Monday, 28 March 2016

Eighty Years Young

It is a well known saying that "Every cloud has a silver lining".  In our case it rang very true, because whilst the mainline prohibition was in place for West Coast Railway Company, a number of mainline registered steam locos were looking for work, and we had one tentatively lined up to appear as a guest loco at the Cotswold festival of Steam "Swindon Built" gala at the end of May.  Once the prohibition had been lifted, that hope evaporated and we are now in the process of looking for an alternative loco.  My Saturday afternoon was tied up with the rest of the gala committee examining our options.  There is some good news, we are now in a position to confirm our second guest loco.  We have already announced that BR Standard 9F, 92214, the youngest steam loco that is currently capable of being steamed will be attending our gala.  After nationalisation in 1948, it is well known that Swindon works constructed a fair number of existing GWR designed locos (Our own Dinmore Manor and Foremarke Hall being examples) before going on to manufacture a number of BR standard classes.  What is perhaps slightly less well known, is that during the early nationalisation period, a number of locos of LMS design were manufactured at Swindon, including 80 of the Stanier designed 8F 2-8-0's.  Only 48431 survives of these, and that is currently not capable of being steamed.   A number of Ivatt 2MT 2-6-0's were also built at Swindon, two of which still survive.  We are pleased to announce that one of these, 46521 (again courtesy of the Great Central Railway) will be our second gala visitor.
Ivatt 2MT, 2-6-0, 46521...

... built at Swindon in 1953...

...our second guest loco for the "Swindon Built" gala.

Just as a reminder, our first guest loco is BR Standard 9f, 2-10-0, 92214:
92214, the youngest Swindon built steam loco capable of being steamed
It's back to square one with the 3rd guest loco I'm afraid, more information will appear as soon as it becomes available.

The big newsworthy items at the moment, are of course the progress with 35006 and 7903.  It was absolutely hammering down with rain when I popped in to have a look around after the gala committee meeting on Saturday, so I'm afraid that as 7903 was indoors and 35006 was outdoors, almost all the photos are of 7903, as I'd have got soaked venturing out to look at 35006.

To start with, I understand that in the smoke box of 7903, Foremarke Hall, the blower ring, ejector ring & steam lance cock are now all installed in addition to the items listed last week (superheater/blast pipe/regulator valve).  The petticoat is anticipated to be fitted shortly.
The smoke box is progressing well.
The first of the boiler insulation is in place
 As I set off to go on Saturday, the boiler cladding that fits at the front of the boiler was being fetched out to be fitted.
Foremarke Hall has been coupled up to her tender again
 The backhead is progressing well, the cladding is in place, and the steam fountain and sight feed lubricator installed. 
The cab is starting to take shape once again
The rate of progress with Foremarke Hall has been extremely encouraging, like many, I am very much looking forward to her returning to traffic on the GWSR in the near future.

 A small team of people were also at work on Dinmore Manor's tender, which had its sump fitted on Saturday. 
Dinmore Manor's tender
I'm led to believe that the tender brake actuating rods are now installed under 35006's tender, meaning that she is essentially pretty much finished. I had intended to venture underneath and provide you with photographic evidence, but at this point in time, the rain was torrential. Your humble blog writer's sense of self preservation won out in the end, and I decided to take the word of others for this.
35006, as viewed from within the nice dry David Page shed
Well that is the main news from Saturday, Sunday was a pretty big day for me.  Not only was Sunday Easter Day, but it was also my dad's 80th birthday.  We'd arranged a bit of a surprise for him, I'd hired a carriage on one of our trains and arranged to be the fireman too with a view to getting him a surprise trip out on the footplate.  The cock up fairy very nearly paid us a visit.  Somehow I had run away with the idea that the carriage that I had booked was on train 2 and I had arranged for myself to be rostered on train 2 (Thanks Ben).  It wasn't until a few weeks ago when Nigel (one of our guards) came up to me and mentioned it, that I realised that the carriage that I had booked was in train 1.  He also mentioned a humorous but wildly inaccurate rumour regarding why I might have wanted to book the carriage in the first place, which will have to remain unrecorded here.  It was easier to take the option to change the carriage booked than attempt to get  myself changed onto train 1, so that is the option I went with in the end.

