Monday, 23 September 2013


Ben (the roster clerk) had long since apologised for putting me down for a fireman training turn on Thomas.  Apparently the only available dates that worked for all concerned in September were for the 21st, so that's what I ended up with.  Not that I mind Thomas events, they can be quite fun, but I'd be pitched into trying to fire a strange (to me at least) and rather small loco in a timetable that included three extended stays at Winchcombe of nearly an hour.  Using my 'skill and judgement'  I would need to get Thomas up to steam in the morning and be ready to haul seven carriages (Annie, Clarabel and presumably five of their friends) the short distance to Winchcombe and upon arrival, layover for the best part of an hour entertaining hordes of screaming kids before returning back.  From a boiler control perspective, this was asking a fair bit if I was to arrive and keep Thomas from blowing off whilst there.  Quite a number of small children proved to be startled by Thomas' whistle, they'd have been terrified by the noise from the safety valves if they had lifted. To make matters worse, children would be expecting to come up on the footplate and feed Thomas 'coal cakes' (lumps of coal on a paper plate). Exactly the last thing you need if you're trying to keep from blowing off. I wasn't really expecting this to go well.   Ian Chilton had let me know that he was down for crossing monitor duty at Winchcombe in the morning.  He would be switching his hearing aids off so that he didn't have to listen to either the Thomas music being piped around the platforms or the roar of Thomas' safety valves.  He would also be taking pictures of me and of Thomas blowing off and then hack into this blog to display them to the world.  Not being a complete idiot I keep the password to myself (well OK, give or take the NSA, GCHQ and anybody else that Google thinks might like to know).

Things didn't start off too well:
Thomas eats his driver
We had to grab hold of Paul's boots and yank him back out.  During Thomas events. all operational staff are supposed to wear a 'Friend of Thomas' badge on their clothes to identify themselves as being members of staff. I won't embarrass the person concerned by naming him, but he put the pointy bit of the safety pin on the back of the badge in just a bit too far and exclaimed "Ouch, I've just pierced my nipple!". As you can imagine, sympathy was in short supply and those present laughed. On the plus side though, we were under instructions from the owner not to remove Thomas' face to empty out the smoke box throughout the whole weekend.  I didn't need any second bidding on that one.

Getting ready to play, Thomas and Henry, the big green engine
Henry was off shed first and seemed to be rather enthusiastic about getting on with the day's work:
Foremarke Hall Henry steams into action
Apparently Henry was once bricked up in a tunnel by the Fat Controller for refusing to pull trains in the rain.  Henry wasn't taking any chances of getting bricked up in Greet tunnel this time and stormed off down the track regardless of the weather forecast. I daresay that in these more enlightened times, punishments such as being bricked up in a tunnel would be regarded as being a step too far and Social Services would be down on you like a ton of bricks.  As it turned out the weather stayed fine and dry all day anyway, so Henry was spared from being bricked up in Greet tunnel and as a consequence, the Fat Controller wasn't carted off to jail.  That would have put a bit of a crimp in the day's proceedings.

After a short while, we too were on our way down to Winchcombe with a full complement of seven carriages.  We established that Thomas starts blowing off light, 160 psi rather than the 170 psi marked by the red line on the pressure gauge and that she starts to struggle to hold the brakes off at 120 psi.  The trick therefore was to try and keep her somewhere in the 140 to 150 psi range if at all possible.  We also noticed that her exhaust had quite a pleasant bark to it as she had to work a bit to pull seven coaches. Sean has emailed me a sound recording that he made on one of the trips of the sound of my hard shoveling going up the chimney. At least it was going out the chimney rather than out the safety valves.  I think Sean was disappointed with that.  Other things of note are the cab was tiny, not that you needed to swing the shovel far, but hitting the front of the grate without clouting your hand on the bunker in the process was an achievement.  I'd probably have been better advised to have just thrown a few lumps in by hand every now and again.

