Monday, 30 June 2014

Water Disaster

Following on from last week's excellent news that Martin Ryan has passed out as a fireman, I have obtained from Martin a photo, not from the big day itself, but from the preceding week.  Apparently he managed to obtain this photo which was taken by a visitor to our railway:
Martin Ryan on Dinmore Manor
Martin had his first solo firing turn on Sunday.
Martin after a happy day on 4270
Peter forwarded me a photo of the continued works to concrete the floor of the David Page shed:
Concrete being leveled, photo courtesy of Peter Gutteridge
  I took the opportunity to grab a photo on Sunday, only one more pour of concrete and the first quadrant of the shed will be done apart from the painting and sealing.
Looking good so far.
 The title of this blog post, "Water Disaster" has probably raised the suspicions in some quarters that I had some contretemps this weekend and either allowed some poor loco's water level to drop too low (fusible plugs dropped, firebox crown destroyed) or alternatively got the water level too high (water carried over into the cylinders, cylinders/pistons wrecked etc).  Well no, nothing quite so disastrous and it wasn't me that was having the problems,  it was Derek.  When he arrived on Sunday morning to light up 2807, he mentioned that he'd had a problem or two with water already.  Apparently he'd used his mobile phone as an alarm clock.  Upon being woken by it, he went to the loo, only to drop his phone which made a bit of a splash.  Although swiftly retrieved, the phone now refused to work.  Kev (2807's driver on Sunday) and I made a few suggestions as to how it might be fixed, most of which were probably not very helpful.  Kev's idea of "drying it out on the shovel" seemed to me to be a promising idea, but for some reason, Derek thought better of it.
Derek's non-functional mobile phone
Derek's next problem with water, (well ok, fruit juice, but it's probably 95% water) came when he started on his breakfast just before we set off on the first trip.
Derek quaffs his vitamin C
Subsequent checking of the 'Best Before' date on the carton showed:
Dec 2011
So roughly two and a half years out of date.  This prompted Kev and myself to discuss the possible symptoms of acute food poisoning.  The good news for Derek was that Kev is a qualified first aider.

The first trip down to Cheltenham turned out to be uneventful and Derek showed few signs of problems arising from the fruit juice:
Well not too many.
Kev at the controls
I'm not sure what concerned Kev the most about the thought of Derek collapsing;  needing to administer the kiss of life, or me taking over the shovel and firing until we got to the next station.

As you are probably aware, 2807 has only recently returned to us after an overhaul of her bottom end at Tyseley, so none of us had been out on her for quite a while.  She was also now facing south now, whereas before she had been facing north.  As a result, Kev wasn't quite sure where to stop her to line up the tender filler with the water tower at Cheltenham.  The hose on the water tower is rather old and leaky, as well as being a little shorter than most.  Kev over-shot slightly and as a consequence, the hose only just reached to the filler on 2807's tender.  Derek had handed the fire over to me for the return journey, so whilst I got on with building the fire up, he and Kev proceeded to fill up the tender with water.  Rather than ask Kev to reverse 2807 by a few feet, Derek elected to cling onto the hose and press on anyway.   Needless to say, after just a moment or two, the bucking mule that is the water tower hose tore itself out of his grip and sprayed water all over Derek and then the platform.  Kev rushed to the stop valve in the water hut, I rushed for my camera:
Decidedly damp platform... and Derek
There was supposed to be a coach party joining the train, which was running 10 or so minutes late due to heavy traffic related to a 'Race for Life' fun run.  We were told this about 2 minutes before departure time, by then of course I had nicely built up the fire and filled up the boiler for the return journey.  The fact that the safety valves were blowing off at 210 PSI rather than 225 as well as the delayed coach had an inevitable consequence.
Couldn't quite keep her quiet for the whole of the delay.
Derek made the most of the extra time to dry himself out in front of the fire.

