Tuesday, 27 January 2015

But Not Too welcoming

Saturday saw the steam loco dept's AGM.   The great and the good of the steam loco dept's management committee gathered together to report on what had happened last year and what will hopefully be happening during 2015.  There were also reports from the various loco owning groups and a few other items/speakers.  The highlight for me was when Ed spoke about the new volunteers that had recently been recruited and encouraged us to be very welcoming to them, but not too welcoming though as one of them is his girlfriend.

There were also "Percy Pig" awards for the footplatemen who had hogged the most turns during 2014.  The runner up was Clive:
Clive(l) receives his certificate from Chairman, Mark.
 For the second year running, John was the winner. 
John receives his certificate from Mark
 At this rate, John will need to move to a larger house in order to have enough wall space to frame and hang all his certificates.

There was a slot in the proceedings for somebody to speak about the gala.  As all the other gala committee members were absent (well in theory they were all absent, Paul appeared anyway), yours truly got stitched up with that one.   Although invitations have been sent out, there are as yet no confirmations of visiting locos, in spite of what you may have read in one of the railway magazines.  The gala for the coming year will be in its usual end of May bank holiday weekend slot (23rd - 25th) and will have a particular theme.  Here is a clue:
More details will of course be revealed on this blog as things become confirmed.  If we get the locos that we have asked for, it will be a fantastic line up.  Watch this space and keep the gala weekend free in your diaries.

The upheaval at Toddington station is still ongoing, but it is starting to take shape again.  As of Saturday, new ballast had been laid in the platforms, and new wooden sleepers and track were being laid in platform 1.  The Permanent Way gang are doing a great job.
Track retuning to platform 1
 The boiler tubes on steam locos clog up with soot after a while, which obviously impairs the ability of the boiler to raise steam.  They need regular sweeping just like house chimneys do, well at least they do for people who still have coal fires at home.  One of the least popular jobs on a steam loco is cleaning out the boiler tubes.  Usually these days it is done with compressed air blown through a lance inserted into the tubes.  Hit a particularly badly blocked tube and the result is that you get a high pressure face full of soot.  Dust masks and goggles are a must for doing this job, followed by several hours in the bath/shower when you get home.  The 2807 group as it turns out had a cunning plan.
The 2807 group plotting
 Just visible in the above shot is Roger, who is inside the firebox.   Here is a better view of him.   Roger has a length of copper pipe which he is inserting into each tube, connected to a flexible hose.  You will note that the brick arch is missing, usually you would be perched on top of it for this kind of operation.
Roger in 2807's firebox

 There were copper pipe extensions available to allow him to get to the far end of the boiler tubes:
Copper pipe extension waiting in the wings
 The cunning part of the plan, was that rather than using an air line blowing through the tubes, they had a vacuum cleaner sucking the soot out. 
Vacuum cleaner
 I am wary of putting this information out here on the blog as there is a very real danger that some of our better halves may see this and run away with the idea that we have skills from the railway that could be used in a domestic setting.  Real men of course have no idea what a vacuum cleaner might be, much less how to use one.  It is a risk that I shall take though.  I expect to be much chastised for revealing this next time I show my face at the railway.

Just some of the soot extracted from 2807's boiler tubes

 There isn't much call for riveting as far as domestic chores are concerned, so I think that I'm moving onto safer ground here.  There wasn't much sign of activity on Dinmore Manor's tender on Saturday, but work had been progressing with riveting some of the sections together during the week.

Rivets awaiting use on Saturday
Riveting plates together midweek, photo courtesy of Mike Solloway
 Dinmore Manor was being readied for her trip to the Great Central Railway to star in their gala.  There is a lot that needs doing to be ready for that.  For a start, spare springs need to be sent up with the loco, in case one needs replacing.  Locomotive springs are not particularly lightweight items:
Mark and Clive fetch a spare spring.
 The tender needs separating from the loco, which involves draining the tender of water, disconnecting water pipes, steam heat pipes and vacuum brake pipes as well as the physical connections.
Cliff separating 7820 from her (well, OK, 9017's) tender.
 There was still some unfinished business left over from setting up Dinmore Manor's valve timing.  Last week the eccentrics had been shimmed up to get the valve events occurring at the right time, this now meant that some of the split pins could no longer fit in the holes that they had come out of.  The solution was to get the nuts turned down a little on a lathe so that the split pins would fit again.
Nut, lock nut, no split pins though
 Rod in the machine shop kindly turned the nuts down by the required amount:
Rod at work
Shaving off 20 thousands of an inch at a time.
Mike refits the nuts and split pins
All present and correct again
 As mentioned last week, the hanging link brackets needed painting.  I did that bit myself, but although I took a 'before' photo, I seem to have omitted the 'after' photo.... you just can't get the staff.

