threw a couple of rounds into the firebox before injecting some water into the boiler. I like the cab on this engine...
5542 was built in 1928 as one of the 100-strong group of GWR 4575 Class engines. The 4575 Class were a later development of the older 4500 Class, employing larger water tanks that sloped towards the front of the locomotive as opposed to the earlier flat top examples. The Small Prairie includes 17" cylinders, a 200psi boiler and driving wheels of 4ft 7.5" which, when considered together, produce a tractive effort of 21, 250lbs. 5542 is one of 11 survivors of her class and the type is quite at home in almost any preserved railway setting. She carries the push-pull apparatus that allows her to work in Autotrain mode and indeed these engines did a lot of that on lightly loaded branch lines. I like them: they're fine machines.

After an easy first round trip, 5542 stands at Shenton with the 13:05...
Leaving Shenton upgrade, 5542 strides away from the Battlefield...
With the needle hugging the red line, a good level in the glass and 42' ticking along nicely, it was time to devour the breakfast cobs Britt had ordered...
All was well aboard the footplate as we steamed along...
After watering at Shackerstone we dropped 5542 onto the waiting 13:45 trip. She was still looking clean as she awaited departure...
The 13:45 was very pleasant and fairly uneventful. 5542 was steaming very easily and proved no trouble. She's smooth, powerful and user friendly. Here, she waits at Market Bosworth with the returning 14:20 train...
I fired the engine on about three different fires today. The first trip I kept it fairly thin, the second trip I filled the back up and on the third trip I fired the back and surrounds like a saucer. On all three variants the loco steamed like no tomorrow, although we were only pottering gently through the Leicestershire countryside...
The road ahead from Market Bosworth; unfortunately the upper quadrant signals are always 'off' in both directions as the signalbox is out of use...
Having received the "Right Away", 5542 steams out of Market Bosworth towards the international airport at Airport Bridge...
When we sauntered back into Shackerstone with the returning third trip, David was there waiting for us. He would join us on our remaining two outings of the day: little did he know he would end up firing for Britt to save his shoulder so I could drive...
"5542 With The 15:00 Train" (Pic - D.Hanks)
With the engine once again watered and coupled up, we were ready for the off. I collected the necessary Magnums before returning to the footplate to perform the brake test. With a whistle and a green flag, we steamed out of Shackerstone. 5542 is responsive on both the regulator and reverser, much like 5521 that we had a few years ago. Ticking along nicely with minimal pilot valve and the reverser well up, the job is easy as the engine motors along.

David, although he was in his normal clothes, had no trouble keeping the pressure up during his first run for a couple of years on 5542: she's a dream. I really enjoyed driving the Prairie. David caught me backing the engine down onto the last train home. Another great experience aboard another fine engine...
"Running Round 5542" (Pic - D.Hanks)
Coupled up for the final train home, 5542 awaits right time before I drop down to refit the front bag. When running light engine on a combi braked machine we always run with a bag off to stop the pump creating a reservoir...
The obligatory blurry crew selfie aboard the Small Prairie...
The David column rises steadily from the chimney as right time nears...
Leaving Shenton on the final homeward train, 5542 slipped along easily with minimal effort. I really like this machine: its so pleasant to be on, no matter what side of the cab you stand. After a great run back to Shackerstone, we ticked gently into Platform 2 and dropped off the coaches. I then drove the Small Prairie back into the gloom of Shackerstone shed in readiness for disposal after a great day. Here we are back on the pit as we settle the engine for her rest...
Fire deadened, boiler filled, the necessary's isolated and chimney capped, 5542 was left to simmer away to herself. What a lovely old gal' this is: just lovely. I must thank JB for a cracking day out on the footplate with him at Shack and of course thank David for his firing efforts and photographs. A good day in good company on a good engine. Thank you all for reading again, cheers, Sam...

Saturday, 16 September 2017

An Evening Job with 5542...

