|Arriving on the back of a lorry|
|Propped up on road 9 in the shed|
|Love me tender|
Now I know what you're thinking, I thought exactly the same thing, but I am assured that the remainder of the kit of parts for the tender are pretty much ready to be fitted in place and that the assembly from here should be fairly quick and straight forward. I knew better than to press my source for a completion date, it'll be ready when it's ready.
I have heard that quite a bit of work has recently taken place on Foremarke Hall and will hopefully be able to bring you an update on that next week.
The weekend before Christmas has become known apparently as "Panic Weekend". Being in my usual state of ill preparedness, I was panicking elsewhere rather than doing anything useful on the GWSR. Kids do get upset if they get overlooked at Christmas, well mine do anyway.
By Christmas Eve, I was no longer in panic mode (resigned desperation by this point) and I was ready to enjoy a day out transporting children (who universally claimed to be on Santa's 'nice list') from Cheltenham Race Course to the North Pole to meet Santa himself.
I was down to fire train 2, along with Neil as driver and Howard as cleaner. As has been mentioned before, the locos of choice for a cold winter's turn are one or other of the two tank engines with their nice enclosed (read warm and dry) cabs. Tender first running on some of our other locos does leave you rather exposed to the elements. 4270 is undergoing a spot of winter maintenance at the moment which leaves 5542, "The Planet's Favourite Prairie" (PFP) as the one to get. Pleasingly it was 5542 that I had been rostered on, and it was doubly pleasing for me, as she was the only one of our running fleet that I hadn't had a turn on since I passed out as a fireman.
Train 1, was 2807 with George, Dan and Aaron as crew. George was particularly pleased with his oil filler to which he had fitted a LED torch to so that he could see what he was filling.
|George filling the eccentrics on 2807|
|Aaron cleaning up the wheels of 2807|
|Santa Express headboards attached|
Aside from the excellent weather protection afforded by the PFP, it's a fairly small loco and doesn't take a great deal of time to clean. This left Howard free to tackle some of the more important things such as making a round of tea for us all.
|Howard delivers the tea.|
|2807 heads off|
|Neil coals up the PFP|
|2807 is in there somewhere|
|2807 emerges from the steam from her drain cocks as she passes the PFP|
|Tony, Santa's Chauffeur|
When Fake Santa went in to hook the PFP onto the stock, he inquired of the guard if he wanted steam heating for the carriages. The guard was more than just a little bit keen for the steam heating to be hooked up, so that the carriages would then be nice and warm for the first passengers when we got to Cheltenham Race Course. The fact that he would be nice and warm on the way down had nothing to do with it of course. Unfortunately the guard rather shot himself in the foot by blowing his whistle and waving his flag fully eleven minutes early. Fake Santa had a reasonable amount of pressure and water at this point of course, but he had not long since started building the fire ready for departure. Most of what was on the grate was glowing embers rather than fresh coal, one good yank of the regulator and most of that would be off up the chimney. Fake Santa did the only thing that he could under the circumstances, which was to build up the fire quickly between the signal box and the section signal and switch off the steam heat so that all the available steam could be used in the cylinders.
It was cold and clear, ideal conditions for lineside photograpy, I was surprised that we didn't see a few more than just this chap between Winchcombe and the tunnel.
|Solitary lineside photographer|
|Neil at the controls of the PFP in the tunnel|
|Howard waiting for the tanks to fill|
|Fake Santa waiting to switch off the water supply, photo courtesy of Neil Carr|
|Howard with a "Two Castles T-Shirt".|
|Crossing 2807 at Gotherington|
|Elves in the falling snow|
One of the perks of being crew on the Santa Specials is that you get free tea and mince pies in the cafe at the North Pole.
|Why can't all Christmas jumpers be this good.|
|Howard the chef, photo courtesy of Neil Carr|
|Howard samples the fruits of his labours|
|Beanz Means Brakez|
|Neil (l) and Howard, looking happy after first breakfast|
|Heading into Greet tunnel|
|Howard looking happy with his firing|
|Poor photo of highland cattle|
|Heading towards Bishop's Cleeve|
The photo opportunities extended themselves into the return journey back to the North Pole too.
