Monday, 17 January 2022

Catching Up

Sometimes you blink and suddenly three months have passed without you even realising! When you have barely been at the railway during that time as well, beyond getting caught in a blizzard and guarding a few Santa trains, the time definitely seems to fly by.
Roger braves the blizzard to check 4270. 7903's crew were hiding
So, what’s been happening? Well, the GWSR steam dept is currently in the thick of its winter maintenance programme. Long time readers will know, the railway shuts from New Year to March, and the department and owning groups set upon their engines to work on general annual maintenance, plus any of those jobs that take a little bit longer to get done.
It certainly felt very festive for the first Santa trains of the year
November’s Gala was a terrific success, and the promised “memories from the Gala” should hopefully still be created and published as planned. This member of Team Blog is currently dealing with a more than stressful house move which has drained the creative spirit, so bear with me.

Cheltenham Racecourse once again opened to the public, so our standard November race trains ran smoothly, just before the south end of the line closed for a very large crane at Winchcombe.
Winter always makes for some stunning pictures
This meant that the usual Santa’s from CRC couldn’t run again this year. The slightly significant detail that the crane was sat over the points at the south end of Winchcombe station meant we needed to run with our compatriots in the Diesel department in order to get back from the North Pole. From a guard’s perspective, it made for a nice break from the norm. From the footplate, we’ll I’m not actually sure as the universe saw fit to deprive me of my Santa footplate time, for once not just because of Covid!
7903 awaiting the off
The Santa trains themselves were a great success, and were very much enjoyed by the crew who enjoyed the complimentary hot drinks and mince pies. Upon the cancellation of the post Christmas trains, I heard a rumour that that week’s crews got even more mince pies than normal, which I presume were heartily enjoyed! For now, we settle and let the engines enjoy their holiday. 
Mince pie anyone?
Readers, I shall confess now I’m not sure when the next update will be posted. Whilst hopefully the aforementioned house move bears fruit, it will eat up my weekends for the foreseeable, potentially until we are back running again, and I very kindly gave my spies time off for good behaviour! If any more spies fancy popping out of the woodwork, they know where to find us!

A belated Happy New Year everyone, here’s to 2022!


Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Back to business

 If there is one thing this guard learnt before joining the Steam department, it’s that the department seemingly runs on tea and bacon sandwiches. This therefore put me in good stead once I had joined the department and we were running again last year. A stop at Cheltenham and the ‘tip’ for the handbrake is usually followed up with a “tea?” call, and delivered with a smile once the loco has coupled back on. Now that the kitchen carriage is reattached to train 1 post Covid, bacon sandwiches are also offered if there’s time before the first train of the day. It’s all about teamwork, am I right?

All jokes about favours being acquired aside, finally being out on the footplate brought a whole new appreciation for how hard a working day can be. It was the standard “you think you know until you actually do it”. Even now I’m trying to wrap my head around how and when everything is supposed to happen, and I’ve experienced first hand how having something simply appear when you don’t have time yourself can make a big difference to the next trip, especially if you’re tight on time.

“Bribing” our retired blogger into writing the post about his successful assessment as a driver had its perks though, as I was out on the opposite footplate on the day of (on the 5.30 start so mentioned) and I have only been on a footplate once since, so had very little to talk about! Balancing a roster in two operational departments can be hard work, so thank you roster clerks (I know you’re both here)!

It does present good photo opportunities

A couple of people have stepped forwards about timings for the arrival of the now retired mess coach; one source said they had been reading old “Cornishmans” and found mention of it being installed in around 1995! It has now officially left Toddington for the final time and arrived at its new home at The Station Kitchen in West Bay, Bridport (thank you social media)! One of our drivers came across the coach in its new home. It seems to be settling in nicely. 

The carriage formerly known as 'Tina' 

Since opening the full timetable again post Covid, things have pretty much gone back to business as usual. One thing that has changed, however, is 76077. The owning group held their first shareholders open day a couple of weekends ago, which I hear was a great success. 

Things are starting to feel a little more real for 76077

For all of our restoration and overhaul projects at the moment, the sight of things going back on rather than being taken off is a relief. 2807 is due back on her wheels imminently (I keep waiting for the joyous email to pop into my inbox) and since 3850 had its cylinders flipped back in early summer, it’s slowly coming back together nicely. (Dear owners reps, I hope I didn’t just jinx anything, don’t come after me!)

Up, up and away

I believe there have been more than a few trips to see boilers recently, so everyone keep their fingers crossed!


