Sunday, 31 December 2017

Cinderella Will Finally go to the Ball

The turkey has been cooked, and there is still enough left to last until Easter.  The Santa services have come to an end, and the 2017 season at the GWSR is all but over.  We have had a bit of a run of bad luck lately, with 2 more days (27th & 28th) lost due to poor weather.  Plan A for the blog this week, was to bung in an odd photo or two of things that happened, like Ben's tinselled shovel on Christmas Eve... 
Must have cramped his style (Photo courtesy of Paul Richardson)
...Or this one that appeared on Christmas day, apparently our crews can't cook it if it isn't on a shovel:
Photo courtesy of Nick Carter
After that, the plan was to head off to the "Christmas Cracker" mixed traction event  on the 29th, grab a few photos, sling them up on here, and run away.  It all got a bit more complicated than that of course.

The weather forecast was spot on when it had suggested heavy rain in the morning, and it dutifully dried up at about 09:00 as predicted.  The forecast had also said that there would be sunny spells in the afternoon, which combined with the remnants of the recent heavy snow on the ground could make for ideal photography conditions.  Once again, hope triumphed over experience, as the much heralded sunshine stubbornly failed to materialise and the snow, whilst visible on both the Malvern and Cotswold hills in the distance was largely AWOL anywhere near the running line.
Foremarke Hall and Dinmore Manor being prepared for duty... in the pouring rain
 Dinmore Manor was off first, however she went tender first, so I waited until Foremarke Hall was ready to be off before taking any photos.  Please note one of the number of station staff on the platform clearing away the snow,  just one of the GWSR's many volunteers who had to go the extra mile to make the day happen. 
Foremarke Hall in the snow
 As usual, I had studied the working timetable, and decided where I wanted to be at what times for what I had vainly hoped would turn out to be a prized collection of Christmas postcard photos.  The 10:40 service from Toddington was facing the right way, as was the 10:50 service off of Cheltenham Race Course (CRC) station, they would cross at Gotherington.  First location would be the field at Didbrook, with a bit of late morning sun behind me, it should look good.  Needless to say, the field at Didbrook was a bit too exposed to the sun and was now partially flooded with melt water.  The next small field to the north however had been sheltered from the sun by a line of trees, all I had to do was get between the treeline and the fence around the field and there just might be an option for a photo or two.  The problem was that the public footpath that I'd need to use for just a few yards was now a stream.  Your intrepid blogger possesses three pairs of walking boots, one is fairly rigid, designed to work with crampons and is both warm and waterproof, another is more of a summer boot, but are nonetheless fully waterproof, the third are old, very comfortable, yet leak like a sieve.  Guess which pair I was wearing!
The wrong boots!
Never mind, it isn't art unless you have to suffer for it:
Foremarke Hall makes a fine sight in the snow at Didbrook
 There are a number of items of vegetation along the bank, but there were still just enough of a gap to squeeze in a second shot.
Again at Didbrook
 The sun had been popping in and out from behind the clouds whilst I was there, and in a hitherto unprecedented moment of celestial cooperation chose to illuminate the scene at the right time. 

I once again braved the flooded path & field to return to the car, and set off next for Gotherington.  The sun had used up its quota of goodwill to me and was now sulking behind the clouds.  Ideally, the passing shot would be taken from a path on the field opposite the signal box, the sun would be behind you and it would look rather like a section of double track.  The last few years have seen a number of ash trees spring up to obscure the scene (though our good friends in the line side clearance gang appear to be edging ever closer to the spot, I'm living in hope) and with the heavy cloud, there was no reason to be on that side of the line anyway.  I reasoned that I should investigate an option not open to the public, which was to use the signal box as a vantage point.  Rod the signalman on duty kindly allowed me to join him.
Dinmore Manor approaches from CRC...
...Foremarke Hall departs Gotherington station...
...and they cross outside the signal box.
 So far so good, the next plan was to get a photo of Dinmore Manor's fireman collecting the token, then follow it up the line.  As you'll have spotted by now, my cunning plans usually come unstuck somewhere, and this was where it happened on Friday.  The token for Dinmore Manor to take couldn't be coaxed out of the Tyer's machine.  Calls were made to Winchcombe box, plungers were plunged, points and signals unset and reset again, all to no avail. 
The immovable token
 Phone calls were made to the Duty Operations Officer and it was decided that the quickest way to get the trains moving again, was to invoke pilotman working... now if only there was a some mug suitably qualified volunteer nearby who could do that.  You know what's coming next already don't you... my photography plans were put on ice (rather than snow) and with a red "pilotman" arm band on my left arm, phone calls to Winchcombe box made and forms filled in, I joined the crew of Dinmore Manor as far as Winchcombe.

