Sunday, 31 December 2017

Cinderella Will Finally go to the Ball

The turkey has been cooked, and there is still enough left to last until Easter.  The Santa services have come to an end, and the 2017 season at the GWSR is all but over.  We have had a bit of a run of bad luck lately, with 2 more days (27th & 28th) lost due to poor weather.  Plan A for the blog this week, was to bung in an odd photo or two of things that happened, like Ben's tinselled shovel on Christmas Eve... 
Must have cramped his style (Photo courtesy of Paul Richardson)
...Or this one that appeared on Christmas day, apparently our crews can't cook it if it isn't on a shovel:
Photo courtesy of Nick Carter
After that, the plan was to head off to the "Christmas Cracker" mixed traction event  on the 29th, grab a few photos, sling them up on here, and run away.  It all got a bit more complicated than that of course.

The weather forecast was spot on when it had suggested heavy rain in the morning, and it dutifully dried up at about 09:00 as predicted.  The forecast had also said that there would be sunny spells in the afternoon, which combined with the remnants of the recent heavy snow on the ground could make for ideal photography conditions.  Once again, hope triumphed over experience, as the much heralded sunshine stubbornly failed to materialise and the snow, whilst visible on both the Malvern and Cotswold hills in the distance was largely AWOL anywhere near the running line.
Foremarke Hall and Dinmore Manor being prepared for duty... in the pouring rain
 Dinmore Manor was off first, however she went tender first, so I waited until Foremarke Hall was ready to be off before taking any photos.  Please note one of the number of station staff on the platform clearing away the snow,  just one of the GWSR's many volunteers who had to go the extra mile to make the day happen. 
Foremarke Hall in the snow
 As usual, I had studied the working timetable, and decided where I wanted to be at what times for what I had vainly hoped would turn out to be a prized collection of Christmas postcard photos.  The 10:40 service from Toddington was facing the right way, as was the 10:50 service off of Cheltenham Race Course (CRC) station, they would cross at Gotherington.  First location would be the field at Didbrook, with a bit of late morning sun behind me, it should look good.  Needless to say, the field at Didbrook was a bit too exposed to the sun and was now partially flooded with melt water.  The next small field to the north however had been sheltered from the sun by a line of trees, all I had to do was get between the treeline and the fence around the field and there just might be an option for a photo or two.  The problem was that the public footpath that I'd need to use for just a few yards was now a stream.  Your intrepid blogger possesses three pairs of walking boots, one is fairly rigid, designed to work with crampons and is both warm and waterproof, another is more of a summer boot, but are nonetheless fully waterproof, the third are old, very comfortable, yet leak like a sieve.  Guess which pair I was wearing!
The wrong boots!
Never mind, it isn't art unless you have to suffer for it:
Foremarke Hall makes a fine sight in the snow at Didbrook
 There are a number of items of vegetation along the bank, but there were still just enough of a gap to squeeze in a second shot.
Again at Didbrook
 The sun had been popping in and out from behind the clouds whilst I was there, and in a hitherto unprecedented moment of celestial cooperation chose to illuminate the scene at the right time. 

I once again braved the flooded path & field to return to the car, and set off next for Gotherington.  The sun had used up its quota of goodwill to me and was now sulking behind the clouds.  Ideally, the passing shot would be taken from a path on the field opposite the signal box, the sun would be behind you and it would look rather like a section of double track.  The last few years have seen a number of ash trees spring up to obscure the scene (though our good friends in the line side clearance gang appear to be edging ever closer to the spot, I'm living in hope) and with the heavy cloud, there was no reason to be on that side of the line anyway.  I reasoned that I should investigate an option not open to the public, which was to use the signal box as a vantage point.  Rod the signalman on duty kindly allowed me to join him.
Dinmore Manor approaches from CRC...
...Foremarke Hall departs Gotherington station...
...and they cross outside the signal box.
 So far so good, the next plan was to get a photo of Dinmore Manor's fireman collecting the token, then follow it up the line.  As you'll have spotted by now, my cunning plans usually come unstuck somewhere, and this was where it happened on Friday.  The token for Dinmore Manor to take couldn't be coaxed out of the Tyer's machine.  Calls were made to Winchcombe box, plungers were plunged, points and signals unset and reset again, all to no avail. 
The immovable token
 Phone calls were made to the Duty Operations Officer and it was decided that the quickest way to get the trains moving again, was to invoke pilotman working... now if only there was a some mug suitably qualified volunteer nearby who could do that.  You know what's coming next already don't you... my photography plans were put on ice (rather than snow) and with a red "pilotman" arm band on my left arm, phone calls to Winchcombe box made and forms filled in, I joined the crew of Dinmore Manor as far as Winchcombe.

