Monday, 14 October 2013


An excellent working knowledge of steam locomotive operation and maintenance coupled with a literary flair and witty yet amusing written style, capable of captivating an audience and holding them spell bound on the edge of their seats are all essential skills for the modern blogger in the GWSR's steam locomotive dept. Why on earth then did the GWSR steam loco dept's management team choose to ask me to maintain their blog, because I can do none of these things! At school I considered it an achievement if I managed to hold a pen the right way round and my hand writing bore more than a passing resemblance to a spider coming home on a Saturday night after falling into an ink well. I struggle to even turn out a palatable cup of tea using a domestic kettle, never mind managing the boiler on a full size steam locomotive.  I can only conclude that they thought I would cause less damage doing this than anything else. If you have a square peg, find a square hole to put it in was probably what they were thinking.  Regardless, the first issue of this blog burst out into an unsuspecting blogosphere exactly one year ago today. It was a rather tentative start and I have since settled into a style (for want of a better word) that is rather more like the real me.  That's definitely not a good thing, but it's what you're stuck with I'm afraid.

This seems like an opportunity to reflect on what I've learnt from this experience.  Firstly, I had expected the audience to be fairly small and to consist largely of members of the GWSR in general and the steam loco dept in particular. Far more people check the blog each day than could possibly be accounted for by the members of the steam loco dept, in fact a fair proportion of the readers are not even in the UK (approximately 15% of you are reading this abroad).  Although the obvious English speaking countries (USA, Canada & Australia) feature in the top 10, you may be surprised to learn that Germany, France, Spain, Russia, Latvia & China are in there too.  Less frequent visitors, but no less welcome arrive from all corners of the globe.  I noticed a few hits from Moldova during the week.  I have no idea where Moldova is, in fact if you'd asked me before hand, I'd have guessed that it was a fictitious country used as the lair of a James Bond villain. I presume that these are mostly visits by ex-pats, but it would be nice to think that our railway has a following amongst the native inhabitants of some of these far flung places. My apologies to the good people of Moldova for my ignorance, apparently it is a country of just under 4 million inhabitants sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. It's also interesting to note that many of the people who visit this blog have come from one of the other GWSR blogs, so the interest in the railway is more general than just that of the steam loco dept.  35006 and 4270 are popular strings entered into search engines that lead people here, so it's nice to know that our active restoration projects are creating such an interest. Now that the 2013 operating season is drawing to a close, I will try to post more updates on those. I have quite a collection of photos of the restoration of 4270 courtesy of Ian Carpenter that I have been saving for a rainy day.  Several of the members of the steam loco dept have been recognised by complete strangers whilst on the railway which I find quite gratifying. We market ourselves as being the 'friendly attraction in the Cotswolds' and if this blog helps our visitors feel they have a more personal connection with the crews of our trains and encourages them to strike up conversations then that has to be a good thing. Don't be afraid to come up and say hello to the crew of your train next time you visit the GWSR, very few of us bite.  

I've never been entirely convinced that maintaining this blog and learning to become a fireman aren't mutually incompatible and I find myself switching out of 'blog mode' when I have a shovel in my hand and switching back into 'blog mode' at other times. It probably makes for less interesting reading and certainly makes for fewer photos, but I like to think that I'm managing to keep all the plates spinning.  If you hear a tinkling sound in the distance, you'll know that I've dropped one.

