Sunday, 8 October 2017

Autumn Colours At Evesham Vale...

Autumn was truly in the air today as I drove down to the 15" gauge Evesham Vale Light Railway for a driving turn on "Monty". A misty start was followed quickly by ever parting clouds which eventually revealed a bright blue sky and warm sunshine. I arrived at the usual time of 08:30 to sign in and begin preparing the locomotive. "Monty" is the 1996-built Exmoor product which formally worked in Derby as "Markeaton Lady". She's a strong, free steaming and handsome engine and is always a pleasure to be on. Myself & Adrian pushed No300 out into the morning air before I reached up to remove the chimney cap. The engine was still very warm after yesterdays exploits and wouldn't take much to bring into steam. Having checked her over thoroughly and cleaned the grate, I lit some rags on the shovel to begin making up the fire...
During steam raising Evesham engines benefit from a compressed air line which creates an initial draft. You don't really need anymore than just enough to keep the smoke out of the cab, especially when the locomotive is as warm as this. With the rags blazing away on the firebars I added a good helping of wood before closing the doors for a minute or two. Once the wood has taken I add the coal and cover the wood thoroughly. Then, with the damper open and the air line pulling the heat through the tubes, you can leave the engine to get on with it...
Once you've lit the locomotive up you tend to have an hour or so to do the rest of your preparation tasks: cleaning, oiling and greasing. Its quite a relaxing atmosphere cleaning the singing engine in the morning sunshine: Peek for the brasses, Pledge for the paintwork. The oiling procedure is simple on "Monty": four pots per side and a couple of oil ways for things like the die blocks. All of the main rod bearings and motion pins are on grease. "Monty" looked a treat as our off-shed time neared...
Moving the engine gingerly forward, she groaned through the tight point work to reach the mouth of the yard. Here she was blown down 1/2 a glass as normal. This violent release of steam and water allows any impurities (which leave the water during evaporation) that have settled around the foundation ring to be expelled...
With drain cocks hissing, "Monty" was then backed onto the waiting three-coach train which would form the 10:30 departure from Twyford...
Leaving Twyford right on time, the red 0-4-2 steamed easily out into the fields and was no trouble at all. She steams well, pulls well and generally does anything you want. The recently fitted Gresham injector on the right-hand side was fabulous in operation and certainly shifted some water into the boiler. The sun was out for the 11:40 departure from Evesham Vale station...
We were soon climbing the bank towards Twyford...
An early afternoon departure saw "Monty" waiting in beautiful sunshine...
Basking in the sun on shed was the 1970-built Severn Lamb "Dougal". She was having a boiler washout. In addition to blowing down, the engines are washed out on a regular basis to remove any deposits from their boilers...
As we awaited the 13:30 round trip I decided to grab a shot of "Monty"s cab. Its just immaculate and is a credit to her operators...
The road ahead with the 13:30 train...
The Welsh coal was once again doing its best to keep the needle up against the red line all day. You tread quite a tightrope with this stuff. You really don't need too much or with a full pot you'll be blowing off all day. There is quite a balance with it but it provides good heat as long as you keep the holes in the bed filled...
The day went on much like the above. The trains were well loaded and most of the peak trains had the fourth coach added and were still full at that. I was very surprised at the loadings on this October Sunday, although the weather was fine. "Monty" continued to be a joy to drive & fire. As usual I watered her and re-oiled her every third trip to keep everything in order. For the 15:00 train the now traditional Evesham Tea & Cake was delivered to the footplate; very nice it was too...
Looking up the bank from Evesham Vale on the 15:30 train...
Mike the Guard clips the tickets prior to the return departure for Twyford...
Topping Twyford Bank before descending towards the crossing...
Prior to the final departure of the day (the 16:30) "Monty" was watered for the last time on the column. The engines are always topped up ready for a prompt disposal upon our return with the last passenger train...
By now the Lister diesel shunter "Sludge" had dragged "St Egwin" outside to have her large tender filled up with coal...
In bright sun, "Monty" is ready for the off with the 16:30...
Our final layover at Evesham Vale was in beautiful Autumn conditions...
Steaming easily back to Twyford with the final train, I passed the token to Sandra as she prepared the diesel "Cromwell" for the evening shunt. Having turned the engine for a final time, I drove "Monty" steadily through the point work back onto the shed alongside stablemate "St Egwin"...
The engine was then disposed in the usual way: the fire was deadened, the ashpan emptied, the boiler filled up: and she was then cleaned all over again. With all tasks complete, I carefully drove "Monty" into the shed on her remaining breaths of steam, coming to rest in front of "Dougal". All in all, another great day on the EVLR. I find it quite relaxing driving steadily around the country park aboard one of their fine locomotives. Its a lovely place and I must thank Adrian & Sandra for their continued hospitality. Cheers all, Sam...