Eleanor was Dinmore Manor's fireman, and apparently she featured on Santa's "nice" list, receiving a new shovel for Christmas.  Quite how Santa managed to get the shovel down the chimney, I really don't know.
Eleanor, putting her Christmas present to good use.
 I'd envisaged spending the rest of the day running up and down as pilotman between Gotherington and Winchcombe, but it turned out that when I got back to Gotherington, the problem had been discovered (lever 19 needed slamming home) and my services as a human token were no longer required.

 The rule book doesn't actually demand it, however the fireman training material recommends that for the avoidance of confusion that the ex-pilotman should not remain on the railway, it even helpfully suggests going to the pub as an acceptable alternative.  By now, all the steam locos were either running tender first or behind something else, so I set off to do a spot of shopping in Cheltenham and grab some lunch.  I knew that the pilotman working issue had caused the timetable to slip by about half an hour, so I arrived at Three Arch Bridge at what I judged was a suitable time to see the 13:20 from CRC behind Dinmore Manor.  Unfortunately it was a slightly longer wait than I had anticipated.  It turns out that the run of bad luck had got worse, with the class 45 having failed.
Foremarke Hall piloted by the class 20, passing through Dixton cutting.
 The anticipated 13:20 finally appeared, nicely back lit as it crossed Gotherington Skew Bridge.  A slight leak on the steam heat pipe behind Dinmore Manor's tender providing a nice atmospheric touch.  I'm led to believe that it was still lovely and warm in the carriages regardless.
Dinmore Manor approaching Three Arch Bridge
 Next stop was  just past Winchcombe, for a silhouette shot that I've been intending to try for ages. It would have benefited from some useful colour in the sky.  Never mind.  The crew, Mark & Eleanor had spotted me and were waving, Eleanor apologised later in case it had spoiled the shot.
Dinmore Manor leaving Winchcombe
 The next part of the plan was to leap-frog Dinmore Manor and get to the bridge on the road to Stanton for a shot of it on its way up to Little Buckland.  I was stood there like a lemon for quite a while, before eventually realising that it had terminated prematurely at Toddington and set off back to CRC in place of the failed diesel.

Thus thwarted, I repaired to the mess coach at Toddington for a refreshing cup of tea and awaited the return of the steam locomotives for a few disposal shots.
Eleanor closes the door after checking the smoke box
Dinmore Manor simmers by the ash pit.
 We don't usually dispose of live fire from the grate, however Eleanor had noticed some large lumps of clinker when she was cleaning through the fire and fetched them out with a dropping shovel.
Some of the clinker even stayed in the wheel barrow.

Foremarke Hall appeared for disposal just as I was finishing off emptying the pit of Dinmore Manor's ash.
At the time of writing, it appears that the run of bad luck has continued, Dinmore Manor has now been retired from service for the remainder of the season, with a failed spring hanger on the bogie.  The easiest way to fix it will be to put Dinmore Manor on the lifting jacks and pull the bogie out, one more thing to add to the winter maintenance schedule.
Failed spring hanger on 7820's bogie.  Photo courtesy of Steve Burnett
The events of recent days go to prove, once again, that you simply can't book the weather, and that steam locomotives, along with heritage era diesels and heritage era signalling equipment are not immune from failure.  I apologise for any inconvenience that this unfortunate series of events may have caused.

