Sunday, 28 December 2014

Santas and Mince Pies

Just before Christmas, we had another new arrival appear on the line.  Well, perhaps that's stretching it a bit, the new arrival concerned being the tender for Dinmore Manor. Dinmore Manor as you may recollect has been running so far with a tender hired in from the Bluebell Railway's Dukedog.  Dan was on hand to record the event for posterity:  As you can see, it's not on its wheels yet and the tender bodywork is yet to be fitted.
Arriving on the back of a lorry
Propped up on road 9 in the shed
Love me tender
All the above photos courtesy of Dan Wigg.

Now I know what you're thinking, I thought exactly the same thing, but I am assured that the remainder of the kit of parts for the tender are pretty much ready to be fitted in place and that the assembly from here should be fairly quick and straight forward.  I knew better than to press my source for a completion date, it'll be ready when it's ready.

I have heard that quite a bit of work has recently taken place on Foremarke Hall and will hopefully be able to bring you an update on that next week.

The weekend before Christmas has become known apparently as "Panic Weekend".  Being in my usual state of ill preparedness, I was panicking elsewhere rather than doing anything useful on the GWSR.  Kids do get upset if they get overlooked at Christmas, well mine do anyway.

By Christmas Eve, I was no longer in panic mode (resigned desperation by this point) and I was ready to enjoy a day out transporting children (who universally claimed to be on Santa's 'nice list') from Cheltenham Race Course to the North Pole to meet Santa himself.

I was down to fire train 2, along with Neil as driver and Howard as cleaner.  As has been mentioned before, the locos of choice for a cold winter's turn are one or other of the two tank engines with their nice enclosed (read warm and dry) cabs.  Tender first running on some of our other locos does leave you rather exposed to the elements.  4270 is undergoing a spot of winter maintenance at the moment which leaves 5542, "The Planet's Favourite Prairie" (PFP) as the one to get.  Pleasingly it was 5542 that I had been rostered on, and it was doubly pleasing for me, as she was the only one of our running fleet that I hadn't had a turn on since I passed out as a fireman.

Train 1, was 2807 with George, Dan and Aaron as crew.  George was particularly pleased with his oil filler to which he had fitted a LED torch to so that he could see what he was filling.

George filling the eccentrics on 2807
Aaron cleaning up the wheels of 2807
Santa Express headboards attached
 You will notice in the above photo that both locos are still decked out with tinsel and of course Santa Express headboards.  Although they both look the same, one of the headboards is a lightweight affair made of wood whilst the other is a significantly heavier item made of steel.  As train 1's crew arrive first, they obviously get to choose which one they take out with them and of course they invariably select the lightweight one, leaving the heavy one for the crew of train 2.  When I turned up, I noticed that the first crew had so far failed to select one of the headboards, so I gratefully grabbed the wooden one and placed it on the PFP.  When I pointed out their mistake to crew 1, I was met with taunts about how they had purposely left it for the "Geriatric crew", which was a bit harsh I thought.... essentially fair, but still rather harsh.

Aside from the excellent weather protection afforded by the PFP, it's a fairly small loco and doesn't take a great deal of time to clean.  This left Howard free to tackle some of the more important things such as making a round of tea for us all. 
Howard delivers the tea.
 Soon enough, 2807 was off on her merry way to take the children to see Santa
2807 heads off
 We decided we needed a bit more coal for the day ahead.  The PFP is quite frugal with coal in the summer, but gets through significantly more when she's got to steam heat seven coaches as well.
Neil coals up the PFP
 By this time, 2807 was sat on her stock and ready to go.
2807 is in there somewhere
2807 emerges from the steam from her drain cocks as she passes the PFP
Although the steam services were running between Winchcombe the North Pole and Cheltenham Race Course, Santa was also between those trains quickly nipping off to the northern section of the line for a ride on the DMU to see even more children.  He's a very busy chap is Santa.  Tony was driving the DMU on this occasion.  I know that this is the steam loco blog, but the DMU is owned by members of the steam loco dept and many of our steam drivers are passed out to drive it too, so it probably counts as an honourary steam loco.
Tony, Santa's Chauffeur
Whilst the real Santa was apparently flitting effortlessly between the North Pole and the DMU, we had a fake Santa on the PFP.
Fake Santa
Fake Santa's hat was deemed to be a fetching shade of "GWSR Improved Crimson Lake" rather than red.  Fake Santa also removed it when not in the stations as it was rather too hot and he kept getting a mouthful of cotton wool from the fake beard.

