Friday, 28 December 2012

Spring arrives early in Toddington

Sunday had been spent in the company of Adrian and Paul on the Santa specials on the footplate of 8F, 45160.  
Paul on the 8F
45160 had been intended to run on Christmas Eve and then on every day from Boxing day until New Year's day, however,  during disposal, Adrian became suspicious about the health of one of the suspension springs and after a conference with several other people, technical terms were eventually uttered to the general effect that it was broken. This would put her out of action until the spring could be replaced.  The morning of the 27th was chosen as the date to change the spring and so it was that I turned up at Toddington at a much more civilised time than the usual 05:30 which would have been the case if I'd been down for a cleaning turn.  Having a few minutes spare before meeting up with Mike & Kev to help swap the spring, I thought that I'd be sociable and show my face in the yard and see how the preparation of Foremarke Hall was going in readiness for the mince pie specials.  It turned out that the crew was Adrian & Paul again, however Foremarke Hall had decided to forego her usual breakfast of wood and coal and chew up her firebars instead.  Fire bars are not exactly light weight objects and replacing half of them in a warm loco is not a great deal of fun, but that is what had to be done so Adrian and Paul had set  about doing it and were just finishing off when I arrived.
Foremarke Hall with a stack of broken fore bars in the foreground
Foremarke Hall with replacement fire bars, fire lit and a fair head of steam
Apparently they were just 10 minutes late off with the first train and had recovered 5 minutes of that by the time of the second train.  I could name at least one mainline train operating company who couldn't get anywhere near that level of time keeping in far less demanding circumstances.

Anyway, I digress.  The real reason I was here was to help swap the broken spring on 45160.  The first task was to jack up the front end a bit to take the weight of the loco off of the springs.
A pair of 40 ton jacks under the buffer beam
Once that was done, the next task was to get underneath and drop the broken right intermediate spring out.
Removing the broken spring
Yes,I know what you're thinking, it doesn't look broken to me either. The break as it turned out was inside the buckle in the middle resulting in the spring taking a very slight 'W' shape when under tension.  This spring is the last but one of the springs that were on the engine when she was repatriated from Turkey in 1989.  Sadly the replacement springs that we have had not been manufactured exactly to the drawings, necessitating Kev to have to perform a little remedial work:-
Kev correcting the replacement spring
It's not just steam locos that smoke
Meanwhile, Mike performs a modification to the gudgeon pin, which is now to be held in place by a bolt rather than a split pin. I was pleased about that, as the original split pin had proved to be remarkably difficult to remove.
Mike modifying the gudgeon pin securing arrangements
All that remained to be done was to install the new spring and tension it up correctly.  By this time Adrian and Paul had returned from their shift on the footplate and were able to assist in barring up the spring from the outside in order for Mike and me to get a trolley jack underneath it and inch it into position.
Mike tensions his end of the replacement spring
Job done, and time for a well earned cup of tea before helping with the disposal of Foremarke Hall when she returns with her afternoon crew of Steve & Andy.
Foremarke Hall simmers gently alongside the 8F
The GWSR is rather like a swan, graceful and serene on the surface, yet beneath the water line the legs are working like fury to propel it forward.  Next time your train on the GWSR is ten minutes late, don't curse, spare a thought for the poor crew who have been hard at work behind the scenes since some ungodly hour of the morning moving heaven and earth and indeed quite possibly a couple of dozen fire bars or an extremely heavy spring in order to get the train to you at all.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Tragedy at Christmas