And finally, it's nice to be able to finish on a happier note, you may recollect that BR Standard 4MT, 76077 (sister of 76017 which visited for our gala this year) and which has been sat awaiting restoration at Toddington for some 30 years now, is about to see work commence once again.  The following is based on part of an article by a previous head of the Steam Loco Dept that will be appearing in the next issue of the Cornishman.

"Due to the railway requiring the use of the full length of the north siding at Toddington station for the 2018 season, a plan needed to be produced that would enable 76077 to be moved from its long term storage in the north siding and ideally restored to working order. This is where I became involved in the project. The locomotive's current owner realises that for it to be restored, a team of people and a company dedicated to the restoration needs to be set up, to enable this to happen. While the locomotive has been hibernating in the north siding, the owner has not been idle, he has managed to collect a huge number of parts which will mean that compared with other restorations this one will have a great head start. Many of 76077’s parts are already running on 76084 on the North Norfolk Railway under a temporary loan agreement, after which they will be returned to us or replaced. Initial boiler examinations on 76077’s boiler have shown that it is in excellent condition, and with only a short BR career, there is plenty of life left in the main component parts. One Item we don’t currently have is a tender; there is an agreement in place that means much of the frame steel will be provided to us in return for a previous donation of a GWR Hawksworth tender chassis which is now running behind Earl of Mount Edgecombe on the main line. We also have a set of wheels, horns and axle boxes, which with slight modifications should be suitable. Quite a few new tenders have been built in preservation including one for GWSR resident 35006 so with the full set of drawings available to us, this should not cause any serious issues. In the short term we might consider the possibility of operation with a borrowed tender which would get the loco running quicker and help us to fund the new build tender.

76077's driving wheels...
...pony truck...
...and boiler.
The other excellent news is that the owner has agreed to make a significant financial contribution to the new company to kick start the restoration, and as a result the chassis and wheel sets will be relocated to Locomotive Maintenance Services (LMS) Ltd at Loughborough, where over the next 18 months the frame repairs will be carried out and the locomotive re-wheeled. LMS have been very cooperative and have agreed to carry out works as we request around their busy workload, they are also assisting us with storage as the Toddington site has become overcrowded and concerns were raised as to where all the many component parts could be stored.

As soon as the chassis leaves for LMS at Loughborough, the focus will be in setting up a new company to own and oversee the restoration, in time, shares in the locomotive will become available for people wishing to financially support the project, and other funding avenues will be explored to restore this locomotive as quickly as possible. As well as the financial assistance we would welcome people who wish to get involved in the running of the company, raising funds and “hands on” restoration of components for use on the loco. If you wish to become a share holder please be patient with us, as we want to ensure the right type of company is incorporated and as such the loco restoration has the best possible chance of succeeding. In accordance with the standard contracts the railway has with locomotive owning groups, we need to submit a full restoration plan to the railway for their approval and support. Rightly so, they need to know the loco is not going to spend another 30 years rusting in a siding.

After so many years out of the limelight, I think the time is right for this locomotive, to take its rightful place at the head of one of the GWSR service trains. Locomotive crews who were fortunate enough to work on the 2017 Gala’s visiting loco 76017 from the Mid Hants Railway will tell you it’s an ideal tool for the job and I am pleased to say that some of them have already given their help and support. But we will need more help, it’s the only way we will see 76077 run again soon. " 

76017, visiting from the Mid-Hants Railway for our 2017 "Workhorses of Steam" gala
 On a personal note, I was one of the fortunate crews to get a turn on 76017 at our 2017 gala and can attest to the suitability of this class of locomotive to run on our line.  Contact details have been excluded here, but are to be found in the article to be printed in the Spring 2018 edition of the Cornishman, by which time there should be more news to bring you regarding progress of the project, the company being formed to manage it, along with the ways in which you can contribute, both financially and practically.   In the immediate future, some help will be needed in the Steam Loco Dept to assist with preparation for transport of the frames & wheels to Loughborough, no exact details of dates of working parties are yet available (late Jan/early Feb) however this will be made known nearer the time.   If you don't get a copy of the Cornishman, then they are available in the station shops, or will be delivered to your door if you become a member of the GWRT.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

How Many Breakfasts?

