Monday, 30 March 2020

Off to the races

After a slightly nail-biting winter due to the two most recent landslips, it was something of a relief to head into Toddington on 7 March to the sights and smells of steam being raised. Many a voice could be heard saying “it’s good to smell that again” as they walked through the gate into the yard whilst Dinmore Manor was prepped to haul the first passenger trains of the 2020 season.
7820 looking soggy at Broadway
Once 7820 had departed for the day, a motley crew set about getting 4270’s pistons reassembled in what had been preparation for her departure to the North Norfolk Railway, although this was then cancelled due to Covid-19. New piston rings have been manufactured and so the job at hand was to simply get the pistons into place, fit the new rings, apply some force to push the pistons back in and voila, job done!

If only things were so easy. Brute force and ignorance (and a multitude of screwdrivers) came second to getting the piston rings past the respective port lips and once the light faded in Toddington, the motley crew had to call it a day. Alas spies have failed to update me on any progress so I can provide no further information on its current status, however I’m sure some kind soul could provide a comment down below.

As always, our first running weekend acts as a run-in period before an incredibly busy week, also known as Cheltenham Race week. Through some trick of fate, all three members of ‘Team Blog’ managed to escape the day job and spend some time “playing trains” as it has become known in my office, so we're all doing pieces on our respective days. A link to Luke's write-up can be found below.

I was lucky enough to spend the morning of Ladies Day working on 35006, and the afternoon of Gold Cup Day wearing my other hat guarding Train 2. The morning of Ladies Day dawned bright and early (literally) but with a little bundle of nerves as this would be my first morning cleaning turn.
Ready for the first trains of the week (Ian Crowder)
The problem with joining the department during winter maintenance is you don’t get a chance to get stuck into cleaning until the season starts, and even then there’s potentially only a limited number of opportunities before you’re rostered, so it felt a bit like jumping in at the deep end. I didn’t need to worry; like with everybody else I’ve worked with, Paul (fireman) and Jamie (driver) were brilliant and fully took me under their wing. I finished the day dirty, aching, tired and with a massive grin on my face that didn’t come off for many many hours (days) afterwards.
35006 pulls away framed by 7903 and 7820
Gold Cup day is a beast logistics wise. The introduction of the non-stop train to Broadway last year proved a big success and was being run again this year, this time as the last train of the day. Fitting three full length trains into Cheltenham Racecourse station is…. well we only have two platforms, so you can see why logistically it is a challenge.
Simmering away
Having been hauled down to the racecourse behind 7903, fired by a familiar face, the challenge then began. Ever since I’d looked at the working timetable and realised I’d been rostered to guard the train with the two major shunting manoeuvres of the day, my stress levels have been slightly higher than normal.

To summarise, pull into Cheltenham platform 1 with 7903 on the front. Attach 7820 onto the back, shunt release 7903, run a train full of happy race goers back up to Toddington, unload them all and then shunt back into the North Siding so that Train 3 can continue its non-stop up to Broadway. Confused yet? The “Racecourse Shuffle” on the GWSR Facebook Page documented the whole experience, so head over there and check it out.
Definitely the best way to beat the traffic
Luckily, despite the best attempts of the points at Winchcombe, the evening ran like clockwork. I did spot some of the crews taking advantage of the engines being sat right next to one of the burger vans down at Cheltenham, however I decided that as I needed a lift back from the North Siding later that evening, my camera was best placed to stay in my pocket.

Speaking of sources earlier, a quick reminder to our loyal readers that content can be submitted to gwsrsteamblog@gmail.comWe can’t feature your hard work if we don’t know about it! With the railway being closed for the foreseeable future (and everyone being stuck at home anyway), please bear with us as we work through this period of time.

Don't forget, the GWSR is currently holding an emergency appeal to fund the repair of the landslip at Gotherington. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far and we look forward to welcoming you (if you aren't a volunteer already) once we re-open.


Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Foremarke Hall pulls the 'Northern Belle'

Since Bryony, Tom and myself have taken over the GWSR steam department blog so much has happened. P&O has had new grate sections fitted. Dinmore Manor has had new bearings and was prepped for the annual boiler examination which is now successfully complete. 4270 has had the connecting rods removed for inspection of the cylinders, piston rods and rings.

