Friday, 28 September 2018

Farewell Thomas

It occurred to me after it was too late, that saying in my last post "normal service" would be resumed, wasn't the best thing to say straight before a work engagement away from home, immediately followed by a fortnight away on holiday.  Anyway, what passes for normal service really should be resumed anytime from about now. 

As I write these notes, two of our locos are away from home, 4270 is off to the East Lancs Railway for a while and will be taking part in their gala in October, and staying for the Santa season.  Dinmore Manor is coming to the end of her summer season at the West Somerset Railway by taking part in their gala and will be returning to us shortly. 

Also of note in my absence has been our last Day Out With Thomas (DOWT) weekend.   The descendants of Rev A.W. Awdry who wrote the original Thomas books have long since sold their interest in the rights and the current owners don't feel that having DOWT events with real steam locomotives on heritage railways is in their best interests, hoping that people will visit their theme park instead. I find this a rather regrettable state of affairs, the DOWT events were quite fun for the fooplate crews at least, and most importantly it fired an interest in steam in the next generation, a generation that we will need to pass the regulator handle to, when we graduate to the great footplate in the sky.  A photo from the event passed on to me showed that even the fish that gets reeled in from Thomas' water tanks knew that the end was nigh and flopped off onto the tracks to die
A flounder? Photo courtesy of Peter Gutteridge
As ever, no animals were harmed in the making of this blog!

As has been mentioned in these pages before, Thomas comes somewhere under the definition of LGBT, having been born with the name Jessie.  Regardless of the surgery required to convert him from being a lady saddle tank to a gentleman side tank, this will be one more steam locomotive that may now struggle to find enough steamings to fund its next heavy general overhaul.  For an interesting article & video on the post industrial life of this locomotive, please click on this link

And finally, on a far more cheery note, I can pass on the good news that we have one more fireman.
John(l) & Inspector Irving
Congratulations on a well deserved promotion to the grade of fireman John!

Monday, 10 September 2018

The Thin End of the Wedge

I need to start with an apology I'm afraid... the emails that inform me of comments on the blog posts dried up a little while ago and I just assumed that it meant that nobody was saying anything.  It turns out that you were saying things, but I didn't spot that as the emails had dried up.  Hopefully normal service... and responses to comments will now be resumed.

After a bit of a marathon session last week, (4 turns in 6 days), it was something of a relief to only have one turn this week, on Saturday.  It was down for a driver training turn for Chris with Jamie as his instructor.  I received a text on Friday evening from Chris, saying that Jamie was standing down & that inspector Irving would be taking his place.  He didn't say as much, but obviously that meant he was to be assessed as a driver.

I checked the weather forecast for Saturday, which turned out to be extremely grim.  I wasn't sure if I should go to Toddington and light up 2807, or stay at home and build an ark.  Wet rails increase the chances of wheel slips, which is not something that you would want to have to contend with on your driving exam.  Incidentally, this would be my fifth time on 2807 in the last six turns.  At 113 years old, she is the oldest running GWR built steam locomotive.  You can't help but admire her, she's a testimony to the soundness of Churchward's original design and of course to Cotswold Steam Preservation LTD who restored her from scrapyard condition to the gleaming machine that she is now.  She has a little over a year left on her boiler ticket now, so will have to stop for a heavy general overhaul late next year.  If you haven't yet managed to visit our railway and ride behind the wonderful 2807, you only have a year or so to do it before she will have to come to what will hopefully be a relatively brief outage from service.

Come Saturday morning, there was some rain as I drove in, but by the time I arrived at Toddington, it had cleared up, the only evidence of precipitation being a rainbow starting somewhere in the general direction of Winchcombe (did anybody in Carriage & Wagon find the pot of gold?)
Rainbow shining out of Foremarke Hall's safety valve bonnet
 Saturday was a two train timetable, with 2807 and Foremarke Hall running. 
Foremarke Hall's crew taking a tea break
 Clive (Foremarke Hall's driver) had the nerve to send me a photo which allegedly showed me in one of those exceedingly rare moments of not actually doing anything. I refute these allegations entirely and suspect that he has recently bought a copy of Photoshop or similar.  I have of course witheld it from publication in this blog... well there has to be some perk of writing this stuff.