Well folks, tonight was a very pleasant evening on the footplate. Having been on the working party today at Tyseley, I had started suitably later to remain within 'my hours' for this special turn on the Battlefield Line. I'd been contacted during the week to see if I could fill in tonight on the newly arrived visiting Small Prairie tank No5542. The popular 1940s weekend: Operation Market Bosworth: was taking place on the railway this weekend and, although a crew had been found for both daylight turns, the evening exhibitor train was without one. Rules state that a crew can only perform a maximum of a 12-hour shift and so the day crew aboard the tank would have been out of hours if we hadn't of filled in. As our friends Mick & Julia organise the 1940s do, myself & JB pulled out the stops to help. 5542 arrived at Shackerstone yesterday and following a swift FTR and preparation, she was on service today operating six round trips over the ex-ANJR metals. I met up with JB at around 4pm, just as the Prairie rolled in...
"5542 Rolls In With The Returning 3pm Service"
5542 is on her fourth visit to the Battlefield Line from her home on the South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh. I first went on her in 2010 as a trainee fireman, during her summer visit. She then returned in early 2011 for a couple of months before her last visit for the Bluebell gala in 2014. Myself & Adrian had a cracking day on her during that event. The 1928-built 2-6-2 currently wears the attractive 'Shirt Button' livery which I must admit makes a lovely change from all the BR liveried engines about...
The day crew still had one more round trip to do and so myself & JB sat down and did what we do best: we had a cuppa' and put the world to rights. The next hour or so also allowed plenty of time to sign in, fill the lamps with paraffin and generally make sure we had everything we needed. Working on a railway at night requires a little more equipment so I'd brought along my bardic and gauge glass lamp. Tea supped and kit ready, we took over the Prairie once the day crew had brought her back into Platform 2 with the final public train of the day. It was pleasing to have the novelty of stepping onto an engine that was all ready to go! 

With the engine uncoupled from the stock, JB gave a pip on the whistle before steaming down to the North End for coal. The JCB was rudely awakened from its slumbers to perform this operation. Three buckets later, 5542 was brimmed with coal and next our attention turned to watering. Hissing past No7 disc signal, we crossed over to the signalbox before dropping down to the water column. A 4575 Class like this carries 1300 gallons of water and the tanks were filled up prior to our ECS departure for Market Bosworth. After the usual brake test we left Shackerstone in a cloud of steam. I was busy making up the fire that I'd just cleaned with the long dart. After a long day in service there was some clinker forming on the grate but this was easily lifted, broken up and pulled back under the door. Climbing towards Barton with the four coach train, 5542 was sitting happily at 180psi as I continued to make up a large back end. Once through the 10mph slack at Hedleys, we drifted down towards Carlton...
The plan for this evening basically consisted of two round trips from Shackerstone. This would involve picking up the 1940s reenactors at Bosworth on the first outward leg and dropping them off on the last homeward run. It was clear that, unlike the timetabled services, we wouldn't be hanging around much at the stations and so I opted to really thicken the fire up, mainly to keep the engine 'warm'. When you're working consistently its amazing how much easier a larger fire makes life for you, but you always have that balance between enough fire and too much. A paper thin fire is a fine thing in terms of coal consumption but I don't rate the constant hot and cold conditions and the potential for cold air rushing through your grate onto the plate work. At Market Bosworth, the pretty Prairie simmered happily with the waiting 'party train'...
With our period costumed passengers aboard, 5542 received the "Right Away" from the Guard and off we steamed for the battlefield. The needle hugged the red line as the engine sauntered through Far Coton and out into the open fields near Ambion Lane. At Shenton, a swift run round resulted in this quick snap of the Prairie waiting patiently as the last of the evenings sun settled lower in the sky...
With all systems go, the Guard gave us the flag and we steamed 'none stop' for Shackerstone. The Prairie was most definitely happy in her work and myself & JB both agreed that she was still very much a 'good un'. In all the times we've ever been on her you can always count on a great performance from this engine: its smooth, willing and strong. It just seems perfect for this railway or indeed any other preserved setting for that matter, though I do love my Panniers! At Shackerstone, a few of the passengers alighted to watch 42' tick round to the other end of the train. The tanks were topped up once more ready for the second round trip although, looking at the gauge, we probably would have made it with water to spare. The old rule of "never pass a water column" is always in the back of the mind though...you never know! As we steamed back to Shenton, we chomped down our pasties which had been warming on the manifold for an hour or so...we're quite resourceful when we want to be. Lit up by the Shenton lamp posts, a blurry 5542 sits at the head of the final homeward trip...
Leaving Shenton, the view from the dark lanes must have been amazing as 5542 trotted up the bank towards Coton with the cab illuminated by the pulsing fire glow. Two dark figures clinging to a boiler that's strapped atop a wheeled frame as it rumbles through the gloom of a moonlit night is the joy of steam in the dark. Its a different world really and one of the things that made one of my evening experiences on 5043 so amazing as she roared through lonely stations under the cover of darkness! Anyway, at Market Bosworth we were heartily thanked by our passengers who all seemed to have had a great time. From there, it was just me, JB and the Guard for the ECS run back to Shack. 5542 drifted through the quiet farmland before arriving at a gloomy Shackerstone station. Having uncoupled, we drifted light engine back to the shed via No11 frame. Once inside, the usual disposal procedure took place as 5542 was bedded down for the night. I was very pleased to have used my BR (W) gauge glass lamp again. It normally sits on the shelf gathering dust but it has a good wick in it so I do like to use it where possible. I was approached by a chap at RR Ansty a few years ago who's late father-in-law was a driver at Nuneaton (2B) in steam days. He offered me the lamp for a fair price so I bought it. Its very nice...
I thinned the Prairie's fire for the evening and ensured that the boiler was well filled for tomorrows crew. The image below shows the engine settling down for the night before I climb up to remove the lamp and fit the cap...
"9pm - 5542 Rests In Shackerstone Shed"
All in all, a very pleasant night on our old friend 5542. This engine has always been a credit to her owners and her home base at SDR: she's lovely. I must thank JB for his company aboard our fine steed and say well done to Mick for putting on another fine 1940s event. Myself & JB may well find ourselves on the Prairie again quite soon, as last minute plans are brought together. Cheers all, thanks for reading, Sam...

