Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Cotswold Steam Celebration - The big four line up

Yesterday marked the the fourth and final day of the Cotswold Steam Celebration gala.  As usual I clocked on at 04:45... it's at times like that, that you could almost wish that steam locomotives had start buttons.  Today I wasn't just down for cleaning though, I was RSF.  Armed with a written plan, I had to make sure that all of the locos got off shed at the right time in the right order, got onto and off of the pits at the right times, that the crews had actually arrived at the rostered times etc.  Difficult enough at the best of times, but there was also an extra element to consider that would eat into the available time, of which more anon.  When John was RSF on Friday, he had worn a rather distinguished bowler hat for the occasion:
John looking every inch the foreman
Although John's bowler hat wasn't around, the one worn a few days before by Ian was still languishing in the mess coach:
Ian in his bowler
I tried the bowler hat on in the mess room whilst nobody was around and checked myself in the mirror.  Lets just say that it had looked rather better on Ian.  I chose to stick with my usual grubby cloth cap for the day.

Bearing in mind the old saying, "precise and proper planning prevents poor performance (I'm sure that I missed a P in there somewhere), I had thought about what would need to be done in the pub the night before.  As previously mentioned, the first fireman of the day was expected to light up two locos.  Chris was that rostered fireman and he unsurprisingly welcomed the idea that Brian who is passed to do light ups should take on the task of bringing 2807 into steam for him.  Brian is a 2807 group member and was delighted to be allocated the task of bringing his 'baby' into steam.  Whilst he did that, I got on with labeling water sample containers (for the locos, not the crew) and leaving them on the footplates as well as fetching wood from the wood store for the first few locos to be lit up. 

Cleaning the locos was presenting something of a problem, we'd run out of cleaning rags.  We had plenty of oily rags in the shed for lighting up, but nothing that you could use to clean with.  We resorted to pilfering a few of the towels from the mess coach to use as cleaning rags.  The mess coach is Tina's domain, I don't think she'll be best pleased when she finds out.

Time marched on, and armed with the purloined towels, progress was being made:
Having got 2807's fire going, Brian cleans the boiler whilst Ian oils up
Dan cleans Cheltenham, it's anybodies guess as to what is happening on the footplate
5542 is the last booked off shed and is still awaiting her crew's arrival
Tina is in the cab, Chris oils up and Jonathan cleans the smoke box of the 8F
The standard 4 basks in the early morning sun
The firemen on Cheltenham have struggled to keep her from blowing off at times and she is extremely noisy when she does.  Sean decided that it would be an act of kindness to present Chris, the owner's representative who would be traveling with her a pair of ear protector plugs.
Chris gratefully receives the ear plugs from Sean
Things were going well so far... except of course for the towels in the mess coach who were upset about being demoted to cleaning rags.  The key thing was to get us well ahead of the scheduled timetable for prepping the locos before any of them left shed.  The reason for that was that the gala organising committee wanted to stage a photo shoot of a representative of each of the big four railway companies in a line.  They had cunningly arranged things in advance such that the B12 and Cheltenham should arrive on site facing north which matches the directions that the 8F and 2807 were facing.  All we needed to do was get them clean, in steam and lined up in a suitably photogenic spot and take the picture.  This also meant that I had to ensure that the locos were about half an hour ahead of schedule so that we could shunt the relevant locos back into the yard a bit and grab a few photos.  No pressure there then!  To cut a long story short, with 2807 up at 160 psi and the 8F with not quite so much, they had enough to pull the other two locos into position at the right time. Amazingly enough the sun was shining too. I wanted to get them far enough back in the yard to lose the telegraph pole that you can see in the photo of 2807 in one of the photos above out of the composition.  As you can see, we got there:
LNER 8572, GWR 2807, SR 925 & LMS 8274
Somebody spotted that an orange cleaning bucket had been left on the running board of 8274, so we removed it and tried again:
Here they are again, sans bucket
I don't suppose that there are many other heritage railways that could muster a complete big four line up with all locos in their pre-nationalisation liveries. Once we'd got the shot, the obvious thing to do before we carried on with prepping the locos was to take a photo with all present included.
The big four and their crews/cleaners
We had to wait briefly for the sun to pop out from behind a small cloud before I could take that last shot.  You'll notice that the safety valves of 2807 are starting to feather, Brian had done too good a job of bringing her into steam.

Shuffling the locos around in order to take this shot caused the plan to get slightly out of sequence and the standard 4 went off before the 8F.  Not as it turned out a problem, but if other locos had gone out of sequence it could have been.

Once most of the locos were off, it was back to the mess coach for breakfast and a nice cup of tea.  I even heard the 8F coming back up the line with the freight train in time to point my camera out of a window and capture the scene for posterity.
The freight train arrives at Toddington
The freight train is of a fairly reasonable length.  The carriage and wagon dept have done a great job in putting together so many wagons for us.