It takes rather more of the Scottish coal to do a round trip, than it does the Welsh, so we arranged for a top up before we set off.  Jamie, who had been Chris' driving instructor was around, and he volunteered to drive the digger for us.
Jamie tops up our coal
 As mentioned already, we're still on the Scottish coal, which generates far more smoke than one would like.  I am advised that our supplier of Welsh coal should be able to resume deliveries shortly, so scenes like the one below should soon be a thing of the past.
Just as well the wind was taking the smoke away from us
 It has become something of a tradition recently to order bacon rolls from the buffet car on the Chocolate and Cream rake to start the day, regardless of which train you are on (no griddle available on the maroon rake).  OTC were on the ball and managed to deliver it to us before they set off.
Chris (l) & inspector Irving tucking into breakfast
 Inspector Irving had dropped the hint that Chris' prospects of passing out as a driver would be significantly enhanced should a sizable wedge change hands.  Unfortunately, Chris got the wrong idea.
Wrong kind of wedge!
 Aside from that little faux pas, the morning went perfectly, in fact almost too perfectly.  At Cheltenham Race Course, the Station Master came up to us to pass on a message from one of the passengers who wanted to congratulate the driver on the smooth stops.  This was pretty much unprecedented and I have to admit that I rather uncharitably wondered if it was Jamie who had said that, as I knew he was riding on the cushions to see how it went.  When pressed on the subject later, Jamie denied it, so perhaps Chris' stops really were that impressively smooth. 
Taking water at Cheltenham Race Course
 Inspector Irving had seen enough by the end of one round trip and Chris was now let loose on his own as a fully qualified driver.  At this point Angela, who had cleaned 2807 in the morning joined us on the footplate
Angela operating the ground frame at Broadway...
...coupling 2807 up to the maroon rake...
...and feeding the fire for a bit...
Angela was instructed that there must be no black smoke or blowing off at Winchcombe when we passed Foremarke Hall, she duly obliged, she fired from Broadway to Cheltenham Race Course without any issues with water or pressure.
...and dropping off tokens
 Saul who only passed out on Toddington signal box last week  appears to have taken up residence there, he was back yet again on Saturday.

I noticed that the Permanent Way gang were working on the recently installed set of points in Toddington yard's south headshunt.  Hopefully they will become operational soon.
Permanent Way at work
 Train 1's last trip was taken over by the class 26, D5343, which took over from Foremarke Hall
D5343 at Winchcombe
The star of the show of course was Chris, who was thoroughly enjoying being our most recently qualified driver.
Chris in his element
 All too soon, the day came to an end, we took on water and shunt released the class 26 before heading off for disposal.  In spite of the forecast, the day had remained dry and for the most part sunny, which was welcomed by the footplate crew, as there is nowhere to hide in that cab when running tender first into the rain.
Shunt releasing the class 26
Inspector Irving congratulating Chris at the end of the day
Chris' driving instructor, Jamie, joined in the congratulations as well
 Of course, after the congratulatory handshakes etc, it was back to the usual disposal tasks, such as emptying the ash pan, and then emptying the ash pit.
Jamie & Angela empty the pit of ash
I've fired to drivers on their biennial reassessments on a number of occasions before, but this was the first time that I had been privileged to fire to a driver on their initial assessment.  Many congratulations on a fine achievement Chris.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Back to Work for a Rest

On Friday, I was rostered on 35006 all day, with Ade & Clive splitting the driving shift, and Clive taking a turn on the shovel in the middle of the day to allow me to have a lunch break.
A fire in the belly of 35006...
...and evidence that we are still on the Scottish coal. Ade ignores that and carries on oiling up
Being a horticultural illiterate, I have no idea if the bloom below counts as a weed or a prised specimen, I was amazed at its tenacity though, flourishing in a busy part of the yard.
Mother nature claiming back the yard
 The morning crew as Ade (driver) for the first round trip, and Brian (cleaner)
Ade, about to tuck into his bacon roll
 I say cleaner, Brian is in fact well advanced in fireman training and showed later on that he knew what to do with the shovel.