Saturday was another official firing lesson day for me, so once again checking my camera for photos later revealed that there were embarrassingly few.  The day started well, not only was Foremarke Hall my allotted loco, but I had not one but three cleaners on hand.  The fireman is supposed to manage the cleaners, but Jonathan, Paul and Laurence all know the ropes so I left them to it and seeing as it was a cold grey and slightly drizzly morning, once I had got the fire lit I decided to take full advantage of the situation and warmed myself in front of the fire whilst giving the copper pipes on the back head some therapy with the Brasso.   Not only did they make an excellent job of cleaning Foremarke Hall, but they even went off and fetched breakfast:
Jonathan and Paul having just fetched breakfast
  Though it has to be said that Jonathan's choice of breakfast wasn't for the faint hearted:
The three B's, Black Pudding, Beans and Bacon
 Mind you, it didn't stop him from getting up into the tender and shoveling coal forward straight after finishing that lot:
He'd have used the rake in the bottom left hand corner of the photo, but the handle is broken
Meanwhile Paul got on with the task of oiling up Foremarke Hall.  After his recent difficulties with a certain 'really useful engine', he decided to use a step ladder rather than risk venturing onto the running plate.
Paul at work
 We're in the low season now, and the blue timetable has come into effect on most weekends.  The downside is that there is only one steam locomotive running, but the major bonus point is that the train does the full length of the line, including the Northwards extension out to Laverton and back.  I'm struggling to remember the last time that I fired out to Laverton, so I was quite looking forward to it.  The blue timetable is full on, without any breaks at any of the stations, so in order to comply with the 'Working Time Regulations', we work a split shift with a relief crew taking over for one of the round trips.  Some weeks ago, Cliff had volunteered to be the relief fireman and had asked me which trip I'd like him to cover.  It was here that I had made the most monumental blunder.  Without stopping to think about it, I suggested he take the middle one.  The blunder was that if I'd checked the timetable I'd have noticed that the middle trip was down as a fish and chip special.  I was going to miss lunch.
Paul and Cliff
The run down to Cheltenham and back was uneventful, though the leaky water tower pipe at Cheltenham is still in need of some TLC:
Ade makes the most of the free hand washing facilities
Last year at about this time, there was a 'race the train' event from Cheltenham to Winchcombe and back, with runners heading out over the Cotswold hills and the train taking the usual though rather longer route around them. Some more adventurous members of the steam loco dept had suggested putting out tracks along route that the runners take to make it a bit fairer, though I'm not sure how our locos would have coped with going up one in three gradients or how the brakes would have coped coming back down.  Anyway a similar event had been organised for this year and then cancelled at short notice.  The message that it had been cancelled hadn't quite got out to all the participants and one poor soul turned up expecting to run. She gamely decided to crack on and go ahead on her own anyway.
The loneliness of the long distance runner
She waited until we were due off and then set off.  I hope she made it ok, with no marshalls and water stops out along the route, it would be easy to get lost or dehydrate.

Once we'd done the round trip, and got back to Toddington, it was time for our relief crew to take over.  Cliff had delegated the task of wielding the shovel to Jonathan:
Jonathan practices leaning on his shovel
I handed Foremerke Hall over to him with a good fire/pressure/water levels and I'm pleased to say that is exactly how he returned it to me later on when he got back.
Foremarke Hall... absconding with my fish and chips
If you look carefully, you'll notice that Paul is still on the footplate driving Foremarke Hall.  He had decided that the relief driver would take over for the third trip.  I already knew that the relief driver would be Chris and hitherto I had supposed that he would be covering the middle turn, so I wouldn't have to fire for for him.  Not so.  Although Chris is a very warm, friendly and even amusing character, he is also one of our inspectors and therefore not exactly the person a novice would want to have to fire for. The expression 'no pressure there then' could easily have taken on an extra and very much unwanted meaning if I wasn't careful.  Chris however is used to having to cope with rookie crew members and very quickly set me at ease, so my initial apprehension soon proved to be unfounded.  As with all good things, the day seemed to come an end far too quickly and it seemed like no time at all had elapsed before we were back at Toddington disposing Foremarke Hall:
Chris and Ade strike nonchalant poses by the water column, Jonathan on the tender
 One of the many possible causes of poor steaming is a poor seal on the smoke box door, so when I inspect the smoke box each morning before a trip, I make sure that it is done up good and tight. I had obviously done it up a bit tighter than Jonathan would have liked as he struggled to get it opened again:
Let the train cause the strain
  Whilst Chris was refilling the tender with coal, Jonathan organised an impromptu  photoshoot.  He did explain why he wanted to do this, but I can't remember why and even at the time it made no sense. It involved a small trolley with George & Dan on it, Tina pushing and all apparently being chased by Foremarke Hall.  Not being one to turn down a photo opportunity I grabbed a shot too.
It still makes no sense to me, but the expressions are amusing
 And finally, I was informed later by Ian that he had decided which was the best GWSR blog of the many that we now have.  My chest swelled with pride at this unexpected accolade, but before I could start one of those tearful Oscar style acceptance speeches in which I thank everybody I could think of, he went on to say that "the best read of the lot is the GWR Lineside Drainage Management blog".  The lineside drainage team are of course yet another example of the GWSR's unsung heroes.  They may be largely invisible to most of our visitors, but without their dedication and hard work, we'd have more of the catastrophic land slips like the ones that we suffered at Gotherington and Chicken Curve.  They could probably come up with a better Oscar acceptance speech than I could too.


  1. Not only that the running board was wet..What with my knees and everything!!

  2. Keep up the good work. Phil (in Northern Ireland).