An amusing start to the day was to discover this squirrelled away in the mess coach
"To my Heart Throb, x"
 Within was a slice of cake
A tempting Victoria sponge
 I shall dispel all rumours before they can start, I wasn't the intended recipient.  Inquiries have established who the guilty parties are, and they are assured anonymity...  just as long as a well stuffed brown envelope arrives through my letter box in the very near future.  They do say that "The way to a man's heart is through the stomach", though most women I know seem to think that it is through the rib cage with a long, sharp knife.

Sunday morning was my first firing turn of the new season, I wasn't even sure if I would remember what to do.  My steed for the day was 5542, the "Planet's favourite Prairie" (PFP).  On a sad note, the PFP's contract with the GWSR will finish this week, with her last steaming with us taking place on Wednesday March 30th.  Should you wish to catch her in steam on our line for one last time for the forseeable future, then you'd best be quick.  I should hasten to add, that there is nothing unusual in this, with Foremarke Hall and 35006 being about to re-enter traffic, there is not enough work for the PFP with us any more and she will be moving on to pastures new shortly.  I have a larger blog article on the PFP and her history, prepared to bring to you next week.
Dinmore Manor and the PFP being readied for duty on Sunday
 Ian was the Duty Operations Officer on Sunday morning, he also runs our Twitter account.  I passed on the good news about 46521 being a gala guest, and he was able to get it out onto the Twitter account there and then using his mobile phone.
Ian, having just Tweeted (whatever that means)
 Something that I have long noticed, but I can't remember if I have ever mentioned here, is that the PFP has a "Blue Motion" notice on the rear buffer buffer beam,  under the number.
Blue Motion
 I suspect that it was a reference to the "Blue Motion" label that VW applied to many of their low emission vehicles.  In light of the developments on that front late last year, the owners of the PFP might just be considering removing that now. 

 Come 10:00, Dinmore Manor was off with the first first train.
Dinmore Manor sets off
 The PFP was nicely in steam and ready, attached to the stock for train 2 in plenty of time.  Unfortunately my various relatives who would be traveling on the train with dad were not quite as punctual, making it only just in nick of time.
The PFP, nicely cleaned up and ready for the day's work
I had a scout around to see if we had any suitable headboards for the occasion, but there wasn't anything even remotely appropriate so I abandoned that idea.
Spooky Special?
 First to arrive were my two daughters and my grandaughter,
My claim to being just 21 is looking a little bit suspect
I'm hoping to get my grandaughter to visit us for one of the Thomas events later on this year however her mother is quite resistent to the idea.  Where did I go wrong as a father? 
Crossing Dinmore Manor at Winchcombe
 The bag on the water tower at Cheltenham Race Course leaks more than ever now, I'm sure that more water comes spraying out the sides than actually goes into the tanks.
Steve (driver) looks on in amusement as I struggle to stay dry
 I had let Eleanor, the cleaner for the day, fire the first round trip. Whilst Steve and I were busy filling the water tanks, it was evident to me that Eleanor was building up the fire ready for departure:
I'm sure there is a "Blue Motion" joke in here somewhere, but VW have better lawyers than me.
 Steve who was driving made some subtle comment that the cab floor could use a bit of a clean.  Eleanor got the hint, but made the usual mistake that most people make the first time when operating the pep pipe of not holding it at the nozzle end when you turn it on.  If you grip it to far along the hose, away from the nozzle, the pressure of the water passing through it results in a sort of dancing snake effect, with hot water being sprayed liberally everywhere.   It's something that I hadn't seen done in quite a while (it's the sort of mistake that you only make the once).  Anyway, nobody had told Eleanor that this might happen (unaccountably it is overlooked in the official fireman training material) and she proceeded to turn the pep pipe on whilst gripping it about half way along the pipe.  At least she managed not to let go of it and turned it off again fairly promptly... not promptly enough for me to avoid getting my left leg soaked unfortunately.  She has been handed a detention and told to write out 100 times "I must not turn on the pep pipe without gripping it firmly at the nozzle".  I expect that she'll cheat and cut and paste it in Microsoft Word.
Eleanor, post pep pipe problems, when she had got it under control.
 After the first round trip, I went back to the coach that I had reserved to make sure that all was well.  The Harry Potter style compartments had proved to be a big hit with my various relatives as all of the little ones (far too many kids under the age of ten) had been herded into one or two compartments, leaving the adults in relative peace in the others.
Dad with his birthday cake
 I managed to miss out on the birthday cake at the time, but my sister popped round this morning with some for me.  Very nice it was too.

