Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Best in Show

I knew that I wouldn't really feel like I had passed out as a fireman until I had got my first solo turn under my belt.  Sunday was the date of that first solo turn.  Summer has seemingly passed us by as it was still dark when I turned up at Toddington.  I signed in on the crew roster sheet without having to put a (T) against my name any more to signify that I was under training and put myself down as crew for 4270 as that is what I had been down for when I had checked the loco roster last week.  Needless to say, the loco roster in the mess coach had been changed when I rechecked it on Sunday morning, I was now down for 7820, Dinmore Manor although I still had Steve as my driver.  No problem, I was keen to renew my acquaintance with Dinmore Manor, so I dutifully checked over her fault reports and set off to light her up.  A little while later, when I had just finished the pre-flight checks, emptied the firebox and was just about to reach for my matches, Steve showed up, extremely concerned that I was lighting up the wrong loco as he had seen me sign for 4270 at the signing on point.  He was quite relieved to see that I had spotted the change and was on the correct loco.

Nobody had signed up as a cleaner for either of the day's locos, so it was a case of once the fire was going and a cup of tea had been quaffed (priorities are important), it was a case of getting cracking on the worst bits myself.  I say that nobody had signed up to clean the locos, for some time the online rostering web page had me down as both the cleaner for train 2 as well as the fireman for train 1.  Eventually Ben decided that was probably asking a bit too much and he removed the entry for cleaning train 2.
Washing over the boiler barrel
You never seem to quite escape from being a cleaner it seems.  Steve gave the motion and some of the brass a going over too.

Some weeks ago, I recollect seeing one of this year's crop of new firemen looking sheepish as he set off for his first solo trip on 2807 which if the racket coming from the safety valves was anything to go by had enough fire to get all the way to Penzance without needing to put any more coal on.  I was determined not to make the same mistake.  Dinmore Manor had other ideas though and even though I had been what I thought was extremely frugal with the coal, she was soon up on the red line.  I'd had just about enough water space to test the injectors and that was it.  Oops!

There was a classic vehicle event on in the car park at Toddington, which is always nice.  The only draw back is that the crews with non-classic cars are expected to hide their more humble modes of transport behind the Flag & whistle.  Being off on the first train, I missed seeing all bar the earliest arrivals.  I'm not sure what kind of car this is, but I got Chris (Finance Director), Neil (Operations Manager) and Ian (Trainee Duty Operations Officer) in front of it.
(L-R), Chris, Neil & Ian with the unidentified classic car
Being more of a 2 wheeled enthusiast, I had no difficulty identifying this rather nice BSA A10 though.
1960 BSA A10 & owner
One of the unwritten jobs of footplate crews is to entertain the customers.  That can range from showing people around the cab, to explaining how a steam loco works, or providing some of the background history of the loco and answering common questions such as "How much coal does it use?"  I noticed Steve on the platform engaged in conversation with one of our visitors.  My best guess is he was explaining how big the fish is that Thomas the Tank Engine seems to find in his water tanks each time he visits:
"It was this big!"
Speaking of that "Really Useful Engine", Thomas and friends will be visiting us again this coming weekend.  Do round up your children/grand children and come along, they'll have a wonderful time.

Once underway and we'd used up the surplus steam, everything was good.  The fact that I'd brought my little tea spoon sized shovel that I usually reserve for use on tank engines rather than the larger one didn't seem to matter much,  I could still get enough coal to where it was needed fairly easily.
Crossing 4270 at Winchcombe
Steve in the office
 I get the impression that most drivers regret not firing any more, most of them will grab a shovel and start shifting coal at the merest hint of an excuse:
Steve moving coal forward in the tender
 I was informed that water stops were not photo opportunities and that I should be paying very close attention to Steve when he called for the water to be switched off.
No wet boots this time
Between the first and second trips, Chris appeared on the footplate asking if we minded having a footplate passenger with us for the third trip.  Chris was wearing extremely light coloured suit, which was quite a daring choice of attire for visiting the footplate.  I think that he got away with it though.
Chris looking dapper
Later on, when our visitor arrived for the third trip, it turned out to be retired Air Chief Marshal, Sir John Allison.   Even Steve was out-ranked, he'd retired as a Squadron Leader.  My own dreams of being a pilot in the RAF had been thwarted at the tender age of 7 when it was discovered that I needed glasses.  The RAF requires nothing less than 20/20 vision.

When he arrived, Sir John insisted on shaking my hand even though it was coated in a think layer of grime & coal dust by then. 
Sir John in the cockpit of Dinmore Manor
Sir John's Wiki page (I don't think that I've met anybody with an entry on Wikipedia before) is rather remiss in failing to note the types of aircraft that he flew when a pilot.  I can inform you that he flew Lightnings, Phantoms and Tornadoes.  Lucky chap.  Steve calculated that Dinmore Manor probably weighed about the same as a Vulcan bomber, though it wasn't blessed with the same turn of speed.  

