Saturday, 3 March 2018

Keeping the Home Fleet Fires Burning

 The boiler inspector had been expected on Thursday, most of our home fleet being due their annual boiler inspections.  There was a late change of plan, and the inspections got deferred until Friday.  Yours truly, along with Pete had been rostered to turn up and bring the locos into steam on Thursday, in the event, all that was required was to put warming fires in.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last few days, lurid headlines regarding "The beast from the East" and the rather less aggressive sounding "Emma" (How did we get to storm Emma?  We have already had storm Eleanor and even Georgina this year.  Doesn't the Met office know the alphabet?).  Regardless, it was certainly cold enough to have ensured that any self respecting brass monkeys had long since headed far south for the sun rather than face the  certain emasculation that accompanies such low temperatures.

The beast from the East and Emma had conspired to deposit a lot of snow on the marquee that 76077 is hiding under, its temporary home looking rather like an igloo. Inside, snug and warm, 76077 is now looking rather smart, with pretty much everything that needs to be painted now in top coat
Gloss black frames... on the inside...
...and black driving wheels.
 It's looking very smart indeed.  We are now getting very close to the time that much of what you see in the photos will disappear off to Loughborough for the necessary mechanical attention.

The winter wonderland conditions looked rather delightful, but there were a few drawbacks.  The first of these was that there was no running water in the mess coach, all the pipes were frozen.  This is of course a calamitous state of affairs, it is well known that the steam loco dept is utterly incapacitated without tea.  Disaster was averted by Andy M kindly delivering 6 large plastic bottles of water.
Mike filling the kettle from a bottle of water
 Every cloud has a silver lining of course... no water meant having a good excuse to not do the washing up.

In anticipation of the steam test, 35006 had been in steam on Wednesday with a view to setting her safety valves.  Having been left overnight to cool down, and with still 20 PSI on the pressure gauge, it was a little surprising to discover that she was coated in a mass of icicles
From her motion...
... to her steam heat pipes...
...and even her cylinder drain cocks.
 The first task of the day was to do the usual pre-light up checks on Dinmore Manor, Foremarke Hall,  35006 and 2807.  Nothing noteworthy was discovered, except that on testing 2807's water gauge, Pete noticed that the water in the glass didn't drop as it should have done.  The cause unsurprisingly was that the water had frozen in the glass.  Fearing that the pressure of the ice would have compromised the integrity of the glass, it was decided to change it. 
 Changing gauge glasses is something that I have never had to do in anger... and to be honest I don't fancy changing one when a loco is in steam.  Changing one whilst the boiler is cold is a much more appealing prospect.

