Friday, 11 January 2013

Changing Guard

The steam loco dept's management team elect a chairman on an annual basis.  Approaching the end of his tenure as chairman is Andy Meredith who has kindly submitted to torture by interview.  Having twisted his arm to being interviewed, I found that I had made something of a rod for my own back as I struggled to come up with any sensible questions to ask him.  The likes of Michael Parkinson or Jonathan Ross have nothing to fear from me.  Mercifully Andy managed to come up with sensible answers to the questions anyway, so here they are:
Andy Meredith on the footplate of Foremarke Hall
 Andy, for those who don't know you, please could you give us a short biography?

"Name        - Andrew Meredith (Yes their is a Welsh connection in the name)
Age            - 35 years Young !!!!!
Married ?  - Happily Not - But living with my long term (suffering) partner Jane

Fulltime occupation - Locomotive Fitter, based at GCR Loughbrough, working for, Locomotive Maintenance Services.

Previous employment:

                    - Theatre Engineer, Electro mechanical engineering for stage productions
                    - Railway Maintenance Technician For Bombardier Transportation, Working 

                       on the then "Virgin" fleet of tilting and non tilting DEMU's
                    - Steam Locomotive Fitter, Moveright International, worked for 5 years on the
                       rebuild of 4270 from Barry scrap yard condition, and assisted with operating 

                       Andrew Goodman's austerity loco No15 and NRM loco 3440 (3717) 
                       "City of Truro".

Joined Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway - 1994
Passed out as GWSR steam loco fireman - 1996
Passed out as GWSR steam loco driver - 2002

Hobbies - (Anything to do with railways and steam engines), Model Engineering, Travel, Gardening

In your time as chairman of the steam loco dept, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

"I would not say that I have personally achieved anything, but as a team WE, the department, have achieved much. I would like to think that I have acted fairly and tried to steer a safe passage for the department through another difficult year, I hope that I have helped each volunteer gain more of what they want from their railway. In the past few years the railway has struggled, indeed it has had to fight for survival, but with the efforts of everybody, we have come though the most challenging of times and I hope our volunteers can feel proud."

What has been the most challenging thing for you to cope with and how did you deal with it?

"In the preservation movement there are one or two real characters, who can sometimes appear (I'm sure they're not) to be on a totally different track (no pun intended), trying to work with them, through problems and make decisions based on what is best for the locomotive department can be a very difficult thing to do. We all have our own aspirations for the department and railway, but we must not lose track of the fact that as well as a fully functioning heritage railway we are still a hobby for all of our volunteers, without which the railway could not exist. I found that the best course of action when dealing with this dilemma was to ensure that I listened to each persons point of view. From these I could pick out common points that could be grouped together into new ideas and or problem solving, basically I would act as an ear piece for individuals and try to find a way of incorporating their suggestions into actions."

You have a long commute from Derbyshire to the GWSR, can we hope that you will remain as actively involved as you have been, or if not, what do you intend to do with your free time?

"Yes I do have a long commute of approx 200 miles, so I have to limit myself to attending every other weekend. By doing a Saturday and Sunday I can at least say that I have managed 1 full day on site each working week.
In addition to this onsite work I generally have spent each Friday working on department paperwork, communicating with other members and organising management meetings etc, trying to ensure the department runs smoothly. Evenings can also be taken up with answering emails and making telephone calls although, as I work long hours during the day, then some time in the evening to relax and socialise with my long suffering partner Jane is greatly appreciated (by both of us).

I do not intend reducing my commitment on site, indeed my main other role on the management team is Mechanical Responsible Person. With this role I am responsible for communication with loco owning groups, carrying out special investigations, ensuring repairs are carried out to a good standard and examining the locomotives to ensure they continue to operate safely on the railway for everybody to enjoy. Having more time to devote to this will be very beneficial during 2013 as we will have more operational locos arriving during the year and visitors for the steam gala. I have been fortunate during 2012 in that the loco owning groups themselves and several dedicated persons have helped me out when I was unavailable due to my chairmanship duties, so I'm looking forward to getting stuck in again working on the locos where I belong.

At home I will hopefully gain much more free time, I can resume my model engineering activities which this year, have had to be shelved due to my workload. I currently have waiting for me 2 x 7 1/4" gauge railway wagons which need completing and a 7 1/4" gauge Great Western Collett Goods loco No 3205 which I was well on the way to having running on air. My 7 1/4" gauge GWR 1366 class locomotive also needs some small repairs and a boiler test and then hopefully I can visit some miniature railways around the country next year and have some fun."

If you weren't involved here, what would you have done instead?

"I started off with Model Railways, gradually progressing up the scales until I started model engineering activities, I was lucky in the days before Health and Safety replaced common sense, to be given the opportunity to work on, and drive miniature steam locomotives, even driving public passenger trains at 12 years old, something that would certainly not be allowed today. So if I had not turned up to the railway back in 1994 I guess I would still be working with steam, but to a different scale."

Given a big enough lottery win, which engine would you buy/have built from scratch and why?

"If I was lucky enough to win the lottery and assuming their would be anything left by the time my partner had completed her travel plans (she loves to travel - I love to come home!) then I would give serious thought to building a batch of GWR Collett Goods locos. The railway was fortunate enough to have 3205 based at Toddington a few years ago and she proved to be a star performer. the loco was big enough to do anything asked of her, but simple to work on and she looked good too!! - what railway fitter could ask for more. Its a pity only one example of this class of loco survived, as in my opinion they are perfect for a preserved railway."
3205 by Toddington coaling stage in 2004

3205 approaching Toddington from Winchcombe in 2005
What would you say to commend the GWSR to anyone considering volunteering here?

"If you are prepared to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in to working in the locomotive department, building yourself a good reputation and rapport with working volunteers, then the opportunities to make your own dreams a reality are within your grasp!!"
If you could offer just one piece of advice to your successor in the post, what would that be?

"Listen to everything people have to say, and where possible act on it. Give praise to others where it is deserved and encourage them, this should ensure volunteers go home happy and eager to come again. Our volunteers are everything."

Since interviewing Andy, it has been announced that Ian Butler will take over the mantle as department chairman. On behalf of the department I would like to wish Ian well in his appointment and to extend grateful thanks to Andy for all the hard work and dedication that he has put in on our behalf during his time in office. The fact that Andy is a fan of Collett 2251 class locos is all the excuse that I need to wheel out a couple of shots of the surviving member and if you can find 26 minutes to spare, you can find a rather excellent bit of footage filmed on the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway by the late John Betjeman which heavily features the class, by following this link.

3205 on the South Devon Railway

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