Hanging link bracket before painting.
Once again, painting is one of those tasks that our better halves may well think we should be undertaking in our domestic lives, I'm back on thin ice again now.

The last thing to do was to put onto the tender the spare chimney that had once graced 7820 during the early days of her first boiler ticket in preservation and which prior to that had been on a Hall class loco.  It has been sold for use on Pitchfork Pitchford Hall which is currently being restored on the GCR.
If you thought springs were heavy....
Landing the chimney on the tender.
 I have noticed that an upcoming auction has listed amongst the items for sale, a chimney from 5009, Shrewsbury Castle.  I quite fancy the idea of replacing the chimney on my house with it.  If I could find a brass safety valve bonnet to go up there and perhaps a pair of GWR whistles too, it would all look stunning.  The prospect of collecting the chimney from the vendor many miles away and somehow elevating it onto my roof is rather too daunting though. 

And finally,  7820, Dinmore Manor arrived on Monday at Quorn & Woodhouse on the Great Central Railway.
Arriving on the GCR,  Photo courtesy of Mike Solloway
 She'll be running at the their gala and on selected dates over the next few weeks.

Monday, 19 January 2015

More Mutual Improvements

Once again, Saturday morning kicked off with another mutual improvement class.  This time, it was the turn of our Operations Manager, Neil, whose brief was to cover the topic "Signalling - A Guide for the Footplate". He was speaking from a set of notes provided by Peter Smith.   The subjects of absolute block working and interlocking between points and signals are fascinating topics, but not ones that I feel I can do justice to on this blog.  Perhaps in time the writer of the Signal & Telegraph blog will provide an article or two over there.   Meanwhile, for those who have further interest in the subject, I can do no better than point you at one of the references that was included in his explanatory notes used by Neil from the Health & Safety Executive "Railway Safety, Principles and Guidance". The signalling section starts at page 34 and describes what forms of signalling needs to be in place on "Minor Railways".  It is a sobering thought that the instigation of each of the  requirements came about because of at least one fatal accident somewhere.  The session concluded with a tour of some of the signals and points at Winchcombe and of course a visit to Winchcombe signal box, which was conveniently open to allow some shunting operations to take place.
Neil describing how Winchcombe signal box is operated
You'll note in the above photo that most people are stood around with hands in pockets trying to keep warm, signal boxes are usually nice cosy places, but in Winchcombe's case, the stove is currently out of order.
Neil describing the mechanical interlocking in Winchcombe signal box
Having been improved, it was over to Toddington to catch up on what was going on there.  I had received a text during the week from Ian who had noticed on a recent blog post that I had been responsible for removing 2807's gauge frame.  Ian wanted to know where I'd put it so that he could refit it. On the plus side, it's nice to know that somebody actually reads this drivel, on the downside, my patent sieve like memory lived up to all expectations and drew a blank.  I eventually came up with an answer, which as the gauge frame has now reappeared on 2807's backhead suggests was right.
2807's gauge frame
 As Dinmore Manor is shortly to head off on her holidays to the GCR for their Winter Steam Gala at the end of January, most of the work taking place was to get her ready for that.

