Monday, 18 July 2016

Pokemon Perils

Pokemon Go has apparently taken the world by storm... well at least that portion of the world that is under 25 years of age (yes, I'm only 21, but mercifully I'm immune to this kind of stuff).  Ordinarily, this wouldn't merit a mention on the steam loco dept's blog, but I'm advised by one of our younger members that Toddington Railway station is a "Pokestop".  Please don't ask me what that means, as I haven't got clue number one. 
Please, don't ask, I don't know.
I can say though that trying to catch Pokemon on our railway may well turn out to be very dangerous, caution is advised in this as indeed in all matters when visiting a heritage railway.  Anything that distracts your attention, possibly causing you to step off the edge of a platform or stray onto the tracks etc won't end well.  Issues regarding Pokemon and children trying to catch them on the tracks have already occurred on the "big railway".

Reports of the "Trainspotting Live" series of three programmes on BBC 4 led me to try and catch up with it on iPlayer, just to see if was as described by a number of reports that I had seen online.  In the process, I stumbled upon this article in the online Radio Times, entitled "The Nine Most Scenic Spots for Trainspotting in the UK".  Setting aside the issue of why 9 spots instead of 10, I mention this here, because Toddington came in at number 9 on the list.  The choice of locations, is always going to be subjective, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and all that, but it was gratifying that we appeared on the list.  Just in case you couldn't be bothered to follow the link above, this is the complete list:

1) The Bluebell Railway
2) Glenfinnan Viaduct
3) Whitby North Yorkshire
4) North York Moors National Park
5) Porthmadog, North Wales
6) Llangollen Railway, North Wales
7) Exmoor National Park
8) Bath
9) Toddington, Gloucestershire

A few observations that I'd make would be that the majority are heritage railways (or in the case of number 3, a network rail line over which a heritage railway has running rights) rather than part of the national network.  Heritage railways suffer a disadvantage for the average trainspotter in as much as they (galas and occasional incoming mainline rail tours excepted) largely tend to run locos from the same small pool each week, so you'd pretty quickly spot them all. From the ticking off of numbers in a book point of view, not ideal.  If you did follow the link, all nine photos used (even the network rail locations) show a steam loco at work, except the photo of Toddington where you get to see our class 73 electro diesel very much in the background. This in spite of the fact that we are the only one with "steam" in our name.

 I'm curious as to why just Toddington and not the whole line, Winchcombe station is rather beautiful in my view, and yes, although the GWSR doesn't own it, Gotherngton is a gem as well.  The fact that the line is largely built on embankments and offers fine views of the Cotswold hills and in the distance the Malverns should not be overlooked either.  I have no doubt that Broadway when it is completed will considerably enhance the beauty of the line as a whole.  There are plenty of scenic locations on the West Coast Mainline (Scout Green, Beattock) or East Coast Mainline (Berwick Viaduct), but these are rather spoiled in my humble opinion by the overhead wires (call me a luddite if you will), a fate that is shortly to befall Sydney Gardens in Bath. Who knows, next time the Radio Times prepares such a list, that  fact may just propel Toddington up to number 8.... Broadway when completed may change the entry from "Toddington" to the "GWSR" and push it higher still.   

I have already said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it has to be said that for this beholder at least, the Settle & Carlisle line, (Ribblehead Viaduct, Ais Gill & Arten Gill Viaduct are all delights), and the Dawlish - Teignmouth sea wall section of line in Devon is a magical place to visit. There omission is to me at least unaccountable. I'm sure that you will have a few favourites of your own as well. Chacun à son goût.

 Whilst we're on the subect of Toddington, I ventured up there on both Saturday and Sunday this weekend:
Foremarke Hall heads off with the first train of the day on Saturday
 More progress has been made with 3850's boiler, the regulator rod has now been removed.
3850's regulator rod, extricated from the boiler
 There will be a few more containers arriving in the near future, one of which will be placed adjacent to the yard entrance.  A number of items needed to be removed to make way for it, including 2874's cab.
It's a bit like musical chairs
 The drop grate of 3850 required the finger bars removing, ten years inside the firebox had not left them in a state where they could be easily removed.
Eleanor & Sam encouraging the fingers to come off the actuating arm
 The easiest solution to storing a number of the items that were in the way of the new container, was to stash them on top of some of the existing containers.

