Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Express Ballast Rats

Having a wedding to attend on Saturday, plan A was to go to Toddington on Sunday and spend the day helping out with stripping down 2874 in readiness for a boiler lift before the end of the year.  As usual with my plans, the wheels fell off, though on this occasion in a good way.  Ben who had been rostered rostered himself to fire on Sunday was looking for somebody to take the turn from him as he had double booked himself.  The fact that the clocks would have gone back, giving the crew an extra hour in bed hadn't escaped my attention, so it seemed like a golden opportunity.  I accepted the offer.  Dinmore Manor was scheduled to be the steam loco for the day, when I arrived she had been parked over the old pit rather than on one of the new ones.  I'd have a bit further to go to collect the wood from the wood store etc, but no problem.

Dinmore Manor on the old pit
 Unlike my phone, the clocks at Toddington don't automagically correct themselves when the change from BST to GMT or vice-versa takes place
Apparently we should have gone nearly twenty minutes ago
 It seems to take a lot of people to make the change to the time.
Heaven knows how many it would take to change a light bulb
 My driver for the day was Steve, who spent much of the time apologising to any passengers that he could find about the state of the loco, which as you may remember had been deliberately dirtied up and then left uncleaned for a couple of photo charters this month.  Because of this, we had no cleaner assigned to us, which was a bit of a shame as they are quite useful at doing things like pulling forward coal, coupling and uncoupling etc.  The Pink timetable in operation gave at best a 35 minute break at Toddington, other than that it was three non-stop round trips of the whole line.

Steve apologising for the grubby state of Dinmore Manor
 These two were ex-BR(M) steam crew, but they seemed very happy with Dinmore Manor anyway.
Impressed with the GWR and GWSR.
 For October, the DMU was taking a break from services and being replaced by a mainline diesel, or as was the case on Sunday, two of them.  The classes 24 and 26 (affectionately known as "rats". I dread to think what the unaffectionate nicknames are) were out on a double header.
Crossing at Winchcombe
The class 26 was wearing express passenger headcodes for the occasion, though I'm sure that they were stopping at all stations. 

Sean was around for he first round trip, along with his son.  Sean spent most of his time heckling from the first carriage.  The way to deal with him I soon learned was to point my camera at him and he'd quickly duck his head back inside.
He wasn't always quick enough
Sean later emailed me a sound clip of a few minutes of the departure from Gotherington which I'm afraid I have no means to embed into the blog otherwise I would have done.
Later on, running around at Laverton
 Back at Toddington we crossed the "rats" again.  This time the class 24 was leading, hauling what was ostensibly a "Freight, engineering or ballast train with automatic brake not operative on all vehicles, or Light engine hauling one or more dead engines with automatic brake not operative on all engines." if the headlamp code was to be believed.
Personally I was sceptical about that.
 For the next round trip, we had a footplate passenger celebrating his 60th birthday.  It was a surprise that had been arranged for him by his family.
Happy birthday
 When we got down to Cheltenham, I had a slight mishap.  The procedure when uncoupling the non-steam braked locos from the stock is to first split the bags (disconnect the vacuum brake pipes), put the loco one back on its dummy and then get the driver to squeeze up the loco to the stock so that you can then go back in and unscrew the coupling etc.  Well I put the loco's vacuum pipe back on it's dummy and ducked down in order to get back out, when the vacuum pipe popped off of the dummy and clouted me on the top of my head.  A mild profanity may have been uttered under my breath at this point.  It didn't hurt much, but a quick feel with an ungloved hand revealed that I had a small cut and it was bleeding a bit.  Not to worry, I just carried on and finished doing the uncoupling as usual.  When I got back out, several people, including Nigel, the guard were looking rather concerned.  Head wounds, even trivial ones have a tendency to bleed profusely which was what had happened to me.  A quick visit to one of the toilets on the train to wash away the blood later and everything was fine again.  I discovered later that the sight of blood had caused one of the passengers to vomit on the platform. I'd prefer if at all possible to be the cause of attractive young ladies swooning on the platform rather than vomiting.  Heaven knows what Sean will say when he reads this. Nigel swiftly changed from showing mild concern to dreaming up titles for this blog post for me, none of which could possibly be used.  Mercifully there are no pictures.

