Monday, 11 December 2017

Be Careful What You Wish For

Sun, Snow & Steam, the keen amateur railway photographer's dream were all looking like they were lined up on Saturday as I set off from home, the light dusting of snow on my car, and stars twinkling above indicating clear skies prompted me to set off from home with my proper camera and a copy of the working timetable, with plans formulating of where to be for the best shots.  Although there was a fair amount of frost and ice on offer at Toddington, the much hoped for snow was conspicuous by its absence, except for odd patches on the Cotswold hills.  Worse still, as I arrived, I noted that Dinmore Manor was on the stock in the platform and about to head out as train 1, when I had expected that to be 5526.  It turned out that 5526 had issues with its steam brake, which wouldn't come off, and Foremarke Hall was being readied for use in its place.
Foremarke Hall being coaled up
5526, "Not to be moved"
 It would take a while, Foremarke Hall wouldn't possibly be ready until the afternoon, and would miss at least the first Santa trip.  Eleanor had been down originally to fire Dinmore Manor on train 2, and had been heard to complain that she didn't feel it was right to just turn up and fire, and that she was missing doing the light up.  Well, her wish had been granted, all of a sudden, she was lighting up Foremarke Hall in a hurry:
Coal, wood, oily rags and a match or two...
...we have ignition!
 A substitute was required for the first Santa trip at least, at this sort of notice, the only thing that could be turned out was one of the diesels, the obvious choice being the class 37, D6948, for the reason that it was the only diesel loco in the fleet that was capable of providing steam heating.  Neil abandoned his plans for some Christmas shopping and was press-ganged into being the driver.  My photo opportunities having faded somewhat, I didn't mind standing in as second man. 
D6948 starting up, hard to tell it's not steam powered to be fair...
Before setting off, I noted that I would be missing out on the bacon that had been bought in for the prep crew to have after the locos had left for the day.
Breakfast... just waiting for a shovel to be cooked on.
 I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a replacement heater had been installed in the mess coach:
Nice and warm it was too
 Anyway, what of my steed for the day, well for a start off, in spite of the lack of anywhere to put the coal, it seemed to be a potent beast:
Could Santa & Rudolf keep up?
The driver's controls were uncluttered and ergonomically laid out
I doubt that all the fittings were entirely as built by English Electric...
...though obviously some were
 Crew comfort was obviously something that English Electric had taken into consideration when they designed it, for a start off, it may have lacked a fire, but it had a cooker element for warming up your lunch on, and there were nicely padded seats to sit on, as well as heaters for both the driver and the second man.
You could still cook your bacon sarnies on that.
Luxury compared to the spartan wooden seats on GWR locos
Cab heater... nice and warm
 D6948, boasts a "Driver Safety Device" (DSD).  You might be forgiven for thinking that this is some kind of seat belt or possibly air bags to mitigate injury in event of an accident however it turns out just to be a euphemism for "Dead Man's Switch", fail to depress the foot plate or alternatively press the DSD button, and the brakes will kick in automagically.
DSD button
DSD footplate, not to be confused with the cooking ring next door to it
The forward view was quite impressive compared to any of our steam locos, possibly 4270 running bunker first gets as clear a view, but that's about it.
You can actually see where you're going!
 Our troubles weren't over at this point, arriving at Winchcombe to collect our stock, we discovered that there was a problem with the motorised points at the south west end of the station.
The blades crossed over OK, but we didn't get the ground signal to proceed
 It turned out that although the points were working correctly, the facing point lock mechanism inside the point motor wasn't engaging correctly, having gone out of adjustment in the cold.  The solution was to summon James who was the Duty Operations Officer on the day to come along with the crank handle, point clips  and a block of wood to manually put the points into position and clip them in place:
James cranks the handle...
...clips the point...
...and inserts the block of wood.
 The points are now set and with the permission of the signal man to pass the signal at danger, we can finally proceed and connect up to the stock waiting for us in platform 2.
Able to proceed at last
 James had to go through the whole rigmarole again, to let Dinmore Manor in with the first train load of Santa's guests.
Dinmore Manor approaches from Cheltenham Race Course
 The point of using D6948, rather than any of the other diesels was that it was capable of providing steam heat:
Seems to be working OK
 Normally when approaching Greet tunnel, I'd be thinking about the water level, how much pressure we had, making sure that the blower was up a bit and being ready to crack open the fire hole door to provide a bit of light on the footplate.  On the diesel, there was nothing to do, except perhaps grab a photo
Approaching Greet tunnel
 I had been slightly concerned by the reading on the fuel gauge:
uh oh!
 I was informed that it always says that, regardless of how much is in there.  Apparently there was about 700 gallons, or about 700 miles worth.  I'm glad to say that I get rather better than that fuel consumption out of my car... there again, my car can't carry quite so many passengers.

