Monday, 30 October 2017

The Cleaner's Lot

Upon being dragged back kicking & screaming to blog writing duties, plan A was to assemble a small team of people who would take on composing blog articles on an occasional basis, perhaps once a month, to spread the workload.  The confessed rates of adult illiteracy however in the steam loco department has come as a surprise to me, with many people who have ostensibly passed written exams on firing & driving steam locomotives suddenly claiming to not know which way round to hold a pen, much less how to write an article on a computer.  So much for plan A.   I am pleased to report however that I have at least been able to twist the arm Eleanor, into composing articles on an occasional basis.  To this end, she has provided the following post on the sort of things that the role of cleaner encompasses.  For ease of identification as to who wrote which article, henceforth, we'll be putting our names at the bottom. As neither of us was able to make it to Toddington at the weekend, the photos used to illustrate the article are all culled from ancient blog posts.  


The cleaner's lot

The first rung on the ladder to becoming steam locomotive crew is working as a cleaner. Historically this has always been the case. Back in the days of steam, bright young school-leavers (14-year-olds back then of course) with aspirations of becoming engine drivers when they grew up would take on this role. These days of course the new aspirants have significantly more than 14 years behind them, but they share that ambition of becoming an engine driver when they grow up, well, of becoming an engine driver anyway, whether they will ever grow up is debatable.

Cleaners are learning all the time. Today's cleaners have to sit written exams after a course of classroom tuition before they can ever call themselves cleaner. After that they continue to learn the practical skills which they will need in order to work as footplate crew by working to assist the existing crews. When considered ready, and a firing instructor becomes available they can progress onto training as a fireman.  For cleaners of yesteryear the tuition was a less formal process based on "Mutual improvement classes" given by more experienced engine crew who gave these classes on a purely voluntary basis. The young cleaners would progress through a series of assessments and would gradually work their way up the ladder of seniority, eventually acquiring the status of "passed cleaner", which means that they had qualified as a fireman however there was no vacancy for one at the moment. They could act as a fireman if one was unavailable, but otherwise would continue to clean locos.  Many passed cleaners would at this point seek a transfer to another shed which did have a vacancy for a fireman. The progression from cleaner to fireman, then and now, is not a quick one and anybody embarking on the journey should expect several years good, hard, but very enjoyable, graft before attaining their goal.

For all the benefits of classroom learning, there is nothing like getting up close and personal with a steam loco to understand what makes it tick, or if you prefer, chuff, and that is just what a cleaner has to do. When on duty the cleaner behaves as assistant to the fireman and therefore when rostered for a turn needs need to pitch up on shed when the fireman does - 6am for a 10am departure train.

The fireman, being the first member of the crew to arrive, has to check that the loco is in a fit state to run which amount other things involves checking the condition of the smokebox - making sure there are no leaks of water among other things. This done, the ash which has accumulated in the smokebox during running the day before needs to be removed, and yes you guessed it this dusty and rather warm task is just the sort of thing a cleaner comes in handy for.

Once all the safety checks have been completed, perhaps stating the obvious, the fireman needs to light a fire and to do that wood is required. So off the cleaner is dispatched to collect wood in the correct range of sizes in the correct quantity (as specified by the fireman). Thankfully on our railway we have a team (I hope they know how much they are appreciated) who take on the job of cutting up wood into handy-sized pieces for fitting into a firebox so the cleaners' task of collecting wood simply involves going to the wood store and selecting the required fuel. The next ingredient is kerosene soaked rags to give good ignition, well it beats your average fire-lighter anyway.

Once the fire-lighting material have been supplied the cleaner needs to get on with what the name of the role suggests they should do - clean!

