Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Sacrificial Cleaner

Monday was of course the last day of the Back to Black gala, just for once, it wasn't raining when I turned up at 05:00.  To help some of the crews fit in with their working hours limits, I had been assigned to start off by lighting up our own resident 8F.  I did the same thing last year as I recollect.  

 As Monday was the only gala day forecast not to start off with rain, I thought that it would be a nice idea to see what could be done by way of interesting photo line ups.  My starting point was that both the LMS locos were facing north, whilst all the GWSR ones were facing south, so separate grouping line ups were possible.  I had made a note of what the starting positions were going to be, and on Sunday night I came up with a cunning plan. The two LMS locos were left overnight on the pit roads (8 & 9).  Sean even brought along his 'Irish Mail' head board, so once that was placed on the Black 5, so we had a bit of a start:
LMS Line up.
They were both off on the first train (along with 1501), so once they had set off for the south headshunt, we used 1501 to pull Dinmore Manor from road 11 to the now vacant pit road 8, pull 4270 forward slightly, 5542 had enough steam to move herself forward a bit, then park 1501 at the front of pit road 9.  That gave us both a Dinmore Manor Locomotive LTD line up on roads 6, 7 & 8 (2874, 3850 and 7820) as well as a rather nice all GWR line up across the 6 shed roads.
DMLL members/directors, Mike, Mark & Neil with their locos (l-r) 7820, 3850 & 2874

The GWR line up (l-r) 4270, 5542, 1501, 7820, 3850, 2874 and the people who were prepping them for service
The sun didn't quite come out at the time, but you can't have everything.

Not all of the gala committee was on hand for a team photo:
Andy, Ben and 1501
 Once the locos were mostly off shed, I was back to being a footplate chaperone for a couple of our footplate riders.  The first was Philip on 3850:
Philip managed to ingratiate himself with the steam loco dept by bringing along a large supply of biscuits, which were later shared out in the mess coach.  Thanks Philip.
Phil firing
Exiting Greet tunnel
Passing the double headed Black 5 & 8F at Gotherington
The Black 5 has a storm cover fitted between the cab roof and the tender, which is not the case on the 8F.  Several crews have commented that they would like to see such a feature added to the 8F, to make an already fairly weather-proof loco even better.  As if to demonstrate this point, somewhere on the line up to Laverton during one of the double headed runs, the Black 5's exhaust managed to dislodge a birds nest from a tree which was blasted up into the air, landing in the cab of the 8F through the gap where a storm sheet should have been.

After a brief wait at Cheltenham, it was time to collect the next passenger, Claire, for the return journey hauled by 3850:
John driving
Phil hung his hat on the pressure gauge at one point
Crossing 5542 at Gotherington
By lunchtime, I was back in Toddington with nothing rostered to do for the first time since the gala had commenced.  I had been hatching plans all morning about signing out, getting a train down to Winchcombe, sampling the delights of the beer tent, the pastie van and the traction engines and then progressing on down the line to Gotherington and checking out the attractions down there.  The forecast had suggested sunshine and showers, so I might even grab a few lineside photos during the sunny bits.   That sounded like a good plan to me.  Before all that though, I succumbed to the temptation of one of the Jonathan Clay locomotive pictures in the marquee followed by a nice cup of tea in the mess coach.   Sean collared me as I was drinking my tea and asked if I fancied firing in his place for one and a half round trips.  Training turns are suspended for the duration of the gala, so I hadn't even brought my shovel with me, I only had my footplate gear as I had been covering a footplate chaperone turn.  Setting aside my original plans, I agreed and fairly shortly afterwards, we were riding down to Cheltenham 'on the cushions' to take over our locomotive.   I say 'on the cushions', in reality, crew accommodation in the brake of the 3rd rake was a bit spartan to say the least.  Steve managed to locate something comfortable to perch on, the rest of us made do with sitting on the floor:
Steve, lying down on the job
It was at about this time, when it was a bit too late to back out, that I consulted the timetable and discovered that the loco that I was now going to be firing was Dinmore Manor.  The forecast was for showers and Dinmore Manor hasn't yet got a storm sheet fitted.  Sean's plan had obviously been to get hold of a sacrificial cleaner to shelter behind during the worst of the weather.

Taking over Dinmore Manor from the previous crew, I found that the fire was big, the water in the top nut and the pressure gauge on the red line.  Not much could be done with it, I just let it blow off long enough to get some water space back, then got on with preparing the fire for the return journey.