One of the few jobs left that the second man has to do, is hooking on and off.  This turned out to be more difficult than it is on any of our steam locos, as there are rather more pipes down there to get in the way.  It didn't help that the vac pipes at both ends are new and stiff and didn't line up with the ones on the carriages very well.  Time and adjustment will ease that.
Not much room!
 We hadn't had any opportunity to liberally apply tinsel before we set off, our token decoration consisting of the Santa special headboard, no central lamp bracket meant even that was relegated to one side.
Looking back we should have got it to say "Ho Ho" rather than 2B37.
 I was interested to note that it sported a shed code plate for 86A below one of its numbers.  86A was Newport (1950 - 1963) and Cardiff Canton (1963 - 1973).  Having been built in 1964, would imply that it was based at Cardiff Canton in its early life.
 By the time that I had discovered an interest in trains, many were in BR blue with the full yellow front ends, but there were still a few around in green with the small yellow warning panel and the late BR (ferret and dart board) crest on the sides:
Ferret and dart board
Neil pulls away from Cheltenham Race Course
 The fact that the ground was frozen, and snow was in the forecast didn't deter the line side clearance and drainage gangs, who are obviously made of stern stuff.
Line side clearance in action.
 The drainage gang didn't even have nice brush fires to huddle around.
Crossing Dinmore Manor at Gotherington
Arriving at Winchcombe The North Pole, elves waiting on the platform
 Why did Santa's little helper go to see the doctor?   Because he had "Low Elf esteem".

That is the standard of joke put online by Jack Boskett. Mercifully his photography is far better.  Don't give up the day job Jack.

By the time that we got back to Winchcombe, the steam brake on 5526 had been adjusted and was operating correctly again, so she had been fetched up to Winchcombe ready to take over our train.  The Carriage and Wagon dept don't miss a trick, spotting an idle steam loco, they had commandeered it and got it testing out the steam heating on a short rake of carriages that are soon to be put into service.
5526 in the distance, testing steam heat.
 All we had to do now, was to hand over the "Santa Express" headboard to the crew of 5526, and head on back to Toddington.

Once back at Toddington,  I found Jonathan cleaning and priming one of the brake hangers for 3850.  He was doing it outside the shed, as it was warmer than inside.
Jonathan, wire brushing a brake hanger...
...and later on, after a coat of primer...
...still more waiting inside the shed to be done.
 Probably done last week, but unreported were the spring hanging links and cups from Dinmore Manor's old tender, which were now in grey undercoat.
Waiting for a few top coats
 It is hoped to get the boilers of both 3845 and 2874 non-destructively tested (NDT) shortly.  To that end, Martin, David and Roger were removing small sections of recently applied primer for the NDT probes to attach to.
David (l) and Roger preparing 2874's boiler.
Des was still in the shed, along with the removed axle, nobody seemed to know what was happening with this.
Des (Diesel Electric Shunter)
And finally, the snow that I had wished for on Saturday turned up a day later on Sunday.  Unfortunately there was rather more than an artistic dusting to look good in photos, and the decision was taken in light of the fact that volunteers and customers alike would have difficulty in getting there, that the services would have to be cancelled.  It was a very difficult decision to have to be taken, and I don't envy the parents of the children having to explain why Santa couldn't get there because of the snow.  Hopefully the weather will improve in time for the remaining Santa trains.
5526 in the snow on Sunday, photo courtesy of Ben Evason

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Santa's Little Helpers

Your humble scribe has been otherwise engaged this weekend, so I have had to depend on my network of spies to keep me informed of developments.  