We took water again back at Toddington.  Once more Derek went on top of the tender, whilst Kev and I remained on the platform.  Damping down the coal on hot days is to be encouraged if you want to prevent coal dust swirling around the cab.  Derek had a plan, in fact he had what might well be described as a 'cunning plan'.   He turned up the end of the water hose immediately after I had switched it off, then tried to push the hose across to the coal space so that the dregs flowing through the pipe would then land on the coal. Well that was the plan anyway.
His boots and trousers had scarcely dried from their last drenching too
After that, Derek stuck to more conventional ways of keeping the coal damped down:
It's what the pep pipe is for!
The next round trip. Derek pulled rank and sent me up on top of the tender to manage the water hose at Toddington.  The key thing is to have somebody you can trust on the water handle who stops it when you ask.  Asking just a little in advance to allow for the water still left in the pipe to flow through is a good idea too.
Kev stopped the water perfectly
At the end of the last trip, Derek had another go, and called it just a bit too late:
 Well at least he kept his trousers dry this time, if not his boots.

During one trip, we noticed that a number of members of the diesel loco dept were taking things easy at Toddington:
Even the diesel dept have tea breaks
We found out why later on, as we were disposing 2807, they had been waiting for the service trains to finish so that they could take the class 26 out on its first test run since changing two of the traction motors (although 3 needed to be removed to make it light enough for the wheel lathe at Tyseley).
It took 47376 along for the ride
And finally, we have even more good news.  Sean Nielsen passed out as a driver on Saturday.  He tried to put me off the scent by texting me this morning to say that he had failed and that there were therefore no photos of the event.  The fact that his text arrived just as I was looking at the following photos from Jamie Christie alerted me to the fact that Sean was pulling my leg.
Sean having just passed out (photo courtesy of Jamie Christie)
Sean (R) being congratulated by Inspector Chris Irving (photo courtesy of Jamie Christie)
Congratulations Sean, a well deserved promotion.

Monday, 23 June 2014

A Really Useful Engine

Another piece of excellent news to start this post with is that Martin Ryan passed out during the last week as a fireman.  I'm afraid that requests for photos from the day have drawn a blank, but congratulations to Martin anyway.

The last weekend was one of our two Thomas events scheduled for this year.  An intensive mixed traffic timetable of locos mostly wearing cheerful faces springs into effect for the benefit of the younger generation.... and the of course for the benefit of many of the dads of the younger generation who get to earn brownie points with their wives by entertaining the kids for the day and at the same time getting to play with trains.  

I was booked down to clean Thomas on Sunday morning  I was more than happy to discover upon entering the mess coach to check up on the Thomas' report card, that not only had my fireman (Chris) turned up 5 minutes before me, but he had most usefully employed those 5 minutes in making me a cup of tea.  Cracking start to the day:
Thanks Chris
2807 was big and green, which in Thomas parlance means that his name was Henry.  Pictures that I've trawled up on the web, typically show Henry as being an LNER 4-6-0 of some sort or occasionally an LMS 4-6-0 (Black 5 or Jubilee).  So far I've not seen a 'Henry' that looked like a GWR 2-8-0, but what the hell, 5 year old kids don't tend to ask too many serious questions based on wheel arrangements or the big four companies.  Besides, I was scheduled to be out on Thomas, so the dubious nature of Henry's identity was somebody else's problem.   Another problem with 'Henry' was for trainee fireman Ed, who had to work out how to access the smoke box to check that there was nothing amiss:
Steve and Ed looking to access Henry's smoke box
Henry really should be numbered 3, not 2807 too, but nobody was too fussed about that.