As I suspect that our Operations Manager will read this, for his benefit, I did acquire an accident form and eventually decided that filling it in would cause me far more pain than the vacuum pipe had and after consultation with Steve, we decided that it wasn't appropriate to fill it in.  It really was "just a flesh wound".
Back to express passenger again
 The second photo charter was to run on Monday with an 08:00 start.  Martin was down as the fireman for the first shift and had turned up on Sunday to make sure that Dinmore Manor was put to bed with a slightly larger fire to keep her warmer overnight and make his job easier in the morning
Martin made himself useful by pulling some coal forward for me
 Steve's wife, Claudette hadn't been overly impressed by the fact that she was down to guard the diesel train.  The diesels have no steam heating apparatus, so the carriages would be quite cold, our train on the other hand was benefiting from plenty of steam heat.  Well the carriages were benefiting from steam heat, the cab was quite draughty when running tender first.
Steve was well wrapped up, but still noticing the cold.
 It didn't help that every time we passed the diesel, that Claudette leaned out and informed Steve how lovely and hot the hot water bottle was that she had fetched along for herself to compensate for the lack of steam heating.

Sometime during the last trip, an emergency was declared, the carriages were running very low on toilet paper.  Nigel phoned ahead from Cheltenham to Winchcombe requesting that extra supplies were to be made ready for collection.  Needless to say he cheekily offered me a roll to mop up the blood, regardless of the fact that my head had long since stopped bleeding and I was looking like my usual self again.  Not that looking my usual self was necessarily a good thing, but I was hoping that it would at least stop people vomiting on the platforms.  Well I lived in hope anyway.
Nigel offering me one of the toilet rolls
 Martin joined us for the last section from Toddington to Laverton and back and as Martin could do the firing, Steve very kindly allowed me to drive that trip.  Getting a steam locomotive to move is pretty easy really, getting it to stop is straight forward too.  Getting it to stop where you want it to is a whole different kettle of fish altogether.  There is a knack to it, one that I clearly don't have.
Putting Dinmore Manor to bed on the old pit
 Later on, I received an email from Dan, who had taken a break from his studies to pay a visit to the Autumn gala on the Mad Hints Mid Hants railway which 4270 was visiting.  When I checked them out, it explained why Ben had been so keen to lose the firing turn on Sunday. (The next three photos courtesy of Dan Wigg).
4270(r) and 1450 on the Mid Hants railway
 Brian, fresh from baby sitting 2807 on the NYMR was there too loking after 4270
Brian and 4270
 Ben was also on the baby sitting rota for 4270, though he seems to have got a bit lost and found himself in the cab of Raveningham Hall.
Ben on Raveningham Hall

Moving swiftly on to Monday, we had the second and last of the photo charters organised by Don Bishop.  By 08:00, everything was ready, Neil had managed to split the maroon rake whilst it had been in service on Sunday so that it was down to the required 4 carriages, Martin had her in steam in plenty of time for the 08:00 start, John was driving again and had her oiled up and ready to go.  Mike had appeared early enough to perform a repair to the ash pan door so that it could be closed properly and also to feed old video cassettes onto the fire during the runs past  to give a bit of colour to the exhaust.  Peter and Mel were ready to signal and guard respectively.  The sun was just rising into a largely clear blue sky, with just a few traces of clouds to be seen.  By the time that we got down to Winchcombe to try for the first shots of Dinmore Manor exiting Greet tunnel, the sky had turned to a solid grey mass of cloud, never to clear again for the reminder of the day.  Never mind, it still looks OK in black and white.

Usually when exiting Greet tunnel in the direction of Winchcombe, the loco will have shut off and there will be very little steam.  It's only on photo charters that you can arrange for steam to be on and get any kind of exhaust.
Leaving Greet tunnel
 We tried a few shots running into the rather attractive station at Winchcombe.  By now, Mike had experimented a bit and established that three video cassettes at a time launched into the fire has the desired effect as regards pepping up the exhaust.
Arriving at Winchcombe platform 2
 Next stop was Didbrook for a few runs past
Passing Didbrook
 At Didbrook, a few tantalising glimpses of small breaks in the cloud taunted us, but never quite came our way, or if they did, lasted for just a few seconds.  As luck would have it, no fewer than three such mini breaks arrived just late enough to illuminate the tail lamp as the train disappeared off up the track.

