Tuesday, 11 June 2013

All Change

There are only nine runnings of the purple timetable during the course of the year, and they're all on Sundays.  The purple timetable has two normal steam service trains plus a third steam loco on the lunchtime Elegant Excursions dining train.  I was rostered down for the second steam service train, hauled by prairie tank 5542.  Although she is easily capable of handling a seven coach train on the relatively light gradients of our railway, 5542 is only about half the size and can be cleaned quite quickly.  What I hadn't appreciated until I arrived was that no other cleaners had signed up for yesterday, so I was there on my own with three locos to clean, the 8F, Foremarke Hall and of course 5542.  I've managed two locos on odd occasions before now, but three I thought might well be stretching things, no matter how many Shredded Wheat that I'd had for breakfast.  The best plan seemed to be to wash over the boilers of each loco in order of being scheduled to leave shed, then do the smoke boxes of each and finally clean over the wheels and motion.  I wasn't far along the road of washing over the boiler of the 8F, when Stuart appeared.  Apparently Steve who although a driver was down to fire Foremarke Hall had decided that perhaps I might be rather outnumbered and had contacted Stuart to twist his arm into helping out.  I suspect that the promise of a free lunch by being part of the crew for the dining train had been part of the deal.
The extremely welcome sight of Stuart on Foremarke Hall
I don't think that I've ever been quite so glad to see another cleaner appear before.  I left him to crack on with Foremarke Hall whilst I got on with the 8F and 5542.

So far so good, I flitted around between the 8F and 5542, I even found time to grab a photo of one of the two traction engines that had come for the gala that were still inhabiting the car park, apparently they were now off to Banbury.  They needed a top up of water before setting off:
Derailed traction engine
All was well, my two locos were pretty much cleaned, the 8F was just about to set off, what could possibly go wrong now?
8F just departing from the shed
It was of course all too good to be true.  The reverser of the 8F wouldn't fully travel in one direction and sadly she was failed.  This was a bit of a blow for Dan, as this was his first trip out as a trainee fireman.  Plan B was swiftly enacted... once it had been thought up. 5542 would now take the first service train, the 3 car DMU would be started up and run as the second service train and Foremarke Hall would remain on the lunchtime dining train as planned.  Steve Oddy was the only person present who was signed off as a DMU driver, so he and Stuart took that, Dan, Ben and Adrian took over 5542 so that Dan got his firing lesson which left Andy Beale & Andy Meredith (both drivers) to take out the lunch time diner.  They'd take it in turns to fire one way & drive the other.  Steve Burnett who should have been firing 5542 lost his loco altogether and wound up helping Ian Carpenter with 2807's boiler washout and getting the springs back onto the Peckett.  I think I'm right in saying that absolutely nobody ended up with whatever loco that they had started with, with the possible exception of Andy Meredith.  I ended up being invited out with the two Andys on Foremarke Hall.  When it comes to firing locos, drivers fall into one of two camps; either they long nostalgically for the shovel which they had to relinquish when they became drivers and will seize any opportunity to have another bash at it, or alternatively think that it's all far too much like hard work and throw the shovel at a cleaner and enjoy watching him make a fool of himself instead.  The two Andys both fell into the latter category and decided that it would be preferable to let me shovel the black stuff whilst one or other of them supervised.  Consequently there are few photos of the dining train service as I was too busy concentrating on firing.  Apparently Andy Beale and Ben should have been out together on the 8F according to plan A and when they get rostered together, they have a tradition of sharing a packet of sweets.  Andy had the sweets with us on Foremarke Hall and is sat here in the drivers seat preparing to taunt Ben with them as he comes the other way on 5542
Andy and the confectionary of doom
Now remember that this was the dining train.  Free lunch for the crews passed over to the footplate during the run round at Laverton loop.  Training manager, Steve Oddy had been rostered down for this service, so this should by rights have been his lunch.  I made a career limiting remark to him about how nice his lunch had been as he was leaving in the DMU a bit later on in the day.
Sunday lunch, Elegant Excursion style
It's not easy eating your lunch whilst trying to build up the fire, but somehow I managed to shovel enough coal into the firebox to get us back as well as shovel the food in my mouth.
Steve laments the loss of his lunch with a passenger whilst waiting to take the DMU out
Andy and Andy relaxing at Winchcombe whilst the diners finish off their desserts
I called out for the water to be switched off just a bit too late.
My plan had been to get a few posed photos of Dan on his first fireman training turn along with Ben (his instructor) before they set off in the morning. The last minute change of plans because of the failed 8F got in the way and it didn't happen.  5542 drew up alongside us as we waited for the diners to finish their lunches at Winchcombe, so I sneaked up to their cab and grabbed a photo of them on the footplate.
Ben and Dan
In many ways it is an appropriate pairing of instructor and pupil, Ben passed out as a fireman the day after his 18th birthday (18 is the minimum age).  Dan will hopefully better Ben's record by 24 hours.  In the current edition of Heritage Railway, in an article on the current coal shortage, Ian Crowder (GWSR spokesman & fireman) mentions that firemen get their legs pulled if they allow a loco to blow off. He's not kidding either. I'm pleased to be able to report that neither Dan nor myself tested the safety valves on our locos, thus avoiding any leg pulling.  I understand that the safety valves of the DMU didn't blow off either.

At the end of the day, we disposed and coaled up Foremarke Hall again.  Andy Beale loaded Foremarke Hall with coal. 
Andy coaling up Foremarke Hall
He even loaded some of it into the tender, but most seemed to end up on the footplate
And finally.  I had intended to leave this until next week, but the cat is now out of the bag.  The lettering on the mess coach has been done and jolly good it looks too.  The mess coach now has a name, 'Tina' after our facilities manager.  I had gone to the trouble of photoshopping out her name on one photo so that Tina wouldn't get to find out that she had a coach named after her until her next firing turn on Saturday however somebody had dropped cryptic clues to her that something had happened to the mess coach. Knowing that I would probably know what had happened she beat a confession out of me. As mentioned in a previous blog, she punches far above her weight, but below her height.
No mistaking which department's mess coach it is
Tina, photoshopped out
The non-photoshopped version
And just in case you couldn't spot the difference
Tina is delighted that she has a coach named after her and has promised to let me take a photo of her by her coach on Saturday... she'll even wear make-up and smile for the occasion.  You read it here first!

We seem to have had a lot of retirements lately (apparently Tim Bazeley announced that he was stepping down from the footplate on Saturday) and fewer new people stepping in as volunteers.  Much as it would amuse certain parties if I ended up cleaning three locos every week, we could use a bit more help.  Hopefully this blog won't have put you off too much, though I fear that it probably has.  If you think that volunteering in the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway's steam loco dept is for you, then please make contact in the first instance through the railway's website.  I certainly can't promise that you'll get a coach named after you, the days will start early and finish late, you'll get so grubby that all you'll want to do is soak in the bath as soon as you get home.  Don't ask about the laundry... I live in hope of being 'door-stepped' by some Z list soap opera celebrity doing a commercial for the latest all singing all dancing washing powder.... I'll show them some stains that their precious washing powder won't shift.  In some strange way though, you'll enjoy it all the same and want to keep coming back.

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