The owner's instructions for Thomas stipulated that his smoke box should be left unchecked, to prevent possible damage to his face.  Chris needed no second bidding.
Thomas with a fixed face as well as smile.
You'll note that Dan has appeared to clean Thomas, his A levels are now over and done with, so he can now concentrate on the more important things in life like learning to fire steam locos.  Accompanying him is Tom, who has just joined the steam loco dept having graduated from the GWSR's young people's group..
Tom, getting to grips with 2807's wheels and motion.
 The forecast was for a very hot day indeed, damping down the coal with a hose pipe before setting off to minimise dust was a good idea.  The usual idea is to damp down the coal in the tender/bunker before shoveling it into the firebox, rather than spraying the hose on it once it's in the firebox
Not entirely sure from this photo that Ed had that last bit right
Regardless, Thomas was determined to prove that he was a "really useful engine" and he fetched us all a brew:
A really useful pot of tea.
Chris wasn't so sure about Thomas being "really useful" as he'd found the grate was so heavily covered with ash that he'd needed to get in the firebox to clean it. 
Nobody emerges from a firebox as clean as when they went in.
Thomas only has a small boiler, which Chris soon brought up to pressure, we had plenty of time to sit around before we were off:
Driver, Andy relaxes before we get going
The first train of the day was 2807 Henry setting off for Cheltenham with a train load of over-excited kids.  Thomas briefly ran alongside to cheer Henry off on his way:
The day gets off to a really useful start
Once we were in the platform at Toddington, the Fat Controller announced that it was Thomas' birthday and that he had baked him a special "coal cake".  I'd have preferred a bit of black forest gateau myself, but Thomas seemed to enjoy the coal cake when Chris fed it to him:
Chris feeds Thomas the coal cake
Soon enough we were off down to Winchcombe to take part in some activities in platform 2.  We'd have been off even sooner if one young lad on the platform had had his way, he was busy blowing a whistle and waving a flag in the hope that I would see it and tell Andy that we were cleared to go. His whistle looked and sounded real enough, but his green flag let the side down by having a picture of Thomas on it.

Daisy was already there waiting for us when we pulled into the platform at Winchcombe:
Daisy waiting for us at Winchcombe.
According to Daisy's crew, they had drawn the short straw.  Those hordes of over-excited kids were sat right behind them, as they drove along, whereas we had the luxury of having them out of sight and out of earshot in the carriages. 

After the first of many spells of having the cab invaded by sometimes reluctant kids, we set about the first of the activities.  Chris only took one step back, when Andy and I took two,  so he had to explain to the Fat Controller that we had stopped for water from a stream and that the fish swimming around in Thomas' side tank was the cause of his "boiler ache".
Chris with fishing rod having just caught the fish
Afterwards, we kept the fish safe and sound in the water bucket on the footplate, no fish were harmed in the making of this blog!
Fish in bucket
A quick look around at Winchcombe turned up a Punch and Judy show keeping some of the kids entertained:
That's the way to do it!
 Peter is normally to be seen in the steam loco dept on a Wednesday, togged up in overalls and getting mucky along with everybody else.  Not on Sunday though:
Even members of the steam loco dept can scrub up nicely you know
Jonathan had been around to help clean locos first thing and was down for car park duties in the afternoon.  In between those times, he rode the trains, took photos etc:
That included recording the sound of Thomas for posterity
There is an old saying that you should "never pass a water crane in a tank engine".  As Thomas really usefully doesn't have a water level indicator, we took water at every opportunity:
Running out of water is not and option
During periods in the timetable when there were no other locos at Toddington, an 03 shunter, D2182 Mavis was on hand with the "troublesome trucks".
Ian, Dan and Mavis keeping the trucks out of trouble.
Once more back to Winchcombe, and it was Andy's turn to participate in the activities.  We were apparently low on water, so the kids were formed into an orderly line to fetch up buckets of water for Andy to pour into Thomas' water tank:
Andy topping up the water tank the hard way!
Periodically we bumped into Thomas' friends:
Henry, trying to avoid being bricked up in the tunnel again
37215, no face, long story, don't ask.
On the third round trip, we found both Matt and Ian waiting on platform two to record the activities.