All in all, it was an excellent day out, Dinmore Manor is a delightful loco to fire and she sounds magnificent pulling seven coaches.  Aside from the bit of excess steam at the start of the day, the worst thing that happened was that I got distracted and left the injector on for too long just before we departed from Cheltenham on the last run.  We set off with just 180 PSI on the clock and a full glass of water. Not to matter, she soon came round again.

Back at Toddington whilst putting Dinmore Manor to bed, I was informed that there had been awards handed out to some of the cars on show in the classic car event. Derek who was firing 4270 had managed to leave his car in the car park amongst the classic cars rather than hide it away behind the Flag and Whistle.  Ian decided that Derek's car was worthy of an award too, and so when Derek returned to it, he will have found a notice proclaiming that his car was "Best in Show, Banger Class".  
"Banger Class",  photo courtesy of Ian Carpenter
Not quite a classic yet, photo courtesy of Ian Carpenter
 I've already been admonished for being later than usual with this week's blog post.  Heaven knows what will happen next week, as although I'll be around on Saturday for the Thomas event, I'll be off on holiday straight afterwards, a blog post is highly unlikely.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Tartan coal and black skies

The drive to run down the coal on some locos to minimise the proportion of slack in the tender as reached new extremes. During the week, 2807's tender looked rather depleted when it made it back to Toddington.  The cleaner (in this case Mike) was stitched up with firing the last run and I have to say it's a credit to him that he managed to judge his usage of the coal so finely.
Down to the last few lumps, photo courtesy of Andy Beale
Last week, I showed you one of 35006's steam pipes having a wasted section of the pipe removed.  Here we can see the newly welded in section, and below that Bob working on a trial fitting of the pipe.
New section neatly welded in
Bob offers it up to make sure it fits, photo courtesy of Stephen Parker.
Dan has been moonlighting, spending his free time polishing up the con rods for 35006.  I hope that isn't the middle one that he's working on there, because nobody will be able to see it when it's fitted to the loco.
Dan polishing one of 35006's con rods, photo courtesy of Stephen Parker.
Meanwhile more work has been taking place on preparing road nine in the shed for its concrete floor.  Here we can see Andy, Pete, Ben & Tim all hard at work.  I would have taken a photo on Sunday of the progress so far, but somebody had parked a diesel it.
Road nine in progress, photo courtesy of Peter Gutteridge
A welcome piece of news is that Dinmore Manor has returned to us after her holiday at the seaside in North Norfolk.  For the benefit of a few upcoming photo charters, she has been returned to us facing north this time. 

Dinmore Manor back with us again
Points are usually deducted for creating so much clag
As a rule, creating excessive black smoke is frowned upon.  Apparently Dan who was firing had just launched three shovels full up to the front of the firebox.  Even with the firehole doors open and the blower up a bit, there was still a very heavy smoke screen being put up.  The reason was that the North Norfolk Railway had returned her to us with a tender full of Scottish coal, which burns quickly, but creates plenty of dense smoke as it does so.
Tartan coal
I Needed a lift down to Winchcombe to act as a brake van chaperone and had been intending to just sit on the cushions, but Mark and Dan insisted that I join them for the ride, well it would have been churlish to refuse.
Mark & Dan as we're about to depart
There were plenty of unkind comments from the mess coach as we passed asking for even more smoke:
Not enough smoke for this lot
Even the crew of 2807, which was waiting to follow light engine to collect the freight train got in on the act.
Passing 2807
As you probably know by now, the Elegant Excursions dining train is no longer running, the coaching stock is all off to pastures new.  What appears to be rather less well known is that the empty slot in the timetable on dates when the Elegant Excursions should have been running have been taken by the freight train.  The footplate rides sold out well in advance, however the brake van rides were best described as sparsely patronised.  Hopefully more people will join us for the final one on October 5th.