After an early lunch, to make the most of the forecast sunshine in the afternoon, we set off again with a fresh crew for a few shots departing Toddngton.
Departing Toddington
 Needless to say, the forecast afternoon sun was just a figment of the Met Office computer's imagination and it resolutely stayed overcast.
And again
 Later on down at Cheltenham, we found the brick laying gang making progress with resurrecting platform 2.  They said that we were a pleasant surprise, but we just ran around the stock and left them to it.  We didn't want to disturb their work more than was necessary.
Passing the brick layers....
...and the brick and mortar fetchers
 A few shots at Southam Rd bridge
I rather liked this one
 After Southam Rd, we headed off to Gotherington to try a few shots there.  I decided to try, but probably failed to be a bit more creative and took this from inside the shelter on the platform as Dinmore Manor passed by. 

Fisheye Manor
 Next stop Chicken Curve, for the sunset glint shot.... all we needed was the sun.
Still no joy.
 I decided to have a crack at a silhouette instead which seemed to work ok, even if I had to lie on the ground to get the angle right.  It's not art unless you have to suffer for it!
Dinmore Silhouette
 After that, the day was done and it was back to Toddington to put Dinmore Manor back to bed again.  Annoyingly I had forgotten my tripod as I had intended to grab a few after dark shots of the disposal process. 
Ben damps down 7820's ash pan
 I managed to perch my camera on the fence for long enough to grab a couple of long exposure shots anyway:
Dinmore Manor on the old pit after dark
And off again, before the exposure was over.
Many thanks indeed to John & Ben for driving. Martin and Tina for firing, Mike for making the smoke, Peter & David for signalling and especially to Mel who covered both guard shifts.

Finally, as many of you will know, Mark Clarke recently passed away after being taken ill whilst preparing the DMU for service a few weeks ago. His funeral was on Monday and there was a good turnout from the GWSR and CDRL. In all there were a dozen people from the railway supporting his son James and wife who are both volunteers on the Railway. The service closed with The Fireman's song by Don Bilston which all of GWSR/CDRL contingent agreed they’d be having at their funerals.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Anti-Cleaner

The recognised career progression within heritage railway steam locomotive departments is cleaner, fireman, then driver.  Some may even progress on to the dizzying heights of inspector.  Depending on quite how far you have scaled the career ladder, you are either cleaning locos yourself, or responsible for making sure that somebody else does the job.  Just occasionally, there are exceptions to this rule though.  When photo charters are organised, it is sometimes preferred for the loco to be 'weathered',  Back towards the end of BR steam, locos were often to be seen in an unloved and unclean condition and many photographers are keen to recreate as far as possible scenes of the sort that they dimly recollect from their youth.  I noticed some excellent examples of grubby locos at the end of BR steam on the Broadway Station Scrapbook website earlier today.  So it was on Thursday last week, that in an effort to recreate scenes from before my memory, I found myself in the company of Iain Ross (driver from the Llangollen Railway) who had been commissioned especially to unclean Dinmore Manor for a photo charter later that day. The process involves mixing together a lot of different colours of poster (water soluble) paints until they form a muddy brown colour whcih is then liberally applied all over the loco with a brush or roller.  The charter was booked to start at the earlier than usual start time of 08:00, which meant that the crew (John & Clive) needed to clock in at 04:00.  To help matters along, Clive had asked Derek (the preceding day's fireman) to bank up the back of the fire whilst disposing.  The upshot was that the fire was still in at the back and there was a fair amount of pressure on the pressure gauge when Clive turned up. 