Tyseley: A Second Castle Cometh...

Hi all. Just a short one from todays Saturday visit to Tyseley. I went over to join in on one of their weekly volunteer days in the works. All attention was once again focussed on the overhaul of No7029 "Clun Castle" which continues to creep ever nearer to a return to steam. Her first tours are already available to book for next year on the Vintage Trains website and her commissioning is on track for the end of October. Like 5043, "Clun" will be a thing of great beauty when she breaths again and I can't wait to see her in action. Why say it with two chimneys when you can say it with four? It will be a great day. Cheers all, Sam...

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Statfold Barn with Fabulous "Fiji"...

"Smiles All Round On Lautoka No11" (Pic - B.Bryan)
Hi all. Crewing for the delightful Statfold Barn Railway has been a great pleasure over the last few years and we've been lucky enough to drive and fire a fair number of their fine machines. One name however has been at the top of my to-do list for a good while now: "Fiji". This huge Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 was built by the Leeds firm in 1912 as works number 972. Constructed for CSR's Lautoka sugar mill in Fiji, the requirement was for a powerful locomotive with a wheelbase short enough to cope with sharp curves but a fuel capacity large enough to complete an 82-mile round trip with a potential train of 260 tons. On 2ft gauge tracks, 972 is a large engine and I've been looking forward to driving her for a long time. Today, at the SBR's September open day, the opportunity had finally arrived and I was rostered as "Fiji"s driver. I did take her for a trip or two a couple of years ago at a family do but this was my first full day. We arrived at the base of the SBR at just before 6am and the large tender engine was found in the High Level platform as the first of the days sun shone down...
972 worked at Lautoka until around 1958 when she was stored. The mill owners overhauled her for the 75th anniversary of the opening of the mill in 1978 and she ran during the celebrations. The largest indignity for any steam locomotive came in 1985 when a new tourist operation in the area: the Coral Coast Railway Company: took No11 from the mill. The tender was fitted with a diesel engine and hydraulic drive whilst the back of the firebox was cut off to give space for a gearbox. The full diesel conversion resulted in the engine being used for pleasure trips as a shadow of her former self. Thankfully, she was rescued from Fiji in 2011, arriving at Statfold the following year. A painstaking (and no doubt very expensive) restoration took place and 972 finally breathed steam again in 2014. We all remarked what a beautiful engine she was when Statfold unveiled her that year and all credit to them for pulling it off. The footplate is big enough for a party of ten...
Paul: an FR & WHR Driver: was booked as the fireman and we spent the next couple of hours preparing the engine together. Our duty today was the ever intensive High Level service which operates with a rake of three coaches top and tailed by two steamers. Our partner today was my favourite: the Bagnall "Isibutu": crewed by another Paul & Mick. Whilst fireman Paul buffed up "Fiji"s brass work, I went around with the oil cans. She carries Walschaerts valve gear and most items are accessible outside the framing. A large Wakefield lubricator is mounted on the drivers side to feed the axleboxes, partnered with a smaller cylinder oil example...
"Filling The Tender Pots" (Pic - Mark of SBR)
Just after 8am, we wandered over to the snap van to grab some breakfast. A sausage & bacon cob is most welcome on any Statfold morning...
The usual 8:30am Safety Briefing took place on the lawn and, with all procedures for the day now freshly in mind, we returned to No11. Paul added a few shovelful's of coal to the fire and this produced a thick acrid smoke. You only have to show this coal the fire to get a lot of smoke; a trait that was going to continue throughout the day...