Upon arrival at Winchcombe, Thomas was of course the star attraction.  Hordes of kids descended on us and queued up to get on the footplate.  One or two of them even queued patiently.  Most seemed to be happy to just have their photo taken, some were just a bit frightened and others were keen to know how you made Thomas go.  Next it was back up the platform a bit for the infamous routine of catching the fish in the water tank.  The Fat Controller was supposed to interrogate Thomas' driver and establish that Thomas wasn't feeling too well, then ask if he'd stopped to take water in the brook. The driver would confess that they had and Thomas' water tanks would then be inspected, a fish found and removed.   The only problem was, that nobody knew where the fish was.  We had misplaced the plaice. We secretly suspected that the Fat Controller had eaten it for his breakfast.  Anyway, it was game over on that, so we did a bit of getting the kids to fetch buckets of water up to Thomas to refill his tanks with. I was stitched up with doing the first lot of filling the water tanks, however Ade did it on one of the later trips.
Ade filling Thomas' water tanks the hard way
Unsurprisingly it turns out to be far more efficient to fill Thomas' tanks using one of our water cranes, so that's what we did later at Toddington.
Ade looks rather more relaxed filling Thomas this way
And so the day progressed, wandering back and forth between Toddington and Winchcombe and being besieged by countless Thomas fans. Eventually the errant fish was found and strategically set up in Thomas' water tank.  The Fat Controller and the driver had their conversation and I was sent off to discover and remove the fish.
The Fat Controller
I dutifully set off, found the fish and extricated it using the fishing rod that was attached to it.  Once it was out, I heard a young lad's voice from somewhere in the crowd say "That's not real".  I was berated later by Paul for not having acted out the angling part convincingly.  Phrases such as 'method acting' were employed.  Later on whilst we were waiting in a siding for our stock to arrive back in the platform, Paul demonstrated how it should be done:
Paul demonstrates how to catch a fake fish convincingly
Paul was also quite keen to cook the fish on the shovel, but was eventually persuaded that it wouldn't be a good idea. and later on it was popped back into the brook where it came from.  No fish were harmed in the making of this blog.

Henry runs round her stock at Winchcombe
A diesel arrives with our stock
The diesels were running without faces.  Usually they're supposed to have a face at each end rather like <insert name of your least favourite politician here> however on this occasion, for contractual reasons they didn't.  Hopefully by the next time that Thomas pays us a visit the diesels will be running in their two faced glory once again.

My great niece and three great nephews were in attendance too.  They all enjoyed their day out with Thomas, though one of my great nephews was a little disappointed that Thomas couldn't take them all the way home to Severn Tunnel Junction.  Come to that, the crew were a bit disappointed too.

There was one other item of note from the day, a young couple had chosen Saturday to get married and to have the event hosted on our railway.  Apparently they were informed when they booked that they would clash with the Thomas weekend, but that didn't seem to deter them.  Well it won't be something that they'll forget in a hurry. 
Thomas and the happy couple
White of course is not really the colour of choice to wear in the presence of steam locomotives, but the bride seems to have got away with it thus far.  It will have been hard work to keep her dress clean throughout the whole day though.

And finally, several of the dad's asked questions about Thomas. What kind of engine was she?  Was she a patriot? Well even I knew enough about her to know that she wasn't a patriot, but I could do little more than point to the makers plate on the cabside and say that she was an industrial Hunslett 0-6-0T from 1937:
Thomas' worksplate
I decided when I got home to do a bit of detective work and find out more about Thomas.  Well as it turns out, Thomas is only Thomas (0-6-0T) at weekends, the rest of the time he is not a 'he', but a 'she' 0-6-0ST by the name of Jessie. You read it here first! The rev A.W. Awdry will be positively spinning in his grave.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Blown on the Steel Breeze

The weather forecast for Sunday was grim.  It would start off grey.  Only the one shade, which would be as near as makes no difference black (the other 49 shades must have gone somewhere else) and slow moving heavy rain would soon set in for the day.  A little thing like the prospect of heavy rain doesn't put off the dedicated team of volunteers in the GWSR's steam loco dept.  They might try and wangle their way off of a loco with an exposed cab onto one with a nice enclosed one, but it doesn't put them off.  Once again I was the only cleaner present, so I set to work cleaning both the day's locos, 5542 and Foremarke Hall.  Andy has now given up on nagging to get a pot of tea made (well he only had the one loco to light up, I had two to clean) and once he had got his fire lit in Foremarke Hall, he fetched us all a brew:
Andy... capable of operating kettles large and small.
Having made us all a brew, he demonstrated just how it should be drunk
Meanwhile, Phil took shelter just in case the forecast rain started suddenly
 My spy in the 35006 camp had clued me up to the fact that progress is being made on her smoke deflectors.  They're now in undercoat:
Primed smoke deflectors
A chance encounter with Andy Marshall at the end of the day revealed that work had focused on fabricating the brackets for the smoke deflectors.  Apparently there are quite a few brackets involved and the original Bulleid design required that they were robust enough to keep the smoke deflectors in place at speeds of 100 MPH or more.  Andy rather hoped that none of our drivers would regard that as a challenge. 