David prepares to receive a superheater element
 Shifting 2874's cab roof was straight forward enough, with the employment of mechanical assistance.
Mark lifts the cab, David and Martin are grateful that it doesn't have to be shifted the hard way
It didn't end up going too far... was soon joined by 3850's cab roof too.
Trevor has been with the GWSR, man & boy for 15 years, John (head of department) handed over his long service certificate
Trevor (l) and John
 More progress has been noted on the concreting of road 6 in the shed, with sleepers now laid in place.
Road 6, soon to get a concrete floor.
The GWSR has quite a family of blogs these days, and I'm sure that you'll be well aware of the one that covers the recreation of Broadway station.  The Steam Loco Dept has a hand in that process, as Ian and a small team of people are busy creating the steel work that will hold up the roof canopy.  
Roof support
Can't wait to see it finished and assembled at Broadway

I spent Saturday afternoon out at Dinmore Manor LTD's private site, trying to catalogue the whereabouts and condition of the kit of parts that are being refurbished to bolt back onto 3850... when the time comes to stop taking bits off and start putting them back on again.  It was described to me as being like a very large jigsaw puzzle, for which you don't have the picture on the box.  A long list of photos of the pieces of that jigsaw puzzle is likely to have the same effect as the "Trainspotting Live" tv series broadcast last week, so I'll skip those.  Instead, I'll wheel out a few photos of what might be classed as a fuzzy picture on the box, this being 3845 which is patiently waiting her turn in the restoration queue.
3845, still in ex-Barry Island Scrapyard condition... least she still has a tender.
 Thank you to John, Ralph, Richard & Rob for keeping me topped up with tea and pointing out where the parts could be found.

Well that was Saturday, moving on to Sunday, I had a firing turn on 7903, Foremarke Hall.  As you may have noticed from my last blog post, I was out on Foremarke Hall last Monday for the first time since she came back into service after her heavy general overhaul.  Unfortunately the turn only involved going as far as Winchcombe and back, this time round it would be for the usual full timetable.

Phil was on his best behaviour, he had even gone to the trouble of fetching out Foremarke Hall's lamps for me.  Why should Phil be so keen?  Well Sunday was the day that Phil was to be assessed as a driver.
Lamps, ready for action.
 2807 was the other loco running on Sunday, as usual, the loco prep stopped for tea:

(l-r), Eleanor, George, Phil, Dave & Tina, trying to hide behind the step ladder
 Fires were lit, locos cleaned & lubricated, the sun even put in an appearance
Eleanor cleans 7903's boiler barrel
7903 & 2807, preparing for action
Phil with the big red handle...
...setting off from shed
 Soon enough we were out on the road and fulfilling the requirements of the red timetable as train one.
Inspector Irving, keeping a close eye on Phil
 No drama at all, the timetable was fairly closely adhered to, the stops were all pretty much on the right point, the only thing out of the ordinary was that for some unexplained reason, one of our passengers wanted to photograph a teddy bear by 7903's namepleate
Well why not?

Crossing 2807 at Winchcombe
 Fireman Brooks was travelling on the trains for a change, instead of shovelling coal to earn his passage.  Seen here with Judy, his other half.
Chris & Judy.
 It's not all about starting and stopping the loco safely, keeping to time and whistling in all the right places, the driver has to regularly check over the loco and make sure that all is well:
Topping up the oil
 Unfortunately, I had to disappear off for a meeting after the first 2 round trips (it's not all swanning up and down the line on glamorous locos for the chairman of the gala committee you know).  I informed Phil that his only hope of passing out was if he managed to run down at least 10 pokemon characters on the level crossing at Bishops Cleeve and handed over to Aaron who I had arranged to take over firing the last trip for me.  For the time being, these are our 2 most recently qualified crew members. Aaron having passed out as a fireman last week.  Many thanks Aaron.
Aaron (l) and Phil.
 Needless to say,  Phil was deemed to have reached the high standard required of a driver on the GWSR and passed.
Driver Grange (l) & Inspector Irving (Photo courtesy of Steve Oddy)
 Congratulations Phil on passing out.  

I suspect that Phil must have annoyed the roster clerk, as not only did he get lumbered with me for his exam, but he will also get me as his fireman on his second solo turn as a fully fledged driver in August.