Eleanor was Dinmore Manor's fireman, and apparently she featured on Santa's "nice" list, receiving a new shovel for Christmas.  Quite how Santa managed to get the shovel down the chimney, I really don't know.
Eleanor, putting her Christmas present to good use.
 I'd envisaged spending the rest of the day running up and down as pilotman between Gotherington and Winchcombe, but it turned out that when I got back to Gotherington, the problem had been discovered (lever 19 needed slamming home) and my services as a human token were no longer required.

 The rule book doesn't actually demand it, however the fireman training material recommends that for the avoidance of confusion that the ex-pilotman should not remain on the railway, it even helpfully suggests going to the pub as an acceptable alternative.  By now, all the steam locos were either running tender first or behind something else, so I set off to do a spot of shopping in Cheltenham and grab some lunch.  I knew that the pilotman working issue had caused the timetable to slip by about half an hour, so I arrived at Three Arch Bridge at what I judged was a suitable time to see the 13:20 from CRC behind Dinmore Manor.  Unfortunately it was a slightly longer wait than I had anticipated.  It turns out that the run of bad luck had got worse, with the class 45 having failed.
Foremarke Hall piloted by the class 20, passing through Dixton cutting.
 The anticipated 13:20 finally appeared, nicely back lit as it crossed Gotherington Skew Bridge.  A slight leak on the steam heat pipe behind Dinmore Manor's tender providing a nice atmospheric touch.  I'm led to believe that it was still lovely and warm in the carriages regardless.
Dinmore Manor approaching Three Arch Bridge
 Next stop was  just past Winchcombe, for a silhouette shot that I've been intending to try for ages. It would have benefited from some useful colour in the sky.  Never mind.  The crew, Mark & Eleanor had spotted me and were waving, Eleanor apologised later in case it had spoiled the shot.
Dinmore Manor leaving Winchcombe
 The next part of the plan was to leap-frog Dinmore Manor and get to the bridge on the road to Stanton for a shot of it on its way up to Little Buckland.  I was stood there like a lemon for quite a while, before eventually realising that it had terminated prematurely at Toddington and set off back to CRC in place of the failed diesel.

Thus thwarted, I repaired to the mess coach at Toddington for a refreshing cup of tea and awaited the return of the steam locomotives for a few disposal shots.
Eleanor closes the door after checking the smoke box
Dinmore Manor simmers by the ash pit.
 We don't usually dispose of live fire from the grate, however Eleanor had noticed some large lumps of clinker when she was cleaning through the fire and fetched them out with a dropping shovel.
Some of the clinker even stayed in the wheel barrow.

Foremarke Hall appeared for disposal just as I was finishing off emptying the pit of Dinmore Manor's ash.
At the time of writing, it appears that the run of bad luck has continued, Dinmore Manor has now been retired from service for the remainder of the season, with a failed spring hanger on the bogie.  The easiest way to fix it will be to put Dinmore Manor on the lifting jacks and pull the bogie out, one more thing to add to the winter maintenance schedule.
Failed spring hanger on 7820's bogie.  Photo courtesy of Steve Burnett
The events of recent days go to prove, once again, that you simply can't book the weather, and that steam locomotives, along with heritage era diesels and heritage era signalling equipment are not immune from failure.  I apologise for any inconvenience that this unfortunate series of events may have caused.

And finally, it's nice to be able to finish on a happier note, you may recollect that BR Standard 4MT, 76077 (sister of 76017 which visited for our gala this year) and which has been sat awaiting restoration at Toddington for some 30 years now, is about to see work commence once again.  The following is based on part of an article by a previous head of the Steam Loco Dept that will be appearing in the next issue of the Cornishman.

"Due to the railway requiring the use of the full length of the north siding at Toddington station for the 2018 season, a plan needed to be produced that would enable 76077 to be moved from its long term storage in the north siding and ideally restored to working order. This is where I became involved in the project. The locomotive's current owner realises that for it to be restored, a team of people and a company dedicated to the restoration needs to be set up, to enable this to happen. While the locomotive has been hibernating in the north siding, the owner has not been idle, he has managed to collect a huge number of parts which will mean that compared with other restorations this one will have a great head start. Many of 76077’s parts are already running on 76084 on the North Norfolk Railway under a temporary loan agreement, after which they will be returned to us or replaced. Initial boiler examinations on 76077’s boiler have shown that it is in excellent condition, and with only a short BR career, there is plenty of life left in the main component parts. One Item we don’t currently have is a tender; there is an agreement in place that means much of the frame steel will be provided to us in return for a previous donation of a GWR Hawksworth tender chassis which is now running behind Earl of Mount Edgecombe on the main line. We also have a set of wheels, horns and axle boxes, which with slight modifications should be suitable. Quite a few new tenders have been built in preservation including one for GWSR resident 35006 so with the full set of drawings available to us, this should not cause any serious issues. In the short term we might consider the possibility of operation with a borrowed tender which would get the loco running quicker and help us to fund the new build tender.