When Fake Santa went in to hook the PFP onto the stock, he inquired of the guard if he wanted steam heating for the carriages.  The guard was more than just a little bit keen for the steam heating to be hooked up, so that the carriages would then be nice and warm for the first passengers when we got to Cheltenham Race Course. The fact that he would be nice and warm on the way down had nothing to do with it of course.  Unfortunately the guard rather shot himself in the foot by blowing his whistle and waving his flag fully eleven minutes early.  Fake Santa had a reasonable amount of pressure and water at this point of course, but he had not long since started building the fire ready for departure.  Most of what was on the grate was glowing embers rather than fresh coal, one good yank of the regulator and most of that would be off up the chimney.   Fake Santa did the only thing that he could under the circumstances, which was to build up the fire quickly between the signal box and the section signal and switch off the steam heat so that all the available steam could be used in the cylinders.

It was cold and clear, ideal conditions for lineside photograpy, I was surprised that we didn't see a few more than just this chap between Winchcombe and the tunnel.

Solitary lineside photographer
Neil at the controls of the PFP in the tunnel
 Once we had left Toddington, the only source of RO water available to us for the rest of the day was at Cheltenham, so we filled up there each time.
Howard waiting for the tanks to fill
 Neil grabbed a sneaky photo of 'Fake Santa' in his fake grotto at Cheltenham, AKA the water hut.
Fake Santa waiting to switch off the water supply, photo courtesy of Neil Carr
 I mentioned last time that we had received a large donation of surplus fun run t-shirts for use as cleaning rags.  I couldn't help but be amused that one of them proclaimed the "Two Castles Run".  Well, not quite, we had a small prairie and a 28XX, but if somebody wants to lend us a couple of Castles, I'm sure that we'd be happy to run them.
Howard with a "Two Castles T-Shirt".
As we set off with a train full of children eager to meet Real Santa, 2807 was leaving Winchcombe with train full of way over excited children who had just met Real Santa.
Crossing 2807 at Gotherington
 When we got there, snow was falling, though the elves didn't seem to mind too much.
Elves in the falling snow
 Well at least I think it was snow, it could have been a bad case of dandruff.

One of the perks of being crew on the Santa Specials is that you get free tea and mince pies in the cafe at the North Pole. 
Why can't all Christmas jumpers be this good.
 We had a timetabled hour and ten minutes at the North Pole.  Whilst I fetched back the tea and mince pies, Howard got on with cooking first breakfast, sausages.
Howard the chef, photo courtesy of Neil Carr
 And jolly good they were too.  I've had a fair few cooked breakfasts in my time, but nothing beats one cooked on a firing shovel.
Howard samples the fruits of his labours
 We also had some beans heating up in a can.
Baking beans
 Unfortunately, the tin fell off and some of its contents fell on the combined brake lever.  It took a fair bit of cleaning to get it looking good again.
Beanz Means Brakez
Neil (l) and Howard, looking happy after first breakfast
As Howard had done such a good job with the shovel in turning out first breakfast, I let him use the shovel for what it was really meant for, shoveling coal into the firebox.   He had no difficulties at all in getting us to Cheltenham and back with plenty of pressure and water in both directions and arriving at each end with enough water space and a small enough fire to allow for the extended breaks at either end without causing the PFP to blow off.  All in all, pretty good boiler control.
Heading into Greet tunnel
Howard looking happy with his firing
 I noticed last time that I was out that we have acquired a herd of highland cattle in one of the fields adjacent to the line at Greet.  They are either a bit lost or perhaps they are a migratory sub-species of highland cattle.  Either way, it was nice to see them.
Poor photo of highland cattle
 By this point in the day, the sun was starting to settle low in the sky creating some nice photo opportunities.
Heading towards Bishop's Cleeve
 When we got to Cheltenham, Fake Santa was accosted by one young lad who came up onto the footplate and told him "You're not the real Father Christmas!".  Fake Santa had to confess that the real Santa was waiting up at the North Pole for him.  I hope Real Santa fared better,  I had visions of beards being pulled.

