Sunday, 8 November 2020

Fire in the hole

Usually come October, the GWSR is completing its final few running days of the main season before temporarily shutting down to prepare for Christmas. Initially the plan had been to navigate through a November running season, but the new lockdown scuppered those plans. However, the GWSR is continuing to plan for its Santa season come December, when hopefully it will be full steam ahead once again. Steam, of course, needs fire and as luck would have it (thanks roster clerk) all three of ‘team blog’ were scheduled for stints at Toddington a few weekends ago to provide this very necessity. 

The autumn sunset reflecting on Toddington signalbox 
For me personally, this was my introduction to the noble art of warming fires, with Tom and Luke as my mentors for the respective shifts. Any long-term readers, or members of the steam department who lurk in the background, this will likely be familiar territory to you, but for me it was day one (and two) of taking the next steps in becoming a fireman.

Building the fire in 7820
It turns out that building a warming fire is significantly easier when the tools you’re using aren’t sabotaged, namely the dustbin used to clean ash out of the smokebox which, it turns out, had a hole in the base. Inattention when removing it from the pits leaves you cleaning up a dust trail as long as it took you to notice and deposit it in the closest wheelbarrow (potentially decorating yourself as well as the floor, depending on how you prefer to carry these things). For anyone watching, it is quite a source of hilarity!

Dustbin safely deposited
One of the fun bits of learning is watching how everyone does things slightly differently and then building up your own technique. Tom had been particularly looking forward to the Friday evening turn as he was getting a chance to fire what he calls the ‘correct way round’. As someone who fires left handed, standing on the right hand side of the footplate makes his life significantly easier, even with a grate the size of 35006. My time on the shovel so far is minimal and I do not yet have a preferred side to stand on, although my GWR background very much believes the ‘correct way’ to stand is on the left hand side.

Tom building up the fire
After the initial build, it’s a waiting game to see whether your fire actually takes hold or if it’s going to fizzle out and you need to enact plan B. Thankfully, our ‘passing time’ tea breaks proved successful and we had something coming out of the chimneys when we returned. A few more rags, bits of wood and more than a couple shovelfuls of coal and both 35006 and 7820 were warming themselves up in the chilly, late October evening.

There’s a fire in there somewhere

Good signs!
Due to the proximity of finish and start times between some of my shifts, I’m becoming very familiar with the accommodation pods at Toddington. My Saturday was supposed to be spent riding the cushions from the comfort of the brake coach on Train 2, and keeping a watchful eye on the coupling process. As it happened, that didn’t quite go to plan, but staying overnight meant we were able to pop back to the engines late on Friday evening and double check things were progressing as they should. As it was a bright and still evening, this also meant the light was pretty good for some aesthetically pleasing photos; we wouldn’t be very good bloggers if we passed this up!

Someone with more photoshop proficiency than I could edit those steps out… 

The moon rises over 35006

We neglected to bring marshmallows due to covid restrictions
Despite being rostered for my other department on the Saturday, I popped into the yard to see how the fires had lasted and was mightily pleased by the fact they had apparently turned out very well (I should take this moment to point out the excellence of my tutelage). Despite the weather, we were all in good spirits and looking forward to a day (for me, a half day) pootling up and down the Cotswolds.

My turn to be the overseer
And then something went bang. That something turned out to be the steam heat bag, which decided to knock out a (thankfully unimportant) secondary pipe to the tender in the process. Not much is quite as stressful for a Guard as hearing your train may randomly come to a halt on the way to or from Broadway, but we made it back to Toddington and repairs were applied in time for 35006 to run on the 3pm service with minimal delay.

Mark (in the shadows) wrestles with the pipes
The initial fix lasted through the day, at which point a motley crew (of three) again descended to apply the longer term fix. Let’s just say, I have now been indoctrinated into the “working on steam engines till late at night out in the pouring rain” club! Everything’s a learning experience after all.

Not the easiest of spaces to access
After the excitement of Saturday, I was anticipating Monday’s second warming fire turn, this time with Luke, to be quite chilled and a chance to put what I’d learnt on Friday into practice. What we had forgotten was that the clocks went back on Sunday morning, so the majority of what we were doing was in fading light and pure darkness. Trying to see into a firebox when your body is blocking the only source of light and you don’t have a head torch is not the easiest of activities.

Fire number 2
Luke reported on Tuesday that the fires had again been fairly successful so something must be going right. Again, I place it down to the fact I have good tutors guiding me through (they aren’t paying me to say this, honest).

A headless Luke ashes out 7820
And finally, some good news! Despite Covid’s best attempts at derailing practical training and assessments, the GWSR has a new Driver.

Dan qualified back in early October, becoming the youngest driver in the department and holds the mantle as the youngest ever driver on the GWSR. I think the smile on his face says it all. Congrats Dan!

