Sunday, 16 August 2020

Welcome back!

I wrote back in March that members of the steam department were walking into the yard after winter maintenance and enjoying the sights and smells of steam being raised for the beginning of the 2020 season. Last weekend it was deja vu as the GWSR ran its shakedown trains ready for reopening to the public. 
Dinmore Manor waiting on the shed (Ian Crowder)

Early morning alarms were set, volunteers from across the railway had been offered seats as passengers to test the new safety measures and Dinmore Manor and Foremarke Hall were prepped, ready to bring railway life back to the Cotswolds. 

As you may have noticed, it was a trifle warm last weekend but that didn’t stop people from enjoying their railway for the first time in just under five months, one of the longest shutdown periods ever experienced by the GWSR. I took the liberty of travelling on the afternoon train on Saturday which was then followed by a cleaning turn on Sunday morning. Anyone travelling on their own is assigned a seat in the TSO (open) carriage as the compartments are minimum two people or more. 
The view from the TSO

Travelling solo in the TSO means keeping a mask on at all times, apart from when consuming refreshments. It was definitely more than warm at times but I had brought snacks and drinks with me which meant I could occasionally take my mask off and have a drink to cool down slightly. By the time we reached Gotherington, I was accustomed to the environment and didn’t feel any different to how it would have been without a mask on. 
Sat down at Cheltenham

The run rounds at Cheltenham and Broadway allow time for visitors to alight and see the engine as usual (masks are required) which of course means pictures. I noticed a fair few phones and cameras being pointed in the direction of Dinmore Manor, particularly at Cheltenham as she is currently facing north so this is the only station to get a photo “the right way round”. An opportunity to buy refreshments was also available at Cheltenham and I believe the majority of people travelling made use of it.
7820 bursts out of Greet Tunnel (Ian Crowder)

There was more of a breeze on the return leg and the TSO sits at the north end of the train which meant I could thoroughly enjoy sitting back and listening to 7820 power through a non-stop trip back to Toddington before collecting the staff and heading up to Broadway. I wasn’t exactly surprised to see Saturday’s working group made up of DMLL volunteers in prime viewing spots as we pulled past the shed; it must be nice to see their engine back working again.
Steaming under Three Arch Bridge (Ian Crowder)

Waking up at 05:15 on Sunday hurt, I’m not going to lie. The body clock is very much out of practice and the brain didn’t want to switch off to let me get a proper night’s sleep. The fact that this was only my second cleaning turn had nothing to do with my insomnia, I’m sure.
Starting the day

Cleaning gives you a chance to get to know more of the ins and outs of the locomotives, especially if like me you’re a complete beginner who spends their working days behind a desk and not doing anything related to engineering. As it happens, the prep crews during the week had done an amazing job cleaning 7820 and 7903 already so I spent my time wiping down what little dust and ash had accumulated, as well as the standard fetching wood etc as and when the fireman needed it.
Waiting for coal
In what felt like no time at all, it was time for the engine to move round and prepare for the second of the shakedown days. I did spot a new inspector shining their boots as this was happening but failed to acquire a picture. Said inspector also apparently holds on to Christmas cards as one from 2015 was going to be sacrificed on the fire later that day, much to the disgust of the fireman who upon seeing the bundle of paperwork was heard exclaiming “you aren’t sticking that lot on my fire are you?”
The scaffolding has come off the welfare building

It was nice to have some semblance of normality back again and over the next few weeks the GWSR will settle into its new rhythm. I probably should say that as the purpose of this weekend was to check how things would run, there may be differences if/when you come to visit us. All the information is on the GWSR website, as is the link to pre-book your tickets.
Ben and Clive in the Telegraph (Picture credit Ian Crowder, photo credit Jack Boskett)

I think the smiles above sum it up rather well.


Monday, 6 July 2020

Back to 'normal'?

I think it’s safe to say that dust resting on our respective keyboards isn’t quite how we expected our first few months as bloggers to go… Anyone got one of those pressurised air cans?

Anyway, if you’re anything like me, a very large hole has been left behind since the railway shut down in March. The hustle and bustle of Race Week seems a distant memory now, as does most social contact, but ever so slowly the cogs are beginning to turn again as the GWSR looks to re-open next month.
A very quiet ‘Goods Shed’
All eyes are on 15 August and plans are underway to get the railway sorted and back to running order, albeit in a limited fashion. I wonder how many of the steam department are hoping they can make it to the barbers/escape the kitchen scissors before returning to the shed, or maybe are simply planning on displaying their new lockdown hairstyles with pride? Thanks to a decision to have a “pre-Cheltenham refresher”, not something I’ve had to worry about; phew!

One thing that will be different is we are saying farewell to 9466, who is leaving us to go back to its owner in the next few weeks.
9466 at Broadway in December
Technically not to do with the footplate but I was fortunate to have a couple of guard turns with it towards the end of last year and have heard good things from those who did get a chance to crew it. A brief stint at the GWSR this time but maybe will return again at some point.

