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


  1. Thank YOU for this wonderful Blog!

    Great coverage of the Gala, great pictures of all the cast of characters involved!
    I wish I could have been there, but I am 5500 miles away.

    I am an expat from Peterborough who got hooked on this railway after a visit a few years ago just after the first slip and wanted to help the cause.

    This Blog along with the other Blog’s from this railway keep me up-to-date with what’s going on and urge me to give to the good causes ( I am supporter of Bill and the gang at Broadway).

    You have provided some interesting links to other contributing volunteer site’s and this is much appreciated.

    However, I do not know WHO the writer of this Blog IS? And what He (She) looks like! (just in case I show up on a visit J).

    Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing the next report.

    Dave in California.

    PS. If I have one comment about this blog; It’s hard to see Red on Black in the text and the emails are light on light (viewing on Google Chrome) it‘s hell getting old!

    PSS. When do you sleep?

  2. On the subject of the rag shortage, and in conjunction with the appeal that's just gone out on the volunteer annoucement, I can tell you that as a track walker I see plenty of them on my travels. They're in the four foot, the cesses and caught in the lineside brambles where they've been blown off/dropped off/thrown off the footplates. I'll take a sack with me on my next walk and pick a few up.

    1. Hi Dave D,

      That's wonderful, it will be much appreciated.

      Thank you

  3. Hi Dave,

    Thank you for your extremely kind comments. It's nice to know that I am helping keep our further flung supporters in touch with what is going on.

    As for who am I? Well I prefer to remain largely anonymous, though I will at least admit to being male and called Ray. I very rarely like photos of me (face better suited to radio than tv) and feel a strong sympathy for my victims around the steam loco dept who would probably prefer me not to point my camera at them. It doesn't stop me of course, but I do feel occasional pangs of guilt :-) I have had feedback from a few crew members that people have recognised them from the blog and conversations have been initiated on the strength of that. If it makes us all appear to be more approachable, then that can't be a bad thing. If you do show up on a visit, just email me through this blog and I'll let you know when I'm expecting to be around.

    I am aware of some of the colour issues. I take your point about the red on black for text links, I think I can fix that. I view the blog on a PC using Firefox which shows comments as white on black. I get the same on my iPhone. Chrome unfortunately seems to take a different view of the world.

    As for sleep, I have long since given up on trying to rattle off a blog entry in the evening when I get back from the railway, I'll typically leave it a day or two before doing anything. Over the gala period, I set myself the target of keeping the world informed of what was going on via the blog every day and sleep definitely was an issue, late nights and early mornings can only be sustained for so long.

    Best wishes


    1. Hi Ray,

      Just to say many thanks for your daily updates on the gala, and indeed your other regular updates. Your comments raise many smiles amongst your fellow volunteers so I guess that says something about the sense of humour on our railway!