For reasons that eluded me, James (Ade's fireman training pupil) had arranged for his father-in-law to have a footplate ride with us, even though James was away fishing somewhere in Wales.
James' father-in-law
He hadn't made corrsponding arrangements for his mother-in-law, which might have been a bit of a blunder on his part.

 Friday may be a normal working day, but that didn't stop the line side drainage team from performing their magic at the Toddington end of Chicken Curve.
Line side drainage team in action
 Friday was a blue timetable day, just one steam loco and the DMU running all day, crossing each other at Winchcombe.
Crossing the DMU at Winchcombe
 At Broadway, there is evidence that the S&T dept have been at work, more point rodding has appeared at the north end of the platform.  Having the signal box working here will definitely be something to look forward to.
More point rodding at Broadway
 Back at Toddington, Paul, one of our drivers who is also one of the admin staff was busy burning documents.  Presumably this is part of the GDPR compliance, though there is a strong suspicion that he wants to have a go at firing again.
If only there had been a large mobile incinerator nearby!
 Toddington to Cheltenham was my lunch break, taken on the cushions... travelling by train whilst sitting down seemed rather strange, I'm more used to standing.  There are of course many customers of the big railway that are also rather more used to standing whilst on trains, so perhaps I'm in good company there. 
Checked at Chicken Curve
The signal didn't deter the line side clearance gang though
 By this time of course, the rest of the crew had changed, Ade & Brian had disappeared, replaced by Clive (driver)  & Gwendolyne (cleaner)
 We had the maroon rake, as the chocolate & cream rake was receiving some attention from Carriage and Wagon volunteers in siding 1 at Toddington
C&C rake receiving TLC
During the summer season, I've tended where possible to put myself down for Friday turns, as I suspect they would be more difficult to get people to fill. After the roster came out, there was still a vacancy on the Saturday that nobody had apparently wanted to take, so as I was going to be around anyway, I put myself down for it. Thus I was back for the second time in two days.
My loco this time was 2807
It was a red timetable and I would be firing train 2.  It's a curious turn, you leave shed first and hook onto the stock in platform 2 and perform a brake test, then sit and wait until train 1 has headed off to Cheltenham Race Course before running round the train and taking it off to Broadway.  You wait there for three quarters of an hour before bringing it back to Toddington and then wait for a quarter of an hour before setting off for Cheltenham race Course.  In fact from signing on in the morning to completing your first full round trip of the line takes almost 8 hours.
Starting with plenty of tea and biscuits is a must
 The brake test was performed next door to 35006 (train 1), and a combination of wind blowing in the wrong direction and the dreaded Scottish coal made it an unpleasant experience
 Brake test done, we moved out of the way.  Roll on getting back to the Welsh coal.
Best off waiting upwind!
 It wasn't only the firing vacancy that had been filled at very much the last minute, up until Friday I had no idea who was going to be my driver, in the end, Clive and Steve split the shift between them.
Clive was first, here kindly pulling coal forward for me
 You'll find this hard to believe, but run rounds at Broadway have been so quick on all the turns that I have had so far, that I haven't had a spare moment to explore the new station building since it opened.  At last, I had time for a quick look on Saturday.
It is more than just a little bit impressive
 The security cameras are amongst the few things that I could spot that didn't hark back to the golden age of steam, a sad indictment of the times that we live in I'm afraid.