Back in the shed, small pre-arranged working groups are beginning to find their way back to Toddington to prep the locos for their “return to work”. Some of the owning groups have also had similar working parties at their private sites, where possible, but to maintain social distancing and follow the official guidelines, all working groups are limited in size and are focussing on getting the engines back up and running again for August. The site remains closed to the public.
Dinmore Manor getting some well deserved TLC
Now that we’re in July, August doesn’t seem too far away and the excitement is beginning to bubble back up again (I may have nearly deafened a queue outside a fish and chip shop in Dymchurch when I found out about reopening). Luke, Tom and I are very grateful for your support both on here and at the railway and look forward to welcoming you back as soon as possible.
4270's valves have been removed to be put onto new spindles (Ian Butler)
For all the information about reopening and the necessary changes to timetables, please head to the GWSR website and keep an eye on the various GWSR social media.

I should probably go and find my overalls.


Tuesday, 26 May 2020

A Very British Gala

In what passed for "normal" seemingly an age ago now, most wives of volunteers in the steam dept complained that their husbands spent far too much time at the railway and that they would like to see them at home more often (a euphemism for getting on with myriad chores & DIY tasks).  Their wish has been granted and now that they have had their husbands under their feet for all this time, they have come to see the error of their ways and can't wait for the GWSR to reopen so that they can pack their husbands off again. Ladies, we provide an invaluable community service for which we make no charge at all aside from the very reasonable GWSR membership fee.

Last weekend would have been the "Cotswold Festival of Steam", which promised to be the usual unmissable event with a fabulous selection of guest locos (only 2 of which we had announced).  Sadly, that along with so much else fell by the wayside in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.  It is hoped that we will be able to resurrect the gala next year in its usual late May bank holiday weekend slot assuming that the current social distancing restrictions have been sufficiently lifted by then.

Suffering withdrawal symptoms and desperately in need of a steam fix, one of my correspondents in the steam dept who has requested anonymity decided to run his own gala at home over the weekend, he has furnished me with a plethora of photos and a long description of what transpired along with some background information.

The story started some years ago after an attic conversion in his bungalow left a small area free for non-domestic purposes.  He was more than a little surprised when he broached the subject of installing a model railway in the free space, that his wife suggested that he creates a layout of Toddington.  His plans had hitherto been somewhat less ambitious, but given a green light to start on Toddington, it would have been churlish to have said no.  The space available wasn't exactly huge and had the disadvantage of having no floor boards, or lighting... in fact nothing but a roof over head.  Progress has stepped up a gear since the lockdown started, though in his own words, the gears concerned were tectonic speeding up to glacial.  Nonetheless, there is now a floor, electricity, plasterboard around the walls from a certain height upwards and a base on which to build a OO scaled layout of Toddington.  Toddington as it would have been somewhere in the 1950's, rather than current day Toddington.  He wanted to model from the road bridge at the north end of the station, as far as the south headshunt.  Some measuring of scale diagrams and calculations later suggested it wouldn't all fit into the space available... unless he was prepared to put up with the various sidings at the south end of Toddington curving round a corner.  Sometimes in life you have to compromise.  The big achievement over the lockdown period is that all the track (including two single slips and one double slip) has been laid, electric points wired up and made to work.  He was at pains to point out that none of the buildings or platforms scattered around in the photos that follow will feature in the finished layout, they just happened to be left lying around from previous projects and dropped in to give an indication of where things will be.  The back scene does exist, but the PVA glue hadn't set in time for it for be set up for this gala.  The track is only spot glued in place and as yet has no ballast... he is very much hoping that the ORR don't turn up for a spot check of the permanent way.
Toddington sometime in the 1950's
 Where do you start when running your own gala? With the home fleet of course, first off the blocks was 4270 on a pick up goods.
 To the untutored eye, the signal box is a very close approximation to the signal box at Toddington, however it is slightly too narrow, the centre window section at Toddington is the same width as the ones on each side of it.  This model also lacks the rear window on the Winchcombe end of the box and the locking room door on the Broadway side.   The goods shed isn't even close, it's a much smaller Metcalfe kit.  My correspondent has only seen photos of the north side of the goods shed, where there wasn't a loading gauge.  Was there one in the position shown here?

Next up in the home fleet is Foremarke Hall... well, not quite yet.  The recent model of Foremarke Hall is in black, and it has only run in lined green in preservation.  This is another modified hall in the right livery, waiting patiently for my correspondent to finally get round to applying the replacement name & number plates that he has had for some years now.
7903, Foremarke Hall
 Foremarke Hall has been paired in this instance with a nice rake of five maroon Hawksworth coaches.  

This Toddington can only muster four BR MK1's, which have been put behind 7820, Dinmore Manor for this photo. 
7820, Dinmore Manor
 No station buildings at all, or road bridge yet... one day.  The "James Taylor & Co" coal wagons parked up where the coal staithe will be built is a nice touch, even if two of them are number 24.