Jonathan had wanted to swap his footplate chaperone slot for mine, which gave him time for a round trip behind the 8F, so I took over his 13:05 slot and he took my later one.  I had a little time to look around the attractions in Toddington yard before getting changed into my footplate gear.  I noticed that several of the loco owning groups were on hand trying to drum up support:
The 44901 group's stand
The 35006 stand
The 2807 stand
The different strategies being employed by the different owning groups was interesting.  The 44901 group had a wide variety of tools for sale, clearly hoping to attract volunteers with an engineering background.  The 35006 stand comprised mostly of books and leaflets, suggesting that they were interested in attracting a more intellectual kind of supporter.  The 2807 group sold not only boot scrapers, but also a sizable selection of children's toys. I'm not at all sure what category of supporter they are after, but I'm more than a little concerned about the fact that I must fit into it as I bought a teddy bear from them just a few weeks ago. Next year I imagine that we can look forward to hosting a Dinmore Manor stand. It remains to be seen what kind of supporter that they will try to attract.

It was at about this time that the news came through that the steam brake on 80072 had failed and she was being fetched back to Toddington. Impressively we managed to recover 80072 with 2807 covering her services without missing a beat on the timetable.  If only the mainline train operating companies could do the same.

Once I was changed, it was time to set off and pick up my first passenger for the footplate experience.  I tried to keep him informed with what the crew (John was driving & Sean firing) were doing as the journey progressed whilst trying not to distract them.  My passenger's name was also John and the locomotive that we found ourselves on was Foremarke Hall. 
John sat in the fireman's seat anticipating our departure
John driving Foremarke Hall
Sean checking ahead down the line as we approach the exit to Greet tunnel
One of the nicer aspects to the gala timetable is crossing other trains at Gotherington.  Here we are crossing the B12:
Crossing 8572 at Gotherington
Once we had arrived, I had a moment or two free, so I grabbed a shot of Cheltenham setting off back up the line with the stock that we had just brought in.
Cheltenham leaving Cheltenham
John & Sean waiting to change locos at Cheltenham Race Course station
Later on back at Toddington, whilst sat in the mess coach trying to raise my caffeine levels, Tonia appeared along with her daughter Emily and a chocolate cake.  It was made with more kinds of chocolate than I even knew existed. How ever many kinds it was, they were all delicious.
Needless to say it didn't last long at all!
Finally, I'd like to say a big thank you to the gala organisers who managed to put on such a fantastic event for us.  I know that they put in a huge amount of work behind the scenes, often burning the candle at both ends in order to make the gala the success that it has been.  I have also been asked by them to convey their thanks to the myriad volunteers who turned out in rain (on Friday) or shine to take on all the many jobs that need doing to make it all work.  Thank you too, to everybody who turned up and supported us in our first gala for three years; the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Steam Railway is back on the map in style.
The gala committee, Paul, Ben, Jonathan, Mark & Andy. Ian was absent when this photo was taken

Monday, 27 May 2013

Cotswold Steam Celebration - Flawless Floorless Firing

Once again, the 3rd day of the Cotswold Steam Celebration gala dawned and I dragged myself out of a nice warm bed in the Pheasant Inn to the railway.  Writing this blog turns out to be something of a mixed blessing at times.  I had planned to just turn up and start cleaning one of the first pair of locomotives to leave shed in the morning and when I had finished that move on to whichever was next in the queue.  Out of the choice of two I settled on 80072 as it was a visiting loco & I hadn't cleaned her before.  Hardly had I fetched the fist batch of  lighting up wood across to Ian who although a driver was down to fire her, I was collared by Clive who was booked on to do two light ups, 2807 & 8274.  He had noticed from Friday's blog that I had lit up 8274 for Steve, leaving him with just the one loco to light up and thought that it would be an excellent idea if I did the same for him.  Consequently I didn't touch 80072 and found myself lighting up 8274 instead.  Armed with the important piece of information that she needed to have enough steam up to move herself onto the pit long before she was booked to take out her train, I got the grate cleaned and lit up in a rather smarter fashion and managed to find a bit of time to give her something of a clean as well.
Fire in her belly... the lit up 8F
8274 started off with a pretty much full glass of water, but I am happy to report that I handed her over to Clive to fire for the rest of the day in a state where the fire was healthy and the pressure gauge was up, but steady.  No blowing off.