It was of course still dark when I arrived to help out with the 'weathering' of Dinmore Manor which made it rather difficult to do.  For any ladies reading this, it's probably the rough equivalent of putting your makeup on in the dark.  For any of the gents reading this, try putting on your wife's makeup in the dark tomorrow morning and see what the end result looks like.  Do send me photos of the result for this blog.
Dinmore Manor midway through the weathering process
 The charter was using the freight train as stock, which is easier for all concerned if it commences from Winchcombe as that is where the freight train lives.  The way a photo charter works is that everybody piles on board, and the train steams off to the destination selected by the charter organiser (Neil Cave in this instance). The location being that which is deemed to be the most photogenic at that particular time of day bearing in mind the location of the sun.  The paying participants all alight from the train and take photos whilst the train runs to and fro past the gallery of photographers until everybody gets bored and decides that they want to move on to a new location. 
Working out where to go first
Weathered nameplate
 Neil Cave isn't as familiar with our line as he would like to be and had arranged for Jack Boskett to come along and decide where the runs past should take place.  Jack selected Chicken Curve first and so it was that soon after 08:00 we were all to be found out at Chicken Curve.  In defiance of both the forecast and my expectations, the day commenced with bright sunshine.  Bearing in mind that it had been raining cats, dogs and a variety of other domestic pets as I had been driving up to Toddington just a few hours earlier, I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Dinmore Manor in the sunshine on Chicken Curve...
..and again....
.... and yet again.
 Once we had got bored of that, it was back on the train and off to Didbrook before the sun disappeared.  Anybody paying close attention to our railway and in particular the freight train will know that for last year's gala, we had a fairly respectable length freight train with BR vehicles marshaled at one end along with a Queen Mary brake van and GWR vehicles at the other with a Toad brake van.  As time had gone on, a number of wagons had been dropped out until the freight train was looking a shadow of it's former self.  Neil Cave only wanted BR era wagons for the freight train, which would have left very little indeed.  I am extremely grateful to John Hamer and John Appleton of the Carriage and Wagon dept who along with Neil Carr our Operations Manager examined and made fit to run enough of our wagons to create the rather delightful freight train seen in profile below:
The rather excellent BR freight train at Didbrook
 I was most taken by the third wagon back, which is a con-flat with a Goff's beer container on it.  Sadly I had no tools with me to prize open the container to check to see what sort of condition the contents was in.  Note that the freight train has a BR 20 ton brake van on the rear rather than the Toad or Queen Mary.  It was there for decorative purposes only as it doesn't have a vac brake, just through piping.  The photographers were all transported in the Toad and Queen Mary (which are vac braked) both of which were dropped off the back of the train whilst the runs past took place.

I'm quite keen on pan shots and whilst at Didbrook, I managed to get a couple of pleasing examples of the genre.
Pin sharp where it's supposed to be
Crop of the detail from a different pan shot
 It's not just with the desire for grubby locos that the requirements of lineside photographers are at variance with normal railway practice.  Lineside photographers prefer a fair amount of clag in the exhaust, which helps it stand out from the usual background of white clouds.  A dark exhaust is normally a sign that the volatile gases driven off from the coal haven't had enough oxygen to burn completely and would be viewed as an inefficient use of coal.  When you get through a couple of tons per day at around £200 per ton, heritage railways are all keen to try and make sure that every shovel full counts.  A light grey to clear exhaust without any blowing off will earn the fireman brownie points, anything else will cause adverse comments to be made.  To get past this conflict of requirements, it isn't unheard of for the charter organiser to bring along 'smoke bombs' which when thrown into the fire cause plenty of black smoke, without of course affecting the coal consumption.  I'm not entirely sure what was in these smoke bombs, but when used, they seemed to do the trick nicely:

Plenty of clag without wasting coal
 Of course, the smoke effects were short lived and didn't always last until the point where you were waiting with your camera.
Never mind, it stands out nicely against the blue sky anyway
 After Didbrook we went on to Stanway viaduct to grab a few photos.  Facing north, Dinmore Manor is really the wrong way round for this shot, but she still looked good going away from the camera.  Pleasingly, there is a little autumnal colour in the trees, particularly the one low down on the right hand side of the viaduct.
The going away shot on Stanway viaduct
 Neil Carr, although unwell had volunteered for the early guard shift and had been relieved at a suitable point in the morning by Ben, who was also going to be the driver for the afternoon shift.  The swap between Neil and Ben was carefully timed so that it didn't take Ben over his hours.