Ian (left) and Matt
This time, I couldn't wriggle out of it, it was my turn to be the sacrificial victim from the footplate.  Once again, it was to be a taking water from the stream offence leading to a fish in the side tank scenario.  It's not a great deal of fun being given the hair dryer treatment by the fat Controller for once again stopping and taking water "illegally" from the stream.  When I found another fish in his tank, both Thomas and I were told that this evening we were to "go straight to bed without any supper."  Being a bit of a rebel, I ignored the Fat Controller and pigged out on pizza when I got home. Thomas was last seen looking hungrily at the coal dock.  As a result of Ian and Matt being on hand to record this event and some others too, my ugly mug is now plastered all over the GWSR website and most known forms of social media.  You'd be very unwise to try and track them down.

Matt joined us on the footplate when we disappeared off into the sidings at Winchcombe to clear the platform for the other services.  That nice white shirt he is wearing didn't stay nice and white for long:
Later on, back at Toddington, when all the kids had gone home, it was time to dispose of Thomas:
Emptying the ash pan the hard way
George decided to go fishing.  The only body of water around was his cup of tea, miraculously he managed to catch a whopper of a fish in it:
You should have seen the one that got away!
There were doughnuts skulking in the mess coach.  With the words "Don't tell the wife", Chris wolfed one down in seconds flat:
I wonder if Chris' wife reads this blog?
Ed finally returned on Henry, looking exhausted after a full day firing in what had turned out to be an extremely hot day.  Being a keen trainee fireman, he insisted on doing the smoke box and ash pan all by himself.
Ed, smiling, but cream crackered!
And finally, to counter balance Martin Ryan successfully passing out as a fireman, Paul Stratford has retired to darkest Wales.  As he left, Paul sent an email to the steam loco dept describing the highlights of his career at the GWSR, which with his permission I have included here.  He also provided me with a couple of photos of himself,  one of 1450 and another of him with George and Katie Knapman during a filming session for BBC1's Country File programme on 23rd March 2010.

"It is with much regret that due to relocation to mid Wales that I will no longer be a regular or active volunteer in the steam loco department, although many may have noticed my volunteer absence over the last twelve months due to health problems. It is ten years since I joined the steam loco department as a volunteer cleaner and active working member of the 4270 gang. Since then I have, with the help of my many friends and colleagues some of whom have also left the department, achieved more than I could have ever have dreamed. Firing, trainee driver, the culmination of ten years work on and off site on the restoration of 4270, the first picture of this loco hauling the freight in the pouring rain on the first day of the recent Gala. All of these achievements would not have been possible without the friendship, skills and assistance of I have to say, not only the steam loco department volunteers, but also of the volunteers in all departments of the GWSR. The GWSR has a proud tradition as a volunteer Heritage Railway and without the skills and in many cases years of unselfish dedication, the GWSR would not be what it is today and I am proud to be associated with the railway over the past ten years.

I will not lose touch and will of course be calling in on occasions and no doubt been seen along the line side with camera and hi-viz.

Thank you all

Paul Stratford"

L-R, Paul, Katie, George and City of Truro
Paul on 1450

Best wishes for a very happy retirement Paul.

Monday, 16 June 2014

How on earth did I get talked into that?

I have some excellent news to share with you.  On Saturday, two members of the steam loco dept have been passed out.  Chris Chewter is now a qualified fireman and Cliff Faulkner has made the grade as a driver.  Congratulations to both of them on their well deserved promotions.  So far no photos of Chris have emerged from Saturday however I can at least give you a link to a rather excellent photo of him taken by a visitor to our railway sometime last year.  Ignore the caption that comes with it, everybody on the footplate, regardless of how many people are up there is a driver in the eyes of the public.   I have received a photo of Cliff taken immediately after having been passed out as a driver in front of Dinmore Manor, which is the loco that he was assessed on.
Driver Faulkner, photo courtesy of Sean Nielsen
There is more good news too, 2807 has finally arrived back at Toddington after her extended repairs at Tyseley:
2807 in the yard at Toddington on Sunday
It was very nice to see her back with us again.  She was in steam and ran several running in miles up and down siding one during the day, but I'm afraid that I have no photos to show you of that.