Dinmore Manor's own tender is taking shape.  Next item on the list is to manufacture and fit a couple of strengthening plates between the drag box and the nearest frame stretcher.  These plates are not meant to be parallel to the frames, but offset at a small angle.  The plates are of course fairly heavy items,
Shifting the A frame into position
 The steel plate cut to size, it's time to lower it into place to make sure it fits
Lowering the plate for checking the fit
 The plate needs a bit of angle bracket attaching, a larger section needed to be cut down to the right length for the job.
Mark watches the cutting machine at work
 I include this next shot, as at the point that I was about to take the photo, there were three people in view, as soon as my camera appeared, they all disappeared.  The remarkable capabilities of my camera at making people run away has been noted.  Hopefully it will have the same effect the next time my mother-in-law comes to stay.
Nobody there any more
 Meanwhile, the section of plate steel that was going to be welded into the tender needed chamfering to fit in at the correct angle.
Ian chamfering the steel plate
It also required a cut out making to accommodate the angle bracket on the end that will is attached to the frame stretcher.
Ian creating the cut out.
You will recollect that a few weeks ago, 7820's hanging links had been removed.  By Saturday, new bushes had been turned up and everything reassembled.

 I note that the brackets for the hanging links have yet to be painted, but I'm sure that will be attended to in the near future.

The re-bushing of the hanging links will have affected the valve timing, so there was a need to set that again.  Step one was to get Dinmore Manor outside on one of the pits.
Dinmore Manor shunted onto a pit.
 After that, it's a case of adding or removing shims on the eccentrics to get the valves to open and close in the right places.  This apparently calls for the use of modern technology:
Steve and his laptop
I was assured that not only did Swindon do it this way back in the days of the GWR, but that Steve was using Churchward's very own laptop, which had been passed on to Collett, then Hawksworth and eventually via dark arts and subterfuge into Steve's ownership.  I was more concerned about the fact that the wallpaper on his screen was not of Dinmore Manor, but a rival manor based on a different railway.
There was useful stuff on his laptop too though, so I'll let him off
 The valve timing adjusting/checking involved shunting the loco for and aft until everything was in the right position.  I was amused to note that piece of paper wedged between the crosshead and a spacer was being used as a feeler gauge.  I was reminded of days of old when setting up the ignition timing on motorbikes was done using a pencil inserted through a spark plug hole to locate Top Dead Centre (TDC) whilst a cigarette paper was used to indicate that the contact breakers had just closed.  This was pretty much the same thing on a rather larger scale.
Piece of paper clamped in place, indicating the equivalent of TDC.

Sadly the only kind of A4 you'll be likely to see on the GWSR for a while

John measures where the piston valve is in its bore.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Mutually Improved

I had intended to kick off this week's blog post with a lengthy discourse on what Mutual Improvement Classes are and their history.  It seems that Ian Crowder has beaten me to it, so I can do no better than direct you to his informative article on the main GWSR website.

Saturday morning saw the first of this year's Mutual Improvement Classes for the steam loco dept, which was being held at Winchcombe and addressed by Andy and David of the 35006 restoration group.  What were they going to discuss?  Well the first part would cover the history of Bulleid's Merchant Navy class in general and 35006 in particular. After a refreshment break, there would be a session on the operation of the locomotives.  Drivers were delighted to learn that there were fewer oiling points on 35006 than on most of our locos, though correspondingly more greasing points which would probably only require attention once per washout.  Firemen on the other hand were dismayed to learn (assuming that they didn't already know) that the grate is as long as a Swindon number 1 boiler, but twice as wide.  Most firemen don't use gloves when firing, but the prospect of getting the shovel in far enough to keep the back corners filled suggests that obtaining a stout pair of welders gloves (reaching up to the elbow) would be a good idea.

35006 seen just prior to the 2014 Steam Gala
 Inevitably, questions were asked of Andy and David, including the obvious one.  I won't put any pressure on them by revealing what they said, but it was an encouraging reply.

Once improved (well there wasn't much scope for me being unimproved), it was off to Toddington to see what needed doing there.  The first thing of note was the shocking discovery that somebody has half inched all the track in the station:
Devoid of track
 Before you rush off to dial 999 and report the theft, it turns out that it has been removed deliberately by the Permanent Way gang.  Presumably it will be replaced in even better condition before the running season starts again.

The main thing that needed doing as far as I could make out was that 2807 needed washing out.