In case you missed it, the 40th Anniversary Gala was last weekend, and the next blog will be 'Memories from the Gala', so stay tuned.

Apologies for disappearing for two months, life got in the way (as it does). Hopefully we can be slightly more regular in the coming months.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

Hanging Up My Shovel?

 Byrony's closing words on her last blog post were "Perhaps I can convince our former blogger to come out of retirement for a post.... Stay tuned!".  Bryony's method of choice to convince me to come out of retirement to write a blog article was to bribe me with a bacon roll when I was on a footplate and she was on a guard turn. Not a bad strategy at all, and it appears to have worked, because here I am.

Since retiring from writing the blog, I have been learning to drive steam locos on our line, with a few lengthy covid enforced interludes... I probably hold the dubious distinction of having taken the longest time to get through driver training from start to finish.  My driver training didn't get off to an auspicious start, my instructor, promptly threw up his hands in horror and retired from driving steam locos altogether in a desperate bid to get out of having to teach me again. That appears to have become a recurring theme, my first four lessons were all with different driving instructors, though the first was the only one who gave up driving as a result.

I learned a number of things along the way:

1) Oiling up a steam loco in the morning is a thankless task, after you have finished clambering around the waggly bits in between the frames to get at all the oiling points, you usually emerge wearing more oil than OPEC exports in an entire year.

2) What seems like a perfectly flat section of line to a fireman is in fact constituted of  myriad subtle gradients which can quickly slow you down or speed you up. Frequent micro-adjustments of the regulator are required to achieve a constant speed.

3) Braking... not as simple as it is on a car, getting a train to stop is easy, getting it to stop in the right place is not too difficult, getting it to stop smoothly in the right place, is nigh on impossible. My first driving report said "Stops were either smooth or accurate".  The report was accurate, if not too smooth!

4) The fireman doesn't necessarily do things that I would have done as the fireman, I have now learned to ask the fireman to take the hand brake off before departure. I also keep a close eye on the water level and pressure gauge at key points along the line.

5) The driver is the closest thing to a responsible adult on the footplate... the buck stops here.

 We have had a little difficulty getting availibility from inspectors recently, so the training manager speculatively had the 28th of August pencilled in as a training turn for me with inspector Meredith.  The plan, if the various driving trainers agreed was to convert it to an assessment nearer the time, otherwise it would have just become another training turn.  Somewhere along the way, without the training manager requesting it, it got changed to being an assessment.  I'm still a bit curious as to how that happened.

Eventually, the three surviving driving instructors seemed to agree that continuing on to assessment on the 28th was the right thing to do. I suspect that they were seeing that as the only possible way out of having to give me any more lessons.

How did the day of the assessment go?   It was an 06:30 book on time (better than the 05:30 I suppose), but even so, I decided to spend the night before in one of the GWSR's pods (volunteer accommodation) to spare me from the commute in the morning.  The day itself was going swimmingly, all the way up until about 05:45 when Tom, the rostered fireman rang me and said that he had had a bad reaction to his covid jab and could I find another fireman to stand in for him?  Normally this would be a bit of a showstopper, the only way to proceed would be for the inspector to drive, me to fire and my driving assessment would simply have had to be deferred until another day.  As luck would have it though, I had brought a spare fireman along with me. My wife Eleanor is also a fireman, and she had her blues, rule book etc with her (for a firing turn on the 30th, we were staying on site for the whole bank holiday weekend for various reasons). She kindly agreed to stand in, thereby saving the day.

Having overcome the missing fireman obstacle, yet more hurdles were strewn in my path... when I signed on, I discovered two more temporary speed restrictions (TSR's) had appeared.  I knew where the first one was from the description, the second one I thought I knew, but had to have a quick check of appendix B of the rule book to confirm that I was right. With the loco (35006) oiled up under the watchful gaze of inspector Meredith and steam raised by Eleanor, I was all set to depart from the pit when John appeared asking if I minded pulling Foremarke Hall out of the shed and dropping it off on the pit before heading off.  Just in case you are not familiar with 35006, it's not your average shunting loco.  Mercifully 35006 was facing away from the shed, so there was no need to run up and down the yard a few times to clear the cylinders of water before closing the drain cocks and entering the shed to fetch Foremark Hall out.  It all went OK of course, but it was an extra piece of work that I didn't really want to start the day with.