2807 pulls the freight train out of its siding into Winchcombe's platform 2....
.... and waits patiently for 7820 to return from Cheltenham
Safety valves lifting a bit
Chris who was firing would like me to make it clear that we set off four minutes after the booked time, therefore the steam emanating from the safety valves was quite excusable.
L-R, David (footplate passenger), Chris, Ed & Endy)
As mentioned earlier, attendance was sparse, we only had two passengers in the Queen Mary brake van
They had bags of room
The gap between any brake van and the loco is much wider than the gap between a mk1 coach and the loco.  Chris made the most of the extra room.
Uncoupling at Cheltenham
Claudette, the guard
The floral display at Gotherington is quite impressive at the moment
Gotherington station
Running round at Laverton
As all the passengers were in the Toad for the Winchcombe - Laverton - Winchcombe working, I changed ends at Laverton just to be sociable.
Jonathan made the most of the nearest thing to a seat on the verandah
Jonathan kindly sent me a few photos that he had taken during the day:
2807 & 4270 at Cheltenham, photo courtesy of Jonathan Perks
2807 in Greet tunnel, photo courtesy of Jonathan Perks
2807puts the freight train to bed, watched by Dinmore Manor, photo courtesy of Jonathan Perks
Crossing Stanway viaduct
Driver Andy returns the Laverton section staff
4270 off down the line
Steve has been cracking on with 2874 too, he'd just run out of gas as he was making a start on extracting the tubes from the boiler.  As I was leaving, he had found some more and was just about to carry on.
Tube extraction begins
He's removed the bolts holding the smokebox onto the saddle too.
Just gravity holding the smoke box in place at this end.
And finally,  The brake van rides are quite a novel way to enjoy our line.  You get much better views than you do from the carriages and the sensation of the wind (and occasionally soot) in your hair only serves to enhance the experience.  Just to entice a few more of you into joining us on the brake vans on October 5th, here is a shortish video of the journey from Winchcombe through to the far side of Greet tunnel taken from a brake van directly behind the loco.  The booking details can be found by clicking on this link.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Youngest Crew

There was plenty happening in the steam loco dept on Saturday.  For a start, the 35006 team were hard at work on the tender brakes.  The brakes feature automatic slack adjusters, which maintain the brakes adjustment regardless of the wear on the brake pads.
Adjusting slack automagically
 It wasn't just the tender brakes that was receiving attention, one of the steam pipes had corroded in the salt air at Barry Island, the section inside the smoke box being in good nick, the external section that had been exposed to the sea air was corroded beyond acceptable levels.
The corroded steam pipe
The repair for the steam pipe will be to remove the corroded end and get a replacement section welded in.
The newly shorted steam pipe
The steam pipe will need to be sent off site for the replacement section to be welded in.

I joined in with the team at work on Foremarke Hall which is now parked up on the newly concreted section of road 8.
Tim applied primer to the driving wheels
 I'm not sure why, but the piping for the steam heat had been removed at some point recently and a new section was being plumbed in.
John & Steve creating the new steam heating pipe work
Steve welding a flange onto the steam heat pipe
 It would be a terrible state of affairs if Foremarke Hall was to return to service without functioning steam heating.  What on earth would firemen do to get rid of any surplus steam they might have inadvertently created?

Speaking of firemen who might be tempted to lose surplus steam into the steam heating, I spent the day polishing up Foremarke Hall's coupling rods:
One finished one on the right, the rest yet to be done
Four finished coupling rods
 I say finished, they will still need a final bit of attention with a fine grade of wet and dry paper.  The connecting rods have yet to be started.

As usual, several infrastructure jobs were on the go as well.  Preparing road 9 for the laying of the next section of concrete floor was well under way:

Mark, Tim & Steve excavating road 9
 That all seemed far too much like hard work and they eventually switched to using power tools.
Neil at work on road 9
 Another infrastructure project that is underway is to install a water column in the yard
Trevor painting the stand of the water column
 I was curious to find out why 2807 was running with a "Cheltenham Spa Express" head board and the express headlamp code.  That may well have come as an unpleasant surprise to passengers wishing to alight at Gotherington for instance.  It turns out the the head board was a replica which has just been donated to the GWSR.  You'll be pleased to know that all stations were called at regardless of what the headlamp code was saying.
2807 Express
No such confusion with 4270
 Meanwhile, the Cotswold Diesel Railcar group have a need to replace some of the 19 core electric cables that run between their vehicles.  The correct kind of 19 core cable is apparently only available on 1 km drums, which is a bit of a pain as they only want about 20 metres of cable.  Ian has just created his own proof of concept cable using 19 individual cores through an outer sheath and checked that it is fully water tight.  Next stop is to make the full length cables.
Ian and his test cable
 The decision had been taken to run 2807's tender down a bit, to get rid of all the slack that had built up in the bottom of it.  By the time it got back at the end of the last trip, there wasn't much left at all.
Just about out of coal
 Running the tender down so far meant that there was a lot of coal dust flying around, as witnessed by Chris' face when he got back
Chris, begrimed but happy
 Next Sunday (7th September), we will be running the freight train for a full round trip of the line (including Laverton).  The footplate rides have sold out, but there are still plenty of places available on the brake vans should you wish.  More details can be found here.

And finally, on Tuesday, the GWSR fielded its youngest possible steam loco crew, Dan and Ben having a combined age of just 45, less than half of that of the loco they were crewing (2807).
Dan(L) and Ben.
I dread to think what the combined ages of the oldest possible crew would be.