The photo opportunities extended themselves into the return journey back to the North Pole too.

Leaving Cheltenham
In Gotherington loop.
Once Howard had fired us back to the North Pole, it was my turn to cook second breakfast.

Bacon this time.
 Howard even provided Thomas paper plates for us.
Thomas and the really useful tasty bacon roll.
After that, all that remained was to take the children back to Cheltenham and send them off on their way, then return the empty carriages back to Toddington. 

Fake Santa just about managed to get himself safely home and tucked up in bed before Real Santa came down his chimney and left some presents.  Heaven knows how Fake Santa managed to find his way onto Real Santa's 'nice list'.  I suspect subterfuge or at least a hacking of Real Santa's computer and a certain name being moved from the naughty list to the nice one.

I had also signed myself up for a day on the footplate on Boxing Day.  Being a fireman on Boxing Day has a major drawback. The issue is that you will be responsible for getting a warming fire in your loco the day before.  I wasn't wildly keen on the idea of trekking up to Toddington on Christmas Day to put a warming fire in 5542 (yes, I was rostered with the PFP again).  Mercifully, Dan who lives closer to the railway than most agreed to sort out a warming for me after he'd polished off his turkey.  Thanks Dan.

The original plan was that Ben and myself were going out as the second train on the Blue timetable (with the PFP) whilst Neil and John took out 2807 as train 1.  The blue timetable was written for the DMU as the second train, not steam, so train 2 didn't have any time allowed for run rounds at Laverton etc. Consequently, keeping to time was going to be rather interesting and I was wondering as to quite how it would work out in practice.  I was spared actually finding out though, because there was a flurry of emails on Christmas Eve to the effect that Ben and myself were now going to be out on train 1 instead, leaving Neil and John to crew train 2.  Crucially, Ben and I still had the PFP as our steed.
2807 and the PFP returning to steam on Boxing Day
 The reason for the change to the plan was that Ben was expecting a friend to be on the first train who worked for his old employer, Cross Country trains.  Just to make it interesting, Ben had also acquired a headboard advertising his current employer, First Great Western which he affixed to the PFP.
Ben, the PFP and the headboard
 BR used to use "Inter City 125" as a brand name for their HST services, services that were taken over by First Great Western.  Our version was going to be an "Inter Town 25", which is not quite the same thing.

The Santa Specials of course were now over for another year.  From Boxing Day and onwards until the end of the season, we offer an antidote to the Christmas excesses, the Mince Pie Specials.  Fed up to bursting with turkey?  Just finish yourself off with mince pies. 
Yup, more mince pies on the footplate
 The Blue timetable is pretty much full on, with no breaks for such luxuries as fry-ups on the shovel, so the mince pies were very welcome indeed.
Whilst we waited to go, 2807 reversed onto her stock on platform 2.
Not a bad starting line up.
There was to be no repeat of the early send off of Christmas Eve, so the passengers got the full benefit of the steam heating all the way.