 We have a new cleaner, Jim.  Well in truth, Jim has been a member of the steam loco dept for a considerable time, but hitherto has spent his time working on the DMUs.  In the past he has been a fireman on the East Somerset Railway, so should settle in quickly into his  new role.
Jim fetching wood to light up Dinmore Manor
 The rostered fireman for Dinmore Manor was John.  He's more usually a midweek fireman, so it was nice to see hm around on a weekend.
John has an early morning brew having got his fire lit

Andy takes a break from oiling up 4270
 It seems that some reorganising took place on Saturday, the lamp lockers have been relocated into the oil store.  Hopefully this alert will save crews going to the old location in the David page shed and wondering where on earth the lamps have disappeared to. 
New lamps for old.
Steve oils up Dinmore Manor, while 4270 raises steam
For me, it was a fireman training turn on Sunday.  I was delighted when I discovered that my steed for the day was 4270, having not been out on her before.  Owing to a clash of diaries, my firing instructor on Sunday was Ben rather than Ade.  Before we set off, Ben felt the need to try some transcendental meditation to prepare himself for the horrors of a day on the footplate with me.  I don't think that it helped him much.
.... and relax!
 The reverser on 4270 is a bit stiff.  Apparently it's quite common with newly restored locos.  It wasn't quite as stiff as Andy and Ben would have you believe in this photo:
Looks more like a tug of war
Notes to myself from the day include that 4270 generates a lot of steam with remarkably little coal.  She caught me out a bit on the first trip, the second and third were better. 

One of the things that a fireman needs to be able to do is stop the train should the driver become incapacitated.  On the second trip into Cheltenham, both Ben and Andy put in Oscar worthy performances and feigned death.  I considered offering to save their families the cost of a cremation by chucking them straight into the firebox, but my self preservation instinct kicked in and I decided that I'd best have a go at stopping the train before we tore straight through the platform and off into Hunting Butts tunnel.  Brakes on a steam loco are rather different to a car.  With a car you press on the brake lever to put the brakes on and take your foot off to release the brakes.  With a train, you use the brake lever to slow the train down, move the lever back to the 'off' position, and the brakes stay on, slowing you down more and more.  You need to use the ejector to create more vacuum if you want to release the brakes and just roll along.  Consequently stopping a train where you want to is not as easy as stopping a car where you want to.  I'm happy to report that I managed to stop it in the platform, at which point Ben and Andy both miraculously recovered.

The red timetable gives a long layover at Toddington between trips.  Andy tried to make himself comfortable.  
It's a hard life at times
 I think I can spot a bit of a theme here:
Andy 'chilling' whilst we waited at Winchcombe to cross Dinmore Manor
Crossing at Winchcombe
Some more amateur theatrics with the ostensibly hard to move reverser.
4270 still has one or two small items that require to be sorted, having entered traffic in a bit if a rush to be in time for the 'Back to Black' gala.  The 'GWR' lettering on the side will at some point be replaced with 'Great Western'.  The fire door flap is present and correct, however it is thus far bereft of a chain.  You can flip it up and down with your shovel if you want, but flipping it up and down whilst firing would be a bit tricky:
Flap but no chain
The only other thing that stood out for me that is yet to be attended to is the pep pipe.  Hitherto, I had failed to fully appreciate the value of the pep pipe in keeping the cab floor tidy and the coal damped down.  To be fair, it usually rains so much in England that damping down the coal isn't usually necessary, however Sunday was rather hot and dry.  

