Sunday, 4 November 2012

A life in the day

The clocks have gone back, so now not only does a day on the railway start in the dark, it also ends in the dark.... today it also started and ended in rain.  The service train today was Foremarke Hall and quite frankly it's difficult to clean a locomotive when it's raining.  Thankfully Ed Brooks turned up to help out and we managed to get it sorted during the breaks in the rain.
The puddles in the yard provided the chance for the odd reflection photo
Foremarke Hall going off shed, Chris Brooks looks pensive on the footplate
As soon as Foremarke Hall was off shed, it was hot foot over to Toddington as there were a number of tasks that needed doing over there.  I'll confess to paying a flying visit to the 'Flag & Whistle' for a bacon roll on my way, I'm not sure if it was a late breakfast or an early lunch, whatever it was, it went down extremely well.  For reasons that eluded me, a fence that as far as I am aware had offended nobody had to be removed..... no easy task as it was firmly embedded into a not inconsiderable quantity of vegetation. After a small team had huffed and puffed for a while, we gave in and called in the big guns:-

Taking offence
As it turns out, people who own steam locomotives worth a decent sized lottery win aren't in the least bit keen to allow just any old Tom, Dick or Harriet loose with their pride & joy.  It seems that they prefer them to have some sort of idea on how to look after them properly without breaking them.  If only they owned the country and insisted that we had politicians who knew how to run the country without breaking it.  Anyway, to that end the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway run classes to bring aspiring footplate crew up to speed with the things that they need to know to progress through the grades.  Thus it was that I found myself in the classroom with Roger Molesworth for a lesson in lighting fires.... nothing to do with making dodgy insurance claims, but getting a locomotive into steam.  The practical demonstration took place on 2807 which is up at Toddington for a bit of remedial work, which had involved splitting it from it's tender.
Love me tender
A wander around the yard afterwards turned up the planet's favourite prairie, 5542 which had been cunningly converted into a tender engine, that will surprise it's owning group when she returns to the South Devon Railway for her winter maintenance:-
Tender tank prairie
Just to prove that it had been raining in Toddington too:-
Reflections of a prairie
Last week, Sean Nielsen, the senior firing instructor had collared me and generously offered me a ride down the line on for the last two trips of the day.  Something of a scary prospect as pretty much all my firing experience thus far had been on 5542, which has a small grate and is pretty easy to keep steaming.  Hitting the front of the firebox with a shovel full of coal isn't that much of a challenge on 5542.  On the other hand, Foremarke Hall's grate is about twice as long, cavernous would be a fair description.  Add to that, it seems that we have had a batch of Welsh coal that is difficult to get to steam and rapidly covers the grate with clinker and you'll see why I was concerned.  A glance in the firebox when we took over from the previous crew at Winchcombe revealed a fire that was more blue than orange.  Mercifully Sean fired the first trip and made it look easy, deftly shooting coal into all corners of the firebox and dispatching the clinker with skilful use of the fire irons.  The needle was on the mark wall the way and the water sat at around three quarters of a glass.  How hard could this firing mularkey be?  I was to find out, for the last trip he handed me the shovel for the return up the hill from Cheltenham.  He had of course by this time eradicated the clinker from the grate and handed over a nice clean fire.  The only drawback, was that by this time it was dark, I could see the firehole door just fine, but everything else, including the shovel and the coal in the tender was pretty much lost in darkness.  My first few attempts ended in an embarrassing clang as shovel hit the firehole door and the coal fell uselessly into the middle of the grate.  Winston Churchill once said of the Americans that "they always do the right thing.....  after exhausting all other possibilities",   and so it was with my firing, I always hit the right part of the grate after hitting everywhere else first.  Somehow we managed to get back to Winchcombe, the water level remaining vaguely in the top half of the glass, the pressure gauge rarely dropping below 200.  
Dusk descends as the tender slowly fills with water at Cheltenham.
Sunset at Gotherington
All that was left to do when we got back was to dispose of the engine in the pouring rain.  Many thanks to Jon Windscheffel (driver) & Sean Nielsen for putting up with my poor attempts at firing as well as Roger Molesworth for the lighting up lesson.

No comments:

Post a Comment