We ran up and down the line a couple of times, including on the last trip dragging a diesel to Broadway from Toddington and then being dragged back by it.  This brought a lot of extra factors into play, such as re-doing the brake test when the diesel had been attached and remembering to put up a red tail lamp when being dragged back (as well as putting the reverser into the drift position and not raising or destroying the vacuum brake).    Eventually, inspector Meredith decided to put me out of my misery and told me that I had passed. 

The obligatory congratulations handshake photo with inspector Meredith (photo courtesy of Eleanor)

Thank you to Steve O, Jamie C, Mark Y and Neil C for the driving lessons, thank you too to inspector Meredith for passing me out and thanks especially to Eleanor for providing the steam.

What of the future?  Well it seems a little churlish to say this (don't tell the training manager), but I decided quite a while back that I prefer firing steam locos to driving them.  I will carry on driving of course and for a little while at least will concentrate on honing the skills of a driver (you never stop learning), however I won't be hanging up my shovel completely. I'll be joining that happy little band of drivers who volunteer to take firing turns as well as driving ones. There is of course the added bonus that on occasions I may end up rostered as driver with Eleanor as my fireman, ideal if the covid restricted timetables ever have to return as we are already in a bubble of our own.


Friday, 3 September 2021

Another monumental moment

You wait years and years for big things to happen, and then two come along within 6 months!

Okay, so technically this is an extension of one that has happened already… The opening of the Goods Shed has meant that our stalwart mess coach ‘Tina’ has been lying dormant for nigh on four months. As happens anywhere, rumours have been flying as to what its fate would be. The good news is that it’s been sold and will be restored again, although I’ve heard differing stories as to what - to be confirmed. The bad news is it meant that it needed to be dug out of road 2, where it has lived for the last….. again, stories differ as to when it arrived and became the mess coach, so I’m going to err on the side of caution and say 16+ years! No doubt a stalwart of the steam dept who lurks in the comments section will inform me.

Anyone who has visited the GWSR will know Tina is not alone on Road 2, so Steve, Mark and Mark got their heads together to organise a “super shunt” and rearrange everything in the yard. Keith spotted that their planning meeting on the mezzanine looked rather familiar to a scene from the ‘Lion King’, and with some encouragement from me (who didn’t have a camera handy) snapped a few shots.
Everything the light touches, etc etc... cue the music
Despite the persistent drizzle, the team got to work and made a start moving the DMU stock and wagons out of the way. Shunting is not easy as there is a lot to think about, and things weren’t being moved one at a time, so both Mark H and Steve were on ground whilst Mark Y drove the shunter.
Pulling the DMU back
I nipped off to check on 35006 who was being filled with water, and by the time I came back, the road looked a lot different than it normally does!
An empty road 2!
The next thing to do was to get ready and see what would happen when they tried to move the mess coach. “Getting ready” happened on two accounts; the shunting team did all the necessary work, meanwhile a conveniently timed tea break meant the viewing gallery suddenly filled up - I believe it was deemed ‘a Guard of Honour’ was needed so of course everyone needed to be present.

There had been some speculation about whether or not the wheels would move, having not moved in 16+ years, but when Mark H and Steve gave the signal, move they did!
Toddington, we have movement!
Tina herself was present, watching from the two windows in the middle whilst in a training session
The guard of honour had significantly decreased once the initial excitement wore away
One long shunt for mess coach...
Bob very kindly let me join him in the signal box to capture the best view - thanks Bob!

A full video has been captured, I’ve just got to figure out the best way to share it! The coach was moved into the parlour road, awaiting movement to Winchcombe to visit Carriage and Wagon - no doubt it’ll appear on their blog when it visits.

I did neglect to get any more pictures as I was rostered out in the afternoon to chaperone some footplate passengers; an emotional afternoon as the dept said a ‘last hurrah’ goodbye to one of our own, who passed away December ‘19.
Picture credit - Jack Boskett
We also have some more new firemen! Fellow blogger Tom passed his assessment in late July, and was swiftly followed by Steve and Roger. Congratulations all!

Engineering and bank holiday content is coming! Perhaps I can convince our former blogger to come out of retirement for a post.... Stay tuned!


Friday, 30 July 2021

Who opened the oven door?!

Summer has decided to return with a vengeance, making working out on the engines incredibly difficult. Water and general fluids are an absolute necessity, especially if you’re out on 35006.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a stint of alternating weekends between my departments, although it means my ability to get into the shed is rather hindered. Those of you wondering about the general engineering updates, I’m planning on contacting the various owning groups and seeing what they can provide, so bear with us whilst we get that sorted. Updates are coming!