Smoke, ash, and coal dust all leave their mark to put it mildly. The first things to clean are the things that are going to get very hot later - the brass safety valve bonnet and copper chimney cap (if you get a posh enough loco to have one) are the first candidates for attention. A suitable metal polish (many good brands exist) needs to be liberally applied with a good dose of elbow grease to get that deep down shine.
Dan cleaning 5542's safety valve bonnet before it gets too hot

The paintwork comes in for a bit of a battering and regular therapy with a heavy-duty detergent is necessary to keep our locos looking at their best. Probably one of the larger shampoo-and set jobs really.

If you stand on a footbridge and look down on a loco you can sometimes see where the cleaner hasn't quite reached the top of the boiler on each side leaving a dark spine along its apex - lets just call it some additional lining and leave it at that.......

At this point the loco crew have probably been on shed for quite some time and it is recommended that the conscientious cleaner demonstrates their potential as future firemen in the ability to boil water - starting small-scale, obviously, the mess-room kettle provides good practice and a route to a refreshing cup of tea for all.
George, not only with tea, but chocolate biscuits too
 Attention returning to the loco, the smoke box is next on the list. Several of our locos don't have painted smokeboxes (which would just need a wash), but have unpainted metal - not all paints respond well to the high temperatures the smoke box gets to (it does not have any insulation on it like the boiler does) so leaving it unpainted avoids any prematurely peeling paint. This requires a coat of oil and kerosene mix followed by a wipe over with a cloth to retain a smart black appearance.
Working on down the rods and wheels are next - these are just about at eye-level when the loco is out of the platforms, so yes the visitors will notice if they don't get done! Some kerosene and oil on a brush followed by a wipe with an oily cloth and they look presentable once again. 
Alex (l) giving a certain blue engine some attention
During all this the driver has been working around the engine oiling up. Oil can have a bit of a mind of its own and a cleaner will be on the look out for any drips on the running plate that need to be expunged.

Once the loco is off shed, the collection of buckets and cleaning tools need to be put away in their proper places - the next day's cleaners won't appreciate having to hunt for what they need to get their cleaning done. The cleaner may be invited to ride on the footplate for one of the round trips at some point during the day otherwise there is always plenty to do on shed until the loco returns - the day isn't over yet......

When the loco returns we have the job of disposal. Driver and fireman check the engine has survived the day and the conscientious cleaner does well to supply tea upon their arrival, but won't get away that lightly. The fireman has been industriously feeding the fire all day and so a generous helping of ash has accumulated in the ashpan and this needs to be emptied out. The exact design of the ashpan and the method of emptying it varies from loco to loco, but it generally involves getting into the pit underneath the loco armed with a hose and a rake. The ash needs to be damped down with copious amounts of water (otherwise the dust gets everywhere and you certainly don't want it in the loco's moving parts, and it cools it too) and then raked out into the pit. A dirty job, but it needs to be done.
Chris emptying an ashpan
Ed(l) and James emptying a pit of ash

With the ashpan empty the loco moves on round to the shed leaving pile of wet ash to be cleared up and put into the ash pile to await removal. And so the cleaner (hopefully assisted by some kind associate) spends (more than) a few moments paddling in the pit and clearing up the slurry of ash. Needless to say the cleaner is clean no longer and, job done, returns to the mess coach to finish the day with a well earned cup of tea. A labour of love it has to be said!

Graham has kindly supplied a selection of photos of 2807 on its Christmas holiday at the Llangollen Railway.  All photos from here on, by kind permission of Graham Bondi.


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

A Proper Hill

The big news on the GWSR in the last week, is that after 65 years of working on the railways in one form or another, Jeff Madge has retired from the footplate at the age of 80. 

For a full report of Jeff's history, both with us and with BR, I can do no better than point you in the direction of this article on the main GWSR website written by Ian Crowder. 

There was also an article in the Daily Telegraph, as well as on various online media outlets.  Both Steam Railway Magazine and Heritage Railway Magazine covered it on their online forums, so it's not impossible that the next physical issues of those will feature the story.  BBC Gloucester covered it for the news and a nice video piece can be found by clicking on this link.  I'm afraid that you'll have to scroll down a long way to 13:26 on 19th October to find it.

