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


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