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

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