Monday, 25 March 2013

In fog or falling snow...

... to the signal box mess coach you shall go.

The heavy rain when I set off from home on Saturday morning had turned to heavy snow by the time I arrived at Toddington, the fields alongside the B4077 showing as white when the first pre-dawn light eventually filtered its way across the landscape. Minor details such as blizzards may deter brass monkeys, but the volunteers in the steam loco dept are made of sterner stuff and soon a sizable team of people were setting to work on preparing 2807 for the day ahead. The first thing to note is that my less than subtle comments regarding the blocking of the pathway to the wood store last week appeared to have been heeded and no stock had been left in the way.

Path clear of stock, if not snow
Cliff (firing instructor) & Martin (trainee fireman) busied themselves in the cab of 2807... which whilst not affording much shelter, at least offered some warmth when the fire was lit. Everybody else found something to clean, or in the case of George (driver) something to oil up.
It may be snowing, but note how highly that brass safety valve bonnet is gleaming :-)
Ian turned up to help out with the oiling up... like just about everybody else who wasn't in the cab, he had noticed that it was substantially drier and warmer underneath the loco and joined the throng of people under 2807 looking for something to clean/oil in preference to doing something outside where it was cold & wet. I of course felt obliged to check under there in my journalistic capacity looking to report on what was going on.
Ian oiling something under 2807
As has been reported previously, Ian is quite a gifted artist and has now moved on from advanced origami to working with oils... well oil based products at least.
Ian & George... they didn't think that I'd upload this.
Soon Ian was putting his artistic skills to good use in an imaginative way when greasing up one of 2807's buffers.  Unfortunately my camera ran out of film at this point and I am unable to show you the fruits of his labours however all present agreed that they hadn't seen anything quite like it before.

A brief interlude in the snow permitted an al fresco tea break.... Andrew's wife had sent him off this morning with a large fruit cake.
Cake... a rare and very welcome treat
We'd scoffed most of it before we remembered to let Cliff & Martin who were still hiding up in that nice warm cab that it was there. Should Andrew's wife happen to read this blog, we'd all like to pass on our grateful thanks. Even Ed, who ostensibly doesn't like fruit cake was seen wolfing down large slices of it and spraying crumbs liberally all over what had until then been a sparklingly clean 2807.
Cliff & Martin are still sheltering in the cab & missing out on the cake
The big news on the railway on Saturday, was that not only were Rood Ashton Hall & Kinlet Hall double heading on the Mainline from Birmingham to Newport, but that our very own Ben Evason  would be on the footplate firing Kinlet Hall. This was too good an opportunity to miss, so I set off to grab a photo of them passing through Ashchurch on the outward journey.

Rood Ashton Hall & Kinlet Hall at Ashchurch
Clearly I had underestimated the effect of the cross wind on the exhaust and in an effort to get a wider shot of the train, found that I lost sight of most of it.  Andrew & Cheyenne (new recruit) made the better choice in choosing the opposite platform of Ashchurch station to take photos from.
Andrew & Cheyenne on the opposite platform
Back to Toddington, and after a good breakfast in the flag & whistle, it was off to see what jobs needed doing around the place.  Mark Young had sent out a long email of things that wanted doing and even written them upon the notice board in the mess coach. The bad news was that every one of them was an outside job... no mention at all of sitting in a nice warm mess coach drinking tea.  Unable to find something to do that was actually inside the mess coach, we opted to pick the job that was nearest it, so we could make a dash for it if nobody was looking.  The nearest job to the mess coach was clearing the life expired sleepers out of the parlour road, so that is what we did.
Digging out sleepers
Eventually mechanical help was summoned.... note the carefully removed pair of fence panels and the rather less carefully removed fence post.
Taking offence
Still, it certainly made a difference shifting the dead sleepers.

Ed & Sean loading sleepers onto the tele-fork thingy
Elsewhere, Ian set about 'torching the turntable'  (he gave me that phrase for free).
Ian at work, Ed looks on
 Before there is a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, it was only half a turntable and too riddled with rust to be worth salvaging. When pressed on the matter, Ian described it as "an example of how green the department is in recycling the metal rather than polluting the countryside with unnecessary iron oxide!" 