It is a little sobering to think that we now only have one fireman and no drivers who crewed steam locomotives for BR.  In fact many of our footplate crew today weren't born when standard gauge steam finished on BR.
Jeff changing the lamps on his last day, photo courtesy of Andy Turner
 This photo taken on the day includes Jeff and various of the great and good of the GWSR.   Nick, the cleaner on the day, who eluded the camera in the photo drives Pendolinos in his day job, so we have a strong link from the past to the future here.
Photo courtesy of Steve Oddy

 Best wishes for a happy retirement Jeff.

2807 has been earning her keep on the Llangollen Railway.  Graham, one of our firemen is also a fireman at Llangollen and will hopefully be providing some photos of her at work in time for next week's blog post.

I believe that Sunday was the last operating day this season for 35006, which will shortly be commencing her winter maintenance programme.  She is not anticipated to be in steam now until the 2018 season and all being well will be one of the locos running on the official opening to Broadway on March 30th.
Yours truly spent Sunday and Monday on the Churnet Valley Railway (CVR) acting as Owner's Representative for Dinmore Manor, which will be returning to us during the course of next week.  Dinmore Manor was a guest engine hired in to celebrate the CVR's 25th anniversary.  

I had paid attention to the weather reports on the Friday and Saturday of the gala, which unfortunately were less than favourable.  Videos surfacing in online forums showed heavy rain.  I understand that it had little effect on visitor numbers which is very pleasing.  Needless to say, it was raining when I arrived on Sunday morning.
Dinmore Manor at Cheddleton
One of the CVR's home fleet, S160, 5197
 So what exactly does an owner's rep do apart from swanning about on the footplate all day?  Well the key thing is that he or she is present to assist crews that might be unfamiliar with the locomotive operate it safely.  Safely in this case means not only the crew, but also the locomotive.  A starter is that the driver needs to know where all the lubrication points are and fills them with suitable grades of oil.  Chris, the driver on Sunday had been present when Dinmore Manor arrived on site and had already been brought up to speed on the whereabouts of the oiling points.  He was also familiar with GWR style hydrostatic lubricators, so my task on this occasion was pretty straight forward.
Chris, happily in the dry under Dinmore Manor, attending to the lubrication

Dinmore Manor being cleaned
 In theory, an owner's rep should also be able to assist with fixing mechanical issues should any crop up.  As you may recollect, the tender was newly restored just before Dinmore Manor went away for the summer at the West Somerset Railway with little time available for fault fixing before it went.  Mercifully the issues with it turned out to be few, however a leak from the tender water level gauge occasionally flooded the rather useful ledge that would otherwise have made a very handy seat.  Apparently more than one person has ended up with an embarrassing wet patch on their trousers as a result of unwisely perching themselves here.  It wasn't a job that could be done on the spot, so it will have to wait until the winter maintenance period.

Indoor water feature!
 An owner's rep wouldn't usually expect to get to operate their locomotive, they're merely there to make sure that unfamiliar crews have no issues.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised when the fireman (Jon) offered me the shovel and said that I could take it from Cheddleton down to Froghall and back.  Many thanks Jon.  I was very happy to find that even on a strange line that I was able to get it there and back without any drama at the safety valves or water gauge.

Crossing 5197 at Consall Station
 It was a bit more of an achievement as the CVR use a hard coal from somewhere in the north east of England, I'm rather more used to Welsh coal.  The difference is that with Welsh, you need to build up your fire well before departure as it takes a while to catch alight and start producing heat.  It also burns on the grate for rather longer.  The coal that the CVR were using caught alight and released its heat very quickly and then soon turned to ash.  The upshot was that you fired more often, but with less planning.