It is a well known fact that Santa Claus maintains lists of who has been naughty and who has been nice; presents if you're on the nice list, a lump of coal if you're on the naughty list.  People such as myself who may not have necessarily been paragons of virtue should be extremely concerned at this time of year.  I should be concerned, but I'm not.  Yours truly works in the field of IT and knows just a thing or two about the rudiments of ethical hacking, never mind a whole lot more about unethical hacking.  Let's just say that security is not all it might be as far as Santa’s computer systems are concerned and that any enterprising young (ok, not so young) chap with the slightest whim to access the naughty & nice lists could do so quite easily.  Thus it is that every year I can go to bed on Christmas Eve secure in the knowledge that I am on Santa's nice list, for the perfectly good reason that I have put myself there.  These days I rarely content myself with just that of course, some years ago I moved Mrs Claus onto the naughty list and was amused to discover that Santa had been spotted on Boxing Day sporting a black eye.  This Christmas Eve, it came to pass that Santa paid me a visit using the nearest chimney to where I happened to be, and because I had booked myself on for the Santa Specials, that happened to be the rather nice copper capped chimney of 7903, Foremarke Hall.  There were two trains out, the first (2807) crewed by George, Tina, Ben & Dan, the second (7903) by Adrian, Steve, Matt & myself.  Whilst hacking into Santa's naughty and nice lists, I had taken the liberty of placing George, Tina, Ben & Dan onto the naughty list.... in fact I was amused to discover that one of them was already there.  Here is a rather blurry picture of them as our trains crossed later in the day at Gotherington:
Dan, Ben,George & Tina
Unfortunately Santa’s naughty list doesn’t make mention of the transgressions that get you there, but a quick hack into his email account (password of ‘rudolph’ wasn’t exactly tough to guess) and suddenly I knew what the miscreant on the other footplate had done and who had grassed on them. I’ll be expecting a couple of very well stuffed brown envelopes to come my way in the next few days if my silence on the matter is to be maintained!

Anyway, unbeknown to me Santa was coming down the chimney of Foremarke Hall just as we were in the process of lighting her up. Wet wood from the wood store and damp lighting up rags meant that extreme methods of initiating combustion had to be employed with unforeseen and unfortunate consequences. This still taken from CCTV footage records the actual moment that Santa started clambering down the chimney. 
Santa about to enter Foremarke Hall's chimney
The tragedy that occurred soon afterwards has subsequently been immortalised in the words of a song.  I should warn readers of a nervous disposition or who are reading this in the presence of young children, that the song’s lyrics contain relatively graphic details of the events that unfolded and whilst probably safe for work might cause alarm or distress to youngsters.

Click here to find out what happened next.

Whilst not wishing to appear to advertise other musical parodies by the duo that recorded that, I feel obliged to point out that many other works of theirs are definitely not safe for work, in fact I can guarantee that there is something in there to offend everybody; miners as well as minors.  You have been warned!

The cleanup afterwards was not inconsiderable and the pressures of meeting the timetable meant that not quite all of the job was finished before we set off.
Steve Burnett was caught cooking some extremely tasty bacon & sausages on the shovel later in the day, was this a coincidence?
Steve Burnett, a wizard on the shovel in more ways than one.
I would like to thank Adrian (twice), Paul & Steve for inviting me along with them yesterday & today and special thanks to Ed (Santa) Brooks for being such a good sport, George (Boots) Forrest & the Photoshop fairy.

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year from all of us at the GWSR.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Playing with matches