Further progress was also made in pressing concrete sleepers into service as the wall of the new ash dock.
Ash dock slowly taking shape
Meanwhile 2807 passed to & fro, the icicles dangling from the crew's noses getting longer & longer with each passing. Just for once, I was glad not to be out there with them.
2807 arrives at Toddington

Off to Cheltenham, tender first into the snow
At this point Tina turned up... I lost the plot as to why, I have half an idea that she had got the dates wrong as she was really booked on to fire on Sunday, but I could be wrong. Regardless, Chris Hayes who was down to fire on Saturday afternoon had phoned in saying that he was snowed in where he was and wouldn't be able to make it, so Tina had now volunteered to cover for Chris and was looking for a mug volunteer to help out with the coupling/uncoupling at the ends of the line. Some little while later, it was the turn of yours truly to have icicles growing from his nose.  There's nowhere to hide on that footplate when running tender first into the snow.
Heading off to Laverton
The road under Laverton loop was rather flooded
I was keen to have a practice of obtaining and giving back the staff for the Laverton section along with operating the ground frames as I'd not had the opportunity to do any of these things before.  I thought that it had all gone very well however I learned subsequently that I was supposed to report that the train was complete to the signal box when returning the staff which I failed to do.
2807 heads back towards the stock at Laverton loop
After this, it was tender first from Laverton to Cheltenham... into the snow.  We paused briefly at Toddington to load up the tender with a bit more coal, making use of the recently created hole in the fence.  Nigel Black caught the event for posterity on the  PW gang's website.

As usual, Tina made the firing look easy, even though everybody on the footplate were practically fighting each other to stand as close as possible to the fire and making it nigh on impossible for her to swing a cat never mind a shovel full of coal.
Last trip down to Laverton and Tina has a go at operating the ground frame
Many thanks to Jamie & Tina for allowing me to accompany them on 2807... I think... I'll tell you for sure after the frostbite surgery has been completed. Cheyenne, our newest recruit was on the footplate too, hopefully he enjoyed his day with us and will become a regular and valued member of the steam loco department.

And finally...  I made it all the way to the end of the blog relating events on a snowy day on the railway and didn't mention the phrase 'no room at the inn' or pink furry handcuffs once... Oops!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Limbo dancers required, apply within

The week just passed has seen a very successful series of race trains taking horse racing fans from Toddington to Cheltenham Race Course.  Being a wage slave, I was unable to visit the railway during this period, however survivors amongst the footplate crews involved spoke of freezing conditions, drunken revelers pulling the communication cords on numerous occasions and a particularly inebriated group of Scots who turned up at Cheltenham Race Course station looking for a train home to Glasgow.  One day, when we get our mainline connection at Honeybourne, we'll be able to oblige however they might have a long wait. Paul Richardson has kindly provided the following photos from last Tuesday.
Thawing out the injectors
Thawing out the hose pipes
Frozen cylinder drain cocks
Foremarke Hall and 5542 ready to leave Toddington
Approaching Cheltenham Race Course
Chris on the footplate of 5542
There is room for 2 trains on Cheltenham Race Course station platform 1

Anyway, Saturday morning saw 7903, Foremarke Hall being prepared for a day hauling the steam segment of the blue timetable, unfortunately it also saw a reasonably heavy bout of rain.  Volunteers in the steam loco dept don't let little things like precipitation deter them though and soon enough a fair number of cleaners had turned up and Foremarke Hall was starting to gleam in the early morning light.
Ed decides that the rain hasn't got the tender wet enough yet and gets it even wetter
Polishing wet brass isn't easy, Karl has a brave stab at it
 The crew for the morning should have been Cliff (trainee driver), Steve, (instructor) and Tina (fireman) however a late change saw Ade swap turns on the shovel with Tina.  Sean upon arrival, being unaware of the swap and spotting Ade on the fireman's side of the footplate remarked "You've not aged at all well Tina". 
Ade on the footplate of Foremarke Hall
Sean will of course now be in some serious trouble if Tina reads this.... she punches well above her weight, if not above her height!