At around 9am, with the 'Goose' Railbus having cleared our path, "Isibutu" was given the signal to take out the first HL train. Being 'on this side' has its advantages as you aren't sort of confined by the many movements which are required to set-up a days running on the Low Level railway - you just go. The green Bagnall hauled us easily around the railway with the ECS before we arrived at Oak Tree loop...
"Isibutu" patiently waited for the railbus to return from Statfold HL...
Whilst Paul got the water level up ready for the boiler to sit nose down on the car park bank, I went around the engine checking all was well. I'd primed the Wakefield well over 50 turns before moving off but a couple more doesn't hurt to make sure all is primed and working prior to the commencement of passenger runs...
In sunny conditions, a Low Level train hauled by "Liassic" and "Marchlyn" passes by the larger bulk of "Fiji" as we await our path...
Once the 'Goose' had exchanged tokens with us, the Bagnall took the train easily up to Statfold and provided the days first attack on the 'very steep' climb back up into the HL platform. My nerves were slowly building on the way back, ready for my first round trip with "Fiji" on the HL. With the signal 'off' and a "Right Away" from the Guard, we drifted down onto the concrete road past the signalbox. As we chugged out past the tram shed, "Fiji" felt the weight of the coaches and "Isibutu" on the tight curve. We then drifted down to Oak Tree before negotiating the balloon loop. The run back from the balloon loop is steady until the foot of the hump of a bank up to the Oak Tree passing loop. Here, one notch back, "Fiji" was given main valve to ascend the hill. She went up there beautifully and I reckon if you hit it a little quicker (you can't because of the Bagnall's distinct dislike of corners!) then pilot valve would be enough. However, with a sniff of main she was a joy and we pulled up at the stop board before a chat with "Isibutu"s driver Paul. Paul is a reader - "Hi Paul!"...
"Chatting With Driver Paul" (Pic - B.Bryan)
It was at this point that I looked across to fireman Paul and said "well isn't this extremely pleasant". What a lovely old thing. From Oak Tree we steamed back up to Statfold where main valve was again employed for the steep climb to the terminus. "Fiji" went up there very well too, pulling hard on a climb that tests the strongest of engines. One trip done, we sat down in our seats for an easy trip. Due to the Bagnall only having four wheels to employ for driving purposes, I did hold our weight on her runs today...no point thrashing either of these fine locomotives. After "Isibutu"s trip, we were on the front again and are captured in the same place awaiting the 'Goose'...
Without going on too much, the day continued just like that: we pulled a trip, they pulled a trip. Passenger numbers were strong throughout the day and both the Low Level and tramway were equally busy. I was thoroughly enjoying myself aboard "Fiji" and was impressed with her responsiveness and riding quality. Paul meanwhile had no trouble keeping the pressure near the red line as 972's large boiler is free steaming and provides plenty of capacity for her cylinders. Firing-wise we probably had a thicker fire than we needed but on this sort of job you need to "get um' hot" but keep them hot too. You don't want cold air rushing through a thin fire bed on gradients like this and with "Fiji"s lack of a brick arch you don't fire on the run. After all we're here to not only crew the engine but safeguard her well being too...
"Tailing The Bagnall" (Pic - T.Easter)
With a breath of steam leaving the chimney as we approach the car park bank, I'm about to open the regulator further to help "Isibutu" up the hill...
"Holding Our Weight" (Pic - M.Howard)
On the next trip, "Fiji" makes an impressive sight on the balloon loop...
"The Hudswell In The Balloon Loop" (Pic - M.Howard)
A fun aspect of Statfold is always the side by side running...
"972 And 14" (Pic - I.Goodman)
Thick smoke coughs from the balloon stack chimney as I lean out from the cab approaching Oak Tree from Statfold HL...