The Santa season has just drawn to a close, normal services of one sort or another will be running between Boxing Day and New Year's Day.  The Santa Specials were deemed to be too long a day for the crews to comfortably do, and to prevent any danger of running over our statutory dictated working hours, we implemented prep shifts.  The plan was that a crew would appear at Toddington at some unholy hour of the morning, emply ash pans and smoke boxes, clean the grates and light the fires, oil up and of course clean the locos.   The real crews would pitch up at a far more civilised hour, and take over their locos and proceed to run the Santa trains all day, return to Toddington in the evening and park their locos on the pits outside the David Page shed, ready for the next day's prep team to dispose & light up etc in the morning.  I would get to sample both being on a prep crew and the real crew in the space of a few days, real crew on Friday 22nd, prep crew on Christmas Eve.

Friday started at an extremely civilised hour, the real crews mostly turned up already wearing their blues and almost all were to be found sporting a suitably festive Santa hat.

Chris... more than a little pleased not to have been in early.
 I was on train 2, with Jamie and Alex, soon after I arrived, Paul, Chris & Steve disappeared in a cloud of steam on 5526.

5526 sets off Empty Coachimg Stock (ECS) to Cheltenham race Course to collect the first train full of visitors for Santa
They say that an army marches on its stomach and the same is probably true for steam loco depts too.  Bacon had been provided in the mess coach fridge and the prep crew got to work on cooking it:

First breakfast
 After breakfast, I tried to rally Friday's prep crew for a group photo by Dinmore Manor, but it was like herding cats.  The closest that I managed was this sneaky shot as we departed from the ash pit.

Prep crew, (L-R), Tom, Andrew & Mike.  Steve was hiding out of shot
The turn started off with a light engine move to Winchcombe The North Pole, where we picked up our stock and headed off to Cheltenham Race Course (CRC) to pick up our first lot of excited children to see Santa.
Ready and waiting with the Santa Express
The coal is not behaving quite as it should do for Welsh coal, it is rather smokier, burns quicker and doesn't produce as much heat.
Rather smokier
The lineside photographers might like it, but homes adjacent to the track with washing out drying on the line probably aren't quite so keen.
Crossing train 1 at Gotherington
A station full of elves to greet us
Alex grappling with the elephant trunks.

Welcome to Santa's Grotto
The crews are provided with complimentary teas and mince pies at the North pole
Two mince pies already scoffed by the time I had whipped my camera out.
Once we'd run around the stock, we had to wait for all the children to visit Santa, which takes a fair while, nothing for it but to have second breakfast... sausages this time.
Alex does the honours...
...Sizzling sausages

Jamie and Alex scoffing second breakfast
Alex had passed the test of using the shovel for its primary function, time for her to try it in one of its auxiliary uses.
Alex, stoking the oven boiler
Once the children had all seen Santa, it was back to CRC for 3rd breakfast
Bacon this time...
...followed by black pudding.
There was still time after the various courses of 3rd breakfast for Jamie to shovel some coal forward.
The usual procession of children and adults came to the front of the train to see the engine.  At least one dad was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a real steam engine. I'm not sure what he had been expecting, but I was reminded of the Ullswater "Steamers" which have all been diesel powered since 1935 or thereabouts, so I can understand his reaction.

When questioned, all the little boys and girls said that they had been "nice" and therefore deserving of a present from Santa... well, all bar one.  A young girl  paused for a moment and answered "I'm not sure really".  Her mother wasn't one to miss a golden opportunity and quickly responded with "Well you'd better tidy your room when you get home to make sure then... and do some laundry too".  
Token exchange at Gotherington
Passing the skew bridge just North of Gotherington, for the first time in a while, I noted that the big pile of sleepers that had been there had dwindled down to a few remnants.  I took this as being a good sign that they had found gainful employment elsewhere on the line.
Nearly all gone.
Back to the North Pole again, and it's time for 4th breakfast... as well as tea and mince pies of course.
Sausages this time.
Train 1 returned at the end of the day as an "Express" empty coaching stock move if the lamp code was to be believed.
Our day finished with a run to CRC to drop the passengers back to their cars, followed by an ECS run to Winchcombe, then light engine back to Toddington, all in the dark.  Features to note are that the new flashing light on the bracket at Gotherington is extremely bright, and probably easily visible from any passing satellite.  I am informed that we have new LED lights in the signals leading into Toddington, I'm not sure if they really are LED or not, but they were certainly visible from a considerable distance, much improved from last year.

