Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Bucking the Trend

Last Saturday morning, was booked down as a buckeye coupling training session for several of the railway's departments.  Footplate crew normally only ever get to use the screw link couplings attached to the loco, which are fairly quick and easy to operate.  The couplings between the carriages however are all buckeye couplings and most of us have never had to work with them in anger, or if we have then it was a long time ago.  In an emergency, the fireman or guard could easily find him or herself having to split the train in a hurry.  It is of course an activity fraught with danger at the best of times.  I was reminded of that during my Coast to Coast walk this summer when I arrived at Grosmont which is on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and discovered that they had created a rose garden and memorial to one of their guards who tragically died whilst engaged in a shunting operation last year:
A poignant reminder that whilst volunteering on a heritage railway is a wonderful way to spend your free time, you should never lose sight of the fact that there are many dangers involved.

For us, this was the third and final group of members of the railway drafted in for buckeye training.  Somewhere along the way it had changed from being optional to compulsory with a need to be signed out as competent at it.
It was a bit cold and misty, but it didn't deter us
It all started out with a session on raising and lowering a buckeye coupling plus extending/shortening the buffers:
Tim lowers a buckeye coupling using the special tool

Sean manhandles a buffer into position
As you can see, only a few people could hone their skills at any one time.  That left a lot of people stood around with nothing better to do than heckle.  If we had a competency to pass in heckling, this lot would all pass with flying colours.

After we'd all managed to operate the relevant parts successfully on a static coach, it was time to progress on to a real rake of carriages and go through the process of separating them, and then coupling them back up together again.  As the Carriage & Wagon dept needed to perform an inspection of the dining train, that was what we used.  Steve drove the 03 shunter and everybody else took it in turns to go through the process of splitting then re-forming the train.  Opening a buckeye coupling requires getting the driver to squeeze up the buffers, yanking hard on a chain which opens the coupling and then sending the shunter away from you.  The classic mistake is to yank the chain to free the coupling and then raise both arms to stop the shunter.  This of course involves letting go of the chain which in turn makes the buckeye re-couple itself.  You look a bit silly sending the train away, only to find that it is still attached to the carriages that you've tried to separate it from.  Getting the carriages re-coupled turned out to be a fairly straight forward affair, with less scope for fouling it up.

Glynn was brave enough to go first...
...with some success
Tigger fetching the rest of the train back
Probably the biggest problem encountered was the fact that the vacuum brake hoses between the carriages are very rarely split and put on their dummies.  Consequently, the seal on the dummies on most of the coaches had perished which caused problems with getting the brakes off:
Mike struggles separating the vacuum hoses...
...and then struggles even more getting this one to seal on the dummy
Chris yanks on the chain to release the buckeye...

...and stops the shunter when it has safely gone far enough away
Steve got to spend the morning in the nice warm cab of the 03 shunter
 Eventually, the buckeye training is done and it's time to go back to Toddington to see what jobs are in progress:
Both smoke deflectors have now been trial fitted to 35006

The con rods needed a little de-rusting

And the pressure gauge has appeared in the cab
The pressure gauge red lines at 250 PSI, which is fine, but it is currently showing 20 PSI which is not.  Some calibration will be required.

Meanwhile, 2807's ash pan and piston valve spindles were continuing to receive attention.  The old ash pan had already had the worst bits cut away, the replacement bits were now to be welded in.

Bruce & Tigger got on with the task of reassembling the driver's side piston valve:

There was a lot of work taking place on Foremarke Hall which is still short of a copper chimney cap:
She does look s little odd like this
The good news is that the decision has been taken for her to run on both the 28th and 29th of December which will be the last possible running dates before her current boiler ticket expires.  More details are to be found here and here on the official website.

Next week, it's the start of the Santa specials.  Who knows what will happen then.  I've bought tinsel and mince pies in anticipation.  I failed in my mission to find some outdoor battery powered fairy lights though. 

And finally.... more errata.  People love coming up to me and telling me when I've got something wrong on this blog.  This week it was the turn of Peter, one of the buskers at Toddington last week raising money for the Broadway appeal who I had erroneously said was part of the Broadway Area Group, when he is in fact a member of the Steam Loco Dept and also OTC.  I wonder what I managed to get wrong this week.  No doubt I'll soon find out.