Out on the line, 7820 and 7903 spent the majority of June and July running, whilst 4270 came in for her washout and 35006 waited patiently for her next turn. I’ve been lucky enough to be invited out onto the footplate a few times now, although it doesn’t yet feel like I’m getting the hang of swinging the shovel. Warming fires tend to not have the baffle plate in place, so my swing is currently hitting slightly too high and the coal is landing in the middle rather than the front. Ah well, practice makes perfect!
Slightly warm when it's 30+ degrees outside

We’ve seen more passengers these last few weeks, particularly families who are not very familiar with steam engines and how they work. Ian B gave a quick seminar whilst we were on our lunch break at Toddington a few weeks ago, much to our amusement. I had the benefit of our former blogger as the fireman, who handily pointed out the blog-ability of the situation. 
No idea what Ian was explaining but he must have been doing a good job!

I, meanwhile, suffered my first wardrobe malfunction whilst I was firing up to Broadway, when all of a sudden I felt a “ping” at my hip, and the button on my blues decided it wanted to be part of my outfit no more! Turns out safety pins don’t quite work on blues, so I spent the return journey holding the two sides together. Thankfully, I wear leggings underneath my ensemble, so all modesty was protected. It makes the heat a little more difficult to deal with though!
Oops! I also got the straps caught in the pipes coupling up

We picked up some stowaways at Toddington as well, though they appeared to be a little bit distracted… We didn’t ask too many questions.
No comment...

Following the lifting of restrictions earlier this month, we are now freely running for the 
foreseeable. We also have the GWSR 40th anniversary exhibition at Winchcombe that is free to visit, celebrating the work of the stalwart volunteers who got us going back in the 1980s. This, plus the return of the Train 1 bacon sandwich means the GWSR should definitely be on your list of places to visit this summer!

Finally, in training news, things are progressing nicely, and by nicely, I mean we have two new firemen!

Martin passed out at the end of June, and was swiftly followed by Mark last week. 

Congratulations both!

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Always check the background

Summer came… and, as of writing, summer seems to have disappeared again. Oh well, it makes managing steam engines slightly more bearable; coal dust and sun cream do not mix well!

Anyone in more than one department will agree that sometimes managing your roster inevitably ends up either with some clashes, or some weekends that don’t feel like weekends as you work both days. Last weekend (the sunny one) was one of those for me, starting off with my second day out on the footplate, this time on 7903. Day one had been spent trying out the shovel, this time I was labouring up and down on coupling duty.

It is safe to say having everything you’re working with around shoulder height makes things slightly more difficult. It will be denied, but, when watching from the safety of the platform, the coupling process seems a lot easier when you have a height advantage! I had worried previously whether or not coupling would be something I’d be able to do. However, down at Cheltenham Racecourse, “thunk” and it went over - what a relief! 1 down, about 6 more to go.
Safe to say I did not stay that clean

As has been for the last couple of weeks, 35006 was on the other train, and spent the weekend on train 1. All of our engines look good in the sun, and the cleaners have been doing a good job keeping them shiny and photogenic. Who could resist?
Can you spot the rogue photobomber?

It seems our esteemed former blog writer has been missing recording the antics and experiences of the department, as when he spied me taking this shot, he decided it needed something extra in the background. Unfortunately, he also still has overall control of this blog, as well as a significant amount of say in progression within the department, so any ‘obvious’ attempts at retribution are fruitless…
It’s so good to see people on the platforms again

Sunshine brings heat, and heat brings dry kindling in the trackbed, particularly down at Cheltenham. I stepped out of the brake carriage, and, upon greeting the station master, was met with the smell of bonfire. My usual query as to whether the engine crew wanted tea (or ice cream) whilst filling the tender this time began with “chaps, I know it could be a bit tenuous between guards and crew in the old days, but that didn’t mean you had to try and set me on fire!” Meanwhile, the stationmaster was extinguishing a very well placed, thankfully small, trackbed fire dancing merrily away directly under the guard’s compartment. Only slightly disconcerting!

In the shed, things carry on as normal. The 2807 group had a victory this past week as they added a component back onto their loco, rather than removing one. In a Covid world of delays and setbacks, this is a very welcome victory.

Tucked in amongst the steam engines in the David Page Shed are two ongoing overhaul projects. One is a Class 26 diesel, as the Diesel dept needed some more space to work than was available, and the other is a wagon, currently displaced from its usual home in Winchcombe and being cosmetically restored. Newly qualified guard Alex has done a write up on the C&W blog and I expect will be updating on its progress on there, but to whet your appetite…
I understand from Alex’s write up that this is a 5 1/2 plank GWR open wagon

Alex, I will leave further information provision to you and the C&W blog team! I personally am more interested in the boiler and smokebox peeking out behind but all signs are pointing in the right direction for future planning.

