Sunday, 2 July 2017

Merchant Navy Sets Sail for the Watercress Line

No less than about 3 weeks after Dinmore Manor left us for a summer down at the WSR, the magnificent Merchant Navy 35006 is also packing her bags to be one of the starring locos at the Watercress Line for their summer gala, commemorating fifty years since the end of Southern steam. By the time you read this she will have already left and arrived at her destination!

As always at the GWSR we pride ourselves on the appearance of our locos and this is certainly no different when they visit other lines - making a good impression is always at the top of the list so a plea for a willing gang of volunteers was requested for the weekend, to make her look as good as possible.
P&O sits in the yard on Friday afternoon having a scrub-up and a polish.
Injector pipes shine in the afternoon sun!
A handful of us (myself, Roy, David, Ash, and another gentleman whose name I didn't get) turned up on the Friday to start the process of beautifying this lovely southern engine - cleaning the frames, springs, wheels, and rods... anything that was dirty. I took to the Brasso and set about polishing up quite a bit of the copper pipework on the outside - and there is an awful lot of it on this engine, in comparison to her GWR stablemates.

A work in progress
Ash arrived a little later in the afternoon and set about polishing the outside of the boiler. 

Ash polishes the boiler

One of the jobs that needs to be done prior to transportation is the splitting of the tender from the engine. The draw bar on this engine about 6 feet long - at the tender end of the bar sits a very large nut which Chris had slackened off in preparation. To get to the connection on the engine side, an access panel on the cab floor needs to be lifted up - once done, this is what you are greeted with:

The top of the pin that forms the connection between tender and engine
This long and heavy pin had been thoughtfully made to include a convenient lifting eye which makes removal so much easier. I looped some string through it whilst Chris went underneath the loco and prepared to hammer away at the bottom of the pin so that it could be freed.

It's important to take the weight of the pin whilst freeing it up, especially when it starts to move as there's a danger it could fall back down into its original position, meaning you have to start all over again - not ideal for a heavy and slightly awkward job. Once completely free, it's a good idea to move it to the one side as soon as it comes out to stop it from falling down the hole from whence it came.

Pin out and safely moved to one side

This short period of being out of action in readiness for transportation also gives the department a chance to fix any small issues that have arisen since being in service - in particular, the front damper handle assembly had come apart and was in need of some careful disassembly to make sure nothing fell out into the deepest depths of P&O's inner workings never to be seen again... namely, a small grub screw used to keep the collar fixed in position.

The damper handle in question

The first job was to remove the four nuts from the studs that hold the bracket down, being careful to keep everything in the same orientation as when it was removed. 

With instructions from Andrew Marshall, one of the main engineers behind P&O,  Chris and I set about taking it all apart. With the brackets removed it was possible, with some assistance underneath to push up the damper door, to unscrew the handle from the shaft, revealing the collar underneath.
Handle off, it was time to locate the grub screw
Feeling confident that we hadn't heard anything drop, we started to hunt for the grub screw - only, it was nowhere to be seen. It was not on the cab floor, nor was it buried in the grease on the collar. On closer inspection of the collar, to our surprise there was no provision for a grub screw anywhere on it! So, it was time for a clean-up of the collar in preparation to have a grub screw fitted over the next few days before she went away to the Mid Hants. 

Is your collar as clean as this one?
On Saturday, work continued on sorting out various small jobs...

P&O looking fantastic on Saturday
Photo by Dan Wigg

The ash pan was cleaned out, as was the smoke box, and the boiler was drained which was completed by Dan and Chris S. In the workshop, some axle box packers were being machined up ready for when the loco is transported on the HGV.

On Wednesday it was time the big move from Toddington to Alresford, a journey of roughly 95 miles or so. It was quite a tense move for all involved, this being the first time that the loco has been out of Toddington since its restoration began in 1983.

P&O sat happily in the Mid Hants yard after her big trip
Photo by Dan Wigg
As always though, the move went well and P&O can currently be seen running alongside an impressive lineup of locos at the Summer Gala.

35006 at the Mid Hants Summer Gala, commemorating 50 years since the end of Southern Steam.
34052 Lord Dowding (Battle of Britain Class) can be seen in the background
Photo by Dan Wigg

If you'd like an opportunity to see P&O for yourself scampering on the 10 miles of the Watercress Line, the gala continues this weekend of the 8th and 9th of July.

Meanwhile at Toddington, there have been preparations to get more of the shed floor cleaned, sealed and painted after much of it had been concreted over the last couple of years.

Now that most of Broadway canopy has been assembled and moved, one of the last sections of the shed floor is now empty. It has been very thoroughly cleaned and was looking like new as of last Friday!
A clean shed floor
Once again there was a call for volunteers to help out with sealing (Thursday 29th) and painting (Friday 30th). I came in on the Friday afternoon to get stuck in. I found Roger T busy mixing the next batch of paint.

Roger mixes the next batch of paint

The morning gang, David H and Martin G, had already painted a third or halfway down the three sections by the time myself and fellow afternoon painting companion William N arrived.
You've missed a bit!
With three of us on the rollers it didn't take very long at all. Happy to report that this time around, no rollers snapped during the painting of the floor - which is what happened last time - I have memories of having to finish most of the floor on my hands and knees!

All done - just one more small section left to concrete

The coming week at a glance at the GWSR

Tuesday 4th July Blue Timetable 7903 Foremarke Hall
Wednesday 5th July Blue Timetable 7903 Foremarke Hall
Thursday 6th July Blue Timetable 7903 Foremarke Hall
Saturday 8th July Red Timetable TBD
Sunday 9th July Red Timetable TBD


  1. Very interesting blog. It rather leaves the GWsR a bit short of locos though. Pray that nothing else fails! The loco shed floor looks remarkable with the sealant on. Regards, Paul.

  2. I,thought,that 5542,was coming,for the summer!.Is that,still on?. Anthony.

  3. Where has the steam dept. blog gone to? Are you well Donna?