Monday, 18 November 2013

A Day at the Races

November is technically the down season, no normal passenger services running.  There is an exception for a couple of days though, when there are races on at Cheltenham Race Course and we lay on special trains to take some of the race-goers to Cheltenham and back from Toddington.  Given the congestion on the roads around the race course and ample free parking at Toddington, traveling there and back by train makes a lot of sense on a practical level, never mind the enhanced sense of occasion that arriving by steam train endows on the event.  Consequently I was up at Toddington, long before dawn on Saturday to start cleaning the 8F, which was the booked loco for the day.  Cliff (trainee driver, under the tuition of Steve) had turned up half an hour earlier than me to crack on with the oiling round of the loco.  He's too keen by half!
Cliff lubricating the motion
After fetching a stack of wood for Andy (today's fireman) to light up with, I got on with cleaning the 8F.  She was pretty grubby after doing the same race specials on Friday too.
The view from the top of the boiler
A little later, Jonathan arrived to help out with the cleaning.  Knowing how best to impress, he started off by making a pot of tea.  The comment "Just about the only kettle he can boil" by Andy was judged by all present to have been unduly harsh.  I suspect that next time Andy asks Jonathan for a cup of tea he'll either not get one at all or if he does, he'll find that it has additives other than milk or sugar.  If you've ever seen the last episode of 'Blackadder Goes Forth', you'll get the general idea.  I'd have given you a link to the sketch , but the BBC appear to have purged Youtube of anything that breaches their copyright.
One lump or two?
Jonathan and Andy had a go at cleaning down the tender, the process wasn't made any easier by the fact that the water supply to the hose left something to be desired:
Not ideal
I found a suitably sized spanner on the footplate of the 8F and fixed the leak, getting only mildly damp in the process. Andy and Jonathan were then able to continue.
The water was getting through at last
There is a mini project about to kick off to restore a few of the milk wagons dotted about the railway.  They'd look good in the freight train during galas and would make a very nice milk train for use in photo charters.  The plan is to start with the one in the yard at Toddington.  A full inspection is to take place later in the month, however I thought I'd have a bit of a peek at it before then:
Ok, the paint work is a bit faded
I suspect that some of the timbers will need replacing
The vegetation will need removing... will the fungi.
A little while later, we had moved to platform one at Toddington to await our passengers.  We weren't the only ones.  A musical duo from the Broadway Station Group had set up camp on platform one and were 'Busking for Broadway':
And jolly good they sounded too
The passengers all turned up in their Sunday best and many seemed to want to have their photos taken beside the loco:
Say cheese!
Several commented on how clean the 8F was, which as the rostered cleaner always makes you feel glad that you've made a difference, though of course on this occasion I couldn't take all the credit, the rest of the crew & Jonathan had pitched in and cleaned bits as well.  There is always an exception to every rule of course and I found myself chatting to one chap who thought that it was too clean.  His memories of 8F's in his youth were of grimy grey uncared for machines and he wanted 8274 to look as he'd remembered them.

Andy decided that when we get the passengers down to Cheltenham, we should stand by the loco holding out our hats hoping to collect a few tips:
Not sure that he'll make too much that way!
Being technically the down season, there was plenty of stuff going on along the lineside.  Permanent Way were out in force at a number of locations, including the south head shunt at Toddington:
Permanent Way at work on the south head shunt
One of the perils of working on this railway is that you find yourself appearing on one blog or another (yes I know, a well known expression involving pots, kettles and the colour black can be employed in my case).   As I was busy taking this shot for this blog, somebody down there was doing the same for the Permanent Way dept's flickr site.

It wasn't just the Permanent Way team that were out grabbing photos, the Lineside Drainage Management team were at it too.  I got them back a little bit later on in the day at Winchcombe.  We were greeted with "You can't park that here." as we pulled into the platform.  Not seeing any traffic wardens about, we decided to risk waiting there until the guard blew his whistle and waved his green flag.
You can't park that here.
The day had developed a bit of a mist in places over which the Malvern hills appeared to float serenely above it.
The Malvern Hills
Platform two at Cheltenham has grown a bit longer since I was last down here too:
Definitely making progress.
The champagne fueled passengers disembarked and headed off to the race course, we headed back to Toddington with the empty coaches.
Waiting for the last of the passengers to head off to the races
At Winchcombe we found some others of the steam loco dept taking part in training on how to couple and uncouple the buckeye couplings found on most of our coaching stock.  It's something that we don't do on a regular basis, yet any crew member could find themselves having to split a burning train in an emergency (I probably should have said something along the lines of "In the extremely unlikely event that...." just as they do in the airline safety briefings).  I'll be doing the buckeye training next week.  Hopefully they won't try to make it too realistic by setting fire to the coaches.
Buckeye training in progress
As we approached Toddington, Andy rather cheekily put in a request for four cups of tea to be fetched up to the platform for us as we passed the mess coach.  Dan gave the expected response of "You'll be lucky".  Shortly afterwards though, Tina appeared bearing four cups of tea on a tray.  After Andy's comment this morning, I feared that Jonathan may have made them and sent Tina along with them to allay our suspicions, but no, it was perfectly drinkable and very welcome tea.
Andy, Tina and the tea.
At lunchtime, a fish and chip special had been squeezed into the timetable, so off we go back down the line with a train full of passengers dining on fish and chips.  We swapped firemen at Cheltenham, Derek getting on to replace Andy.  Derek had ordered some fish and chips for himself and made a good job of defending them from marauding hungry cleaners:
Derek defends his dinner!
We raised a bit of clag as well as steam at times:

Derek didn't know if Andy had tested the safety valves so he decided to check them just to make sure
Cliff, Derek and Steve
Returning to Toddington found that a group of people were working on extending the concrete apron by the ash pit:
Preparing the ground for more concrete
Further on towards Laverton, the Lineside Clearance team were out in force:
They had nearly as good a fire going as we did.
The return trip to pick up the race-goers at Cheltenham was handled by the remainder of the relief crew, Ian & Ed as well as Derek.  The return trip has something of a reputation, the passengers by then have had a full day of celebrating or drowning their sorrows depending on how successful they had been at backing winning horses.  Boisterous behaviour and rather more use of the communication cord than would be deemed strictly necessary are par for the course.  For me though, it was time for more tea in the mess coach.  Sometimes I think that the railway is fueled more by tea than coal.  Tea is definitely cheaper and as far as I'm concerned it tastes rather better too.

I was lying in wait for 8274 an her gallant crew with my camera when they got back:
Arriving at Toddington
 Once they were disposing on the ash pit, Neil decided to try and stand still long enough to feature in a twenty second exposure. 
Not bad, but he didn't quite manage to keep his head still enough.

Raking through the fire

Setting off again halfway through a long exposure
Finally, as Dan and I were emptying out the pit of ash into wheelbarrows pushed by Andy & Jonathan, Ian decided that he was up to using my camera and took this photo:
We were working so fast that we were all just a blur
Ian missed what would have been the shot of the day which was when Jonathan accidentally tipped his wheelbarrow full of ash back into the tip, narrowly missing me.