Monday, 26 August 2013

About to be fired?

My plans for the weekend of the 7th & 8th of September have been deferred until later in the year, so with an unanticipated free weekend, I decided to use the time wisely and I belatedly volunteered for a cleaning vacancy on the 7th of September using our online rostering website.  On Friday evening I received an email saying that my offer had been accepted.  This is the email that I received:
That might be slightly difficult to read, but if you look carefully, I have not been rostered to be the cleaner, but to be the loco.  This has caused some amusement amongst the other volunteers in the steam loco dept who are quite keen to see me try to suck on the vacuum pipe hard enough to release the brakes on seven coaches and then pull them to Cheltenham and back at line speed.  I presume that I would also be expected to give the rostered driver & fireman a piggy-back and be fed coal and water as I go.  Several firemen have said that they will try to get the roster changed so that they become the fireman for the day and get the job of feeding me the coal.... one way or another. That's nearly a fortnight away, hopefully our apparent shortage of steam locomotives that hitherto I was oblivious of will have been remedied by then. 

Anyway, on to Saturday.  Once more I found myself bright and early at Toddington for the day.  This was rather different though, as it was my first official firing lesson with Ade who has drawn the short straw and ended up as my instructor.  Although Ade would be on the footplate with me all day, I would end up with two drivers doing a split shift, Ian in the morning & Neil in the afternoon.  It seems that neither could face the prospect of a full day of me firing for them.  5542 is noted for being very easy to get to produce steam, too easy in fact, many firemen over-cook it and find themselves blowing off.  I was determined to try to not make the same mistake and was quite pleased with myself that by departure time for the first trip down to Cheltenham I had a decent fire, the pressure gauge was pretty much on the mark, I still had a bit of water space left in the glass, yet the safety valves still hadn't been put to the test. I baled in a few more shovels full of coal just for good measure in the last couple of minutes before we were off, the guard blew his whistle, waved his flag and off we went.  Looking back now, those last few shovels full of coal were my undoing.  In no time at all we were out of water space, 5542 was making steam like there was no tomorrow and much of it was roaring out of the safety valves... all the way to Winchcombe. Being held up at the outer home signal for a while didn't help matters much either. I'm informed that it caused some amusement for the crew of 8274 which we crossed when we got to Winchcombe. Later that evening, Ian Chilton contacted me via a well known social media website and asked "how much bloody coal did you put on this morning?".  So it appears that it wasn't just the crew of 8274 who had noticed.  Ian went on to say "poor Clive missed the train because he couldn't see it :-~". 
Chris pours the teas.  He would be amused later, on 8274 at Winchcombe
One of my earliest blog posts involved the fitting of this light pole at Toddington.  It still has no lights, but has acquired this impressive fungus instead. Hopefully it glows in the dark.
Dan's handiwork on the wood store, note the nice new and for the time being white panels
8274 setting off to pick up her stock for the first train of the day
Emptying out the ash pan on 5542 before setting off
There are no photos of what took place during the day, I was too busy doing other things.  Although improvements on the first time, I still managed to over do the firing when leaving Toddington on the subsequent trips. Afterwards Ade gave me a lengthy list of things that I should be working on in order to improve.
Filling up 5542 at the end of the day. Ade holds the pipe, Neil operates the water tap
One thing that did stick in my mind from the day was that whilst standing in the platform at Cheltenham, a passenger said "That doesn't look very authentic" as I fished my phone out of my pocket to check the time.  I assured him that it was a much sought after genuine Collett 1930's GWR iPhone, examples of which commanded astronomical prices on the rare occasions that they appeared in railwayana auctions.  I'm not convinced that he believed me, but he laughed anyway. 

Somehow I had been rostered not only for fireman training on Saturday, but also as a cleaner on the Sunday, so it was back to Toddington again on Sunday morning.  The same two locos were out again, and I had 5542 to clean.  There isn't that much to do as far as cleaning 5542 is concerned, so I wound up cleaning up the grate that I had left behind from the day before and lighting her up again.  It was interesting to compare the light thin fire of the night before with the small amount of ash scattered about on the grate in the morning.

We also had Matthew, a new cleaner start on Sunday.  Keen as mustard!  I noticed from my vantage point on the top of 5542 that whilst every body else was stood about chatting, he was still cracking on with cleaning 8274.
Matthew hard at work on the tender of 8274
After spending a bit of time in the morning showing Matthew the ropes, introducing him to the delights of breaking up wooden pallets for the wood store etc, I went out for a couple of trips out on 5542 in the company of Derek (ex Gloucester Horton Rd fireman) and Neil again from yesterday.  Obviously Neil is a glutton for punishment.  Derek's first comment when I arrived on the footplate was.  "I'm jolly disappointed in you, unless you've got it well hidden, you've left your camera behind".  He needn't have worried I did have it, it was just cunningly concealed:
Derek is a firm believer in well ventilated footplate attire
Derek on the shovel
Whilst 5542 comes complete with a seat for the fireman, no such luxury is provided for the driver.  If the driver wants to take the weight off of his feet, he needs to perch himself somewhere above the reverser:
Neil perching above the reverser
I spotted a passenger wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt at one point which prompted Neil to spend much of the rest of the day singing Pink Floyd songs as we trundled along.  Not being able to sing a note myself I refrained from joining in, even though I knew all the words.