One of the signals at Gotherington was slightly askew and needed adjusting when we arrived there, Neil had been summoned fix it.  There was quite a cheer from both our footplate and the signal box when he dropped a spanner.  He smiled and calmly carried on using a second one which he had taken up with him. Needless to say, he promptly dropped that too, to an even bigger cheer and had to descend the ladder to retrieve it.
Neil adjusting the signal
That interlude over, we were soon back on our way.   Once we'd got up to Laverton, then back down to Cheltenham, we hooked onto the Black 5 for a double headed run back up to Toddington.  I'd never been on the footplate of a double header before, much less fired on one, so I had little idea what to expect.  It's a bit of an odd experience, the token is carried on the train engine, so as we arrived at Winchcombe, I had a very brief moment of grave concern when when I realised that we didn't have the token, followed by immense relief when I remembered that it was where it was supposed to be, on the other loco.  There was one point when I heard the sound of safety valves lifting and automatically stuck on an injector, only to then notice that my own pressure gauge was fine, it was the Black 5 that I could hear.

Double headed and ready to depart Winchcombe
 One of the golden rules of being a trainee, is not to let your instructor, or worse still driver do the hooking on and hooking off. 
 It seemed to take an eternity of waiting for the stock to be removed, and other locos to make their way through the ash pit for disposal.  Whilst we were queuing alongside the mess coach for access to the pit, we heard a friendly voice asking if we'd like a cup of tea.  George appeared soon after with a very welcome brew.
Thanks George
 Disposal was once again courtesy of Ed, Aaron and Steve, the heroes of the ash pit.
Steve empties the smoke box, Ed and Aaron wait to remove the ash.
Ed was looking rather damp.  It seems that the pump in the pit had stopped working, which is usually caused by a bit of ash fouling the impeller.  The usual trick is to dislodge the ash by lifting up the pump by its pipe and giving it a bit of a clout to try and free it up.  The pipe is only loosely attached to the pump, and if the two separate, then there is a good chance that the pump will spray water all over the person who is trying to fix it.  Ed was caught out like this, not once but twice in one day.

As for the rain that the 'sacrificial cleaner' was supposed to shelter the rostered fireman from, that didn't start until I had got in my car and was about to drive home.  Owing to a slight accident with a hose pipe in the pit (Aaron's hopes of becoming a fireman are now severely diminished), Sean was rather soggy when he left.

And finally, it would be impossible to name all the individuals involved, so a big thank you to everybody who contributed in whatever capacity towards making the Back to Black gala such a resounding success, in spite of indifferent weather.  Thank you too, to all the customers who turned up for it, I very much hope that you had an excellent time and will join us again next year

Sunday, 25 May 2014

A Tale of Three Hats

After looking at yesterday's forecast which had quite clearly said that today would be wall to wall sunshine, I was more than a little disappointed to wake up to the sound of the pitter patter of rain drops against the bedroom window of the B&B that I've been staying in.  Curiously the landlady had declined to have a full English breakfast ready for me at 04:30, so once again I set off with more than a few pangs of hunger.  

It was Ben's turn to be both RSF and Gala Coordinator.  He's a glutton for punishment.  RSF traditionally wears a bowler hat, well at least John has done for the last couple of galas.  Ben tried the bowler hat for size:
Mr Ben
He decided that he looked rather silly in the bowler hat, and tried out his Santa hat instead:
But it's not Christmas
Finally he settled on a nice sober item of headgear that Phil had brought with him:
Not silly at all
Nick and Tonia have signed up to be cleaning locos at 05:00 each day, come rain or shine.  So far of course it has been the rain that has come rather than shine.  Tonia announced that she'd have to leave briefly at about 07:30, as her daughter Emily was currently dozing in the car and Tonia had to give her a lift to work (Emily doesn't drive).  Many thanks, that was definitely far above and beyond the call of duty.
Nick and Tonia
After an hour or so, the rain eased off and the cloud slowly drifted away which made the task of cleaning and prepping the locos much easier.
Mike oiling round his beloved 8F
There was of course plenty of tea, but no biscuits.  I don't think that I've eaten or drunk anything other than tea and biscuits since Wednesday.  My overalls haven't been dry since Wednesday either.
I think Chris made the tea
Cleaning done, it was time to grab a photo of the double headed 3850 and Dinmore Manor leaving on the first train of the day.
3850 and 7820 kicked off today's proceedings in style
 Soon afterwards, the 8F and Black 5 departed from the shed and coupled up for the next double header:
48274 and 45379
After that, I finally had a quick breakfast in the Flag and Whistle, followed by a look around the attractions in the yard at Toddington.  The bouncy castle chap had rung up on Saturday saying that there was no point in him coming given the dreadful weather.  He made it today though:
No I didn't.... but I was very tempted
 We also had a few classic vehicles in the car park
Classic vehicles of varying sizes
The marquee contained a good selection of sales stands.  There were a few model railway stands, with many desirable items as well as a number of loco owning group stands:
Dinmore Manor Locomotive Limited (DMLL) had an attractive stand
 I can highly recommend the DMLL limited edition mugs and coasters.  The fact that they used my photos on them has nothing to do with it of course.  I even bought a set of each myself.

