Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Don't Mention the War

That time of the year when the GWSR slips into a slightly different time warp has come round again.  Rather than being somewhere in the late 1950's, we stepped back a bit further to the early 1940's to relive what it was like to be alive in wartime Britain.  I was rostered to clean Dinmore Manor on Sunday. Recent rain had made the ground rather soft in places.  I was slightly concerned when I discovered that the field at Toddington that I would need to park in on Sunday had become rather too soft, Ben and the Fork Lift Truck Thunderbird 4 had to be summoned to rescue George on Saturday:
The perils of front wheel drive and a lot of weight in the back.  Photo courtesy of Dan Wigg
It was with a measure of trepidation then that I parked my car in the field on Sunday morning:
My exit route didn't look too promising
Should you wish to visit the GWSR on one of the few days that we open the field at Toddington for parking purposes, and you think that the ground might turn out to be a bit too soft for comfort, you'll find plenty of much better drained parking at Cheltenham Race Course station.  Hopefully we'll get better weather for the Back to Black gala in late May, but if we don't, then parking at Cheltenham Race Course and taking our trains from there would be advisable.  Speaking of the Back to Black gala, it seems that our resident 8F will now be converted for a short while over the gala period to BR livery, assuming the number 48274, which was at Stourton shed (55B) for nearly all of its career.  That's something I'm very much looking forward to and I am very grateful to all involved at the Churchill 8F group for making happen.

So, back to Sunday morning,  it was raining.  I've probably mentioned this before,  but cleaning a loco in the rain is a bit of a thankless task.  You can wash over the boiler barrel, but trying to dry it off again so that it doesn't leave any streaks is fairly futile. I gave it a go anyway.  Cleaning brass in the rain just doesn't work at all.  I tried applying a bit of diesel/oil mix to the smokebox, but that just turned to a white emulsion and looked dreadful.  I had to wipe it off again on the bit that I tried.  Fortunately, Tina wanted Dinmore Manor's grate clearing of ash whilst she got on with something else, so I was able to check out how well the drop grate works from within the nice dry cab.  I am pleased to report that it works extremely well and more importantly that whilst using it you remain perfectly dry.  When I'd finished that, as the water sample container was on hand, I proceeded to run in a sample from the water gauge test cock and save Tina another job.  The fact that his too had to be done in a nice dry cab had no influence on my decision whatsoever.  Job done, I stepped back away from the backhead, only to discover too late that Tina had just shifted some lighting up wood up onto the footplate. Tripping over it,  I fell over backwards and landed surprisingly softly in the coal space in the tender.  Ben was quite impressed that I managed to land flat on my back yet keep the water sample container upright and not spill a drop.  He mentioned something about it being a useful talent if you inadvertently fall over with a pint of beer in your hand.  Tina's concern amounted to saying "I'm not laughing really" whilst splitting her sides.  Mercifully, the only thing damaged was my pride.  Well one or two of the lumps of coal were probably injured too, but me crushing them was the least of their worries!

Having three locos in steam, meant that there was quite a few people about, though given the rain, much of the work done seemed to be performed from either in the cab or somewhere underneath the locos.  Dinmore Manor has a fairly exposed cab when running tender first, nowhere to hide in there.  The crews of 5542 and the 8F in their nice warm enclosed cabs seemed to perfectly happy with their lot:
Chris relaxes with a brew in the cab of the 8F
I discovered that Jonathan can do a pretty realistic Nelson (Simpsons, not naval hero) impression:
Jonathan keeping dry
Eventually there was some respite from the rain, and I was able to get some cleaning done.  Although buffing up the copper chimney cap with Brasso is still a bit of a pain, I was pleased to note that I could at least reach all of the smoke box and chimney from the running plate, when it came to applying a diesel/oil mix. Foremarke Hall being similar, but just that bit bigger was too far to reach for me.
Other copper/brass cleaning products do exist
When one of the tea breaks came round, Ben was underneath Dinmore Manor oiling her lubrication points.  A plaintive voice was heard to come from somewhere down below "Am I missing biscuits?".  Surprisingly as wartime rationing was in force, the answer was "Yes", so Ben emerged from underneath Dinmore Manor in what must have been some sort of record time:

Ben and the rationed biscuits
I think Ben must have absconded with those biscuits, he certainly tried to cover his tracks as he set off shed:
Were the biscuits in there somewhere?
As mentioned last week, here is 35006 sporting one of her smoke deflectors, the other one is still waiting to be fitted:
Well at the least the driver will be able to see clearly, shame about the fireman
So what happens at 'Wartime Weekends'? Well for a start, people turn up in 1940's vehicles and wearing 1940's clothes:
Chris & John, looking dapper and singing in the rain
I'm not up to speed on buses, but this one looked suitably old
A Sherman tank fits the wartime theme very well
As well as the rather nifty tank transporter that it came on.
You'll probably have spotted by now that my road vehicle preference is for two wheeled transport rather than four, I had quite a chat with the owner of this rather handsome 1940 Velocette.
I wouldn't kick it out of the garage for leaking oil.

As for the people, even the ones in civilian attire managed to look the part... up to and including lipstick marks on this chap's face.
Best clean that off before he goes home to the wife!
I quite like 1940's prices, less sure about what was on offer though:
Spam at 2d, don't tell Monty Python
The RAF let us down at one point, there was an air raid warning:
Air raid warning... very loud, it would have scared off Goering all by itself!
 Having studied the GWSR's air raid precautions handbook, I knew that the best thing to do in an air raid is to take cover and find some breakfast.  I needed no second bidding:
Nick, bereft of tin hat and gas mask, but at least he has his breakfast
That little lot must have made quite a dent in his ration book.

Back in the car park, John was keen to tell me about his car collection:
Would you buy a used car from this man?
 I had hitherto been blissfully unaware that BSA had made cars as well as motorbikes.  Being the one time proud owner of a 1955 BSA B33, I was interested in finding out more about the erstwhile four wheeled products of the Small Heath factory:
Birmingham Small Arms

The diesel shed had been commandeered by the RAF and turned into a war time Operations Room.  They even re-enacted an air raid and dispatched three squadrons of 'friendly' aircraft to see off the hostile ones:
Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler
 When the air raid started, it got serious, the WAAFs not only put on their tin hats, but they even put their knitting down too.
RAF 1: 0 Luftwaffe
 The first two locos off on Sunday morning made quite a pleasant GWR scene, sat side by side at Toddington. The crossing monitors in their hi-viz vests (insurance requirement apparently) obligingly stepped to each side out of the shot.
5542 & Dinmore Manor ready for wartime service
We'll gloss over the fact that Dinmore Manor, although a GWR design, wasn't built until 1950 by British Rail.   You'll notice too that I chose an angle that largely excludes the younger still BR MK I coaches. Still, if Steve McQueen (or more accurately his stuntman) could escape from Stalag Luft III on a 1961 Triumph TR6, then I'm sure that we can get away with such minor indiscretions.

Meanwhile, over on the narrow gauge railway, there was a German spy in the camp:
Henschel 1091 of 1918
There was some speculation as to whether or not there were lady crews on mainline locomotives during the war years.  Tina believed that there had been, others thought not.  I'll confess to having no idea, well it was long before my time. If you know the answer, do tell. Either way, it didn't deter Tina in the slightest, or Tonia for that matter:
All-female crew of the future?  Tina and Tonia
Ben couldn't resist getting in on the act too:
I'll leave working out what comments were made as an exercise for the reader
We were distracted by a German spy attempting to infiltrate the footplate:

The RAF came to the rescue though.
It wasn't just Toddington that was in the 1940's timewarp, Gotherington had become an army camp:
Note the pump trolley in the background, that looked like fun
We had a spot of bother at Gotherington.  We only use one platform, the main station building and its platform forming a private residence.  A group of passengers had got on the wrong platform expecting the train to take them back from there.  The lack of track by that  platform had somehow escaped their attention.  We had to pull forward far enough to clear the crossing to allow them to come round to the platform that we use and then get on the train.
No, we hadn't badly overshot the platform.
I found the Morris dancers at Cheltenham this year.  They appeared to be ready to repel any invading Nazis with their wooden clubs.
Keeping old traditions alive.
There was a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Spitfire overflight at about 14:30, but we were at the wrong end of the line to see it when it passed over Winchcombe and Toddington.   Having missed the photo opportunity myself, I thought that I might have to raid my archives and do a 'Blue Peter'.
Here's one I prepared earlier
The BBMF have several Spitfires, here's another one I prepared earlier
It's not just Spitfires that they have either
As it happens, I didn't really need to have raided my archives, as Matt Willis has kindly allowed me to use this excellent video clip of it passing over the skies of Winchcombe, it's well worth a view:

 The highlight for me was none of the many things listed above, good as they all were.  The highlight for me was the first opportunity to fire Dinmore Manor. She certainly seems to be able to produce steam quite well, yet still be fairly controllable.  The driver has to work her slightly harder to get the same sort of effect compared to our larger locos, so she sounds just as good as she looks too.   

When running tender first, it gets a bit draughty in the cab.  I don't tend to notice the cold too much, I was still happily wearing a short sleeve shirt at this point however at least one other person present on the footplate was finding it all bit too cold.  A head popped out from under there every now and then to make sure that I was keeping the pressure and water in the right places before hiding away again. 
Just wait until the winter comes around.
 The day closed out with another Niagara Falls moment.... either Tina called 'Stop' too late, or Ben was too slow to react, either way, Tina had to work hard to keep her feet dry.
Tina and her own private swimming pool.
 When we loaded up with coal at disposal time, it became evident that the FLT had been distributing bales of hay around the field car park in an attempt to make it easier for the cars to get out, as some of the hay was now mixed in with the coal
Hay in the coal... presumably to help coax an extra few horse power out of 7820
Finally, you're probably expecting some sort of tale of woe relating to how much difficulty I had getting my car out of the parking field at the end of the day, well you'd be wrong.  Ian kindly offered to fetch round our cars whilst we got on with disposal.  By the time we had finished, all of our cars were sat in the car park ready and waiting for us, thanks Ian.  No, I intend to finish with a different tale of woe.  At last year's gala, we found ourselves extremely low on rags.  We need rags to clean our locos with and more importantly to start lighting up the fires with.  We get through quite a lot of rags every operating day.   It got to the point last year that we ran out completely and ended up pilfering perfectly good towels from the mess coach to clean and light up the locos.  Once again, our stocks are perilously low and the gala is now less than a month away.  Back in the blitz, one of the many slogans that people were bombarded with was 'Make Do And Mend'.  In other words, don't throw old clothes etc out, darn the holes and carry on.  Well, times have moved on, I for one wouldn't have a clue how to darn a pair of socks and would probably only manage to do myself an injury with a needle if I tried.  So if your curtains are looking a bit threadbare, or your t-shirts have been got at by moths, go on, treat yourself to some new ones and send us the old ones for recycling as only the steam loco dept know how.  I have made it easier for you, I have obtained a green wheelie bin, labeled it appropriately and placed it by the entrance to the yard.  
Green wheelie bin in its new home
The yard gates at Toddington, wheelie bin to the right.
So yes please, to any old items of clothing/fabric/towels etc that you may have lying around that you were considering throwing out.  Old towels in particular are prized for their loco cleaning properties, but a surprisingly large amount of other fabrics are suitable too.  Don't worry if your curtains or bedsheets are labeled as being 'flame resistant' or suchlike,  resistance is useless.  Please don't use the wheelie bin for general rubbish though, there are plenty of other bins around the site for that.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A Surfeit of Inspectors