As you may recollect from last week, Dinmore Manor's old tender was temporarily re-wheeled to permit other projects to make use of the lifting jacks.  The first of these was one of the steam loco dept's diesel shunters (Des).  My spy on this occasion said little more than the fact that it was off its wheels, which is fairly easy to ascertain from the following couple of photos.  News on the condition of its axle boxes, which prompted the lift in the first place has not been forthcoming.  I will apply thumb screws to the relevant parties next week to ascertain what progress has been made.
Des on the jacks (photo courtesy of John Cruxon)
One wheel set dropped (photo courtesy of John Cruxon)
The news from 2807 is that it is expected to be in steam every weekend day (plus Friday 22nd) between now and the end of the year at the Llangollen Railway.  She will be returning to us in early January for her winter maintenance programme.

Chris and Frances, who have put in sterling service over the years as Christmas Elves have sent through a selection of photos of the seasonal preparations at Toddington... the only problem is, that their sat nav is clearly on the blink as it directed them initially to Minehead instead:
That would be where the other "Real Santa" will be for the next few weeks!
Eventually, they managed to plug the right coordinates into their Santa Sat Nav and ended up at Toddington:

"The elves were out and about getting our station ready for the visit of the red robed guy the following weekend : just in case he creeps in by car ....
The sleigh needed attention from The Sleigh Commander and his assistant
Meanwhile the decoration process was well under way ..
Lights, camera, action...
...lots of action...
...with Rose bopping along to Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' ?
So what's hidden in front of ' Lapland ' ? 
Well, our visitors next weekend will find out !!
Mind you, even Elves claim they need a tea break from the frantic activity in their workshop
And even though some are scaling great heights of achievement...
...others have found what a fantastic job Carriage & Wagon have done with W4763
This is for the passengers to enjoy their fabulous hot mince pie and drink after their trip on the Diesel Experience, you two - get back to work!  Which we all will be doing on Monday and Friday, all ready for the children to enjoy from next Saturday on!"

Thank you very much to Chris Crump for the above photos and explanatory notes (in grey).  Toddington Lapland is where of the course the "Real Father Christmas" will be, dispensing presents to "nice" boys & girls who have been on the DMU, this is of course interspersed with his frequent trips down to Winchcombe The North Pole where he will be giving presents to the "nice" boys & girls who have arrived on one of our steam trains.  He's a very busy chap that Santa Claus, no wonder that he needs to take the rest of the year off after Christmas.

As for the steam loco dept, Saturday marked the first day of the public Santa trains.  For the Santa season, as the turns make for a fairly long day, we are experimenting with having prep crews turn up (if you need to ask, you can't get up that early) to dispose of both locos and light them up for the day crews to take over.  Reports on social media suggest that the promised supply of breakfast for the prep crews is going down well... in fact too well, with more than the rostered number of people turning up to benefit from it. 
5526, tinselled up and ready to go (photo courtesy of Jeremy Booth)
Dinmore Manor, pre-tinsel (photo courtesy of Jeremy Booth)
Prep crew warming device in action (photo courtesy of Jeremy Booth)
Dinmore Manor is now getting something of a reputation for rescuing other trains, as it was tagged on to 5526's train as far as Winchcombe to assist with the steam heating of the carriages during the empty coaching stock (ECS) move to Cheltenham Race Course.
Double headed ECS move, something of a rarity (photo courtesy of Phil Grange)