Dinmore Manor is shown here in lined green.  There will soon be a lined black variant by Dapol, my correspondent has one on order.  You too can order one via the shop at Toddington station (the real one of course... the OO gauge one hasn't even started construction yet)

Last, but not least for the home fleet, we have 35006, which has a rake of 8 Pullman carriages  (best not let the GWSR finance director know how much it cost to hire that lot in).
35006 approaches from Winchcombe
 My correspondent apologised that his budget hadn't yet stretched to a model of 9466 or 76077, however they (along with a number of other items) are on his shopping list.  He did say though that an advantage of this kind of event is that it is comparatively easy to get in a few ex-home fleet locos. Turning up on the morning milk train consisting of a couple of suburban coaches and a milk tanker was 5542... OK, not in the large shirt button livery that it currently carries amd without the stainless steel hand rails or hydraulically operated grate come to that, but still 5542.
5542, stopping to take on water and drop off milk
 Another ex-home fleet member making a visit is Stanier 8F, 8274, seen passing the signal box on a long coal train.  I think we may have a few more James Taylor & co wagons, numbered 23 & 24 mixed up in this little lot. 
Taking coal towards South Wales?
 My correspondent was at pains to point out that although the renumbering has been done, he has yet to be brave enough to try and move the reverser arm from the left side to the right.   

A final ex-home fleet loco that ran on the gala was the Peckett, John.  Well OK, this one is an 0-6-0ST Peckett rather than an 0-4-0ST, I am assured that something more suitable will be sourced and treated to a GWR green paint job along with shirt button logo that John carried when last in service.
OK, not quite John
The Peckett is shown alongside the fruit packing shed (in reality in this photo, another Metcalfe kit, this time of an engine shed), which is a source of concern for my correspondent, he has seen just the one photo of it in the far distance and would like to have more detail on which to model it.  If you have any photos of the fruit packing shed, or photos of the yard in general, please do forward them via this blog.

 Another advantage of ths format of gala is that you can reinvite past guests and nobody complains... well they can if they like, but my correspondent really doesn't care about that.
3850 on the sort of length of freight train that I wish we could emulate in 12" to the foot scale
 As you may be aware, 3850 is currently under overhaul on site at Toddington and there are no small number of people who are looking forward to the day that we can light a fire in her once more:
Counting down the days
 Other ex-gala guests present included 6023, King Edward II, this time on a handsome rake of half a dozen blood and custard Hawksworth coaches.
KEII back for the 3rd time on the trot
 925, Cheltenham was in the line up for the big four gala a few years back
Cheltenham on the blood & custard rake
 1450 has been with us a few times over the years, most recently for the gala that coincided with the opening of Hayles Abbey Halt
1450 & Autocoach arrives at platform 1 from Winchcombe
 There was even a visit from a loco that was once booked and announced, but ultimately never made it to us, black five, 45305.
45305 on the blood and custard's.
 One day a "Cheltenham Flyer" headboard will be sourced and placed on the smokebox door of 4098 Kidwelly Castle which will look rather appropriate.  Here on a rake of 10 chocolate & cream Collett coaches.
No headboard on the Cheltenham Flyer... yet.
 Of course, if it's your own gala, you can invite any loco you like, regardless of whether or not you have a main line connection.
Apparently my correspondent's wife preferred Tornado in the blue livery
 The same rake of teak carriages also looks rather good behind an A4, even one that is in reality many decades out of ticket and stuffed & mounted on the far side of the Atlantic
60010, Dominion of Canada arriving from Winchcombe.
My correspondent also appears to have a soft spot for the Beattie well tanks
30585 on a china clay empties
30587 with more china clay empties
30586, the one that eluded preservation  with 3 china clay hoods
 After that, things went from the sublime to the ridiculous, having one 2807 running, even though the real thing is out of ticket and in the early stages of its 10 year heavy general overhaul is one thing.  Having two of them is quite another thing altogether.
2807 passing 2807
 The one on the left was obtained some years ago from a member of the 2807 group and is highly detailed, it was even painted with paint from the same tin as the loco itself.  The one on the right is a more rececnt release.

My correspondent had obtained a DCC sound/light fitted Merchant Navy to run as 35006, and once again, although he has the transfers and nameplates has yet to fit them.  Meanwhile a kind soul gave him a DCC fitted Merchant Navy already renumbered as 35006... so he now effectively has two of those.
Double headed Merchant Navy on the Pullman rake
 Becoming rather more sensible for a while, as you probably know, 2874 is on site at Toddington for restoration from Barry scrapyard condition, it was sent out with a long milk train of Cotteswold Dairy tankers
2874 with the milk tankers passing 3850
 3850 is owned by Dinmore Manor Locomotive LTD, and 2874 used to be, until a charitable trust was set up to oversee its restoration.  It seemed obvious to get all three locos running together.
One day the dream will be a reality
 And finally, if you thought that two of 2807 or two of 35006 was just a bit silly, it gets worse, the long train (14 chocolate & cream carriages of mixed Collett & BR MK1 design) was hauled by no less than three Dinmore Manors.
Not something that you see every day!

My correspondent very much hopes that he will be able to enjoy next year's gala on the footplate rather than in his attic.

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.
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!
7820 looking soggy at Broadway
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.
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.
Simmering away
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