And finally, with grateful thanks to Paul Begg of Action Cam Railways, whilst busy scribbling this blog, I have been keeping one eye on my tv screen, as a rather nice DVD, packed with footage from the recent "Swindon Built" gala arrived in the post this morning.  Shot using a number of the popular "Go Pro" cameras mounted on the hand rails, under the running plate, from the lineside, using a drone and in one case from inside the cab, it shows our railway in a way that you won't have seen before. The footage from the handrail & brake vans going through Greet tunnel is particularly good. It is hoped that copies of this DVD will be available from the shop at Toddington station in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Lights.... Camera.... Action!

For a heritage railway, films can be something of a double edged sword. That "The Railway Children" has provided a significant boost to the standing (and indeed profitability) of the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway is undeniable.  Likewise, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway has benefited immensely from the "Harry Potter" series of movies (Goathland being the fictional Hogwarts station) and less recently, the "Heartbeat" TV series.  You can get it badly wrong though (just ask the Epping & Ongar Railway), but in general the extra publicity and attraction of visitors who may otherwise have never thought to travel on a heritage railway has to be a very good thing.

The GWSR has played host to a few film/TV productions in recent years, Dr Who & Nativity 3 spring to mind, as well as featuring a few times in Father Brown.  On Monday, there was to be more filming for the next series of Father Brown, and I had been rostered as the fireman.  A distinct bonus for me was that the locomotive selected for this duty was Foremarke Hall, my first turn on her since she returned to steam just in time for the gala.  

My expectations of the day were roughly that the scenes (which would be shot at Winchcombe, AKA Kembleford) would be shot mostly in the train, or on the platform by the carriages, arrival/departing shots may show the loco briefly in the distance, the crew (Steve and myself) would out of shot in the cab of the allotted steam locomotive.  I was a bit surprised to receive an email prior to the day of the shoot from the 2nd assistant director (how many are there?) who wanted to know my vital statistics for the benefit of the wardrobe department.  Later there were more emails, requesting the crew to appear for "make-up, hair & wardrobe" in the overflow car park at Toddington at a time when we should have been preparing our loco. The email also stated that we should turn up clean shaven, not a particular problem for me, but it did cause my driver some concern.  As it turned out, the bus rally on the day before had caused issues with the film crew getting their equipment on site, so we were off the hook altogether it seemed.

I had been a little concerned that the Sunday crew might not have noticed that Foremarke Hall was running on Monday, and filled the boiler, I needn't have worried, she was sat there waiting for me with 10 PSI on the pressure gauge and half a glass of water, perfect.  The nearest thing to a problem was the lamp oil had moved, gone is the red drum of the stuff in the oil store, we now have a green container with a pump.
Only took a few seconds to work out where it had gone.
 We had expected to set off from Toddington in time to arrive for 10:00 at Winchcombe.  Andy, the Duty Ops Officer (DOO) let us know that they were filming something on the platform without us, and could we hold off for a bit... the sitting around and waiting started!
Steve... not quite clean shaven, before we departed Toddington
 At what in the end turned out to be roughly the right time to set off for Winchcombe for a 10:00 arrival, we were given the nod that they were ready for us.
Passing Hayles halt, where a small team was about to commence work
No sooner had we arrived, than Mark Williams (AKA Father Brown) wandered up to the pointy end of the train for a look around.  Mark is probably most famous for the role of Arthur Weaseley in the extremely popular "Harry Potter" series of films.
Mark Williams gets his hand on the big red handle
My daughters are both well past the age when their dad becomes something of an embarrassment to them.  The natural order of things is that you go from being an essential person to have around, to being a taxi service and then finally, somebody they won't admit to knowing in front of their friends.  Getting a selfie taken with "Arthur Weaseley" suddenly (though probably rather briefly) promotes you back to being cool again.  I'll spare you the photo, but will admit that embarrassingly, I'd never taken a selfie before, and Mark Williams had to show me how to flip the camera on my phone round so that it took a picture of us rather than what was in front of us.
I thought that we had escaped the attentions of "make-up, hair and wardrobe", but they were not to be thwarted and were ready and waiting for us at Winchcombe, they pounced almost as soon as we set foot on the platform.
John gets a free hair trim.
I managed to elude both the hair (well what was the point) and make-up (heaven forfend) and in the end only got collared by the wardrobe department.  As it turned out, both Steve's and my own usual footplate attire didn't meet up to the exacting standards required for filming; Steve's shirt was too white (half an hour on the footplate would have sorted that out) and my shirt was too vivid a shade of blue.  We were both issued with dull grey ones for the day.  Steve's tie was also the wrong shade and was replaced with a different one.
Steve having his tie changed by the wardrobe lady.
 My red neckerchief passed muster, though it was ignominiously referred to as a "red rag".  The British Railways logo on my grease top hat came in for some scrutiny too, as the BBC aren't allowed to show corporate logos.  I argued the case that a nationalised industry that no longer exists couldn't possibly be a problem and won.