Brian had made the mistake of letting it be known via social media that he would be making a rare visit to Toddington, in part to assist with the washout.  He came expecting a fair degree of leg-pulling and wasn't disappointed.  He was at pains to point out however that he has taken steps to tip his own personal work/life balance in favour of life and should be able to keep his new year's resolution of spending more time at the GWSR.
Brian poses with 2807
Before any progress could be made on washing out the boiler, the last four washout plugs needed removing from the top of the boiler barrel.  Jonathan had a go at it, but didn't get very far.  In the end, it took both if us up there, along with a short section of scaffolding pipe on the end of the tommy bar to give greater leverage before they would shift.
Initial attempts were unsuccessful
The next step once the last of the washout plugs had been removed was to start the wash out of the accumulated sludge in the boiler.  That requires a source of water under pressure.  The milk tanker had been previously filled with water for the purpose.
Ernie delivered water by mistake
From the milk tanker, the water is piped to a petrol powered water pump.  It has to be said that the water pump wasn't at all keen to start. We all gave the cord a few hearty pulls and Ian administered an 'easy starting' aerosol product into the air intake.  Brian advised that the easy start product has a very different trade name in Australia.  I looked it up, he was right.  I should add, don't follow that link if easily offended or depending on browsing policies, when at work.
Steve pulls the starting cord, Ian applies a spray of easy start, Brian supervises.
From there, the water was pumped through a reel of fire hose to a tap and thence through a narrower bore of pipe into the boiler.
Brian operating the tap on the pipe
Finally at the wet (ok, wetter) end of the water delivery mechanism was Jonathan.  The process was to start at the top of the boiler and using the hose pipe spray off as much built up sludge in the boiler as possible.  Fortunately we use water purified by reverse osmosis in our boilers, so the sludge build up isn't so great as it would have been otherwise. Nevertheless, washouts are still required on a regular basis to help maintain efficiency at raising steam.
Starting at the top with the hand hole doors
The water was sprayed in liberally in various directions through each hand hole door, then washout plugs, each time whilst monitoring the result falling out of the mud hole doors.  Once the effluent changed from a muddy brown colour to clear, it was time to move on to the next aperture.

A fair amount of 2807's brick arch was in the pit as well, the old one having been removed. Presumably a new one will be built soon.
Water draining out of the bottom of the boiler
I don't think that we have a hose pipe on the entire railway that doesn't have a leak somewhere and this one was no exception.  It was mitigated by a an oily rag tied over it.
You should have seen the spray when the rag slipped
Once the hand hole doors and washout plugs on the top of the boiler had been done, it was time to do the ones on the back head.

Jonathan washing out from the footplate
One of the tricks that might get played on a novice cleaner is to get them to clean the cabside number plates of 2807.  The joke being that they have been varnished and no amount of Brasso (other brass cleaning products do exist) will make any difference.  It has been noted that the varnish is now beginning to come off, probably as a result of too many novice cleaners being tricked, so Roger removed one to give it a fresh coat of varnish. 
Roger (and Gil in the cab) removing 2807's identity
The water pump ran out of fuel at this point, so whilst Steve hunted out some more, Brian posed for another supervising photo.  You'll note that by this stage, Jonathan had noticed that being at the sharp end of a boiler washout wasn't the driest job on the railway and had taken measures to keep dry, i.e. he had pulled his hood up.
Brian supervises
Once the backhead washout plugs had been attended to, it was time for the ones on the sides of the boiler
Getting lower down on the boiler now
And once they were done, the ones in the smoke box were next in line.
Jonathan in the smoke box

Finally the washout plugs by the foundation ring
All that was left after that was to drain the hoses and put the kit away.
Jonathan drains the hose.
By the time the washout was completed, Jonathan was heard to remark that he felt that he should have been wearing a bikini given the number of photos that I had taken of him.  There was a bit too much of a cold wind blowing to make wearing a bikini advisable on Saturday, perhaps in the summer.

And finally, I noticed this obviously GWR chimney on the move.  A quick investigation showed that all of our GWR locos still had theirs in place, so where was it from.  It turns out that it's a spare one owned by DMLL which is originally off of a Hall and which ran on Dinmore Manor in the early part of her first boiler ticket.  Apparently it will reappear on Pitchford Hall on the Great Central Railway in the near future.
Surprisingly heavy and difficult to move