Some but alas not all of the pep pipe fittings
The hot and dry conditions had generated rather a lot of coal dust, which was particularly noticeable when running bunker first.  The end result was that by the end of the day, we were covered in it.  I usually avoid putting photos of me in here, but on this occasion, you really can't tell who is in this photo.
The coal begrimed crew of 4270
 After cleaning myself up as well as I could in the mess coach,  I spent half an hour in the shower at home, before I was clean enough to have a long soak in the bath.  By way of a comparison shot as to how a crew should look at the end of the day, Steve (Dinmore Manor's driver, posed with Ben and Andy).
Ben, Steve & Andy
When we'd deposited our coaching stock in the north headshunt at the end of the day, the guard (Claudette, who is Steve's wife) said that she'd wait with the stock for her 'knight in shining armour' and also that she was glad that Steve hadn't been driving 4270 as she really didn't fancy having to wash his footplate gear afterwards.  Mine is in the washing machine as I type, I expect it will need to go round several more times yet before it is presentable again.

And finally, last year, as you may remember, I did a sponsored walk in aid of the Broadway Station appeal, across the country from St Bees Head in Cumbria to Robin Hoods Bay in Yorkshire. You may also recollect that Tina, being a bit of a keen walker joined me for a couple of extra miles bolted on at the end, from Laverton to Broadway. Since then, she has somehow managed to twist my arm into doing something similar this year, only this time it would be a team event, open to allcomers in the steam loco dept and this time it would be along the Cotswold Way instead of the Coast to Coast. The Cotswold Way is 102 miles of the best scenery that the Cotswolds has to offer, starting at Chipping Camden and ending at Bath Abbey.

A map of the route can be found here:

The Cotswold Way route

Once again, I have modified it slightly. Being a fan of the late and much lamented Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, my plan is to start at Bath Green Park station (now a supermarket, so handy for getting in supplies), walk to Bath Abbey and then follow the Cotswold Way in reverse to Chipping Camden. Chipping Camden is of course not too far from Broadway, so to finish, we'd return to Broadway and then walk down the track bed as far as possible (given that the 5 bridges are now under repair) to Laverton, hopefully in time to catch a train back to Toddington.

The walk will start on Saturday July 26th and finish on Sunday August 3rd. That is a choice of dates that I now regret, as it will clash with the Diesel gala which will feature a Hymek, D7017 which will be visiting us form the West Somerset Railway. I have fond memories of diesel hydraulics from my dim and distant youth and will be sorry to miss it. 

GWSR Diesel Gala

Being intended as a team effort, an appeal was made to the members of the steam loco dept to join us. The usual list of pathetic excuses have been trotted out, to listen to them, you'd think that most of them are at death's door. A few have turned out to be quite keen though and we're expecting a number of people to join us for odd days here and there, but nobody else could manage to join us for the whole thing.

A few practice walks have revealed that I am not as fit as I was last year, and that Tina doesn't like going up hills. Tina only has little legs, so that is understandable really. She does have a liking for Licorice Allsorts and a encyclopaedic knowledge of plants and local history which she is more than keen to impart. I have decided that in addition to stout walking boots, my essentials for the journey will have to include ear plugs and a cattle prod a wizzy new app for my not so smart phone that can identify any variety of flora from just a photo and a week's year's supply of Licorice Allsorts.

I imagine that you're wondering where you fit into all of this. As usual, the answer is that anybody who wishes to sponsor us in aid of the Broadway Station buildings appeal is more than welcome to do so. As last time, you can send a cheque to Steve Sperring:

Please send cheques to:
Steve Sperring (Fund Raising Director)
Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway
Toddington Railway Station
GL54 5DT

Please make cheques payable to GWRT with ‘Tina Sutton and Ray O’Hara’ written on the back.

There is something reassuringly antiquated as befits a heritage railway about posting off a cheque, however for those of you who are au fait with this new fangled interweb mularkey, you will find that you can now sponsor us online. Simply point your web browser at the following address and have your credit card details ready. If you are not up to speed with the interweb, but would like to use it anyway, simply locate a child under the age of 13 who will be only too pleased to assist, given an appropriate financial inducement.

Click here to donate online

NB, all proceeds go to the Broadway Station appeal, BTMydonate do not cream off a percentage