|In Gotherington loop.|
|Bacon this time.|
|Thomas and the really |
Fake Santa just about managed to get himself safely home and tucked up in bed before Real Santa came down his chimney and left some presents. Heaven knows how Fake Santa managed to find his way onto Real Santa's 'nice list'. I suspect subterfuge or at least a hacking of Real Santa's computer and a certain name being moved from the naughty list to the nice one.
I had also signed myself up for a day on the footplate on Boxing Day. Being a fireman on Boxing Day has a major drawback. The issue is that you will be responsible for getting a warming fire in your loco the day before. I wasn't wildly keen on the idea of trekking up to Toddington on Christmas Day to put a warming fire in 5542 (yes, I was rostered with the PFP again). Mercifully, Dan who lives closer to the railway than most agreed to sort out a warming for me after he'd polished off his turkey. Thanks Dan.
The original plan was that Ben and myself were going out as the second train on the Blue timetable (with the PFP) whilst Neil and John took out 2807 as train 1. The blue timetable was written for the DMU as the second train, not steam, so train 2 didn't have any time allowed for run rounds at Laverton etc. Consequently, keeping to time was going to be rather interesting and I was wondering as to quite how it would work out in practice. I was spared actually finding out though, because there was a flurry of emails on Christmas Eve to the effect that Ben and myself were now going to be out on train 1 instead, leaving Neil and John to crew train 2. Crucially, Ben and I still had the PFP as our steed.
|2807 and the PFP returning to steam on Boxing Day|
|Ben, the PFP and the headboard|
The Santa Specials of course were now over for another year. From Boxing Day and onwards until the end of the season, we offer an antidote to the Christmas excesses, the Mince Pie Specials. Fed up to bursting with turkey? Just finish yourself off with mince pies.
|Yup, more mince pies on the footplate|
|Whilst we waited to go, 2807 reversed onto her stock on platform 2.|
|Not a bad starting line up.|
Unfortunately, the weather on Boxing Day wasn't the crisp, clear, cold day that Christmas Eve had been. Cold perhaps, but not crisp or clear. That didn't deter one lineside photographer who turned up between Winchcombe and Greet tunnel.
|Sooner them than me|
|2807 does its best DMU impression|
|Ben and his Cross Country friend, Les.|
|Shouldn't be here|
If you do want to take photos of your children with our locos, please come to one of our stations and do it there in safety and don't just wander onto the lineside.
Returning to Toddington, Ben was rather concerned to see that we were signaled into platform 1 rather than the booked platform 2. Platform changes like that may sound trivial, but it meant that we would not have been able to take on water as the water column on platform 1 is the wrong end of the platform. For one of our tender engines with at least 3500 gallons of water space, it probably wouldn't have mattered too much, but on a tank engine like 5542 with a much smaller water capacity, it's very important, especially when you're turning a fair proportion of that water into steam to pump through the carriages to keep the passengers warm. Running out of water isn't an option, if you run the boiler too low and expose the crown of the firebox, very bad and very expensive things happen. The sort of things that would result in one or two 'please explain' letters being dispatched. Ben wisely took the view that he'd rather call the signal box and get the platform changed to platform 2, (where we could take water) than have to explain why we'd destroyed the firebox of the PFP.
We spotted Alan Bielby, Chairman of the GWSR PLC hop on board for a trip when we eventually got back to Toddington.
|Alan Bielby, Chairman of the PLC board|
|No monkey business from Ben|
|Detached whistle chain|
|Could use windscreen wipers|
|Andy & Ben making incendiary comments about the fireman|
|Crossing 2807 for the last time at Winchcombe|
|Sat in platform 2 as 2807 pulls into platform 1|
|2807 on the ash pit after we had finished.|