"Driving HC 972" (Pic - I.Goodman)
The coal provided good heat for the boiler but as I say it was very smoky stuff. Even a shovelful turned the exhaust black! "Fiji" carries the balloon stack style chimney that is designed to reduce the risk of throwing sparks. Of course, in the Fijian sugar fields, hot sparks being ejected is a massive no! Here, the engine awaits an afternoon turn as the changeable weather turns back to sun from an impromptu downpour. Note the double skin cab roof designed to induce air flow...
Another fun factor of "Fiji" is her chime whistle. The massive brass chime sits atop the dome and its steam valve is unusually opened via a threaded rod connected to a control in the cab. Known as an 'Elephant Blaster', the whistle is fantastic in operation and a pleasure to use. Anyone that says they don't like blowing a steam whistle is a liar! It worked a treat as well, we didn't see a single Elephant...
"Approaching The Balloon Loop" (Pic - T.Easter)
Mark the Guard caught us chewing the fat on the tail of a late afternoon train...
"Chatting" (Pic - Mark of SBR)
All too soon, although we reckon we did about 20 trips, it was time for our last train of the day and "Isibutu" led us around the balloon loop for the last time. A rainbow hovered above Cogan Halt as we approached...
"Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (Pic - T.Easter)
Seconds later, the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down. It was certainly a downpour, it was pouring down like no tomorrow. Myself & Paul did our best to huddle into the corners of "Fiji"s cab but unfortunately it is actually a sun cover rather than a rain shelter! It was just absolutely horrid I can tell you...
Our misery was turned to humour at one stage when we saw "Sybil Mary" attacking the bank with the final LL train. Driver Ian was soaked...
As the rain slowly relented, I made a few final checks around "Fiji" before "Isibutu" took us homeward with the last train of the day. We'd had a great time...
As we arrived back into Statfold we could see the other 14 engines lining up in the headshunt yard ready for the cavalcade. Once the train was stabled in the HL platform "Isibutu" was removed and went down to the headshunt via the LL station. We thought we were going to miss out but a last minute call saw us drop down the bank with the coaches still in tow. Nick then beckoned for us to start the whistle off. Therefore, I opened the whistle and "Fiji"s chime blasted out across the fields. The others sat there watching until I beckoned them to get started and the following chorus of screaming whistles was enjoyed by the saturated crowds...
"A Fijian Whistle" (Pic - T.Easter)
Fun over, our final move was to push the three coaches back up to the HL platform. I didn't know if we'd do it but, having pulled forward slightly, I assumed full reverse and gave "Fiji" some regulator. At full pilot, she got the coaches onto the climb with Will working the sanding gear - a feature I would have loved to have known about earlier when I was struggling with adhesion after one of the downpours! Sure enough, when I gave the 0-6-0 main valve she kept her feet admirably and lumbered backwards up the hill. Train safe and secure, we handed over "Fiji" to our relief crew ready for her jaunt on the evening train later on tonight. What a fabulous day...
Well that's it folks after another great day out on the Statfold Barn Railway. "Fiji" is fabulous - no doubt about it. I must thank fireman Paul for his company today and of course driver Paul and fireman Mick for being our partners for the day. Will deserves great thanks too for rostering us - thanks mate. Finally, thank you to the photographers who have kindly let me use their images in this heavy post. I really like "Fiji" and its a pleasure to have now driven her for a day. Thousands of miles from the sugar fields of her old life, 972 enjoys a happy retirement on the SBR in her original steam form for all to enjoy. Although "Isibutu" will always be my favourite, "Fiji" has to be the jewel in Statfold's restoration crown. Cheers all, Sam...