Not everything is best done cold though, the new spring hanger bolts for Dinmore Manor's bogie had been machined and once we found where they had been hidden, they wanted painting.  Paint doesn't work very well when there is a wind chill of -11 (neither do I if I'm being honest), so a cunning plan was put into place.  First, some of the precious water was boiled and poured into a bucket.  The paint tin was then placed in the bucket, and after a few minutes, the paint had warmed up sufficiently to flow as it should.
Green primer warming!
 The next step was to paint the spring hangers, but not in one of the containers or even the shed, it was still far too cold to paint out there.  The cunning plan was to arrange the spring hanger bolts above new the radiator in the mess coach, where the paint would dry nicely in a fairly short time.
Pete applies primer
 Later in the day, I returned to apply a layer of grey undercoat.  The stock of water was much diminished by this point in time, so I dispensed with the nicety of warming the paint in a bucket of boiling water.
Soon be ready for a top coat
 There was no escaping it though, at some point I would have to forge a path through the Toddington tundra and brave the frozen wastes of the David Page shed to tick off a few more items on Dinmore Manor's winter maintenance schedule.  It may come as something of a surprise to you, but it seems that the roof of the David Page shed is entirely unable to prevent the ingress of snow.  If you look carefully at the photo below, taken fairly early in the day, you'll note that snow is falling and settling on the running plate of Dinmore Manor, exactly where I intended to work.  By the end of the day, it was much deeper.  The worst thing was, that if you leaned forward a bit to work on something, the snow flakes made their way down the back of your neck... highly unpleasant.  The inside of the shed in a number of places owed more to the frozen wastes of Antarctica than it did to the Cotswolds.
Snowing in the David Page shed
I started off with the straight forward task of refitting the steam heat gauge.  After that, the fireman's side piston valve had been inserted into its cylinder last weekend, it needed it's end cover fitting, packing at each end, lubrication fittings attached and the valve spindle crosshead re-installing.
Piston valve in its bore...
...front cover fitted
...packing in place and lubrication fitted.
 You may recollect from a recent blog that the 2807 group are considering fitting a lubricator similar to the above to the valve spindles on their loco.  The Churchward 2-8-0's didn't have them and the spindles tend to wear prematurely.
Valve spindle cross head fitted and ready for further service.
 There was no time to refit the section of running plate that gave access to the piston valves, it was time to pull out the locos onto the apron and commence the warming fires.  A minor hitch was that 35006, which had appeared to have enough water to put a warming fire in when checked first thing, had by now cooled down considerably since then and the water level was now too low and wanted topping up.  At this point, the recently installed hydrants capable of delivering water at a commendable rate of knots would have been pressed into service, however there was a slight issue, no water issued forth when the tap was opened
Oh dear!
 A couple of kettles full of the ever diminishing precious supply of bottled water were poured over the hydrant to try to thaw it out, all to no avail.  Eventually we tumbled to the fact that it had been winterised (can't imagine why, Thursday was the first day of Spring) and when the supply was turned back on, all was well.
Pumping water into a connector attached to 35006's blow down valve
 The serious matter of getting the locos nice and warm for their boiler tests on Friday could begin.  Although the fires were lit out in the yard, it was judged kinder to the locos to fetch them back into the shed when the worst of the smoke had died down.
Foremarke Hall, warming up back in the shed
Dinmore Manor, just lit up out in the cold
 35006's injectors were still frozen up at this point in time, a brazier was lit up nearby to help thaw them out.  It acted like a magnet for the poor frozen souls present at the time.
(l-r) Dan, Mike and Mark trying to warm up.
All warming fires lit, I beat a hasty retreat home, which was not as uneventful as I might have liked, the sight of a car pirouetting down the middle of the motorway in my rear view mirror was mildly disconcerting, the lorry that I passed on a hill with its driving wheels spinning furiously, yet still rolling backwards was quite alarming.  I was extremely grateful to my better half for letting me borrow her 4x4 for the day.
Apparently the boiler inspector braved the elements and made his way to Toddington on Friday, and now all of our home fleet with the exception of 4270 which is still at Crewe have successfully passed their annual assessments.  The following selection of photos from Friday's boiler test are all courtesy of Mike Solloway.
The home fleet (minus 4270) in steam
Dinmore Manor's bogie, with the broken spring hanger bolt that will soon be replaced
Foremarke Hall and 35006
35006's injectors needed warming through
Just getting into the signing off point was a challenge
 And finally, I mentioned a while ago the existence of the L Shed, the repository for artifacts that were not currently being publicly exhibited at the M Shed (previously better known at Bristol's Industrial Museum).  I finally managed to get enough stars in alignment to be able to pay it a visit during this last week.  I was rather privileged to be in a tour party of just one person, with a very knowledgable chap called Dave as my guide.  It was jam packed with interesting items, several Douglas motorcycles, horse drawn carriages etc and of course a wide variety of GWR railwayana.  If they were to auction it, they would make a small fortune.  The collection of name plates included the obvious Bristol connection in Colston Hall, though Edward Colston is nowadays a controversial figure as although his philanthropy is well known, so is the fact that he made his fortune from the slave trade.  The name plate at the top in the photo below, "Inkermann" is an Alma class 4-2-2 broad gauge locomotive which had a relatively short life from 1870 until 1892 when broad gauge was replaced by standard gauge on the GWR. 
L Shed nameplates
 There were numerous other items of railwayana, cast iron signs, wagon plates, station signs of various sorts and of course a selection of cab side number plates, including our own 3850.  I asked the obvious question of course, but apparently the curator would be highly unlikely to want to part with it.
3850 and friends
For the benefit of those who may not be able to remember all the numbers of GWR steam locomotives, 5923 was the number of Colston Hall and 4008 was the number of Royal Star. Umberslade Hall's cab side (4975) doesn't appear to be in the collection.  The price of admission was very reasonably priced in my opinion at absolutely free, and a tour is available on every Tuesday to Saturday..


  1. Storm Emma was so named by the Portugese Meteorological Service, according to a BBC weather forecaster earlier in the week. Interesting insight into 'M Shed' which leads me to wonder why the more proper name of "Colson 'All" wasn't cast for 5923! Brilliant report as ever. Andy Toohig

  2. Excellent pictures and interesting info. about the museum.
    Regards, Paul.

  3. You were all brave to attend, although somewhat risky on the roads.
    Boiler inspector deserves a medal, or two! He only doing a job, most of UK didn't do that on Friday - enthusiasts always do mad, even fool hardy things in name of steam locos.

  4. The Foremarke Hall and Dinmore Manor photographs could almost be Cuneo paintings,
    Richard George