Winchcombe assumed yet another alias for the day:
Winchcombe, The North Pole Kembleford
The guards department was represented by four people, to guard on one of these turn outs, you have to have acquired some experience, so three guards were accompanying Paul to gain the relevant experience.
How many guards (and one DOO) does is take to change a light bulb?
 Meanwhile, actors and behind the scenes crew scurried about, learning lines and setting up equipment.  After some consultation, it was established that they didn't mind me reporting on this blog the activities of the day, as long as I didn't reveal the plot.  There was absolutely no danger of that, as I had no idea what the plot was anyway.  I also have no idea when it is being broadcast, these things usually have a substantial gestation period, I'll let you know when more is known... don't hold your breath.
Costume drama rehearsals taking place.
 An interesting touch was that the "No Smoking" signs that we have on the carriage windows didn't fit in with the 1950's era setting for the Father Brown series, smoking was positively encouraged back then.  A quantity of "First Class" stickers of the right shape, were strategically placed on the carriage windows to obscure them.
The entire train became first class

Mark Williams and just some of the guards
  From a fireman's point of view, the day presented a number of challenges;  first there would be lots of sitting around waiting whilst platform scenes were shot, keeping the loco from blowing off would be an issue, the noise would obviously disrupt filming.  The second problem was that after a lengthy period of sitting around waiting, the fire would have died back considerably, and would need some time to get back to a state where it covered the grate again.  I made a point of contacting the director when we arrived at Winchcombe and requesting half an hour's notice prior to shots that would require the loco to move.  That worked out well as a strategy, the half hour usually turned out to be more like an hour, but everything worked out fine on that front.