The station building on platform 1 is still not finished, there was signs of people installing flooring in what will be the refreshment room 
Work in progress
 The booking office is a bit of a gem, I was very much taken with the quality of the work here.
Booking office...
...and of course the usual facilities
 The ex Henley-In-Arden footbridge is of course still missing its steps, but as you'll have noted from the last blog, work is at hand in the steam loco dept to correct that.
Steps will be erected soon
The line side drainage team was back in action at Chicken Curve again
Upon arrival at Gotherington, we had the signals set in our favour and were just starting to pull out of the platform, when the signals went back against us and we screeched to a halt.  Once we had stopped, the inner home was cleared, but the section signal remained against.  The signalman indicated that he wanted us to stop at the token exchange platform which we duly did.  He advised us that there was believed to be a suicide at Southam Rd bridge and that the police were in attendance.  We needed to proceed past the bridge at extreme caution and be prepared to stop if need be.   We did as instructed and found nothing at all out of the ordinary at Southam Rd bridge, so we progressed on towards Cheltenham Race Course.  Arriving at the home signal, we were again held and had to ring the signal box.  The advice now was that the suicide was at Evesham Rd bridge, not Southam Rd bridge and that we should pull into the platform as normal, but again proceed with caution under Evesham Rd bridge on the run round.  Once in the platform, we were updated by the station master who told us that the bridge had been closed to road traffic temporarily whilst a woman was arrested by the police for some misdemeanour and that there was no impact at all on the railway.  Quite a relief in the end.  Mrs blogger had her train commute seriously delayed during last week by a suicide on the big railway, and the inconvenience to her will have been trivial compared to suffering of the loved ones of the person concerned.  If you feel that it might apply to you, then the Samaritans are just a phone call away.
Held at the Cheltenham Race Course home signal
Evesham Rd bridge
 Saturday saw the Permanent Way gang out and about south of Gotherington loop, stone blowing.
P Way
The red timetable has three steam trains running, crossing each other at Gotherington and Toddington.  The Gotherington one is an interesting challenge for the fireman, you need to have enough pressure to get up the bank from Cheltenham Race Course, but then you have a ten minute wait until the train that you are crossing arrives and you can carry on. Skill and judgement is called for as to when to put down the shovel to ensure that you're not blowing off whilst waiting.
Crossing 35006 at Gotherington
Steve P was the cleaner, seen here having a go on the shovel
Steve O was the afternoon driver
 Ashing out 2807 has become marginally more difficult with the ash pan guards in place, but in reality they are fairly quick and easy to remove.
Steve P, raking out the rear section of 2807's ash pan
One of the ash pan guards awaiting refitting
On the loco restoration front, 76077 has had it's horn guides fetched out of storage ready to head off to join the rest of the loco.
76077's horn guides seeing the light of day for the first time n many years
 3850 had a small working party present on Saturday, one of the tasks undertaken was to remove the pole reverser from the cab in order to start wire brushing and painting it.

 The photo below was sent to me as Keith (l) & David F drilling the reverser plate.  I'm not entirely convinced, it looks like the plate that the firebox should rest on.  Regardless, the reverser was removed and it should be pointed out that the following day, David F enjoyed one of those milestone birthdays with a zero in it.
Many happy returns David (photo courtesy of Martin Ginger)
Kenneth painting inside the now reverserless cab (photo courtesy of martin Ginger)
David E carries on with the painting (photo courtesy of Martin Ginger)
 So having fired two days on the trot, and if you include last Tuesday, 3 days out of 5, it turned out that we were also short of firemen for Sunday, with two turns still being vacant at the last minute.  Yours truly had tickets to travel on a Torbay Express on Sunday, however due to a lack of motive power on the 2nd, it had been deferred at very short notice until the 9th. Suddenly becoming available, I thought what the hell and signed up for Sunday too.  My office for the day, dear old 2807 once more.  This time, we were on the red timetable as train 1.
Steve oiling up 2807
Tom W attending to the cleaning
 Unfortunately, Tom W was unable to join us on the footplate, so we ended up taking out Tom M instead who had cleaned 4270 (It is a bit cramped in there with three).
Tom M seemed to know what to do with a shovel....
...and a bacon roll come to that.
 It was the usual busy day of people visiting the footplate and having their photos taken
It was this chap's birthday.
Train 1 on red timetable day does a couple of round trips behind steam, and then has a diesel take over for the third one.  It was an early finish for us.
The view from under 2807 as the class 20 departs with our train.
 After 4 turns in the space of 6 days, 3 of them on consecutive days, I decided that it was time to go back to the day job this morning for a rest.

And finally, a bit of good news from another department, Saul, one of our guards was assessed as a signalman on Saturday and was passed out to operate Toddington box.  He was back again on Sunday, this time on his own.  Congratulations Saul.
Our latest signalman manning his office