Cast your mind back to when you were young, your mother probably told you not to do all sorts of things, 'run with scissors', 'talk to strange men' and 'play with matches'.  If I'm good at anything at all, it is ignoring sound advice, in fact if there had been an Olympic sport for it, I'd have been a dead cert for the gold medal.  So yesterday it was the turn to cross 'playing with matches' off of the to do list that my mother had inadvertently provided me with all those years ago.   Apparently I was now ready for my final 'lighting up' assessment and after a midweek flurry of emails it had been decided that I should 'strike while the boiler iron was hot' and get it done soon rather than leave it until next season.  Subsequent emails from Sean Nielsen with the reassuring subject line of 'Failing to pass light up course' followed  during which a plan was hatched wherein Cliff Faulkner would mark me for the lighting up part of the process yesterday morning, and as he had to disappear off part way through the day, Sean would cover for him, taking me along too and then he would mark the disposal part of the process at the end of the day.  I am informed that there are a few people who read my ramblings who have little or no interest in steam locomotives.  For their benefit, I should explain that there is more to it than just pressing a 'start button' and off you go, more even than just bunging a lighted match on a few lumps of coal.  Anyway, in a change to the published roster, 2807 was the chosen engine for the day, the only one I had so far not had an opportunity to light up. The pre-light up safety checks seemed to go off ok and soon we had a bit of a fire spluttering into life.  Damp wood from the wood store took a little bit more encouraging to burn than I had hoped for, but eventually we had a good fire covering the grate and pressure coming up on the gauge. 2807 had been out on a special during the week and so was still pretty clean from that mercifully as I had little time left for cleaning her and as she hadn't done any Santa Specials so far this season and had yet to be tinseled up.
2807 wearing the last of the tinsel
There hadn't been much tinsel left in the decorating box, but we gave it our best shot.
Cliff prepares to set back off of the pit
The different loco owning groups specify different light up & disposal procedures. 2807's owning group favour a morning disposal process, so the smoke box and ash pan had to be emptied before she could leave for the day's work.  Emptying out the ash pan of 2807 is one of the least easy jobs as she no longer has a functional ash pan door to let the ash out, it's a case of get under with a hose pipe to squirt through the damper doors to deaden the dust, then scrape it out manually, finally finishing off with spraying water over the brake rigging etc to remove any ash that got caught on the way out.  Ed and James are caught emptying out the pit of the ash that I have just cleaned out of 2807's ash pan. Looking closely at this photo, it was raining at this point in time, real GWSR volunteers don't mind a drop of rain they carry on regardless.
Ed & James emptying the pit in the rain
Once 2807 had disappeared off shed to take take kids to Winchcombe the North Pole to see Santa, there were myriad jobs that needed doing around the place.  Some set off to work on the NRM's 4F, 44027, others to polish up Austerity 0-6-0ST, Earl David in preparation for her heading off to the Avon Valley railway shortly. Dan Wigg was up for an assessed lighting of a warming fire in Foremarke Hall.  George is seen here firing up one of the yard shunters in order to pull Foremarke Hall out of the shed in readiness for that or at least he would have been able to be seen if the shunter hadn't been making so much smoke.  I wondered if it didn't think that it was a steam engine not a diesel shunter.
George Forrest hides in a smoke screen created by the diesel shunter
I decided that I should replace some of the wood that I had just burnt in lighting up 2807 and broke up wooden pallet into firebox door sized chunks and put them in the wood store..... at least I did until it started raining again, whereupon the lure of the nice dry mess coach with its kettle and tea bags was just too much to overcome.  Breaking up pallets is quite therapeutic, but when it's raining, tea is even more therapeutic again.
Wood store and dismantled pallets
 Arriving at the mess coach, I discovered that one of the final renovation tasks was underway, Mike Wathen was busy plumbing in the new wash basins. I usually ask people if they mind being photographed for the purpose of this blog, often receiving unprintable replies or the sight of someone running away at speed, so it made a pleasant change to be asked to hold on a minute whilst he did something a bit more interesting like bend a pipe.  I only had to bribe him with one up of tea as well.
Mike Wathen plumbing in the new wash basins
A lesson learned last week, is that is that even two gloves is not always enough when extracting long  fire bars out of the firebox.  The palms of rigger gloves may be well insulated and quite capable of surviving very hot temperatures, the backs of them rather less so.  This glove was one I used last week.  You'll be pleased to know that although the glove came off rather badly, no bloggers were harmed in the making of this photo.  Note too, the Jammy Dodgers packet on the table, a sure sign that Tony Stockwell is about somewhere.
The glove that has curled up its toes
From here, things start to get a bit complicated, Cliff was to be relieved at 16:00 at Winchcombe, yet Sean and I were in Toddington.  2807 was of course going to end up in Toddington. Luckily for us, the 3 car DMU set was out and about on the Northern section of the line doing its own Santa Specials, so we decided to see if we could flag it down and hitch a lift as far as the infamous Chicken Curve with a view to walking from there into Winchcombe.  It wasn't going all the way to Winchcombe as there was another Santa there, and apparently it's a bit like a matter & anti-matter collision should two Santas collide. The DMU wasn't supposed to stop at Toddington on this leg of it's journey, but the Station Master had organised the signals to be set to stop it anyway as there were a few late arrivals who had missed it earlier and wanted to get on too. 
The view ahead from the DMU
I turned round to grab a shot of the DMU as Sean & I set off to walk along Chicken Curve.  It wasn't until I looked at this photo a few moments ago that I noticed that the head board read 'Special'.  Somehow I don't think that I'll hear the end of that for quite some time.
To cut a longish story short, we took over from Cliff, shunted the 8F's stock into the carriage sidings, transported some tired little boys & girls back to Cheltenham along with the presents that Santa had bestowed on them and then set off back to Toddington with the empty coaches.  Spending a little time out on the footplate with Sean recently has obviously been doing me some good as I seemed to manage to keep the grate covered, the pressure up and the boiler fairly full of water.  In fact soon after we hit level ground after the 3 arches bridge, there was a brief moment of 'heavy feathering' from the safety valves, which to the untutored eye might have been mistaken for blowing off.  That's not to say that there wasn't the occasional clang of shovel hitting the fire hole door followed by an expletive, but it was a much smaller ratio than last week.