Sunday as it turned out was also a 'Classic Vehicle Day'. For volunteers in the steam loco dept, this means that you're supposed to park out of sight behind the Flag and Whistle rather than in any of the prime spots next to the yard entrance as those form part of the display area.  To get from the yard to my car to retrieve my footplate gear now meant walking through the assembled collection of vehicles, so even though classic cars are not really my thing, I thought I'd grab a few photos.
Ok, you got me, even I would like an E-type Jag?
Having seen me take a photo of the E-type, a cheeky chap in a mini (car not skirt) parked next to it suggested that I should take his photo too.
The lady in the passenger seat was rather embarrassed and hid her face
Of much more of interest to me was the collection of classic motor bikes.  For instance this rather tasteful 1000cc Ariel Square Four definitely caught my eye:
Ariel Square Four
I had spent a while chatting to the owner of this BSA A10 a few weeks ago.  Many years ago I used to own a BSA B33, which shared many common parts with the A10:
It's got a Norton front end and a Japanese carburettor, but still looks gorgeous
Behind the A10, was a BSA B29 De-Luxe of something around 1929 vintage.
BSA B29 De-luxe
Again, she's rather gorgeous.  I love the fish-tail silencer.  Strictly a utilitarian machine in its day, meant for commuting rather than high speed burn ups to the coast.  Although recognisably a motorbike, the girder forks, rigid rear end, 250cc side valve engine, drum brakes, acetylene lamps, hand operated gear lever and magneto ignition all hark back to days long gone.  Like modern motor vehicles, the lubrication system is fully enclosed albeit driven by a hand pump mounted on the far side of the petrol tank. 
Closer view of the B29's engine
This all got me to thinking, this for its day, was a cheap and cheerful commuting bike, built down to a price rather than up to spec, yet it had a fully enclosed lubrication system. This B29 is of a very similar age to one of our locos, 5542 (built 1928) and is far older than Foremarke Hall or 8274.  All these locos and even newer still BR standard locos all persisted in using total loss lubrication systems right up to the end of BR steam loco design.  It just seems rather odd to me that some sort of enclosed lubrication system wasn't dreamed up by some enterprising young CME. I know that Bulleid initially fitted enclosed chain driven valve gear on his pacific locomotives, but they were not exactly a success and were removed when the locos concerned were subsequently rebuilt.  No doubt one of this blogs better informed readers will come up with an answer as to why this was.

By contrast with the BSA B29, this is one of the big ends of 5542.  Not enclosed in an oil bath like the B29, but exposed to the elements. 
Just pop out the cork and fill it up.
 Lubrication is provided by the driver removing the cork and topping up the oil reservoir underneath which will retain enough oil to last the day and will need topping up before the next days use. Just in case anybody from the environment agency is looking in, removal of the oil after use is fully automated and done in strict compliance with Charles Collett's regulations on used oil disposal. The slide bars just receive a squirt of oil on the slide bars themselves and in a few filler pots scattered above them and on the cross head:
Which on a wet day turns into an emulsion like this
8274 features a pair of Wakefield lubricators on the driver's side running plate, but once again there is no oil return path.

No wonder there is so much cleaning needs doing on a steam loco. On the plus side though, it makes them far less prone to rust.

Apparently the classic vehicle event is open to machines over 25 years of age.  There is a small army of people nagging me to get my beloved 1977 Triumph Bonneville back on the road again. Perhaps one day.  At least then I'd be able to park by the entrance to the yard rather than be relegated to a spot behind the Flag and Whistle..

I was invited out onto the footplate of 5542 for the day by Steve & Phil.  5542 has a rather nice fully enclosed cab and is the perfect place to spend what is forecast to be a rainy day.
5542 indulges in a spot of shunting before the first service
Foremarke Hall disappears off with train 1 whilst we head onto the ash pit
 At the first hint of cold weather, the guards start asking for the steam heating to be connected up.  That caused a spot of bother.
Plenty of steam, but not where it was wanted
It turned out that not only had the steam heat bag on 5542 been recently changed with the connector misaligned, but that also several coaches had been in and out of the maroon rake and some of the inserted ones had the steam heat cocks shut.  By the second round trip we had it sorted, but the first trip may have been a slightly frosty one for the passengers.