There have to be some perks to getting up ridiculously early and getting extremely grubby operating steam locos.  One of those perks is be being able to arrange for relatives to have a trip out on the footplate every now and again.  The first dad knew of it was when I took him along to the station master's office to get a footplate pass signed for him, and then took him off to the PFP.
Dad... in my office.
 At eighty years old, dad was still 8 years younger than 5542, which was built in 1928.

In spite of the forecast, it had so far been a very pleasant day, and remained so until after we had got back and disposed the PFP.
Sunny outlook
Dad was his usual cheeky self during the run round
Dinmore Manor behind bars at Winchcombe
It would be remiss of me to have got this far and fail to point out how you too can book a coach on one of our trains for special family events.  In fact you can even book an entire train should you have enough people to fill it.  More details can be found by following this link.  Needless to say, I can't recommend it highly enough.  even my youngest daughter (who isn't really that big on trains) begrudgingly admitted to having enjoyed herself.  Praise indeed!

And finally, on Wednesday, Chris Smith passed out as a fireman on the GWSR, some 51 years after doing the same for BR.  I'm afraid that if there are any photos of either passing out event, then they have yet to find their way to me.  Regardless, many congratulations Chris. 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Cinderella Goes to the Ball

Eight coupled freight locos are very much the Cinderellas of the steam preservation world, very much in the shadow of the 'sexier' pacific or 4-6-0 classes.  This is something of a shame,  I personally find them in general to be wonderful machines.  They are of course designed for slow heavy freight trains, rumbling along at low speeds, which makes them ideal for the type of work that they get on heritage railways.   I was very pleased then to be able to facilitate what is I think the first ever photo charter (certainly on the GWSR if not anywhere) for the rather lovely Churchward 2-8-0T, 4270. 

Anyway, the 30742 Charters event with 4270 ran on Tuesday.  Unfortunately, we forgot to book the sun, so all the photos that I took look best in B&W.  As the sun was hiding and showing absolutely no sign of appearing, we started off by heading south instead of the more usual north (Stanway and Didbrook photograph best in the mornings if the sun is out)

We started off with a few runs past on the Cheltenham side of Greet tunnel:
The headlamp code is for a partially fitted freight

From there we moved on to Dixton cutting, you'll note what a wonderful job the lineside clearance team have made of keeping the undergrowth in check.  There were even a few clumps of primroses and daffodils in places to add a splash of colour (yes, I know, that doesn't stand out too well in B&W).

A little further down the line at three arch bridge:

Gotherington station is a highly photogenic spot:

The station building at Gotherington is a private house, so the platform on that side is usually out of bounds.  On this occasion, we had an agreement with the owner who kindly granted permission for us to use it. 
Gotherington station from the wrong side of the track

Another advantage to Gotherington, is that the loop does a fair impression of a section of double track if you get it right.
Double track effect
After that, it was down to Cheltenham to run round the stock and run up to Toddington for lunch and a few runs past there.
4270 nicely caught where its exhaust obscures the modern TV aerials on the houses in the background
Jack Boskett is more at home behind a camera rather than in front of one, but somehow he was sweet talked into dressing up in something passing for period costume and looking like a passenger awaiting a train.

Jack Boskett
After that, we went up to Stanway viaduct.  At Dixton cutting, we had been buzzed by a couple of very low flying Hercules aircraft, when we were at Stanway, it was the turn of a low flying Lynx helicopter to buzz overhead. 
I bet they got a great view from up there.
 Jack had brought along a couple of boxes of oily rags to dispose of in the firebox with a view of creating a bit of clag.  Thus far the effect had been hard to discern, however on the final run across Stanway viaduct, we finally got to the rags with the good stuff on them:
That's better

We closed the day off with a few runs past at Didbrook, before heading back to the start point at Winchcombe.
Didbrook is a nice open location (again, many thanks to the lineside clearance team) and a very handy location for getting a pan shot.  I found myself alongside a small group of people all trying to achieve the same thing, earnestly discussing optimal shutter speeds. For the benefit of any who might be interested, I always shoot these at 1/15 Second, using my 100-400mm lens at the 100mm end of the scale and the image stabiliser in mode 2 (stabilises in vertical, but not horizontal plane).
Mark enjoying the view ahead
There is a slight element of cheating in the above photo, I Photoshopped out the telegraph wires in the background as I found them rather distracting, but the panning gives a nice illusion of speed, even though 4270 was only chuffing along at line speed.