However if you are a regular to the steam department blog, you may have noticed the lack of posts about Foremarke Hall. Well this is because at the end of 2019 the Hall was transported to Tyseley to have some work carried out.

One of the first jobs which needed to be done was to build up the cross heads with weld and remachine the taper on the inside of the crosshead. This was to ensure there is a really good fit when the piston rod is located into the taper.

The next job was to remetal and remachine the coupling and big end bearings. Here are the rods after being removed from the locomotive.

Whilst removed from the loco, the crossheads have also been remetaled and you can see them being remachined.

Below is the locomotive in the process of being put back together after all of the work had been carried out.

Once back together, Foremarke was then prepared for a steam test and some running in before returning to Toddington.

Whilst the front end was away at Tyseley, the rear end, or the tender, has also had some winter maintenance jobs completed. The coal bunker has had a coat of paint to help protect from rust and the chassis has had a thorough clean, led by Alex. Inside of the tender is normally somewhere you don’t usually get to see, other than when filling the tender with water and looks something like this...

However if you climb in there is a small passageway through the baffle plates which prevent the water sloshing about whilst on the move. One of these had come loose and needed re-welding.

Once that was complete all that was left was to apply a coat of paint to the rear buffer beam and await the return of the locomotive.

The Hall has now arrived back at Toddington and been reunited with the tender and was back in service for the race trains at the Cheltenham Festival.

Courtesy of Kevin Jarvis
I was very fortunate to have a rostered turn on Foremarke Hall on Gold Cup Day which was on a very special service, ‘The Northern Belle’ from Cheltenham Racecourse for London Paddington!

Ok so I may have bent the truth a little… I forgot to mention that we terminated at Broadway and the passengers were transported by coach to Evesham for the return to London Paddington. Oh we can dream!


As you may already be aware, the GWSR has had to temporarily cease operations due to the ongoing coronavirus situation. The decision was made following Cheltenham week and it goes without saying that staff and volunteers are feeling the railway blues. To exacerbate the situation, over the winter we suffered another significant landslip just south of Gotherington

Slip in January 2020 (Courtesy of Stuart Hamilton)
Enough remedial work was completed to be able to operate, however there is a lot that remains to be done and the ground is still moving. The suspension of operations means an immediate loss in income and the GWSR has launched an emergency appeal to help fund the remaining work. 

Dinmore Manor removes equipment prior to Cheltenham Race Week (Courtesy of Stuart Hamilton)
If you can, please consider donating to the GWSR and help raise the £250,000 needed to preserve the line for future use. Further donation options are being explored but for now please see the following.

You can help this cause by donating to us either:
By Bank Transfer to Sort Code 30-90-89 Account 47638368 using the reference ‘LANDSLIP’ plus your membership number (if applicable)
By sending a cheque payable to GWRT to The Chairman, GWRT, Churchward House, Winchcombe Railway Station, Winchcombe, Glos GL54 5LD.

In either case, if you are a UK taxpayer and feel able to download, complete, scan and e-mail our Gift Aid form to we will be able to claim 25% Gift Aid. Alternatively, you can print, complete and return it to the above address.

Luke, Bryony and Tom

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

The Cotswold Festival of Steam - Second Guest Announced

We are now in the position of being able to reveal the second guest engine at this year's Cotswold Festival of Steam gala being held on May 23rd - 25th.  