Next followed the assessed disposal process resulting in 2807 being put to bed in the shed.  Normally at this point it would be a case of signing off and driving home for my tea.... and a much needed shower.  On this occasion, however this was also the date of the steam loco dept's Christmas dinner, 18:30 at the Harvest Home pub back in Winchcombe.  We were booked to return back at Toddington at 17:45, leaving 45 minutes for me to cover off the disposal (which for 2807 in the evening is commendably little) then head off to Winchcombe.  It should have been achievable, but as it turns out it wasn't, even with Tony Stockwell at the regulator doing his best to recover time.  The need to shunt the 8F's stock at Winchcombe when we started meant that we set off quarter of an hour down on the timetable. That followed by the need to coal up 2807 when we got back to Toddington conspired together to add up to me not getting to Winchcombe until an hour later than I should have done.  My apologies to all who were sat around waiting for me. To those who are interested, photos from the Christmas dinner will hopefully be provided by Tina Sutton in the near future and will become the subject of another blog post.

Finally my thanks to Cliff & Sean for taking the time to assess me yesterday as well as the myriad people who have signed off light-ups/warming fires for me recently.  Apparently there is a nice shiny new 'steam raiser certificate' sat in my mail slot in the mess coach.  It should also be mentioned that both Cliff & Tony were re-assessed as fireman & driver respectively and passed with flying colours, I had no doubt that they would of course.

This seems to be an appropriate way to finish off


Thursday, 13 December 2012

Retirement of Steam Footplate man Tom Couling

On Sunday 9th December 2012 GWSR steam locomotive crew member Tom Couling completed his last official turn of duty as fireman on 8F locomotive 45160 after approx 28 years of service on the footplate.  Tom joined the GWSR in the very early years and at first was an active member of the Permanent Way Department helping to lay the first track work at Toddington, in preparation for the railway running its first passenger trains.

  Tom soon became involved in the steam locomotive department and is one of the few original members to begin training to crew the locomotives ready for the first public services.  Like many other members of the department Tom has worked on the rebuilds of locomotives Peckett 1976, 15” Hunslet “King George” and the overhaul of 16” Hunslet “Robert Nelson No 4”.  He has also been involved in the building of the first locomotive inspection pit and erection of the original water tower at Toddington.  All in all Tom is a pioneer of the railway's Steam Locomotive department and hopefully will continue to be active within the dept for many years to come, indeed, he is currently working on the restoration of the NRM’s 4F locomotive regularly attending on the Wednesday work days.

In addition to the GWSR Tom is involved in “Classic Bus” Restoration and is a member of the Gloucester Model Railway Club, having built countless models over the years. 

As a thank you for his many years of footplate service, the department presented him with an inscribed book on the subject of model railways and some of his fellow department members and friends joined him at Winchcombe station in a celebratory drink (Apple Juice – as he was still on duty at the time) and a sticky doughnut.
Tom Couling & Andy Meredith
Tom Couling
Thank you once again Tom, you will always be welcome on the footplate.

Andrew Meredith

Chairman Steam Locomotive Department Management Team