Many thanks indeed to all involved in making this day such a success, from the organisation, the preparation of loco, freight train and lineside and the crewing/guarding/signalling on the day itself, as well as of course the participants who came along to support the day.

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Race to the Finish Line

The Cheltenham races took place during the last week, once again our crews took the whole thing in their stride.  The key to being able to cope with everything that the race trains throw at you is a good hearty breakfast, cooked in the traditional way on the shovel.  Adam did his tv master chef impression on the 17th:
Adam on the shovel, Photo courtesy of Steve Oddy
Once fortified with a proper breakfast, dealing with customers who have perhaps only had champagne (in no small quantities) for theirs presents no problem.  In the photo below, Ben escorts a young lady back to the train after she had somehow managed to find her way off the end of the platform. 
Ben being a gentleman, photo courtesy of Andy Beale
 Moving on to Saturday, various parts of 3850 which had been removed and cleaned some while back, were dispatched to DMLL's private site for restoration:
Martin moving some of the eccentrics
The white metal in some of them is past its best
In a trailer and ready to depart
 Not all of the removed components are able to be restored, many of the fire bars that returned with 3850 were so far past their best, that the only sensible course of action was to weigh them in for scrap and get new ones.
Beyond further use
The race trains had seen the first few runs of Dinmore Manor on the GWSR this year.  It had been reported that the steam feed to the fireman's side injector was blowing steam from one of the joints.
Steam feed to the injector
 Getting at the fiddly bolts that secured the pipe to the injector is a challenging task.  It' calls for the use of midget sized double jointed fingers coupled with arms that are twice as long as most. Most who are "lucky" enough to take on this task find that fluent Anglo Saxon is a prerequisite too, as it is the only language that the injector or its attachments speak.
David, with the steam pipe... it didn't give up without a struggle
The failing gasket, it's not hard to see why it was blowing by
Old gasket removed, and face cleaned up a bit
There is no owner's manual for Manor class locomotives, but if there was, it would doubtless feature an unhelpful picture of an ostensibly similar, but wholly different part, captioned with the immortal words "Assembly is the reversal of disassembly".  Needless to say, more fluent Anglo Saxon (along with double jointed midget fingers etc) were required to return it into place. At least now the job is now done.

Excellent progress continues to be made with Foremarke Hall
John and Will fitting the fireman's side steam pipe.
John fitting the seals on the driver's side
A small team of people at work on the back head cladding
 The smoke box door ring has been renewed during the overhaul, whereas the smoke box door has not.  The smoke box door had warped slightly to fit the old smoke box door ring, and doesn't form a good seal against the new one.  The solution is to build up the mating face of the smoke box door with weld and profile it with a grinder to be flat.  Hopefully that should then make it seal properly. 
Steve building up the dips in the smoke box door with weld...
...and grinding them down to be flat
Oil feeds for the cylinders & regulator have been run from the cab to the smoke box
 The blast pipe and chimney, regulator and steam pipes have all been fitted in the smoke box:
Inside Foremarke Hall's smoke box
Tim fitting a cylinder end cover casing.
The starfish wagon that is currently being refurbished in the David Page shed was receiving a coat of primer on its wheels on Saturday. 
Stuart priming the wagon's wheels.
 There was interesting discovery made regarding the date. 
Even older than 2807.
The brake actuating rods for 35006's tender have arrived and were in the workshop for a spot of attention, before being trial fitted.
One of the rods propped up in the machine shop
The other rod being worked on by Steve
 This is all good news, the tender brakes are the last major task that needs completing on 35006.  There are of course no end of small jobs that need doing though.

I'm afraid that I had to depart and attend a meeting shortly after lunch on Saturday, so I can't bring you the latest news on the state of play with either 35006's or Foremarke Hall's restoration.  I will attempt to make amends next week.

And finally, 5542 was off hauling the service trains on Saturday,  whilst 35006 & Foremarke Hall were inside the shed, nonetheless, we still had a pleasing line up of locos outside, visible from our viewing area.
L-R, 4270, Dinmore Manor, 2807.