Courtesy of Southern Locomotives LTD and the Swanage Railway, we are delighted to announce 34072, 257 Squadron:
Bulleid light pacific, 34072, 257 Squadron.  Photo copyright David Stubbings
The light pacifics were a mixed traffic design for the Southern Railway by their Chief Mechanical Engineer, Oliver Bulleid.  The design is a smaller, lighter version of the Merchant Navy class, of which our home fleet resident, 35006, Peninsular & Oriental S.N. Co is an example.  A total of 110 light pacifics were built between 1945 & 1951, 60 of which were rebuilt by British Railways, losing the distinctive air smoothed casing in the process.  257 Squadron is one of the 50 that remained "unrebuilt" and of course one of the 20 that has survived into the preservation era, mostly through the blessing of having been despatched to Woodham Bros scrapyard at Barry, where, in spite of the name, relatively few locos were scrapped.
34072, 257 Squadron (Photo Copyright David Stubbings)
 The Bulleid light pacifics had a number of innovative features in their original form; a steam reverser, electric lighting driven by a steam powered generator, chain driven valve gear held in an oil bath, steam operated firehole door and a welded steel firebox.
34072, 257 Squadron passing Corfe Castle on the Swanage Railway (Photo Copyright David Stubbings)
Being a wartime design, it is little surprise that around half of the class were named after famous fighter squadrons or high ranking members of the RAF that had taken part in the Battle of Britain.  The remainder were named after holiday destinations in the West of England served by the Southern Railway.  

Details of two more visiting locomotives will hopefully be announced in the near future and don't forget, information on the gala can be found not just here, but on the new Facebook page and of course the official GWSR website
Advance tickets are available online at the main GWSR web page, please click on this link to place your order.

Finally, nothing to do with the gala, other than the fact that she is a member of our home fleet, there will soon be a 00 gauge model available of Dinmore Manor, available from Dapol. The model (lined black and with a Churchward 3,500 gallon tender) will also be available in the Station Shop at Toddington.  I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

The Cotswold Festival of Steam - First Guest Announced

The Cotswold Festival of Steam is closing in on us again, May 23rd - 25th.  The first item of news is that there is now a dedicated Facebook page set up to make announcements regarding locos.  Should you be social media savvy, then click on and then like this link for the latest gala news.  Perhaps naively optimistically, we'll try to synchronise announcements over there and here on this blog. The tools for updating the official GWSR web pages are fiendishly complicated and designed to perplex even the most ardent technophile, they will catch up as and when somebody feels brave or more accurately foolish enough to try.

Yesterday, a teaser for the first gala visitor to be confirmed was placed on the Facebook page:
 The axle box in particular is a give away.  In case that wasn't enough of a clue, I can now reveal the identity of the mystery loco. Not exactly the gala visitor you might expect, but she fits our theme and purposes perfectly.  Coming to us by the kind permission of the Somerset & Dorset Railway Heritage Trust and Andy Chapman, is  Sentinel, 0-4-0VBT, 7109, Joyce:
Photo copyright Callum Willcox
 For those who may not be familiar with this variety of locomotive, she really is steam powered, not diesel, in spite of her looks.  Don't be put off by the small size either, with a boiler pressure of 275 PSI, she can produce a highly respectable maximum tractive effort of 15,500 lbf.
Photo copyright Sean Duddon
 She is rather different to anything in our home fleet, with a vertical boiler and chain drive to her driving wheels and poppet valve gear.  

Although surprisingly powerful, she has neither the water range, nor the speed to cope with hauling passenger trains along our line whilst keeping up with the requirements of the timetable. She will however be used for shunting demonstrations at Winchcombe in the same way that we did with the Caley Tank last year, which proved remarkably popular.  It is very much hoped that she will be taking a short rake from Toddington to Winchcombe first thing in the morning and returning with it at the end of each gala day as well.
Photo copyright Callum Willcox
 The theme for the gala will be withheld for a while, but it shouldn't be too hard to guess.   The 22C shedplate is unfortunately fictitious so that won't help, but there is plenty more in the above photo to help you.
Photo copyright Harry McConnell
 Expect more announcements, both here and on the new Facebook page in the near future. 

Friday, 21 February 2020

Full Steam Ahead!

Ask me on any given weekend if I wanted to wake up at 4am to travel to York for only three hours before returning, I’d look at you as if you were crazy. Throw in 10 Mk 1 carriages with the Duchess of Sutherland and Union of South Africa on the front for the respective north/south journeys, and suddenly it doesn’t seem such a ridiculous idea, so that’s where I spent this past Saturday.
6233 'Duchess of Sutherland'
60009 'Union of South Africa'

A chance to see the footplate? Don't mind if I do!