Ben, guarding whilst wearing his footplate gear.
 After Stanway viaduct, it was on to the crossing just north of there, which made an interesting vantage point for a few shots.  Once again, smoke bombs were experimented with as can be seen below.
Yet more clag
 I quite like this next shot, John was asked to lean out of the cab and the composition is nicely balanced by the line of trees on the horizon on the right.
Not so much clag, but I like it anyway
 After lunch it was all change for the crew/guard and signalman.  Paul relieved Clive as fireman.
Paul unhooking Dinmore Manor from the Toad.
 After half a shift as the guard, Ben moved to the other end of the train to drive it.
Paul (l) and Ben.
 For the second half of the day, the plan was to go down to Cheltenham and work our way back up the line to Winchcombe, stopping for glorious back lit photos, silhouettes and sunset shots along the way.  Well that was the plan however our luck with the sun had run out, the skies turned to a leaden grey.
A run past at Cheltenham Race Course station
 I was a little surprised at the start of the day t discover that Neil Cave had brought along his dog.  At 14 years old, Buster was long past the age of barking at postmen, passing trains or indeed photographers and just happily went along with whatever was happening.
Due to limited space, we split into several groups for runs past at Cheltenham, I decided to capture a shot of one of the galleries of photographers.
but Jack photo-bombed it
Dinmore Manor approaching Cheltenham from the south
And the next gallery of photographers grabbing the shot.
 Paul was experiencing some difficulty mastering the smoke bombs, here on the approach to Southam Road bridge, he has used it too soon.  We wanted the clag as it came under the bridge.
Premature eclagulation!
 By the time it burst out under the bridge, the exhaust was a light grey again.
Peaked too soon.
 The next run past, he was a bit too late, still looks good and stands out nicely against that grey sky, which by this point was delivering no small amount of rain onto the assembled throng.
Delayed action smoke bomb?
It hadn't escaped my attention that smoke was to be seen emanating not just from the chimney of Dinmore Manor, but also from the chimney of the BR 20 ton brake van.  Closer inspection revealed David Newman, the afternoon shift traveling signalman was warming himself by the stove.
Keeping warm and dry
Amusingly, about this time, we discovered that our walkie talkies were tuned in to the same frequency as somebodies baby monitor and we had intermittent bouts of babies crying coming over the airwaves along with a baby sitter telephoning the mother to say that the baby was crying and what should she do next. 

We tried a few shots at three arch bridge in Dixton cutting, by which time Paul had mastered the smoke bombs to very good effect:
Nicely timed smoke bomb
Bursting out from under three arches bridge
 No sooner had we got back into the brake vans, than the drizzle turned to a deluge, we called it a day and headed back to Winchcombe to dry out and set off home, pleased to have a good collection of photos safely in the can.
Great weather for ducks, not so sure about Toads.
Many thanks indeed to all those who crewed, guarded, signaled, begrimed the loco, inspected and marshaled the wagons for the freight train or otherwise helped to make it happen in whatever capacity.  A great day was had by all. Many thanks too, to all the keen photographers who came along to support the event.  We'll soon be doing it all again with Dinmore Manor and a rake of four maroon carriages, hopefully the weather will be as amenable on that occasion too.  Dinmore Manor is being kept in the same uncleaned state until then, which will please the cleaners no end.  Well it will please them until after the next charter, cleaning her up again after that will be quite a job.

It's not all playing around with cameras and steam locos in the steam loco dept, there are still plenty of jobs that need to be done.  On Saturday, a small team of people was carrying on with work on Foremarke Hall.
An even more grubby Dinmore Manor was waiting to leave shed when I arrived

 A bit of yard tidying was going on too, which as usual meant putting items that won't be needed for a while such as the small JCB bucket up on top of a container.

Bucket in a bucket

 The shed floor has seen a fresh pour of concrete, this time between road 9 and the wall.
More concrete
 My task for the day was to help change the bag connecting two sections of pipe work associated with the vacuum pump on Foremarke Hall.  It sounds like a simple job doesn't it, pull one bit of rubber hose out and replace it with another.  Simples! 

