John was the driver for the day, amusingly a slight mishap as he was oiling up 2807 meant that the shovel got a generous helping of motion oil. I wasn't sure whether he was trying to tell me to get shovelling quicker, or was it a hint that he wanted breakfast cooking?
|A well oiled shovel|
|Waiting at Winchcombe|
|Frank, and the signed course completion certificates|
|A nice start to the day|
I started my section off by pointing to the pressure gauge and saying that one of the fireman's jobs is to provide steam pressure in the boiler at the times when it's going to be needed, in general when on the road, you need to have at least 160 PSI on the clock, or the driver may not be able to keep the brakes from automatically kicking in and bringing the train to a halt. You would then have to wait until you had created enough pressure to be able to move again. This would be considered a bit embarrassing. In the other direction, it's possible to over do it and end up with too much steam pressure, when you reach the red line, the safety valves on the top of the boiler will kick in and vent surplus steam to the atmosphere. This, as is all too frequently pointed out by the steam loco dept manager, is a waste of coal and water. He often threatens to get one of those credit card reader machines installed by the coal dock and make us pay for whatever coal we use during the day.
|Pressure gauge, nearing the red line|
|Water gauge, water nicely three quarters of the way up the glass|
So how does the fireman control the steam pressure and the water level? Well steam pressure is fairly straight forward, you put a fire in the firebox, and apply the right amount of coal to bring the pressure up.... simples! Well not quite so simple actually, for a starter, you need to make sure that the grate is covered, any burnt through patches on the grate, and cold air will rush in to the firebox, taking the path of least resistance and disappear off down through the tubes of the boiler. You will know that this is happening, as the pressure gauge will start dropping alarmingly, you'll hear a distinctive sound of rushing air at the same time if you're tuned into it. The cold air on the tube plate and the tubes will have a detrimental effect on their integrity and again, the locomotive owners will not be best pleased. The grate of a Swindon number one boiler, such as is used on 2807 and Foremake Hall is about three paces long and about one pace wide. If you were to look at the area you have to keep filled, chalked out on the ground, you'd think that it was easy. Just like motor racing tracks occasionally have chicanes thrown in, to make what would otherwise be easy straights rather more difficult, so does a steam locomotive have a few obstacles to make firing more of a challenge. The starter for ten is that you have a relatively small hole to shovel the coal through, and when that hole is bouncing around before your eyes when the train is in motion, that makes it surprisingly easy to catch the edge of the hole with the shovel and drop half the coal just inside the firebox door, the rest falling embarrassingly onto the footplate. The woes don't stop there either, there is a baffle plate fitted to deflect incoming air through the fire hole door down onto the grate to be warmed by the fire, rather than let it go straight over the brick arch and onto the tube plate. The problem is that a natural shovelling action has a bit of a back swing, and then a forward motion that describes an arc, with the coal departing from the shovel face on the upward part of the arc at the end. This invariably launches the coal on the shovel up at the baffle plate, causing the coal to drop into the centre of the fire, just inside the fire hole door. The result is a fire that is thick just inside the door and thin or possibly out altogether over the rest of the grate. A fireman has to acquire the shovelling technique to get the coal where it's needed.
|Fire hole door, baffle plate visible at the top|
From an operational point of view, it's quite simple really, open the water cock from the tender, open the steam supply on the back head, then trim the water cock whilst watching the injector overflow (under the cab floor). When there is neither water over flowing, nor steam blowing through, then it's working. You will also hear a distinctive note as the injectors force water into the boiler, which is handy after dark when you can't see the overflow.
|Injector water cock|
|Injector steam cock|
Firing therefore is a lot of a juggling act, where and when to put how much coal on the grate and where and when to put how much water into the boiler, in order to maintain pressure and water levels within the parameters described above. Just to make it even more interesting, the Welsh coal that we use takes five or ten minutes on the grate before it starts burning properly (more if the loco isn't moving), so you need to think ahead with your firing.
I tend to finish off my chat about the duties of the fireman by mentioning the blower.
|The blower valve, the fireman's friend!|
|There are three dampers on 2807, operated by these levers.|
That of course only really covered the rudiments of boiler control, the fireman has much more to do besides, especially in terms of looking out for signals, watching for people on crossings etc, but you can only cover so much before they all start nodding off to sleep.
