Monday, 21 July 2014

The Delicate Sound of Thunder

The thunder and lightning was quite impressive as I drove towards Toddington on Saturday morning, it didn't bode well for a day out on 2807.  Crew comfort was fairly low down on Churchward's priorities when he designed the 28XX locos.  In fairness, he probably mostly envisaged them running smoke box first for the majority of the time, in which direction, the crew is merely poorly defended from the elements, as opposed to totally unprotected as they are when running tender first.   Not being blessed with turntables at either end of the line, we are forced to run 2807 tender first for half of the time.

As I was down for a fireman training turn, I was reasonably disinterested during the loco prep period in the fact that it was raining, I could mostly skulk in the cab and get my fire going along with cleaning the cab fittings.

Normally you wouldn't expect to get both fireman training and driver training taking place on the same loco.  I have no idea why it was happening on this occasion, but nobody else seemed to mind, so neither did I.  My usual firing instructor, Ade was there, but this was his first outing as a trainee driver under the instruction of Steve.  Clive was going to be my firing instructor.  Ade and Steve got on with oiling up the motion (in the rain), whilst I got on with getting my fire going:
Ade and Steve, out in the rain

My nice warm fire
For what it was worth, we even put the storm sheet up, but frankly it did little to keep the rain off, but plenty to obscure vision when running tender first:
Storm sheet fitted
After ashing out etc, we were off to fetch the stock from the north headshunt.
Steve instructs Ade in the workings of the hydrostatic lubricator
What followed was rather like the weather, we had a mixture of everything.  From the firing point of view, the first run to Cheltenham and back was ok going down, less good, but not too bad coming back.  The weather however was solid heavy rain in both directions.  I was soaked through before we reached Winchcombe on the way out, never mind the return journey running tender first.  I have noticed that whenever anything needs doing that involves leaning/getting out of the cab (token exchange, watching trains in and out of stations, phoning/walking to the signal box etc), that it is always the poor fireman that has to do it. 
4270's cab is nicely weather proof, unlike 2807's
 Sean, our Senior firing instructor had decided that he wanted to check up on my progress and after making sure that the weather was forecast to be as good as it was going to get for the second run, he took Clive's place.  What followed was an unmitigated disaster.  By the time that I had got back to the loco from attending to the call of nature, the fire that had been thin but bright across the grate had now largely gone out, just a section at the front and the back to work with.  I had twenty minutes to work a miracle, however miracles were in short supply.  Ultimately, we ended up setting off with a small section of the grate about two feet in on the centre and right hand side that didn't seem to want to burn. Arriving at Winchcombe the black area was still sat there doing nothing.  We had little time at Winchcombe and I was happy that we had enough water and pressure to get through the tunnel so I waited until we had done that before putting a bar in and mixing up the dead spot in the fire with the stuff that was burning as it was supposed to. I don't like putting bars in the fire on the move, but if you need to, then you need to.  I seemed to manage to do it without clouting or burning anybody, nor hitting a signal or other bit of line side furniture. It pepped the fire up a bit, but by this point, I was fairly annoyed with myself for making such a hash of things and was determined to do better on the return journey.  When we arrived at Cheltenham, a quick glance at my printed and laminated copy of the working timetable indicated that we had plenty of time, so I delayed building up the fire.  Suddenly, Ade was saying that we're off in 5 minutes, are you ready?  A post mortem later on revealed that I had looked at the wrong side of my printed off timetable, I had looked at the side for the pink timetable (train 1 departure time 13:40) instead of the red timetable (departure time 13:15).  A bit of a school boy error really.  Needless to say some frantic baling in of coal followed.  Somehow we got back and somehow Ade seemed fairly unperturbed by it all.  Ade was having a good day apart from the weather.   The dull thudding sound that you can hear in the distance is me kicking myself.

The weather was set to turn bad again, so Sean stepped off the footplate and Clive returned for the third trip. This one was fine from the firing point of view, but the weather going down was as abysmal as my firing had been on the second trip.  Plenty of thunder, lightning and rain with most of the Cotswold hills lost to view in the low cloud.  The knowledge that the cab of a steam loco is in essence a rudimentary Faraday Cage was some reassurance given the frequency and close proximity of the lightning, but it was still an interesting and extremely wet ride.  Having just about dried out from the morning's soaking, I was more than a bit disappointed to get drenched yet again, but at least I wasn't hit by lightning.  Mercifully, the rain ceased for the tender first return journey, so by the time we made it back to Toddington I was mostly dry again.
Evidence of the recent deluge on the platform at Winchcombe
4270 arrives for her last trip
2807 was down for a fish and chip special that evening, so after emptying the ash pan and smoke box along with topping up the tender with water and coal, we just handed her over to the next crew.  I hope they had better weather than we did.
Ade coaling 2807
Clive damping down the ash pan before I scrape the ash out.
The mess coach doesn't have a bar, so I had to make do as best I could to drown my sorrows with a cup of tea.    The gallant team of people who work on our Merchant Navy, 35006, were there enjoying a brew as well.  Putting my blog writing hat on, I ventured the question "What's left to do on 35006?".    It turns out that they have been busy lately, the centre valve motion has been fitted, so the only big things left are fitting the con rods, finishing off the brakes in the tender and finishing off the smoke box internals, along with a number of "little jobs".  A timescale was quoted saying that if all went to plan, she'd be running in a certain amount of time.  I won't quote it here, as things never go to plan, and "little things" always take longer than you'd think, but it was certainly sooner than I was expecting.  It transpired that much of the recent work had been done by several people called Bob, which reminded me of a certain comedy classic.

You have probably noticed by now that internet is the source of no end of trivia and amusement.  One such item that I spotted recently was the current craze of deaf people drenching themselves by pouring a bucket of water over their own heads.  So what does this have to do with the GWSR in general and the steam loco dept in particular? I hear you say.  Well the answer to that is that if enough people sign up for the sponsored walk for Broadway appeal, mentioning "Ian Chilton" as they do, then Ian will do the deed.  Date and location as yet to be ascertained, but a video by way of evidence will appear on this blog soon after the event.  Personally I'm hoping for platform 2 at Toddington whilst loco 2 is taking water after the first round trip on Saturday August 2nd, but I'm not holding my breath.
Ian Chilton, he won't be allowed to wear a hat at the time.
I'll now have to provide a bit of sponsorship myself to encourage Ian of course.

The sponsored walk for the Broadway Station appeal is looming large now, in fact Tina and I will be setting off on Friday.  All support gratefully received.

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