Photos of work that has taken place in the department are always welcome, and John has forwarded me quite a collection showing the tasks involved in removing Foremarke Hall's exhaust.  By way of accompanying text, John restricted himself to "What a messy job!!!!!!".  That description that could apply to just about everything that the steam loco dept does, but as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here you are:
The saddle after removal.
Exhaust box with exhaust pipes and blast pipe still in situ
Lifting the exhaust assembly out
The empty exhaust box
Martin had the messiest job, pressure washing the exhaust pipes
When each month's roster becomes available online, I scan through it to make a note in my diary of which turns that I've been allocated.  For April, Saturday the 19th was down as a fireman training turn. This time, Paul my usual driver on fireman training turns was out on the first train, yet I was down for the second one. On this occasion, my driver would be Rod.   Rod was due for his biennial reassessment though, so one of our inspectors, Chris, was also booked to join us.  Working on the principle that Chris would almost certainly only be on the footplate for one round trip and would be far more interested in keeping an eye on Rod rather than me, my anxiety level was raised from its usual default setting of 'chilled and relaxed' to no more than 'mildly apprehensive'.  Then, about three or four weeks ago, I noticed that there had been a change to the roster. Rod had dropped out as the driver, to be replaced by Jeff (our other inspector) with Chris taking over as his relief driver.  Now that Rod was no longer going to be on the footplate to distract them, I was now clearly going to be the focus of their attention.  My anxiety level was elevated to 'distinctly alarmed'.  A check of the loco roster revealed that we'd be out on 5542.  She's a wonderful loco, but I struggle with her more than the others.  She has the smallest boiler of all our home fleet, and is quicker to lose pressure and correspondingly quicker to come back round and leave you blowing off if you over compensate.  In short, there is rather less margin for error. Up until this point, the fact that this was the Easter weekend had sneaked in under my radar.  Checking the online booking web page revealed that I could volunteer for a free cleaning slot on Good Friday and hopefully get in a little practice beforehand.  When Clive, the fireman on Friday found out, he said the magic words that all cleaners like to hear "Bring your shovel".  My anxiety level dropped to merely 'concerned'.   After a bit of practice on Friday,  I'd just treat the Saturday as if it was a mock exam, and all would be well. 

Two weeks before Saturday, Sean, the senior firing instructor/firing inspector casually dropped into a conversation, "I'll be riding out with you on the 19th just to see how bad you are".  The needle on my anxiety meter instantly shot across the dial and wrapped itself around the end stop (yes, I still have an old fashioned imperial analogue anxiety meter rather then one of these new fangled metric calibrated digital ones).  To put this in some sort of context, I bumped into Mike, one of our other cleaners in the middle of the week in my local supermarket. He asked when I was next out for a fireman training turn and who with.  My reply of "Well it's on Saturday, with Jeff, Chris and Sean" caused all the colour to drain from his face and his jaw to drop for a moment before he finally recovered his composure and said "Oh I'm sure you'll be alright".   Neither of us believed him.

So Friday arrived and my pre-ordeal practice session commenced.  Unusually for me, I was on train 2 (departing 11:10 from Toddington), with Steve driving and Clive as the booked fireman.  It was a nice relaxed start.
5542 on the ash pit, whilst train 1 (Dinmore Manor) sets off at 10:00
 Once on our stock (the maroon set) we experienced a little difficulty with the steam heat:
An excess of steam twixt loco and carriage....
...shortly followed by a loud bang.
Steam heating bags parting company is a fairly spectacular occurrence.  The bang is certainly enough to make you jump and needless to say there is a fair old cloud of steam emitted at the same time. Unless you're actually between the loco and the carriage at the time, it's probably nowhere near as dangerous as it sounds though. It's a case of the bark being worse than the bite.  It happened three times in all before we finally got it sorted.  Clive wandered along the length of the train checking the steam heat connectors between each carriage.  I think that he found that one of the steam heat pipe cocks just a carriage or two down the train had been closed, causing the pressure to build up to the point where the bag just shot off from its connector.