After I'd finished my talk, John stepped up and dealt with the bits that they really wanted to know, which was how to drive the thing. Basically how to make it go (easy), how to make it stop (easier still), and how to make it stop in the right place (fiendishly difficult).
|John doing the driver's talk.|
There may not have been any other trains running, but that didn't prevent other essential works from taking place.
|Line side drainage gang, hard at work|
|Building up the fire at Cheltenham Race Course|
|One of the participants gets us underway|
A feature of footplate experience days, that is lamentably not the case on normal running days is that tea is fetched out for the crew at Cheltenham Race Course station.
|I wonder if this idea will catch on!|
|Lunchtime at Winchcombe|
|Contractors working on a small slip at Gretton.|
|The rain did nothing to dampen the participants spirits, but it did suppress the coal dust.|
|Trying to dry off in front of the fire.|
|Damping down and scraping out the ash|
|Alex empties the pit, ably assisted by Stu (AKA Toddington Ted)|
I had a turn on 35006 on Saturday, which wasn't entirely without incident.
It started well enough, with tea and chocolate biscuits at breakfast time:
|The GWSR Steam Loco Dept's Olympic tea drinking team in action|
|...or perhaps he was just priming the cylinder oil passages|
|It wore him out, but he did a good job|
|They know what to do with a cuppa'!|
|Jeremy (l) and Jamie|
|Nice weather for ducks|
|The line side clearance team wisely sheltered from the rain in their cars.|
I let Jeremy have his first stab at firing on the second trip down to Cheltenham Race Course. After a few early goes at getting coal around the grate (reminiscent of many of the attempts that I had witnessed the day before), he managed to pick up the technique and did a pretty good job. I stressed to him the extreme importance, of if you get it wrong and over do it, that under no circumstances must you let the loco blow off at either Toddington as you pass the mess coach (JC will be out with that credit card reader) or at Winchcombe, where the crew of the other loco will see you. Not everybody always pays heed to that advice though.
|According to 2807's fireman, this was a "light feather" at the safety valves|
|Jeremy at work|
|Pete empties the pit, Sam was up by the parlour road points to let us out.|
"You may not be aware but our very own 7903 Foremarke Hall spent almost all of her BR working life based at 81A old Oak Common. This fact made her an obvious choice for attending the very last open day as in 2018 the depot will be closed as part of HS2 development.
Our desire for her to attend was also fuelled by this Black and White picture taken by Dick Blenkinsop on 3rd July 1960, as it was an opportunity to reunite 7903 with shed mate 6023. Whilst the roundhouse and turntable are both long gone we did manage to take this picture. 57 years since they were last photographed together at Old Oak Common depot.
|(l-r), 6023, 7903 & 48431 at Old Oak Common, photo courtesy of Dick Blenkinsop|
It was a good event and we actual moved 10 yards under steam to position ourselves in the line up. So yes 7903 has been in steam and moved at Old Oak Common.
I have to say we got lots of positive comments about 7903. We did ask if we could have a quick trip into Paddington but for some strange reason we were not allowed?"
|6023 & 7903, photo courtesy of John Cruxon|
|Foremarke Hall lines positions in the line up|
|Old and not quite so old, railmotor & bubble car|
|1501, a gala visitor a few years ago|
|Foremarke Hall and support team|
|7903 & 6023 glinting in the evening sun|
|As close a recreation as possible of the Dick Blenkinsop photo|
|6023 & 7903 diesel hydraulics, D821 & D1015|
And finally, as you may have heard, celebrity loco, Flying Scotsman has been running on the West Somerset Railway recently, taking passengers one way along the line, and another loco being used to take them back. An event that has seen capacity crowds, and all seats sold. Owing to a locomotive failure, our own Dinmore Manor was substituted in to run as the other loco during this event. On one trip, Flying Scotsman slipped to a halt and couldn't get restarted again on the steeply graded approach to Crowcombe Heathfield. Dinmore Manor was summoned to provide banking assistance at the rear of the train to get it restarted again.
|Dinmore Manor banks Flying Scotsman, photo courtesy of Jacob Fuller|
This has even made its way onto the BBC news, their report can be found by clicking on this link.