76077's driving wheels...
...pony truck...
...and boiler.
The other excellent news is that the owner has agreed to make a significant financial contribution to the new company to kick start the restoration, and as a result the chassis and wheel sets will be relocated to Locomotive Maintenance Services (LMS) Ltd at Loughborough, where over the next 18 months the frame repairs will be carried out and the locomotive re-wheeled. LMS have been very cooperative and have agreed to carry out works as we request around their busy workload, they are also assisting us with storage as the Toddington site has become overcrowded and concerns were raised as to where all the many component parts could be stored.

As soon as the chassis leaves for LMS at Loughborough, the focus will be in setting up a new company to own and oversee the restoration, in time, shares in the locomotive will become available for people wishing to financially support the project, and other funding avenues will be explored to restore this locomotive as quickly as possible. As well as the financial assistance we would welcome people who wish to get involved in the running of the company, raising funds and “hands on” restoration of components for use on the loco. If you wish to become a share holder please be patient with us, as we want to ensure the right type of company is incorporated and as such the loco restoration has the best possible chance of succeeding. In accordance with the standard contracts the railway has with locomotive owning groups, we need to submit a full restoration plan to the railway for their approval and support. Rightly so, they need to know the loco is not going to spend another 30 years rusting in a siding.

After so many years out of the limelight, I think the time is right for this locomotive, to take its rightful place at the head of one of the GWSR service trains. Locomotive crews who were fortunate enough to work on the 2017 Gala’s visiting loco 76017 from the Mid Hants Railway will tell you it’s an ideal tool for the job and I am pleased to say that some of them have already given their help and support. But we will need more help, it’s the only way we will see 76077 run again soon. " 

76017, visiting from the Mid-Hants Railway for our 2017 "Workhorses of Steam" gala
 On a personal note, I was one of the fortunate crews to get a turn on 76017 at our 2017 gala and can attest to the suitability of this class of locomotive to run on our line.  Contact details have been excluded here, but are to be found in the article to be printed in the Spring 2018 edition of the Cornishman, by which time there should be more news to bring you regarding progress of the project, the company being formed to manage it, along with the ways in which you can contribute, both financially and practically.   In the immediate future, some help will be needed in the Steam Loco Dept to assist with preparation for transport of the frames & wheels to Loughborough, no exact details of dates of working parties are yet available (late Jan/early Feb) however this will be made known nearer the time.   If you don't get a copy of the Cornishman, then they are available in the station shops, or will be delivered to your door if you become a member of the GWRT.


  1. As always a great blog. Happy new year to you and all the blog followers. You have even delivered us a late Christmas present with the news of 76077.

  2. Happy new year to you all. Thank you for the blog, always light hearted and informative.
    I look forward to being able to support 76077 and watching the project as it is completed.

  3. An interesting Blog as always. Happy New Year to you all. Interesting to read that finally 76077 is to be restored. Dis-assembly of the boiler and frames was carried out in my early days in the department around winter 1990, and yes , when you have a piston and crosshead half way out and it starts to snow and it was dark it was a tough job. Interesting that you make reference to the Tender Frames now part of the Earl of Mount Edgecombe set up. If they are the same ones, some of the older members of the department will remember retrieving them from down a bank on the Swindon and Cricklade Railway. We were unable to get a crane onto the field alongside the railway so by use of four traverse jacks and a lot of packing we got them out and onto a trolley. After a long weekend of work the final, literal push, was to get them back to Blunsdon station for loading. Someone may even have photos of the operation to add to the archive

  4. Many thanks for another great blog and some wonderful photos of a great railway, that's about to become even greater. I'm delighted that 76077 is finally going to be restored. I remember it arriving at Toddington in 1987 I believe. One of only 4 BR Standard Class 4 Moguls surviving, I've always thought that these engines were ideal for many heritage lines and seem to be sprightly performers on the main line too. I know 76xxxs were never allocated to the Western Region but there is photographic evidence of them running on the Honeybourne Line and I, for one, am absolutely delighted that this relatively brand new loco (compared to 2807!) will soon be restored. The tender, being a standard type, should not be too difficult job to build either.

  5. This is brilliant news, well done to those that took this innitiative. It will be an interesting and right sized locomotive for our line. I am really delighted that there has been a breakthrough.
    I look forward to the share issue.