Unfortunately, the weather on Boxing Day wasn't the crisp, clear, cold day that Christmas Eve had been.  Cold perhaps, but not crisp or clear.  That didn't deter one lineside photographer who turned up between Winchcombe and Greet tunnel.
 I'm not averse to 'fun runs', I've completed a fair few half marathons in my time and even one whole marathon, but running on Boxing Day, straight after the over indulgence of Christmas Day seems to be an act of sheer masochism to me.  Not to this lot who were to be seen down at Cheltenham Race Course as we were leaving for the first time.
Sooner them than me
 By the time we got back to Winchcombe, we were crossing 2807 heading the other way running in what should have been the DMU's path. 
2807 does its best DMU impression
Ben and his Cross Country friend, Les.
 We had a bit of a surprise at Laverton.  Somebody had decided that it would be a good idea to send some of his (I presume that they were his) children onto the line to have their photo taken with our train.  We politely (well, in as much as no profanities were used) explained that this was not a good idea and encouraged them to depart.
Shouldn't be here
 There was a local hunt taking place, I suspect that they were around as part of that.  Reports that horses and hounds were later seen on the line by the crew of 2807 were I suspect exaggerated. 

If you do want to take photos of your children with our locos, please come to one of our stations and do it there in safety and don't just wander onto the lineside.

Returning to Toddington, Ben was rather concerned to see that we were signaled into platform 1 rather than the booked platform 2.  Platform changes like that may sound trivial, but it meant that we would not have been able to take on water as the water column on platform 1 is the wrong end of the platform.  For one of our tender engines with at least 3500 gallons of water space, it probably wouldn't have mattered too much, but on a tank engine like 5542 with a much smaller water capacity, it's very important, especially when you're turning a fair proportion of that water into steam to pump through the carriages to keep the passengers warm.  Running out of water isn't an option, if you run the boiler too low and expose the crown of the firebox, very bad and very expensive things happen.  The sort of things that would  result in one or two 'please explain' letters being dispatched.  Ben wisely took the view that he'd rather call the signal box and get the platform changed to platform 2, (where we could take water) than have to explain why we'd destroyed the firebox of the PFP. 

We spotted Alan Bielby, Chairman of the GWSR PLC hop on board for a trip when we eventually got back to Toddington. 
Alan Bielby, Chairman of the PLC board
Ben decided that we should both be on our best behaviour, nice smooth starts and stops, no blowing off and plenty of steam heat.  Well we do that all the time anyway, so no problem at all.
No monkey business from Ben
Early on in the proceedings, Ben managed to detach the whistle chain from its actuating lever.  In order to operate the whistle, he had to reach up and push the actuating arm.  Not an easy task when in the tunnel and you can't see it.  Eventually he got bored of this and reattached the chain.
Detached whistle chain
Somewhere in the second round trip, the weather changed for the worse, getting very cold and wet, with a biting wind.  We were well protected from that though on the PFP, though I did feel a bit sorry for the crew of 2807.
Could use windscreen wipers
At least one member of the steam loco dept had appeared to take a ride on the train in his spare time.  Andy had the nerve to complain that the steam heat wasn't quite making it all the way back to the rear carriages.  I had it wound up to the regulation level all the way, so I suspect that my leg was being pulled.
Andy & Ben making incendiary comments about the fireman
Crossing 2807 for the last time at Winchcombe
Sat in platform 2 as 2807 pulls into platform 1
After that it was back to Toddington for disposal and then go home for the first of many left over turkey meals.
2807 on the ash pit after we had finished.
And finally, at one point during the day I found myself chatting to a couple of people on the platform at Toddington who were clutching leaflets for the upcoming Volunteer Recruitment Fair on March 21st & 22nd. I encouraged them to turn up and find out more about volunteering on the GWSR.  If you're reading this and are not already a volunteer, then perhaps you'd like to consider doing so.  Our railway is almost entirely volunteer run, we simply couldn't operate without them.  There are many more departments than just the steam loco dept of course, with a wide variety of roles available to suit just about anybody.  If you're looking for a good New Year's resolution to make, then why not resolve to start volunteering on the GWSR, you'll be made to feel very welcome indeed.