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Dust off the alarm clock

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being rostered to do Friday warming fires and then a rostered cleaner shift on the Saturday morning. The Roster Clerk had seen fit to give a me 0630 start on Loco 1, instead of the 0800 start on Loco 2, so for the first time in a very long time, the alarm had to be set!

Walking back to my pod from the pub on Friday night, with a belly full of dinner (I really can recommend the Pheasant Inn), it was lovely to be able to smell the burning coal from the warming fires drifting over the car park.

Two locos were out over that weekend, 7820, Dinmore Manor and 7903, Foremarke Hall. Both were looking resplendent in the early morning sun.
The view makes the early morning worth it
One of the jobs that the driver has to do is oiling the inside motion. At this point on some of our smaller locos, this is where the driver has to become a contortionist to get into the motion. However, on larger locos like 7820 and 7903 there is considerably more room.
Driver Evason showing how spacious the larger locos are!
With the new Risk assessments now in place, volunteering in the Steam Loco department has had to become much more of a planned event than a spur of the moment decision. Currently, volunteers have to say which days they would like to come in advance, so that their names can be entered on to a work party register. Each Loco group has a separate day in the week, where they are allowed 6 volunteers to work on their loco. There are also “yard” days too, where there is a working party working in and around the yard, instead of a specific loco.
New ‘more fitting’ security lights decorating the operations office (Peter Gutteridge)
 As the locos left the shed and took their excited passengers along the line, I (Tom W) unintentionally made life difficult for the department and teamed up with the other Tom W to start cleaning all the carbon deposits off the valve heads off 4270 in preparation of being sent to Tyesley loco works to have new liners fitted. You can imagine how interesting it was getting either of our attentions. 4270 is hoped to be fit for traffic in the next few weeks, so her fans will get to see her in action this Autumn.
Tom W (the other one) cleans off carbon deposits off 4270’s valve heads
One of our good friends, Eddie, from Carriage & Wagon has made the Loco department a wonderful timber signing on desk, to go in “The Goods Shed” welfare building. I think you will agree, Eddie has done a superb job on the desk, which will be used for many years to come! Speaking of the new mess building, at the moment “The Goods Shed” is still not yet in use as final finishing touches, such as the external access stairs, are yet to be completed. Few people have had a chance to have a sneaky/cheeky (you decide) look round, and reports from them are that it looks brilliant. Fingers crossed we’ll have a full report to provide you with soon.
The new Signing On desk, built by Eddie in Carriage & Wagon
Whilst the return to running beds in, work in the shed continues on. Despite an incident where the keys for their container ended up locked inside it, the CSPL have picked up where they left off in March with their heavy general overhaul. The boiler remains at Riley’s, however there are plenty of jobs to be getting on with in the meantime! The size limitation of working parties has changed many an owning groups schedule, particularly as social distancing (everyone’s favourite phrase) still needs to be adhered to. More pieces have been cleaned, primed, labelled and stored in the siphon to await being returned to their rightful place on the engine as and when, the vacuum and steam heat pipes are getting some much needed tlc and the crossheads have been split from the pistons. 
Four 2-8-0s and a Peckett (Ian Crowder)
The focus for 35006 and her working group has been continuing to fettle with her brakes. Having discovered founding sand in the linkage between the engine and tender back before lockdown, believed to be the cause of some dragging, the owning group have been making minor tweaks to see if they can continue to improve performance. As always, more fettling is usually needed once a loco starts working regularly again. 35006 has been out running during September, and will be retreating to the shed imminently once 4270 is ready, so act quickly if you'd like to see her.
Looking resplendent in the September sun
As Dinmore Manor spent a lot of time out running most days since the shakedown trains back in August, DMLL’s attention has therefore been focussed on 3850 and 2874. August saw delivery of 2874’s wheels back from being re-tyred down in South Devon, which were promptly set upon with primer and rust-resistant paint the next day. The timing meant they were out in the car park on the first day back of public running, and many passengers were seen to wander over and have a look at what was going on. The buffer beams and cylinder covers are also being removed, although not without a fight as usual. 
Sam gives a piston a sledgehammer-based “impact shock” (Roger Tipton)
3850 has been the cause of some consternation due to some angle brackets needing creating from scratch. After a lot of time spent bending bits of steel to (their will) get the right angle, the issue has seemingly been resolved and another job ticked off the list. Progress, and a happy DMLL group.
A bare looking 3850
9466 is being prepped for departure and passed its steam test last week, before being pressed into shunting duties; might as well make the most of the steam once its there!
Snapped! (Peter Gutteridge)

Moving 7903 (Peter Gutteridge)
As the weather turns colder, no doubt we'll soon be missing that nice enclosed cab. There's a queue for turns on 4270 once she's back in traffic already!

Tom and Bryony

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.