There was plenty of it too

Jon at work
 The other visiting loco was 4277, "Hercules" from the Paignton & Dartmouth Railway.  It has been repainted black and given the early BR crest especially for the occasion by the CVR over the preceding week or so.  The non-original nameplates had been removed too.  It's all a matter of personal taste I know, but to my eye, she looks much better like this than the lined green that she had before.

Passing 4277 at Consall
4277 is of course a sister locomotive to our own 4270 which is currently away at Crewe having repairs to a driving wheel balance weight.

The only loco running of the home fleet on Sunday was S160, 5197, which looked huge when parked next to Dinmore Manor.
7820 & 5197
Unfortunately I was too tied up with Dinmore Manor to take a closer look at 5197, however one of the DMLL volunteers, Mark, was seen at one point to pass by on the footplate of it with a large grin on his face.

Whilst waiting at Froghall, Chris cleaned the Cambrian Coast Express headboard that he had just fitted and proved that men can multitask by also indicating that he wanted just one sugar in his tea.
Men can multitask after all.
 Tea wasn't the only thing on offer in the well appointed cafe at Froghall, the cakes were excellent, and the portions generous.  You won't be surprised to learn that they were far too tempting for your humble blogger to resist.
Many large slices of heaven!
 The majority of the CVR's service trains run alongside the picturesque Caldon Canal between Kinglsey & Froghall at one end and Leek Brook Junction at the other.  As you can imagine, any line that runs alongside a water course will be essentially flat, presenting little challenge to the fireman.  One weekend a month, and at special events, the CVR run trains the extra four and a half miles from Leek Brook Junction up to Ipstones.  The gradient profile is just a little different on this stretch of line, with a ruling gradient of 1 in 45, dropping off towards the end to 1 in 59.   The gradient profile can be seen by clicking on this link.  Note that the track bed currently in use doesn't quite get up to Ipstones summit.  This presents a little more of a challenge to the fireman, and if the railhead is damp, or covered in fallen leaves as it was on Friday, then it presents a challenge to the driver too.  A conversation with one of the volunteers at the CVR revealed that back in BR steam days, the regular turn was a Fowler 4F hauling a rake of empties up the bank to the quarry, then returning back down with the wagons loaded with stone.  The trains were loose coupled and runaways not uncommon.

DMLL's vice chairman was given a go at driving DInmore Manor along the line and up the bank to Ipstones.
Mike with his hand on the handle
The sun appeared for a while at Consall

The hard coal is a considerably smokier than the Welsh
Finally, we got to Leek Brook Junction and were about to commence our first climb of the bank to Ipstones... Jon got rather more coal onto the grate before we set off than would normally be required anywhere on the GWSR
You won't fit many more lumps in there
Dinmore Manor happily pulled away up the bank with a rather satisfying bark from her exhaust as she went.  A bit of video footage of that first trip up the bank on Sunday has surfaced on video, which can be found here.

For the last trip of the day, we were piloting 4277 with 5197 banking at the rear, with a total of nine mk1 carriages. 

4277 couples up at the rear
A curious feature of the line is that it passes by what appears to be an RAF equipment/stores depot, with various items of military hardware scattered about.  A popular pastime is to guess what the various items might be:
Aircraft disposable fuel tanks?

Tail sections of Chinook helicopters?
Many heritage railways have dilapidated telegraph poles running alongside the track bed, but precious few have wires attached to them.  It was good to see that the ones at the CVR had been nicely restored. 

Telegraph poles, complete with wires.
The sight & sound of Dinmore Manor piloting 4277 up the bank with nine carriages and 5197 banking at the rear was impressive from the footplate, I imagine it was pretty spectacular from the lineside too.
Storming Ipstones bank again

Once again, Jon built up a very good fire
All too soon, it was back down to Cheddleton for disposal, the CVR's 25th anniversary gala was over and had proved to be a huge success, in spite of the weather.
Still wearing the CVR 25th Anniversary headboard

Sat on the pit at the end of the gala
The gala may have finished on Sunday, but Dinmore Manor still had more work lined up for it, there is a photo charter this coming Saturday and a footplate experience course on Thursday.  There was also a footplate experience course with a bit of a difference on Monday, and I stayed around for that.  The difference was, that there was just one participant, he had hired the railway for the day and would do three full round trips of the line on Dinmore Manor, the first and last driving, the middle one firing.