This of course means that this week’s reporting from Toddington all comes from other sources, so bear with me if my details are a little hazy. 

Storm Dennis tried its best, and between that and the various road closures seemingly surrounding Toddington at the moment, you wouldn’t blame people for hunkering down and staying in the dry (and warm!). However, I’m told plenty of people still braved the elements and made it to the shed regardless.
Storm Dennis over Toddington

I think the 2807 team must have shares in paint at the moment because they are going through a lot of it! Seemingly every piece that becomes exposed on the locomotive gets a run over with the primer and the heat resistant top coat. Progress continues to charge on however. The boiler has been given a date to be removed and taken off-site to be overhauled, so that will depart some time in the middle of March (no doubt it will feature here). Initial looks into the innards of the tender look promising, with only the ‘ceiling’ seeming to be a cause for concern at the moment.
2807's backhead, having been stripped and primed
7820 has been reunited with her rods, although not without a fight due to the wheels having rotated slightly since they were taken off. New bearings have been made and these were pressed in before the rods were reattached.
Pressing the bearings in
The firebox received some tlc last week with the grate being cleaned up and several firebars being replaced (is this going to be a theme of my blogs?). Heatproof paint was also applied to the foundation ring to add a layer of protection to the rivets in contact with the fire as and when.
Freshly painted
A "fire's eye view" of the cab

I understand 7903’s tender has been washed out, with at least a barrowful of silt being removed. As March isn’t too far away, one eye is now on getting everything ready for the new season.
7903's tender sat over the pit
As I’m writing this, we only have two Saturdays left until we start running again; where has the closed season gone? Race trains will soon be upon us, I myself will be wearing both my cleaner and guard’s hats that particular week, and then the full running season will be swinging into gear (or should I say steam?)! Until then, it’s back into the classroom for more theory training for me.

Signing off,

Monday, 10 February 2020

What do we get up to at the GWSR during the winter?

During the closed season, when there are no trains running at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway, I occasionally get asked at work by colleagues... “What do you get up when you go to the railway?”. By day I am a marketer. I sit in front of a computer screen answering emails, updating websites and monitoring social media (a short version). By weekend, and some weekdays, I put on my overalls and head to the Toddington shed to see what jobs need doing. Cleaning tubes, ashing out, painting, helping an owning group maintain their locomotive or just making a round of tea. 

I have been volunteering at the GWSR for three and a half years and have enjoyed every minute. The work is varied and you learn new skills along the way, plus you get to meet some interesting characters and have a laugh. When I first joined, one of the first jobs I got myself involved with was concreting the David Paige Shed floor. 

One of the most rewarding aspects is working towards becoming a fireman. Starting as a cleaner fetching wood, emptying the ashpan and cleaning the locomotive before the day’s duty. I admit, a 5am start is not very appealing, however, after a few hours of hard work you can enjoy a hearty breakfast of bacon and egg cooked on the shovel - Michelin Star stuff! Then if you are lucky enough, the crew may ask you out on the footplate for the day.

So going back to what happens during the closed season, here’s a tiny glimpse, into what happens. The photos in this report were from Saturday 1 February. 

3850’s overhaul is progressing well, if you are a regular reader of the blog you will know the new cast cylinder block and frame extensions have arrived at Toddington. These are being assembled before being fitted to the mainframes. Whilst that is happening, a team is busy painting the rest of 3850 and you can see Roger sanding the cab side ready for primer.

Keith Painting grey primer. 
Roger now applying a coat of primer. 
A large team assembled, including myself, to work on 4270 which needed to have the piston rods removed so that they can have an NDT inspection. The first job was to remove the cylinder cover cladding and undo the nuts holding the cylinder cover.

Paul showing the others how it is done!
The left hand cover removed. 
After taking the cheeky snap of Paul, Andrew and I proceeded to remove the condensing coil, located on the underside of the cab roof. Once removed, we cleaned it through in the parts wash before spraying water through, with a hose, to check the flow. Before refitting, we also cleaned through the pipe connecting it to the lubricator. Here is a picture of Andrew blowing the pipes through with an airline. 