Something that caused much comment was that the nice new path to the wood store had been blocked by somebody parking a couple of wagons in the way.
Careless parking
Steve commented that they had been perfectly positioned for limbo dancers to be able to squeeze their way under the buffers.  Not being quite lithe & supple enough for that, I walked round the long way.  Reports that infuriated cleaners were later to be found in the mess coach sticking pins in effigies of the culprits were only a mild exaggeration. I can see that we are going to need to put some double yellow lines alongside this stretch of track.

There was just time for a cooked breakfast in the flag and whistle before the 09:45 departure of Foremarke Hall.  Some people will go to extreme lengths to avoid getting their photos in this blog, Cliff was very careful to keep the cylinder drain cocks open for rather longer than would be considered strictly necessary in the hope of concealing Foremarke Hall in a cloud of steam.
Somewhere in there is Foremarke Hall
 Of course, Cliff needed to close the cylinder drain cocks in time for the collecting of the token from Toddington signal box, so he cunningly hid in the darker recesses of the cab as they went by.
Collecting the token
Lurking just out of sight on the far side of the signal box, waiting for the train to pass was Jeff Lacey one of the steam loco dept inspectors.  The train came to a sudden halt half way past the signal box as the signals were suddenly set to danger.  One of the traveling ticket inspectors on the train was heard to say to somebody else in the carriage that he had seen Jeff Lacey wandering up into the signal box and that he must have instructed the signal man to do that as a test for Cliff.  "Oh no I didn't" came the response from Jeff on the lineside much to the surprise of the TTI concerned.  Apparently the signal man had spotted that one of the carriage doors wasn't quite shut properly (handle up rather than horizontal) and had brought the train to a halt to get it closed properly.

There are still a number of infrastructure projects on the go at the moment.  One of the more pressing ones is getting the ash pits reconnected. Since we have been back at Toddington, the emptying of ash pans has had to take place in the inspection pits which is not ideal.
The currently disconnected ash pit
The points and track leading up to the ash pit need replacing, so various members of the steam loco dept along with a number of the permanent way team set to work removing the old track. At the moment, the ash pit is only able to be used by rubber ducks.
The ash pit's resident rubber duck
So we all set to work removing the life expired track;

Clive couldn't find a shovel to lean on so he made use of a sledge hammer instead
Not to be out-done, Ed leans on a coal pick
Nigel Black deals with some rusty bolts
Nigel maintains a fascinating photo collection on the flickr photo sharing website of the activities of the permanent way dept, which is well worth bookmarking in your web browser and checking up on frequently. 

Rail unsurprisingly is heavy and hard to shift, after getting it out of the chairs the hard way, the permanent way team brought in mechanical aids to remove it.
Shifting track the easy way
 Watch this space to find out when the replacement track is put in place.  You'll find out quicker though if you keep a check on Nigel Black's flickr site. 

The ash pit is of course only part of the story, we are also in the process of constructing a new ash dock to deposit the ash into.  This involved using a fork lift to locate old concrete sleepers into metal frames which had previously been constructed.  Needless to say, the concrete sleepers were not quite all of the same dimensions and some required a little encouragement to fit.
Mark encourages a concrete sleeper to fit

As does Neil
Two sections completed. A few more left to do.
 The day should have finished with a night time photo charter with Foremarke Hall, but disappointingly the charter was cancelled with just a few days notice.  My plans to bring you a taste of just the sort of photos that can be taken at such events have come to nothing.  I'll have to close instead with a shot of Foremarke Hall on her first run of the day across Stanway Viaduct.  Amazingly enough, the sun actually peeped out from behind the clouds at just the right time.
Foremarke Hall on Stanway Viaduct

Monday, 11 March 2013

Best laid plans.....