There are many maxims in use when it comes to railway engineering, principle of which is that "Nothing is ever easy".  First bit of the job was to clear away ten years worth of encrusted grit, grime, oil and ash that had accumulated under the running plate.  This was made more difficult because it is at an awkward height, it's dark under there and somebody had put a nice coat of grey primer on the wheels and frames as well as painting the shed floor.  Getting any of those mucky would not go down at all well.  Once the pipe on the running plate side had been cleaned, the clamp that anchored it to the frame came away fairly easily.
Undoing the clamp.
 The bag that wanted removing can be seen protruding by an inch or so through a hole in the frames, at the other end, out of shot to the right, the pipe attaches to the vacuum pump.

Meanwhile, inside the frames, the bag connects onto another pipe, the one shaped like the letter 'C' in this photo.  The other two bags in this shot had already been changed.
View from the inside the frames
 Let's just say that getting the bag off of either end of the pipe was an interesting process requiring the application of plenty of brute force and ignorance.  After eventually getting the end attached to the first pipe disconnected, it proved impossible to get the other end off of the C shaped pipe without removing the pipe, clamping it in a vice and giving it a very stern talking to.
Didn't want to budge.
 That of course was the easy bit, we now had to put on the new bag.  John had done this before, a tea can full of hot water warmed the bag up, thereby expanding it a bit.
Not quite my cup of rosy lea!
 The other part of the trick was to apply washing up liquid to the pipe to act as a lubricant:
Furry liquid, other brands do exist.
 And still it wouldn't go on. John, Graham and myself all sweated buckets over it before it finally submitted.
John applies a bit of elbow grease.
 A bit of filing to chamfer the edge of the pipe was tried. 
Note the bit of cork to prevent swarf entering the pipe.
 And eventually it gave in.
Success at last, John closes up the ring clamp.
 That still left the other end of the pipe to connect up.  This was not going to be a task for the faint hearted as it had to be done in situ.   As much of the paint had come off of the first pipe, I suggested to John that perhaps it was a good idea to do the job properly and strip the pipe of paint, then repaint it.  That this meant in effect, thatsomebody else would be stitched up with trying to make it fit together again on Wednesday never crossed my mind.... well not much anyway.  So my next task was to remove what was left of the paint from the pipe and its clamp:

The clamp, half stripped of paint
The finished pipe, fully stripped of paint.  Again note the cork to prevent ingress of foreign matter.
Tim was on painting duties, the stripped pipe & clamp was sent his way for the application of some grey primer:
Tim preparing to paint a different pipe
The process of polishing the con rods was in full swing.  Most people, including me managed to spend some time doing it.  You'll be able to see your face in them by the time they're finished.
Steve uses modern technology to bring the con rods up to a high shine
While Ade prefers the old fashioned approach
Sean pretends to be doing nothing...
.... before getting on with it when he thinks my camera is switched off.
 At the front end of Foremarke Hall, the inspectors were busy removing a section of the running plate to gain access to the draw hook which was being replaced.  Dinmore Manor Locomotive LTD had made up a batch of them some while ago when they had needed one, and one of these extra ones is now to be fitted to Foremarke Hall.
Jeff (l) and Chris undo the bolts of the running plate
 I missed what came next, but predictably enough, the draw hook did not come quietly, requiring plenty more brute force and ignorance before it parted company with the rest of the loco.
Aaron needle gunning the removed piece of running board, ready for painting.

Foremarke Hall
 And finally, just in case you missed it, Dr Who has been gracing the nations tv screens once again.  The reason that I mention it is that last Saturday's episode featured scenes shot inside Greet tunnel.  The rest of the railway scenes were shot at Barry, even though the sign says Bristol, but the DMU scenes inside the tunnel were shot in Greet tunnel using our 117 class DMU.  The driver as far as I'm aware was an actor rather than one of our volunteers.  There are no Daleks or Cybermen in this one, so you're fairly safe to watch it from a position on your sofa rather than hiding behind it.  If you're reading this in the UK, within 28 days of October 18th, then you can watch it for yourself by clicking on this link.