A few atmospheric steam shots were also called for early on in the proceedings, curiously, they bought their own smoke generating unit, rather than rely on the rather more impressive one that Steve and I had brought along with us.
Fake smoke
 There wasn't just fake smoke, in spite of the fact that we had brought no less than four real guards along with us, there was a fake guard too.  One scene called for John (the actor guard) to converse briefly with the crew, before waving a green flag and sending us off.  A little later on in the day, he asked me if he was doing everything as a guard was supposed to do.  I said, "Well it's usual for the guard to get on the train once he has given the signal to set off".  This caused some consternation for a while, but the scene was slight modified so that he did in fact get on board.
Steve & John chatting during one scene
 The weather was a bit hit or miss, consisting of sunny intervals punctuated with occasional sharp down pours of rain.  The vagaries of the Winchcombe weather were to some extent mitigated by the provision of some fake sunshine.
Fake sunshine generator.
 Staying with fakes, a nice touch was this advert for a fictional "Gloucestershire Savings Bank" that was placed on the notice board... though surely it should have been a piggy bank, rather than an elephant.  Never mind, I rather liked it anyway.
I wonder what interest rate they're offering!
I had been informed in advance by many veterans of crewing for film shoots, two vital pieces of information; one that there would be plenty of sitting around and waiting (I wasn't disappointed on that score) and secondly there would be plenty of food.  Time marched on and hunger set in, Steve set off to discover what refreshments were available and returned bearing fruit, the BBC appears to be on some sort of health drive.
It will keep the doctor away I suppose
Steve with 2 of the stars of the show, Mark Williams & Foremarke Hall
 At this point, the first of the days heavy showers kicked in, refuge was sought under the footbridge. 
Mark Williams, Steve & several of the guards shelter under the footbridge
 Thus far, all the scenes had been shot with a dry platform, now all of a sudden, there was an extremely damp platform, which would cause problems with the continuity of the scenes. 
Film crew huddling under the station canopy.
 The train pulling out of the station scenes caused some logistical issues. Normally, we wait until we get a green flag from the guard, acknowledge it, and if we have the signal and token/staff (where necessary), we set off.  In this case, we had a guard actor showing a green flag (which I acknowledged), he then got on the train, and then after the real guard (out of camera shot) was happy that the train was safe to go, and had shown me a green flag and got on the train, we really could actually go.  To complicate matters further, we were being briefed on the action along the platform by various members of the crew who in some cases were more than little keen to join us and blag a short ride on the footplate.
Steve describes how a steam loco works to the first of a number of visitors to the footplate
 At about 2pm, when Steve & I had come to the conclusion that the fabled canteen wasn't going to put in an appearance, the director called "Cut" and then announced that it was time for lunch.  A queue formed in the car park
The queue for the grub... and we were near the front.
The menu
 No sooner had we obtained our lunch, than the heavens opened once more.  The guards & I set off with haste into the nearest shelter... the signal box.  One guard, who shall have to remain nameless, was keen to make sure that his wife didn't know that he had eaten this lot, as well as the sandwiches that he had brought with him (long since eaten) or he wouldn't be getting any dinner.
Lunch in the signal box.
All this film work is very tiring you know!
 After lunch, we were in for a bit of a treat, there was to be a departing shot, featuring an octacopter drone flying along the platform taking footage of the departure as it went.
A very nice bit of kit indeed, I wouldn't say no!
 I was amused to note that when I returned to Foremarke Hall, that a walkie talkie had been placed on the warming tray for us.  Fortunately, it hadn't been there for very long and still worked OK.  I moved it to a place of relative safety in the tool tunnel of the tender.
Not the best place for delicate electronic equipment!
 We had a dummy run of a departure, pursued by the octacopter, before trying it for real.
Octacopter climbs into the air...
...and overtakes us as we set off...
...before returning to its operator
 This time round, for the departure shots, we were joined by the series producer.  My job was to wave at a woman & young lad as we passed them on the platform, then wave at a few more children wathcing from the road bridge.
Apparently her late father would have been very envious of her getting a ride on the footplate
 The Octacopter test flight revealed a few things appearing in shot that didn't fit with the 1950's:
A large yellow bag gets hidden by camouflage netting
 Doing numerous departure scenes, we obviously needed to return to the same start point each time for the next take.  Steve used a pine cone on the opposite platform as a marker to judge when he was in the right place.  Meanwhile, the real guard called us back under the guidance of the director stopping us where they wanted us to be.  That rarely coincided with the pine cone, sometimes we were some considerable distance away.
The pine cone reference point.
Another rehearsal for a take goes into the can

The next thing to do was some arrival shots, which meant propelling the train behind the bracket signal beyond the Carriage & Wagon dept, then chuffing into the station from there.  The signal that they were ready for us to set off, was appropriately enough that the signal for platform 1 would be pulled off.
Waiting for the signal to drop
 The approach scene too was to be filmed using the drone, which would cross over from platform 2 to platform 1 ahead of the train. 

After the first take, it was noticed that there was a proliferation of hoses and cables in the 6 foot, which spolied the scene, and which needed to be moved out of the way.
Carriage battery charging cables?
 The cafe in platform 1, looked rather good, occupied by people in 1950's era attire.
Not sure that you'd get away with the fox stole these days though.

Foremarke Hall, enjoying the attention.
 A little more food arrived later one, needless to say, the GWSR contingent weren't slow in getting to the front of the queue again.
A railway marches on its stomach.
More scenes to shoot
A few more going away shots followed that... one of the crew was keen to try his hand at shovelling coal.
A curious grip on the shovel, but it seemed to work, he hit the spot I asked him to.
Nothing more remained after that, but to take Foremarke Hall back to Toddington and put her to bed. I certainly had an excellent day, hopefully the film crew managed to get all the shots that they wanted to and enjoyed themselves in the process.  Don't expect to see either me or any of the other GWSR volunteers in the finished programme, it took all day to shoot, but will probably condense down into less than a minute when edited and I have no doubt that I'll end up on the cutting room floor.  It's a fairly safe bet that Foremarke Hall will make it through to the final cut though.

It was a very pleasant day out with Foremarke Hall, rather like catching up with an old friend that you haven't seen for ages.  It has come about that I'll have the pleasure of firing her again this coming Sunday, definitely something that I'm looking forward to.

And finally, I'm delighted to be able to report that Aaron passed out as a fireman on Saturday.  A particularly impressive achievement as I believe that it was his first trip out on 35006 as a fireman.  Congratulations Aaron.
Inspector Irving (l) and fireman Smith.