People have now managed to spot me when I'm wandering about with my camera and in some cases avoid me if they don't want there picture taking, in other cases act up for the camera and in yet other cases feign not wanting to have their picture taking, but do, yet not admitting it. Today I switched to stealth mode and fitted a long lens to my camera to catch most people unawares.  Should you decide to pay us a visit tomorrow (Monday), or indeed at any other time, see who you can recognise as you make your way around the railway:
Ian, raking forward coal on Cheltenham
George on 5542, Chris hiding in the shadows.
Nick spotted me as he was cleaning 5542
Clive, pulling forward coal on 2807
Paul, one of the gala organisers and as will become apparent, star turn of today's proceedings
A rather more recognisable version of Mark
Sean.  A little thing like a bad back wouldn't keep him off the shovel
Jonathan, cleaning Cheltenham with no small amount of style
Andy, oiling up Foremarke Hall (I think)
Karl, Mark, Jonathan & Dan.  I'm sure he wasn't, but it looks for all the world that Mark is picking Karl's nose.
Once again Tina wasn't wearing any makeup, so I wasn't allowed to take her picture.
No such problems with Ben, whether he is wearing makeup or not.
Andrew oiling up 8572
Clive chuckling at Paul's misfortune
Mark (landmark birthday later this year)
Simon (owners representative for Cheltenham)
A rare sighting of Brian
Brian wants two sugars in his tea!
Neil, taking a picture of me, taking a picture of him.....
 After 8274 disappeared off shed, I decided to help out with one of the last to leave, 8572.  There was much to do to clean grime off the top of her boiler and smoke box, so I set to work.  The right hand side of her boiler was unbearably hot, the left seemed just pleasantly warm.  Curious indeed, Nevertheless I gave her something of a going over and was pleased enough with the result to take a photo of her just before she left the shed:
No names, no pack drill, but yet another person in the dept said "please don't put that on the blog, nobody outside the railway knows that I smoke".  Once again, I anticipate the arrival of another well stuffed brown envelope if my silence is to be maintained.

Yours truly it turns out is not immune from being insulted.  Having got up at 04:15 every day since the gala started, I've found that I'd prefer to have that extra 5 minutes in bed rather than have the grief of shaving.  I've lost track of the number of people who have given me stick over it. Mike has mentioned it almost daily.  Brian was sent off to do the breakfast run and when it looked like he might not be back in time before I had to set off to cover my turn chaperoning passengers on the brake vans, Tina said "Don't worry about it, you need to lose a bit of weight anyway".  Whatever my reasons are for coming to the GWSR, it clearly isn't to have my ego boosted.  Ben went some long way to making amends for the stick that I've got though ,by very kindly allowing me to drive Cheltenham from road one up towards her coaching stock.

Speaking of Tina, one of the crews played a trick on her.  She had been expecting to spend the day at Winchcombe babysitting the thunderbird engine.  A nice easy number, just keep her lit up but not blowing off.  Ben and Ian arrived in the Cheltenham and said that her and Andy (who was in on the trick) should go up and inspect the footplate.  No sooner had she got up there than the right away was given and they were off, with Tina unexpectedly on the footplate and pitched into having to fire a strange loco. I caught up with her later at Toddington, and by then she was rather more relaxed about being stitched up.  Reports that she was seen later sticking pins in effigies of Ben, Ian & Andy have so far been unsubstantiated, yet each has reported sudden sharp pains.

Tina, back at school
 For yours truly, it was a second day of chaperoning the brake van rides in glorious sunshine.  Yesterday I spent the day in the Queen Mary brake van, today, just for a change I thought that I'd have a turn in the Toad instead.
Entering the apparently haunted Greet tunnel
Being pulled along by 8274
 Speaking of 8274, she was blowing off in the platform at Cheltenham.  Clive blamed it on the fire that I had put in when I lit her up.  One thing that I have noticed, is that it's always the cleaner that gets the blame.

Dan somehow became the "fat controller".  I think that we need to feed him up a bit if he is to do the role any justice
Approaching Gotherington behind 8274
Ben came back to chat to the passengers as we waited with 2807 in Gotherington loop
A "light feathering" of 2807's safety valves
Pete on crossing duty at Winchcombe
Kites near the line at Cheltenham
Steaming past the kites, hauled by Foremarke Hall
Foremarke Haul on the move
The brake van rides are excellent value for money at £5 on top of the standard ticket price for a one way trip between Cheltenham and Toddington or Toddington to Cheltenham.  If you're around on Monday, I can recommend it.  I'm afraid that I won't be chaperoning you, but you'll have an excellent experience anyway.  I'm rostered down to be RSF in the morning, which basically means that I encourage crews to get them and their locos to the right place at the right time.  I have invested in a cattle prod by way of a means of encouragement.  In the afternoon, a couple of lucky people will be chaperoned by me on the footplate of one of our locomotives.  Try not to let my presence put you off.

And finally... Paul has probably got through reading this far in the hope that somehow I had forgotten, or in some out of character fit of mercy decided that he has suffered enough already and let him off the hook.  Just about everybody who was on the railway knows about this by now, but just in case you weren't, here is what transpired.  Paul was rostered as fireman on 8572 today.  There is a rocking grate, the mechanism for which is concealed beneath the floor boards of 8572.  So far so good.  Paul lifted up the relevant pieces of floorboard from the footplate and placed them for safe keeping on top of the pile of wood that he had fetched up onto the footplate for lighting up the loco.  You really don't need me to tell you what he did next do you!
A rather cremated floorboard
The other floorboard wasn't quite so lucky as this one!
Missing floor boards from the footplate
Paul will never be allowed to live this one down.  Mercifully the owners representative saw the funny side (along with everybody else who heard the sorry tale), and Brian set to with wood and saw to cut up some replacement floorboards.  Paul will henceforth be known as the flawless floorless fireman.