Aside from that, the day seemed to go fairly well, if 5542 blew off at all, then I don't recollect it and the pressure and water were up roughly where they were supposed to be.  That would appear to be more than could be said for whoever was firing Dinmore Manor.  As we approached Winchcombe for the first time, Clive noticed that Dinmore Manor was blowing off in the platform and borrowed my camera to capture proof of the event:
The photo that Clive took
At this point, I was rather more concerned with getting the token exchange done and watching the train in to be concerned with taking photos myself, so it was nice to have somebody else take on the job.

 Over the lunch break, I noted a few new things around the yard at Toddington.  The most obvious thing was that 4270 was unusually out in the sunshine rather than hiding Cinderella like in the David Page shed.
4270 basking in the sun
I asked Ian who has been responsible for her restoration what she was doing out of the shed.  He replied that she was being coaled and watered prior to being weighed on Saturday.  That's not to see how much she weighs, you can look that up online or if you're 'old school' look it up in a book.  The idea is to make sure that her weight is evenly distributed amongst her wheels and if it isn't, adjust her suspension until it is.  When asked if this meant that she is near to being ready to be steamed, Ian replied "Well she's nearer now than she was before."  Ian likes to play his cards close to his chest.

Inside the David Page shed, I noticed that a trench has now appeared between roads 8 and 9, presumably for some sort of drainage pipe to be installed:
New drainage channel?
35006 has had another coat of paint applied to her smoke deflectors.  I am informed by my spy in the 35006 camp that the smoke deflectors were fitted yesterday (Monday), I'll try and get photos next week if I can.  Speaking of 35006, I have been severely chastised for an error in last week's blog, apparently the tender tank had been lifted to facilitate painting between the frames of the tender and had nothing to do with the brakes at all.  
35006 and her smoke deflectors, shortly before fitting
Howard and Dave have been busying themselves with the milk tanker, needle gunning and painting having taken place at one end of the frames.  One of our firemen who shall have to remain nameless was rather taken by the idea of filling it with cider rather than milk.
Milk and alcohol
By the end of the day, thanks to Steve & Clive, I had reasonably successfully fired a couple of round trips, picked up a few more useful tips on how to fire and was feeling a little more confident about the ordeal to come.  Anxiety level descended to 'extremely concerned'

On to Saturday morning, and once again I was booked down for train 2.  I arrived a little earlier than the booked time, only to find that Sean and Ade (my firing instructor) were there before me. It turned out that Sean was unable to join us on the footplate after all, my anxiety level dropped back further to no higher than 'concerned' once again. 
Somehow, Ade got roped into help with the oiling up of 5542
As we were off as train 2, we got to watch 7820 running as train 1 disappear off again.
Dinmore Manor making a spirited departure.  Photo courtesy Ade Showell
 George however was unimpressed as her departure caused a quantity of ash or some other unpalatable black stuff to be deposited in his cup of tea as she passed by.
The polluted tea. Photo courtesy of Ade Showell
As for the day's events, it seemed that at every turn some other department of the railway was trying to upstage us in the smoke generating department.
One of the diesel shunters was receiving attention at Winchcombe
I'm not sure what was going on with the shunter, but it did involve the creation of some rather nice smoke rings.

Meanwhile at Cheltenham, a fair amount of line side flora was going up in flames:
Smoke signals from the lineside clearance team
At one of our crossings with Dinmore Manor at Winchcombe, I noticed that not only was there a footplate passenger on board, but that the passenger concerned was Paul Atterbury, one of the experts on the Antiques Roadshow.
Paul Atterbury (L) and Mark on the footplate of Dinmore Manor.  Photo courtesy of Mike Solloway
I was hitherto unaware, but Paul is a patron of the DMLL group. 

As for me, not so good as Friday.  The safety valves were definitely tested a few times, most embarrassingly on the second departure from Toddington in front of a sizable gallery of people gathered around the ash pit. A distinct cheer was raised as 5542 blew off. For the second trip in particular, it was as if the coal in the bunker had been replaced by some sort of black stuff that was two parts napalm to three parts rocket fuel. It formed something of a black tarry mess at the back of the grate for a while and was still there at the same depth at the back of the grate when we arrived at Cheltenham as it had been when we had set off from Toddington, without me having added any more to it. I like to think that it was just due to a mix of Battlefield line coal (5542 had been away at the Battlefield line the previous weekend) and the coal from  Ffos-Y-Fran in Wales that we use, possibly just a different seam of Ffos-Y-Fran, or more likely, I'm just making excuses.  Still, if you're going to get it wrong, it's best to err on the side of a bit too much pressure rather than too little.  Once again, I came away with a few useful hints and tips from Ade, Jeff & Chris to try and remember to put into practice next time.