I don't have many photos from the footplate as Phil more than kindly threw the shovel at me for the second and third round trips.  I think I caused him so much amusement after my first attempt, that he decided that it would be more fun to watch me foul it up again rather than fire himself.
Steve and Phil in the office for the day
Steve takes shelter from the leaking water delivery pipe at Cheltenham
On one trip, I managed to drop the token during the exchange at Winchcombe.  It's a double token exchange, so you drop one off and pick one up at the same time at the Toddington end of the platform.  I feared that when we stopped at the far end of the platform I'd have to walk all the way back to collect the token however Neil, the signalman on Sunday put in a surprising turn of speed as he ran after us down the platform to pass me the token.  I was extremely tempted to produce my camera and grab a photo of Neil chasing after us, but decided that it would probably put him off and then I really would have to walk back up the platform.  I've never dropped a token before, at least I chose to do it at Winchcombe where we were coming to a halt rather than at Toddington or Gotherington where we would have been pulling away and I'd have needed to get the train stopped so that I could collect it

Permit holding lineside photographers are expected to wear orange hi-viz when out and about on the lineside.  That message has failed to get through to at least one of them.
Sniper in the woods
 To be fair, he was only just off the platform at Toddington, but you don't usually expect to find them wearing camouflage.  It's a technique that I might be forced to employ myself if I'm to continue getting photos of certain members of the steam, loco dept who run and hide as soon as I appear.

An interesting exhaust trail as Foremarke Hall restarts after being checked at Winchcombe
Not only did we have a classic vehicle display at Toddington, but we also had a beer festival taking place on platform two at Winchcombe.  I had visions of lots of classic vehicle owners weaving along the nearby country lanes and failing breath tests at the end of the day. I trust that the drivers of the classic vehicles managed convince themselves of the virtues of temperance or at least nominate a designated driver. I'd have definitely taken the former approach if that lovely E-Type Jag had been mine.   

Ben turned up to rub in the fact that he wasn't on duty and could therefore partake of the pleasures of the beer tent:
Ben living dangerously.... and I'm not referring to his proximity to the gun powder van
Last time I had been out on 5542, I had rather overdone the firing at Toddington and had her blowing off much of the way to Winchcombe, with the rest of the trip being fairly ok.  This time round I was ok coming out if Toddington... but rather over did things at Cheltenham.  I managed to build up a fire big enough to get us all the way out to Honeybourne, never mind Broadway, though to get anywhere past Laverton we'd have needed to engage in a little on the move track laying in the style of Wallace and Gromit.

All too soon, the day was at an end and it was time to dispose of 5542 for the day:

A final top up of water
Phil empties out the smoke box
Needless to say, the weather forecast had remained inaccurate as usual right up to the point that I was emptying out the ash pit.  My being out of the cab was the cue for the heavens to open and I got soaked. 

And finally, next week's exciting installment will if all goes to plan, feature me getting a firing lesson on a certain 'really useful engine'.  What will happen and what the fat controller will make of it all is a matter for conjecture.  Somehow, I'd like to think that somewhere on the heritage railway celestial, the rev A.W. Awdry will be amused.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Obscured by clouds

I've noticed that the days are shortening.  Arrival at Toddington on a Saturday morning is technically before dawn at the moment, though the sky is still blessed with a fair amount of pre dawn light.  It won't be long though before much of the loco preparation will be being done in the dark.  I must remember to stock up on batteries for my Bardic and various torches.  

I was down to clean 2807 on Saturday morning, but even though she had been working trains all through the week, she was pretty much sparkling clean.  Giving the outside of the smoke box a good going over with a 50/50 mix of diesel & motion oil always makes a loco look smarter, so I did that to start off with before breaking out the Brasso and giving the safety valve cover some therapy. It's always best to get the things that will get hot done before they become too hot.
Superbly cleaned smoke box
Shortly after the above photo was taken, Chris, the fireman for the day grabbed a generous handful of the blower to pep his fire up a bit.  This resulted in a spray of water being briefly emitted from the chimney and making a bit of a mess.  When I brought the matter to his attention, Chris said "It's your fault for having cleaned the smoke box prematurely".  Hitherto I hadn't realised that it was possible to be too quick to clean the smoke box.  I'm now older, but probably no wiser. 

The other engine out on Saturday was Foremarke Hall.  
Matt gets to work on Foremarke Hall's safety valve bonnet
Matt had no such issues with his fireman, though I guess Ade would have stopped his pocket money if he had had the temerity to bring such a transgression to his attention.