5542, not having a tender can fit on the platform at Toddington as well as the coaches. This meant that much of the time we were waiting there Derek was engaged in chatting to passengers and inviting them up onto the footplate. He even managed to find a chap celebrating his 85th birthday on the railway who had worked as a young conscript on the Longmoor Military Railway in 1946 & 1947 before embarking on a  career with the LMS and then BR. At various times I tried engaging some of the passengers in conversation.  I asked several young children if they were intending to come along to the Thomas weekend in September, getting varied responses.  For some children and parents, this came as news and they were keen to come back, though one little chap wanted to know why the engine that I was on wasn't wearing a face.  Oops!  Well this one was of course just an ordinary steam loco, it's only special steam locos on the Isle of Sodor that have faces and they would be the ones to visit us in September.  

You often find that parents, usually the dads are keen to get their offspring onto the footplate for a minute or two when ever possible in stations.  An elaborate charade is sometimes played out where a disinterested or occasionally even frightened child is offered up as an excuse for dad to bring the child up onto the footplate. Everybody knows that it's really dad that wants to be there and not the child, but the crew will usually play along and try to encourage the child before finally saying something like "Well perhaps dad would like to come up instead then?".  On other occasions the child concerned needs no second bidding.  In the hurried run around at Cheltenham, one such keen little lad arrived on the footplate with his dad.  Not only did he want to know what everything did, but he also wanted to put some coal onto the fire.  At that point in time, the last thing the fire needed was any more coal, but I bunged a lump of coal or two onto the shovel and let him tip it into the firebox anyway.  For me it was another of those tables have turned moments similar to the milkman story of a couple of weeks ago.  About ten or so years ago I was driving to Cornwall on holiday.  My wife, mother-in-law and eldest daughter had gone ahead in one car, my youngest daughter, Emily and myself plus more luggage than you could shake a stick at were in another car.  Well Cornwall is a long way to go, so you need to break the  journey somewhere and I chose to detour away from the usual route along the A30 and take a break on the South Devon RailwayAfter doing the child friendly things at Buckfastleigh, Emily started to get to be rather bored with dull old steam trains.  The fireman on small prairie 5526 noticed that Emily wasn't looking best pleased at hanging around on the platform and invited her up onto the footplate.  "I've got to make the train ready to go in a bit, I need to get that needle up by the red line" he said pointing to the pressure gauge.  "How do you think we do that?"  Emily didn't know, but looked interested.  "Well I've got to take some of that coal in the bunker there and shovel it onto the fire.  Would you like to have a go at doing that for me?".  All of a sudden, steam locomotives became very interesting as far as Emily was concerned, she perked up considerably and talked about if for days afterwards. Needless to say it made my day rather more enjoyable as well.
Emily building up the fire on 5526
Family groups make up a fair proportion of our visitors.  Having long enough platforms to accommodate carriages and locomotive as well as gaps long enough in the timetable to allow visits to the footplate is important to our visitors and will keep them coming back, just like I still visit the SDR regularly even though it's a fair trek from home for me.  It may seem a bit strange that we are going to the trouble of building such long platforms at Broadway and a second lengthy platform at Cheltenham, but little things like that really do make a world of difference to the visitors experience.

Unrelated to the above story, but still involving the SDR, is the fact that they have a GWR Monster van, from 1918 which was built for moving theatrical scenery around the country.  I believe that just one other survives, and it is currently being restored alongside the carriage and wagon department at Winchcombe.  I have noted as I've passed on the train that it's restoration is coming along nicely.  The one on the SDR lives alongside the platform at Totnes station and makes an interesting and popular backdrop for photos:
My little monster and the SDR's monster
I have no idea who owns the one we have on the railway, or what the plans are for it when it is finished and I'm probably speaking out of turn, but I'd like to think that when not in use it could be found a home alongside a platform at  one of our stations such as Winchcombe where it too can form the backdrop to treasured family photographs.

Finally, recent social media debates have raged about what can be cooked on a steam loco. Last year during the Santa specials, we tried mince pies on the back head and sausage and bacon on the shovel.  Ben informed me on Saturday that 10 miles wrapped in tin foil in the smoke box is not nearly enough to bake potatoes.  He needed to take them over to the Flag and Whistle to get Val to finish them off in a micro wave.  If anybody out there can come up with a sensible idea for something to be cooked in a smoke box, I might just give it a whirl sometime.  The results promise to be amusing though unlikely to be edible.


  1. Replies
    1. Kippers are made by smoking herring over a wood fire, not by blasting them with ash. The pulverised remains would come flying out of the chimney at a rate of knots and get scattered across the Cotswold countryside. The crew would certainly need to make sure that the sun roof was closed before setting off.

    2. I think it was meant as 'cooking kippers' not creating them!

  2. Chestnuts..... I have a wood burner. Someone once told me wood keeps you warm twice.. And breaking up pallets in the snow I get sweaty and tired. No fun at all.. That is.. Until I got a RICIPROCATING SAW. A truely epic bit of kit, mines a makita and it goes through anything, but pallets are like a hot knife through butter ;)

    1. Chestnuts sounds good. I might give that a try.

      There is an electric saw somewhere or other, but I'm not sure what happened to it since we moved back from Winchcombe.

  3. what about cheese toasties wrapped in foil, they worked well on a wood fire,s o maybe the time to do footplate cooking is early in the morning over the lighting. would save time having to pop over the the flag and whistle...

  4. Re the monster van , having spent many hours painting both sides and roof, I can confirm it is absolutely massive, and is now complete, although I do not know what its purpose is, probably storage of some sort, although it hopefully might make it into the freight train next time it has an outing.

    1. Thanks for that Alex. You've certainly made a fine job of it. I grabbed a photo of it on Saturday which I'll sneak into the next blog article one way or another.

    2. Can't take all the credit, many more people in C+W helped too (just covering my back for next Saturday, It'll be bad enough the stick I get going on holiday again)

  5. Ref The Monster it would be a good idea to have something more interesting in platform 1 bay than Santa's Grotto.