Chris was once again the rostered driver and for the first trip, Jack would be the fireman.  I had met Jack the day before, he served the delicious cake in the cafe at Froghall.

Jack cleaning Dinmore Manor whilst the pressure came round
The CVR empty ash pans in the morning.  Not having had a turn on it since April, I had forgotten just how easy it is to clear out... open the oven door at the back, and poke a powerful hose in through the front damper door, the ash just washes out in a few minutes.  All ash pans should be this straight forward.

Done in a jiffy!
There was of course a small support team required beyond the footplate crew, for instance, there needed to be a bobby on hand to lock out the boxes before we started.  Job done, he decided that there was some attention required to the starter signal at Consall and whilst he was up there, it  would provide an excellent vantage point from which to take a photo.

Spot the signalman
The railhead had provided enough grip on Sunday to prevent any slipping, but that wasn't the case on Monday, on two or three occasions, Chris needed to operate the sanders to help keep us moving.  I've never seen sanders used in anger before, we don't really need them on the GWSR.

Chris operating the sanders
There are gated road crossings at Cheddleton and further along part way up the bank to Ipstones.  A couple of people operated the crossings, driving between them as necessary.  They of course easily beat us every time, travelling on a 50 MPH limited road.  The weather wasn't as kind to them as it might have been.

Crossing keepers at work in the rain
They were both cheerful and friendly chaps, and joined us for the breakfast and lunch provided in the restaurant at Cheddleton station.  They were both enjoying having Dinmore Manor around, even though their allegiances were with another of the big four companies.  One of them was also familiar with the GWSR, having bought his dad along for his 90th birthday last year.

For the second and third trips up the line, Jack stepped off, to be replaced by Jon, who drove whilst the paying guest fired. 
Jon preparing to take on Ipstones bank
For the third trip, the paying guest crossed back to the driver's side of the cab, and Chris & Jon suggested that I have a go at firing it along the whole line.  it would have been churlish to have said no.  Needing no second bidding, I picked up the shovel and got on with it.  Several quotes from Chris stick in my memory, upon arrival at Leek Brook Junction "It's getting serious now, he's taken his neckerchief off" and when we got to Ipstones, "I bet you don't shovel that much coal in a day on your line".  He was probably right on both counts.  I'm happy to report that we sailed up to Ipstones without any drama, though the safety valves saw a bit (OK, a lot) of action at the start of the bank. Given that the gradient dictated a good 200 PSI to keep the train rolling along at line speed, and that Dinmore Manor currently blows off lighter than she should (215 PSI rather than 225), the activity at the safety valves was unsurprising. I managed to keep it quiet on the return trip back down to Cheddleton, which was an achievement.

Many thanks indeed to Chris and Jon for giving me the opportunity to have a go at firing up the bank.  Thank you too, to the Churnet Valley Railway for inviting Dinmore Manor to their 25th anniversary gala, which in spite of the best efforts of the British weather was an extremely enjoyable and well organised event.  If you get the chance to visit, I can highly recommend it, but do note that services up to Ipstones are only for special events and just one weekend each month, check their timetable before travel.

Finally, the world of heritage railways can be a rather small one at times.  On Sunday, I spotted a lineside photographer who I had met several times previously on photo charters and we got chatting.  It turned out that he was Jon (the fireman's) father.  Over dinner that evening I persuaded him to send through a selection of photos of Dinmore Manor over the course of the gala that he had taken.  Here is a selection of the ones that he sent through.  All photos from here on are by kind permission of and remain the copyright of Fred Kerr.  Many thanks Fred.

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr

Copyright 2017, Fred Kerr