The 44901 stand was interesting, because as well as the usual collection of loco items and tools etc, they also had a collection of old pitch forks
44901 stand
 Genuine locomotive nameplates and cabside numbers etc are an expensive luxury, wooden replicas are a far more affordable option:
Wooden replicas
 2807 is with us in spirit if not in the flesh metal, the Cotswold Steam Locomotive group had a stand too:
Trying out a 2807 wooden replica for size
The Talyllin Railway had a stand too
 The 35006 group had a stand in the marquee as well of course as having their loco on display in the car park.
35006 stand
 The 6880 Betton Grange group had a stand too.  I'm quite smitten by the limited edition print that they have for sale of 6880 bursting out of Twerton tunnel
6880 stand
 The 45149 group had a stand too.  Maybe they're hoping that people will think it's a Black 5, not a Peak.
45149 stand
The stand that may yet tempt some hard earned out of my wallet is that of the artist Jonathan Clay. There are a couple of his works that have really caught my eye. 
Jonathan Clay's stand
 There are several smaller stands out in the car park, which time didn't permit me to get any photos of, the Patriot Project being one of those.

The rest of my day was taken up with looking after the brake van rides.  Short of being on the footplate, spending a day riding up and down the line in the brake vans of a freight train is about as good a day as you can hope to have on the railway in my opinion.  They are excellent value at £5, single and £10 return between Toddington and Cheltenham. 
Dave, Jonathan & Ade in the non-public section to Laverton
 It's hard to pull off longish exposure shots whilst Sean and Jonathan are busy digging you in the ribs in an attempt to put you off.  I did my best though:
45379 in the Laverton section
 Like last year, there was some sort of event going on at Cheltenham Race Course which involved the flying of large kites.
7820 and the kites
 From our vantage point in the brake van, we noticed that there was a small leak past the bottom of the smoke box door.  When we stopped in the loop at Gotherington, the opportunity was taken to alert the crew, clean the smoke box door ring and tighten it up a again:
Ben and Pete improving the smoke box door seal.
 Longish exposures when done right can provide the illusion of speed, when in fact progress was at a fairly sedate pace.
Dinmore Manor apparently at warp factor ten
After having traveled all day in the brake vans, I thought that it would be nice to grab a photo as Dinmore Manor was taking the empty freight train back to the siding it lives in at Winchcombe.  The light was too low at Hailes, with the bushes on the side casting long shadows over the track bed, so I opted for the shot at the Winchcombe end of Chicken Curve instead:
Should it have an ECS headlamp code under the circumstances?
The forecast for Monday is for a sunny start, with a mixture of sun and showers later in the day.  Still pretty good conditions for paying us a visit and finishing off the bank holiday weekend on a high.

Finally, once again, a big thank you to Steve, Aaron and Ed who took on the graveyard shift and hung around to help with disposal of the locos.  Much appreciated by me and all the returning crews:
Aaron takes a running start at the ash pile, while Steve shovels ash into Ed's wheel barrow

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Submarine Gala

Friday was the last preparation day prior to the Back to Black gala kicking off.  It started with yet another birthday, this time it was Andy's, he bought doughnuts:
Andy demonstrates how to eat a doughnut, for anybody present who may have been unsure
I have to be very careful what I say on this blog.  On Wednesday, it was Roger's birthday and I included a picture of him with some chocolate biscuits.  John passed the message on to Roger that he should check the blog, and ten minutes later Roger was ringing back to report that he was now in the doghouse, apparently his better half had sent him with strict instructions to bring cake, not biscuits.  I'll probably get into trouble again now for mentioning that.