One or two drivers turn out to be occasionally rather too liberal with the oil and leave small puddles of the stuff over the running plate etc, so I leave cleaning the running plate until after the driver has finished oiling round.  Ian was more careful than most, but I still wound him up about the few drops he did spill.
"Hurry up and take the photo, it's nearly full"
2807 setting off from the shed
Arty farty shot of Foremarke Hall's reflection in a puddle
2807 on the way to the ash pit
Chris has recently passed out as a fireman and had been taught to fire by Ade, who is now my firing instructor.  The opportunity to watch Chris fire and see exactly how it should be done proved to be too alluring and I joined the crew of 2807 for the first round trip.
Ian at the regulator
Trench digging at Cheltenham
I noted that the construction of platform 2 at Cheltenham Race Course station is progressing
Platform 2 taking shape.
Chris managed to make the whole firing thing look easy.... well mostly:
That will teach him for saying I had cleaned the smoke box prematurely
He did assure me later that 2807 never blew off again all day.
Ian and Mark have spotted something interesting at Bishops Cleeve
Entering Greet tunnel....
... and emerging from the other end.
 We arrived at Winchcombe to find that Dave Clark and some of his band of volunteers in the carriage and wagon dept had stopped for a tea break which had been cunningly timed to coincide with the arrival of the trains:
Our trains are so punctual you can set your kettle by them
Foremarke Hall arrives
Chris bungs a few more shovels full of coal in the firebox before we carry on back to Toddington...
... and then takes a breather
Arriving back at Toddington, we find that the Permanent Way gang are out in force replacing a few life-expired sleepers:
Permanent way gang at work
For the rest of the day, my plan was to assist the gallant team of people who were ripping out some of the track in the David Page shed.  We have money set aside to put in a proper concrete floor, but we need to remove the old track before the concrete can be laid.  The plan was to do it a quarter of the shed at a time.  One of the tracks in the first quarter of the shed had been lifted out during the week, all that remained was to extract the other one:
Dan, Matt, Cliff & Ben trying to work out why the rail won't budge
 At one point Cliff mentioned that "the blog has improved no end lately".  This was praise from an unexpected quarter (to be fair, praise from any quarter is unexpected).  My mind raced trying to think of what I might have done differently recently.  Cliff went on to say, "Yes, it's been far better because I've not been in it".  Well you're back in it now Cliff.
It took a lot of work to shift it that far
Ben drags the rail away
The stack of sleepers on the left was from earlier in the week. Our pile has just started on the right
During a tea break a bit later, I noticed that the PW gang were still hard at work on the running line.  They seemed to make it all look so easy.
Andrew hits something, the other two supervise
Our poor attempts to shift just a single track panel out of the shed would have no doubt caused the PW gang no end of amusement had they seen us. Mercifully, although we were no more than 100 yards away from them, we were safely out of sight.

Shifting track was all rather too much like hard work, so when the opportunity to skive off and put a warming fire into 5542 presented itself, I jumped at the chance. 
5542 in need of warming up
Later on, mechanical assistance was brought to bear in shifting the sleepers
It was nice to see Ian back with us again after a recent injury
Ben stacking the last of the concrete sleepers
Speaking of Ben, he hit the ripe old age of 27 on Sunday.  Rather than celebrate in a flamboyant fashion, Ben settled for an understated 83N reporting code and a "The Birthday Express" headboard on 2807.  I had been hoping that they might have baked a birthday cake in the smoke box or something, but if they did, no photos have emerged.
Ben on the birthday express, photo courtesy of Dan Wigg
And finally, I have received the total raised by the sponsored coast to coast walk in aid of the Broadway extension.  Thank you very much indeed to all who sponsored me, you have raised a grand total of £676.41.  It turns out that the sleepers for Broadway appeal has already managed to generate enough funds to cover the cost of the track and we have now launched a share issue "Bridges to Broadway" to cover the half a million pounds required to sort the bridges out (described in the latest issue of the Cornishman, but not yet anywhere that I could spot on the main website).  What is still short of obvious fund raising activity is the quarter of a million pounds required for the station buildings at Broadway, so I have agreed for the sponsor money to be used to help with that.  After all, having a station to arrive at is as much a part of the overall Broadway extension project as fixing the bridges or laying the track.  In the event that any sponsors have a problem with this slight change in use of the money raised, then please contact me through this blog for a refund.  Once again, thank you to all that supported me one way or another.  I'll sign off with my favourite view from the walk, a 180 degree panorama from the top of Red Pike (Buttermere) at the start of the second day's walking.
L-R Irish Sea, Loweswater (small bit visible), Crummock Water & Buttermere with Bleaberry Tarn bottom right