Reader's of the Broadway Extension Blog will no doubt be well aware of the delights of Mrs B's home baked confections.  The Steam Loco Dept has it's answer to that, Mrs C's home made Christmas cake... it only appears once a year, but it's extremely good and much appreciated by all those who partake of it.
Thank you Mrs C.
All too soon, Christmas Eve came round (note to self, start Christmas shopping a day or two earlier next year) and I set off once more for Toddington... if I'd been leaving much earlier, it would not yet have been Christmas Eve.

Word had filtered through that the crew on 5526 had not had the happiest of days on Saturday, with the grate clinkering up badly.  Sam went into the firebox, lifted a few bars from the grate and gave it a thorough clean, hopefully today's crew will have a better time. 
Sam on 5526's grate...
...Once the grate was clean, it was time to empty the ash pan...
...and of course light the fire.
 There were of course two locos to light up, so the same procedure had to be gone through with Dinmore Manor
Sam, ashing out Dinmore Manor
 We had  two Toms helping out with the cleaning
Tom W attended to the brass work...
...whilst Tom E fetched wood and lit up Dinmore Manor under my supervision
Andy was the driver on the prep crew, who set about oiling up both locos
Andy at work
7820 & 5526 slowly coming round
 At this point, a tea break (well earned at that) was taken
(L-R) Andy, Tom W, Sam & Tom E.
 At around this time, the crew for train 1 appeared, expecting Dinmore Manor to be ready for them... this came as a bit of a surprise to the rest of us as we had been thinking that 5526 was train 1 and had prepared that first.   It wasn't actually a problem, as both were ready to go, however 5526 probably had a bit more pressure than was really wanted at this point, but we managed to keep it from blowing off though.

Crew 1, (L-R), Paul, Anthony & Ben
 There is only one thing to do with too much fire, so we soon set Tom E to work with the shovel and bacon
Tom E, learning the art of cooking on the shovel
First breakfast... bacon...
...second breakfast, sausages.
 You'd be forgiven for thinking that all we ever do in the Steam Loco Dept is drink tea and cook pork products on shovels.

I missed out on a turn on 5526, so know little of its ways, but I imagine that it is rather similar to 5542.  I did note in its cab though a tribute to one of the people who rescued it from Barry Island Scrap yard.
Julian D. Twyman
5526 cooks our breakfast, 7820 heads ECS to Cheltenham
 At the allotted time, crew 2 appeared to take our cooker away from us:
Crew 2, (L-R), Dan, Ian & Luke.
5526 heads off to Winchcombe and its appointment with Santa
Unsurprisingly, the last task of the day was the washing up... the washing up fairy is a member of the RMT union and is on strike today.
If you are considering paying us a visit for the "Christmas Cracker" mixed traction event on the 29th and 30th, then please note that 5526 will be running in place of the previously advertised Foremarke Hall, so if you were hoping to travel behind 5526 before she returns to the South Devon Railway, yet had no small children available to take onto the Santa trains, then this is your big chance. 

Edit:  27/12/17 There are no trains running today on the GWSR due to snow and a power failure.  Assuming all is restored to normal by the 29th, it will be Foremarke Hall & Dinmore Manor on the Christmas Cracker and not 5526.

And finally...   Santa came just a little early this year, because, as I'm sure you're all well aware by now, the Permanent Way gang joined up the track in Broadway Station to the rest of our railway.  A fantastic achievement.  You can read all about it on the Broadway Extension Blog.

Happy Christmas one and all from the Steam Loco Dept, may your grate never clinker and your pressure gauge hover just below the red line.