The plan for Friday was to steam test a few of the visiting locos, put warming fires in the rest, generally clean/fettle all of them and of course shunt all the locos where needed to their start positions.  Part of the process included shunting 2874 onto road 6 for display purposes, Mike affixed a wooden numberplate on the side that could be seen from the viewing area:
Mike, looking forward to the day that he can affix a brass cabside numberplate onto a fully restored 2874
 The 'GWR' stickers had only been applied to one side of 4270.  She was shunted into the shed for the other side to be done.
Steve measures up where to place the stickers
We had a couple of new starters yesterday, Rob & Steve joined us and cracked on with cleaning Dinmore Manor.  They were just a bit too keen, cleaning even when it was raining and the rest of us ran for cover.  In my case, cover was the cab of 3850 to put in a warming fire, followed by a lengthy cleaning session in the cab.  Never has an sight feed lubricator been so highly polished before, I only got to the end when entirely by coincidence the rain stopped.
Rob and Steve, keen as mustard
We had another new starter on Saturday as well called Andy, he managed to elude my camera on this occasion.

35006 was moved into the car park ready for inspection:
The "Atlantic Coast Express", but it really wasn't beach weather.
Gala preparation isn't all about the locomotives, there are more things to sort out than you could shake a stick at.  One of those things was to get the car park field ready for use.  The GWSR has acquired some coconut reed matting to lay out on the track ways through the car park to aid traction in poor weather, all it needed was pinning in place in the car park.  Sounds easy enough, but I can assure you that it wasn't, especially in the pouring rain.
James & Ben unrolling the matting.
It's a bit like wrapping paper, but on a grand scale.  Once you unroll it, you need something to weigh it down at each end or the wretched stuff will simply roll itself back up again.  I was the first to act as a human paper weight whilst the others pinned down the far end:
Yup, lying down on the job
Rolling them out in straight lines proved to be a nigh on impossible task too, the stuff seemed to have a mind of its own and meandered around the car park like a drunk on a Saturday night.  As time progressed, the news that James, Ben and myself could use a little help filtered through and more people came to our assistance. Phil helped out by jumping in the puddles, apparently that is an important part of the process:
Phil lands in a puddle
 He then progressed on to emulating me as a human paperweight, Chris & Andy adopting a more conventional approach:
Lying down on the job
 Finally he got fed up with the rain and pressed a bag into service as a makeshift hat. It didn't quite have the same panache as John's bowler would on Saturday.
If you want to get ahead, get a hat
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the car park was finished.  Several hours in a cold, windy field in the pouring rain isn't much fun.  I returned to the warming fire that I'd put in 3850 and tried in vain to dry myself off. 

After that, it was hot foot up to Broadway, where there was a fundraising barbecue taking place to benefit the rebuilding of the station.
The Signal box and platforms at Broadway
Laverton, just 5 dodgy bridges away.
The inside of the recently started signal box
Sadly, the bracket signal that they had hoped to have erected on site by now wasn't quite finished in time, but the barbecue and good company more than made up for that. I even bumped into one of my old teachers (I wasn't sure whether to call him Mike, or Mr Speake) and sent a while reminiscing about past times. 

Impressive progress has been made since the last time I went to Broadway station, sometime last year, they're doing a great job up there.  Hopefully the gala timetable in not too many years time will have to be rewritten to include Broadway.

On to Saturday morning, bright and early for the start of the gala itself.  Getting into still soggy overalls is not a pleasant experience.  