I don't usually have a plan when it comes to writing this blog,  I just take along a camera to the railway, grab a few photos of whatever happens to be going on and scribble some drivel afterwards. Hopefully it will turn out to be of some sort of interest, if not to the man on the Clapham Omnibus, then at least to the person on the Cheltenham Express from Toddington.  This week however I had a cunning plan!  The Planet's favourite Prairie was arriving during the week and would be hauling the historic first passenger service from Cheltenham to Laverton since BR ceased services. My plan was, nip over to Toddington for stupid O'Clock on Saturday morning, spend a while cleaning up 5542 (she'd only just arrived, how dirty could she be?) grab a few photos, catch a few shots of her leaving Toddington and then chase her in my car round the line taking in shots at Laverton/Stanway Viaduct/Chicken Curve etc and bring you a report on how much of a roaring success it had all been.  My nice shiny new lineside photographer's pass had just arrived in the post (complete with yet another hi-viz vest to add to my collection) and there should even have been an opportunity to grab few shots of Battle of Britain class, Tangmere steaming through the Cotswold mainline on the 'Cotswold Venturer' rail tour.  I had even fondly imagined that the sun would shine for the event.  What could possibly go wrong!

Anyway, stupid O'clock on Saturday morning arrived and I turned up at Toddington MPD to start cleaning 5542.  Now remember she had only just arrived, I rather expected her to be pretty much shining like a new pin, in reality she had been used on a fire & drive course the day before and was now more than just a little grubby.  Never mind, there was a good turn out of cleaners and we all selected something to clean and got cracking with it.
Andrew (Left) & Karl proudly show off their handiwork
Andrew would doubtless like you to know that he spent ages with some emery paper making those smoke box door locking arms shine (they were a fairly rusty before he started), Karl on the other hand would probably want to direct your attention to the gleaming brass work that he had just given some therapy with Brasso.  I'd point your attention to the pit that I had filled with ash from her ash pan and the black smokebox.... not quite such glamorous jobs, but I like to think important nonetheless.

Students of Collett small prairies, would probably like to know just what detail changes have taken place on 5542 during her winter holiday down on the South Devon Railway.  If you look closely, you will notice that she now has autocoach gear just under her front buffer beam which wasn't there before.  If only we had three or four autocoaches to run with her.  Something that  came as a bit of a surprise to me was that she now has a tilting grate fitted.  Clive Norton the fireman for the first shift today seemed to be pleased to find it there.
It's a bit late now to show it tilting, but somewhere in there is a tilting grate
You can find out about these things and more on 5542's official web page.

Emptying out the ash pit isn't usually the world's most interesting job, however Cliff and Ade set to the task and Cliff discovered that he wasn't alone in the pit.... in fact he was very much playing gooseberry to a pair of amorous interlopers who were in there with him.
Cliff and Ade emptying the pit of ash
Toad of Foremarke Toad Hall.... and Lady Toad
The amorous interlopers were none other than a pair of toads (not the GWR brake van variety) who were engaged in making more toads and seemed oblivious to the fact that I had dumped a pile of ash on top of them (well it was still dark when I emptied the ash pan) or that Cliff had nearly sliced them in two with his shovel.  They didn't even seem to notice Karl picking them up and taking them to safety. Clearly a very single minded pair of toads.  Nature lovers will be pleased to hear that not only were no animals harmed in the making of this blog, but that Karl even washed the ash off of them in a puddle by the wood store and left them to carry on with whatever they were doing underneath a hedge where hopefully they would get a bit more privacy.

Now that 5542 was nicely spruced up ready for her meeting with the history books, there was time in hand before she set off, to repair to the Flag & Whistle for one of Val Hoskin's delicious full English breakfasts!  Just as well really, as it turned out to be the last I'd eat for another 12 hours.

Well so far the weather wasn't behaving, but everything else was going according to plan.  The allotted time came and wearing my nice shiny new hi-viz I set off to grab a few photos of the first departure from Toddington.
5542 stands at Toddington station, ready to depart

Off she goes
 I overheard the fireman, Clive Norton say to Ian Windscheffel his driver as he approached Toddington signal box 'I'd better not drop the token or it'll be all over the blog tomorrow'.  Although I was poised to catch the perfect shot of the token being dropped, Clive managed to catch it and they proceeded on their way without mishap.