That’s all for this week, however I shall leave you with the highly amusing (to me anyway) background on one of the computers in the new loco office that greeted me on Saturday. Alas, the current version of Windows means they randomly rotate so I doubt it will be a permanent fixture, but it made me giggle all the same.
Hello there!


Friday, 4 June 2021

Back to training

The recent silence on this blog should not be considered a cause for concern, loyal readers! Team blog has recently experienced some significant changes on the wage-paying side of life, but hopefully, much like the railway, normal service can soon resume. Anyway!

May’s usual standards of weather since I’ve been at the GWSR seem to have disappeared this year, leaving a few crews on the slightly soggy side in the wet and windy period. Despite what some may think, even guards don’t escape the inclement weather, and at the moment, one of the brake cabins doesn’t have a working heater - guess which one I’ve been stuck with most recently…

Thankfully, the sun has still come out on a few occasions, most notably a few weekends ago whilst cleaning 7903. A new polish has been procured by the ‘Working Engines’ team that apparently can be a “one polish does all” and I undertook a crash course in how to use it, both slightly nervously up one the safety valve bonnet, and then more comfortably on 7903’s driver’s side nameplate. If I do say so myself, the nameplate came out quite well!
The wheels were also cleaned up, after the photo was taken!

My time spent sat atop a loco is still minimal at the moment, so pictures from up there are few and far between. The view is nice though, if a bit warm! Not really surprising, given what’s in the firebox at the time.
Anyone for bbq?

Eventually 7903 left the shed for the day, and I got stuck in helping with various tasks that come with bedding in a new building - none of which are really blog worthy, but I did pop round to snap a quick shot of 7903 before she left for the day’s trips.
Sat waiting to join the stock

The following weekend was slightly less enjoyable weather wise, and there was a slight irony in some of the activities occurring around the yard. Whilst most were engaging in restoration or various training sessions, John and myself got stuck in to building the new furniture for the outside mezzanine, and getting thoroughly drenched in the process.
And of course we got papped whilst doing so! (Keith S, I will have my revenge!)

The white chair is doing a very good job in highlighting the reason why we have gone for full benches rather than singular chairs, our thanks to the commenter who offered to donate, as there were concerns inclement weather could result in a “Mary Poppins” situation with chairs landing on the running line. The feet also had a nasty habit of sliding through the floor as you sat on them, hard as that may seem, so something more sturdy was needed.
Not the wind! It was decided it was easier to tighten bolts like this

Of course, every so often a washer or bolt would fall through to the ground below, with someone needing to run down and collect it; who needs a treadmill!

Out on the running line, some practical training has resumed, on those engines with the space to maintain a safe distance for crew members. The lifting of restrictions on 17 May also meant rostered cleaners could once again be invited to join the crew, much to my relief as I was rostered that coming weekend.

Looking resplendent in the sun

Having spent my minimal amount of footplate time out on 35006, this time I was very kindly invited by Jim and Andy to join them out on Dinmore Manor for the day, much to my excitement. Finally out on the “correct” style of footplate - reminder, I’m from Swindon, therefore I’m pretty much obliged by blood oath to say that. Tom, meanwhile, was getting back to grips with firing “the wrong way round” on 7903.
Can you spot him?

Whilst the recent return of the sun is welcomed 99% of the time, on a footplate it is slightly cursed, as has often previously been reported. We were afforded some comforts though, as the threat of rain and more than a slight breeze seemed to keep the temperature fairly manageable. From what I hear, 7903’s crew had more than just a threat, with the showers following them rather than us.

This being my first full turn out on a footplate, I was struck how different the line seems to be experiencing it in panorama as opposed to out of the brake van windows. It will be interesting to see how learning more about what the crew are doing impacts my decision making as a guard, and vice versa, as well as learning what all the noises I have just come to expect coming from the engine actually mean. It wasn’t until I got out on a footplate I realised just how many foot crossings the line has!
The mezzanine does provide a nice view!

It will be exciting to see what comes next.


Did you know - it’s the GWSR’s 40th anniversary this year! Various events are being (provisionally) planned for the next few months, with one confirmed being a photography exhibition in the Tim Mitchell building at Winchcombe, opening on 18 July. If you’re thinking about visiting us, make sure to pop in and take a look through the GWSR through the years.