Once again, John donned his bowler hat and took on the job of being RSF for the day:
John looking every inch the foreman
The usual suspects went about the business of cleaning, lighting up fires and oiling round locos:
Dan was John's second in command.  He ended up putting a fire in the Black 5
Paul was rostered onto 3850.  He was kept under close observation in case he burnt any more cab floors
Andy oiling up 3850
Sean thought he could hide from my camera.
Neil oiling up Dinmore Manor
 I wasn't the only person taking pictures of course, George proudly showed off his camera case, an old sock.  He was at pains to point out that it was in fact a clean sock and even sniffed it to prove his point.  The colour drained from the faces of all present.
George and his unorthodox camera case
 George is more usually associated with biscuits, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that his middle names are 'Cookie' and 'Monster'.  He was extremely pleased with the chocolate biscuit selection that Clive brought along:
Other biscuit brands do exist
 Brian is a fully paid up, card carrying member of the 2807 group.  Here he is caught buffing up Dinmore Manor's cabside number plate and wondering if anybody would notice if he swapped the numbers round to be 2807.
Brian plotting
The jumbo sized gala tea pot made its annual appearance too:
45699 is both a kettle and a tea pot
George quipped during one particularly heavy burst of rain that we'd be better off holding a submarine gala.  The puddles were so deep that I'm sure that I saw a periscope break the surface of one of them.

At about half past seven, I had switch from cleaning locos to being the 'Gala Coordinator'.  That is just a grand sounding title for somebody who is first in the firing line when something (outside of the loco operating aspect of the gala) goes wrong.  Getting walkie talkies to interested parties such as the first aid people was on the list of things to do as well as make sure that Howard and Stuart who were riding on the freight train were up to speed on the process involved and collecting ticket money from some of the passengers (excellent value at £5 one way, £10 return). Making sure that the footplate chaperones knew where to be and when to accompany the footplate passengers (sorry all available slots sold out).  I hadn't realised that Dan and Mike had done a swap and was briefly horrified to find that Dan was still in Toddington at the time when I thought that he was supposed to be in Cheltenham.  Thanks too to Tina for covering one of the turns at very short notice.  The job itself wasn't too painful, remarkably little seemed to go wrong, but it did involve a lot of wandering about Toddington in the pouring rain.

I sneaked off occasionally for an odd photo or two:
First train of the day, 7820 and 3850 set off double headed, 4270 waits her turn in siding 1
4270 waits at the head of her first revenue earning train...
...and sets off down the line in style
Meanwhile, poor old 2874 was left Cinderella-like all alone outside the shed, waiting patiently for her turn to go to the ball:
One day her prince will come!
 The car park at Toddington featured all the usual attractions, a marquee full of trade stands (yes with a leaking roof, the gala coordinator couldn't do much about that) and rather optimistically an ice cream van.  
Well you can't fault him for trying
I the afternoon,I didn't so much as change hats again, as just add another one.  I did a round trip of the line as a footplate chaperone for a couple of our footplate passengers.  As it was still pouring with rain, I was enormously grateful that I was on the 8F and not one of our rather more exposed locos. I had only just managed to get dry for what seemed like the first time in two days, I was keen to keep it that way. The trip down to Cheltenham was on the front of the freight train which made a nice change.  Chris and Clive were the crew in both directions, and the first passenger was also called Chris:
8F and freight train
Stuart assists Clive with unhooking at Cheltenham
 One of the tasks of the gala coordinator is to check up on photographers on the lineside and make sure that they have current lineside passes and correct hi-viz.  As I could see a group of four a little way up the line at Cheltenham and as I had a fair layover before my return, I set off to inspect them all.  I am pleased to report that all four had current passes
Four happy and legal lineside photographers
 The fact that wandering up the lineside gave me an opportunity to take a photo of the Black 5 returning to Toddington with the freight train had absolutely nothing to do with my decision to check their passes of course.  Perish the thought.
The Black 5 looking rather tasty at the head of the freight train
Back on the platform at Cheltenham, I bumped into John, he had been the only person that I had ended up being the footplate chaperone of last year.  The experience can't have been too bad, as he was back for a second time.  
John, ready for departure on board the 8F
 Hopefully I'll see John again same time next year.
Crossing 1501 at Gotherington
I haven't added much to the collection of photos of crew members by firelight in Greet tunnel lately, but I was quite pleased with this study of Clive.
Clive in Greet tunnel
I left in the early evening to scribble this blog post out, but many of our crews were still hard at work as I went.  One of my tasks on the gala committee was organise a cleaning roster for the gala.  I would like to say thank you very much to all of the cleaners who turned up during the day, many of whom were on site at, or soon after 05:00 as well as Steve, Aaron and possibly others who turned up late enough to able to cover the evening disposal of the locos without going over their permitted working hours. I have no doubt that the returning crews will have been extremely grateful for your help as well.  

And finally, the weather forecast for both Sunday and Monday is far better than it was today.  Why not come along and enjoy the gala first hand rather than just read about it on here.