Ade very kindly finished off the rest of the disposal of 5542 after I had emptied the smoke box and ash pan, leaving me free to get cleaned up a bit and join in a celebratory Dinmore Manor Shareholders Special evening run. Not being a shareholder, I have no idea how I came to be invited, but I was very keen to go along anyway. There was an excellent buffet laid on, along with champagne (Don't worry, I'd signed out before boarding the train) and a celebration cake.  My anxiety level returned once more to its more usual 'chilled and relaxed' setting.
Dinmore Manor waiting to depart with the shareholders special
The rather tasty cake.
 It was noted by the passengers that the steam heating was cranked up very high, on what was already a fairly warm day.  During the layover at Cheltenham for the cake cutting ceremony, I wandered up to the loco to request that it be turned down a little.  Ben who was firing was having none of it.  He had been expecting Mark to put in a fairly spirited performance and built up his fire accordingly, only to find that Mark had driven Dinmore Manor in a rather leisurely manner.    Ben stood in front of the pressure and water gauges to hide them from me, but I didn't need to see them to know what was going on.  I'm not entirely sure that I should mention this in a public forum, but if you're a passenger on a steam hauled train in the depths of winter, and the steam heating suddenly goes cold, the reason is that the fireman is in trouble, and rather than risk having to stop for a blow up, he has just switched off the steam heating to try and help keep boiler pressure up.  Correspondingly, if the fireman has too much pressure, has run out of water space and is in danger of the loco blowing off, he'll crank the steam heating up, to try and shift some of that surplus steam into the carriages rather than have it escape from the safety valves.  This latter case was obviously the one that applied here.
Ben, smiling in adversity
 Hardly had the words "She'll not be blowing off tonight" passed Ben's lips than....
 There was quite a loud cheer at this point from the various members of the steam loco dept scattered around the platform.  Ben sheepishly explained that it only happened because he was distracted by a  particularly pleasing to the eye member of the opposite sex had come up onto the footplate to look around. I'm not too sure that I'd have admitted that myself, I'd probably just have blamed a dodgy batch of coal.
Waiting at Cheltenham, before setting back.
 Mark and Ben were of course isolated on the footplate for the whole trip, I'm a bit surprised that they didn't try and obtain a corridor tender for the evening, so that one of them could nip back down the train for supplies from the buffet whilst the train was in motion.

Many thanks to all concerned in the DMLL group for a wonderful evening. Everybody on board seemed to have a marvelous time, I certainly know that I did.

Finally, I was back again briefly on Easter Sunday morning to cover a cleaning turn for somebody else who couldn't make it.  As a certain driver of Dinmore Manor informed his fireman on Sunday that "She's exactly the same as Foremarke Hall", then it's time for a brief public service announcement for the benefit of any of our crews who haven't lit up Dinmore Manor yet.  She isn't quite the same as Foremarke Hall. In addition to the ash pan door mechanism described several weeks ago, she also has a drop grate fitted:
Drop grate lever in place
Lift away the floor section below the firehole door, insert the lever (which lives in the drivers side tool compartment) lift the latch and lower the centre portion of the grate by gently allowing the lever to rise up.
Centre section of grate dropped
What follows next is the rough equivalent of sweeping dust under the carpet, use the rake to move the ash into the centre of the grate, which will then drop into the ash pan. It makes cleaning the grate a very quick and easy process.  Before lighting your fire on the nicely cleaned grate, use the lever to raise the drop grate and latch it in place.  Should half your fire disappear into the ash pan, then you forgot to do that last bit.