Work is still progressing well with the overhaul of 2807. The team is currently needle gunning the boiler and then painting with protective paint. Bruce and Gilbert had removed the blast pipe and proceeded to remove the jumper ring retainers which proved troublesome. Heat, soot, ash and carbonised oil had made the nuts impossible to undo. In the end, they resorted to splitting the nuts.

Unfortunately I didn’t get much of a chance for a photo of any of the work being carried out on Dinmore Manor. However I have since been given an update from Mike, who told me, the crosshead and coupling rod bearings have been removed for remetalling and the boiler has been prepared for the annual examination. Last Saturday, Mike, Mark and Jamie removed the pistons from the cylinders (seen in the picture below) ready for an NDT inspection of the piston rods and to fit new piston heads. 

Finally, whilst returning tools back to the store, I spotted Jamie wire brushing the threads on the end of the Dinmore’s piston rods. I did try to catch him in action but he must have sensed the camera.  

That’s it from me this week. My work colleagues are going to love hearing all about it!

Thursday, 6 February 2020

The Life Of A Trainee Fireman

Hello everyone, time for my first blog!

Of late, I have been unable to get to the railway on weekends, to help with the winter maintenance, so I thought I would start a mini series, charting my progression through the department, and on to the footplate.

My journey started some three and a half years ago, when I decided to join the Steam Loco Department, with the hope that one day, I may progress on to the footplate.
In my first year, I had many "shed days", learning what's what, and the ins and outs of the locos, including some volunteer cleaning turns and very early morning starts!

During my first full winter on the railway, I started my classroom training, and sat various exams to prove my competence(!).  This resulted in a season of cleaning turns, and trips along the line with the footplate crew, occasionally being given the shovel, and told to "have a go" under the watchful eye of the Fireman.  Needless to say, I needed to work on my aim!  My first go resulted in more coal on the footplate, than in the firebox!

At the end of the season, I was lucky enough to be selected for Fireman Training.  This resulted in more classroom training, and the dreaded medical, which I promptly failed!  It turned out, that I have a heart condition, that I never knew about, and have had it since birth! Had I never have started volunteering at the GWSR, I would never have known!

Fast forward eighteen months, several consultant appointments and a heart operation later, I am now cleared for footplate duties and have started my practical training!

On the morning of my first training turn, I met my trainer, Jamie, and had a chat over a cup of tea (the only way to start the day at 05:30 in the morning!) about the day ahead.
After checking all the relevant paperwork for the loco, we headed out to the shed, where our cleaner had already fetched a couple of barrows of wood to light up the two loco's.  After doing all the checks, it was time to wake the old girl up! I was lighting up 9466 and doing a round trip, then we were timetabled to switch locos at Winchcombe and take 4270 for a round trip.

The benefit of not being passed for footplate duties, is that anytime any fires were lit in the yard, I was the one to do them, so I quickly passed out as a steam raiser.  Lighting and bringing in to steam is, for me, the easiest part of being a Fireman!

Once the steam was raising nicely, it was time to join the cleaner, and spruce the old girl up, ready for the day.  On this particular day, it was a Santa Special, so we had to adorn the loco with suitable decorations!

With enough steam to do all the pre departure checks, Driver Evason eased us off the yard, and round on to the train.

A nice easy move from Toddington to Cheltenham Racecourse, with empty stock, and a quick stop at Winchcombe to pick up the "Elves", we pulled in to CRC on time, and with plenty of steam and sufficient boiler space for additional water, while the kids got on the train.

4270 waiting for the "Right behind" at CRC to take the families to see Father Christmas at the "North Pole"

The trip back to Winchcombe wasn't quite so straight forward!  Upon leaving CRC, I had a great fire, but didn't maintain it quick enough, so pulling away from Southam Foot Crossing was interesting! With not quite enough fire, 30 seconds of "blower" soon got it going again, and all was saved!

My second trip to CRC and back to Winchcombe passed without any issue, so I felt like it had been a good day! Jamie was happy with how I had performed, and we had a debrief in the mess coach upon our return to Toddington shed.
The look of concentration on my face is priceless! Must learn to relax!

I am now looking forward to my next training turn, to see if it was all a fluke!

Until the next time