Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Tale of Two Timetables

Christmas Eve was the last of the Santa Specials.  The weather had not been very festive however, none of the snow that Bing Crosby had been dreaming of, but plenty of strong winds and rain instead.  There were a few sizable puddles to be found in the yard at Toddington:
I wouldn't have minded so much, but my boots leak badly
I was booked down to clean the PFP, 5542.  She is a a small but perfectly formed loco.  Small means less to clean, which is definitely a benefit in the teeth of a howling gale.   As I was there before the rostered fireman, during the worst of the rain, I decided that the best thing to clean would be the grate, and once that was clean, get the fire going.... all things that could be done in the dry.  Mark seemed to be pleased when he arrived as it was less for him to do. 

At one point, Nigel, one of the guards popped by and asked who was the crew for today.  I told him that it was Ian and Mark.  "The A team" was his reply.   I inferred from that, that the crew of 8274 must therefore be the 'B team' as they were the only other steam crew around.
Ben, George, Jon & Tina... the 'B team'
I doubt that they would be happy to be known as the 'B team' though. Perhaps we should just refer to them as the 'other A team'.
Before we set off with 5542, there was a bit of a shunt to do:
Shunting the old mess coach
Ok, there was a lot of shunting to do.  The process was not expedited by the fact that at one point we were blocking the DMU in its siding and had to get out of the way to let it out.
Getting out of the way of the DMU
Finally sticking everything back where it was wanted.

 Eventually we were off on our way:
On our way at last
 At Winchcombe, we passed the 'other A team'.  For reasons that eluded me, Nigel, the guard had decided that he could best perform his duties from the footplate.  Everybody else up there ducked out of sight when they saw me with my camera in hand.
Nigel on the footplate
All bar George, who had changed his choice of head gear
Then we were off down to Cheltenham to collect our first group of passengers en-route to Winchcombe The North Pole.  
Ian and Mark... the A team.
Into Greet tunnel
Mark... by the light of the fire in Greet tunnel
The weather was at times quite dreadful....
.... and at times extremely pleasant.
With the passengers safely delivered to the North Pole to visit Santa in his grotto, we could get cracking on the main event... lunch:
Mark cracked on with the cooking...
...and then the brown sauce
Ian wonders how he can get bacon baps for his Christmas dinner instead of turkey
Over an hour to have a relaxed lunch, wonderful.  Then it's back off to Cheltenham to repeat the process all over again:
Crossing with 8274 at Gotherington
Ian decided to test just how waterproof his grease top hat is...
... and then tried to test how waterproof my boots were.
At Cheltenham Ian decided that I hadn't made a good enough job of cleaning the cabside number plates, apparently I'd been over enthusiastic with the Brasso.
I have to confess it did look better when he'd buffed up the black background with a bit of oil
One of the younger visitors to the footplate manage to drop a reindeer hat on to the track, Ian gallantly sprang into action and retrieved it for her:
Ian picking up the dropped hat.
Off back to Winchcombe again and crossing 8274 at Gotherington
Back at Winchcombe once more, we get yet another extended wait for all our passengers to process through Santa's grotto.  What did we find to do to fill the time?  Second lunch of course:
Bacon, sausages and of course mince pies for dessert
All in all, a very civilised way to spend a day; a relaxed timetable with plenty of lengthy breaks for gastronomic diversions.
5542 and 8274 put to bed for the evening
Compare that with Friday.  Now that the Santa Specials have finished, we're back to the blue timetable.  Once again my steed was to be 5542.  The 'A team' on this occasion, was the only team out, Ade on the shovel with John on the regulator for the first of three round trips and Ben for the second two.  The round trips in this case, weren't just between Cheltenham and Winchcombe, but for the whole line length, including up to Laverton loop.

Once again, the weather started off dreadfully.  Once again we had a shunt to do first.  The shunt was to extricate Foremarke Hall from the shed, ready for duties on the 28th and 29th, the last two days of her current boiler ticket.  Foremarke Hall was blocked in by Mavis (small diesel shunter) and some scaffolding.  
Dragging Foremarke Hall and Mavis out into the yard
Mercifully, by now the rain had stopped... briefly
Finally, with everything shunted to where it was wanted, we set off... rather slowly in places where fallen trees or landslips were considered a possibility.  Mercifully no fallen trees or landslips were encountered.

The weather was back to howling gales, by the time that we got to Cheltenham.  Even in the nice cosy and well protected cab of 5542, the wind was still howling through and the rain found its way in at times too.
A chink of light in the otherwise bleak skies as we arrived at Cheltenham
Although the wind didn't drop, by the time that we set off, the skies had cleared and a fine rainbow was to be seen ahead of us:
Rainbow ahead
Needless to say, it didn't last long and not far into the return journey, the rain kicked off again:
Ade is once again grateful for the well protected cab of 5542
That rainbow put in another appearance
Mercifully, by the time that we arrived at Laverton loop, the skies had cleared once more.  Just as well really as there is plenty to be done out in the elements; uncoupling, coupling and operating the ground frames:
5542 runs around the carriages
... and passes the ground frame.
Friday's 'A team':
Ben and Ade
The weather once again reverted to howling gales and because the line changes direction along its route, for some stretches of track, the wind was coming at us sideways on:
Yup, more rain
 The cab of 5542 is the most weather poof cab of any of our locos.  It is a prized loco to be rostered on if the forecast is inclement.  It does however have something of an Achilles heel.  Whilst the front and back are impervious to the worst of the British weather, the gaps above the doors in the side of the cab offer little protection in the event of a cross wind.
The rain was coming in horizontally
Ben's initial idea was that I should stand in the doorway as some kind of human shield.  Oddly, I wasn't impressed by this idea, so Ben swung plan B into action, which was to dangle his coat over the opening:
Ben and his make-shift rain excluder
By the end of the day, we were all extremely thankful that we had been on 5542, if we'd been on any of our other locos, we'd have been soaked. 
Finally putting 5542 to be on Friday
There is no opportunity in the blue timetable for cooking lunch on the shovel, but it's still an extremely enjoyable day on the footplate regardless.

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