Well so far, so good, the plan was starting to come together.  Having plenty of time before 5542 got down to Cheltenham and started coming back, I headed off back into the yard to see what wanted doing.  As it turned out, both 2807 and Foremarke Hall both needed lighting up.  Not having done a light up since passing out to do them sometime before Christmas, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to get some practice in and soon enough I was whizzing around the loco running through the safety checks before cleaning up the grate and getting a fire going, meanwhile, Chris Chewter was doing the same with 2807.  As it turned out, the goal posts were running around all over the place.  It was initially supposed to be a case of bringing her up to steam enough to check that after some work, the lubrication system was getting oil through to the front end, but that was changed to joining 2807 as double headed light engines on a fitness to run exam for 2807 up to Laverton and back.  You can't abandon a loco when it's lit up, so both Chris & I spent much of the day from around 10am through to 4pm minding our engines and keeping them from blowing off.  As a consequence, my plan to report on this blog of the historic return to Laverton by steam etc came to nothing.  I shall have to refer you instead to excellent reports on the matter elsewhere, such as the Steaming to Broadway blog and of course the main GWSR website.

The best that I could manage from my vantage point on the footplate of Foremarke Hall was this shot of 5542 returning from Laverton to Cheltenham
5542 on first run from Laverton to Cheltenham
 At least after a small shunt had taken place, I was alongside 2807 so Chris & I could at least compare notes and generally chinwag for a while.
Chris taking a break from getting 2807 into steam
Dan Wigg & Sean Nielsen returned later on to inform me that Tangmere had rushed past on the mainline at some fantastic speed and that the sun had momentarily appeared just at the right time affording them superb photos of the event.  Dan has kindly allowed me to show you what I missed.

I suspect that they may have told me a porky pie as regards the sun!

 Now remember that the locos were supposed to be off shed and down to Laverton together at 4pm.  I had a bit over three quarters of glass of water and sat steady at about 220 PSI by about quarter to four.  I'd been sat there for nearly 6 hours and kept her from blowing off in all that time.  By and large I was feeling fairly pleased about it.  The fire was a bit run down at this point, so I decided to fill up a few of the points where it was a little light and have her perfectly ready for setting off at four.  No sooner than I had done that, than the news that we would now be leaving at twenty to five came along.  Needless to say my water space was all used up and she was blowing off nicely by then.

I had been meaning over the last month to take a ride out to Laverton on the DMU to learn the route, but had always found other things to occupy my time on the railway,  so I was keen if possible to grab a ride there and back on the footplate.  Cliff & Adrian not only allowed me to join them on the run, but Cliff left me to do the firing, though in reality I don't recollect that I needed to shovel in any coal, just keep the fire spread out over the grate and bung in some water now and again when she was getting close up to the red line again.
2807 leads Foremarke Hall back to Toddington from Laverton Loop
Upon getting back to Toddington, both locos and 5542 now had to play a game of musical chairs to get each one in the right place on the pits in readiness for tomorrow's services.  As far as I could make out the collection of photographers that had been hanging around earlier on had now all disappeared and missed the show.
2807 heads off first, 5542 will follow her onto road 9, then we will head off down road 8
Somehow of all three locos in steam I had to be on the footplate of the only one that has an evening disposal, the owning groups of the other two leave theirs until the morning.  Whilst everybody else ran through a few swift checks and toddled off for a beer or two, Adrian, Cliff & myself got on with drawing up the fire and banking it up along with emptying the ash pan & smoke box etc.  

I had cause to be at Toddington again for a bit on Sunday morning too.  As it was passing whilst I was sat in the mess coach, I grabbed a photo of 5542 heading off for Cheltenham.  Andy Beale remarked to his crew as they went by 'Looks like we're going to be on the blog tomorrow chaps', so I'd best not disappoint them.
Andy Beale driving 5542 yesterday
Trainee fireman Howard Parker was on the shovel under the supervision of Ben Evason.  Howard maintains his own website and made an entry about the trip.