Saturday, 30 September 2017

An "Earl" On The "Shropshire Express"...

"The Castle Strides Past A Packed Chester Racecourse" (Pic - C.Morrison)
The end of every main line steam tour marks the completion of another great adventure. Today, the immaculate Castle Class 4-6-0 No5043 "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" was out and about in damp conditions on route to Chester. "The Shropshire Express" was essentially a repeat of last years similar excursion which traversed the WCML route on the outward path before returning via Chirk and Shrewsbury, taking in the sharp climb over Gresford Bank. Last years Chester report can be found here and, having enjoyed the 2016 outing immensely, I was very much looking forward to todays trip. Rising early is the norm on a day out with steam and, before sunrise, I was on my way to McDonalds for the all important breakfast stop before continuing to the former 84E. "Edgcumbe" was just about to move outside into the crisp morning air, her fire having been lit a few moments earlier. Hissing gracefully forward, 5043 came to rest in the usual spot as first light came up...
We had a 'full crew' today and the engine was oiled and cleaned amidst the usual shed banter. I was given the job of cleaning down the running boards and then shining them up to bring out the gloss finish. The midweek cleaning team had already given 5043 a fine going over and she looked stunning as she awaited her move across the road to the waiting stock. Our departure from Tyseley was scheduled for around 9:15am and so the Castle was on the train a good hour before. Having had a wash and got changed, I took the opportunity to photograph the Castle in the same spot once again. It is often remarked that I must have hundreds of the exact same shot...I do...
Right on time, 5043 whistled up before Driver Ray Poole started the train away towards our passenger pick-up at Wolverhampton. Tony & Craig were busy in the kitchen preparing crew breakfasts and ensuring that the Castle left a scent of sausage and bacon in her wake. Tiptoeing through the Birmingham suburbs, the "Earl" rounded the bend at St Andrews junction, heading ultimately for the Sutton Park line...
"5043 On Route To Chester" (Pic - G.Gifford)
After Wolverhampton we enjoyed the usual fast running to Stafford and Crewe, before the final part of the run past Beeston Castle and into Chester. I hopped out at Chester whilst the passengers alighted in order to grab a quick snap of 5043 as she awaited the call to set back towards the junction which allowed access to the adjacent yard. This is where we would be spending our afternoon...
With the passengers all off the train and no doubt ready for their afternoon in the city, 5043 was given the signal to set back. We were soon in the yard opposite Platform 7 and thus our four-hour layover began. The Castle would be checked over, oiled, watered and coaled during this time and the Support Crew would of course need feeding! The Castle was detached from the ECS to be watered towards the rear of the set, where our hoses would reach. Naturally, right on cue, the heavens opened and the persistent rain continued during our stop in Chester. 5043 happily simmered away whilst a drenched Support Crew scurried around doing the necessaries...
"5043 In A Very Damp Chester Yard" (Pic - f22photographie of Flickr)
Anybody who thinks a day on a Support Crew is easy should very much think again. Once you've lifted 60 bags of coal up into a cab from floor level you can tell me its easy. I've had several full days on footplates at various preserved railways that were a piece of cake compared to that one task! Anyway, with our various jobs complete, our saturated team re-boarded the Support Coach for a spot of lunch. Tony & Craig had prepared some cracking burgers and these were enjoyed over a refreshing can of Coke (Diet of course). 5043 was steadily steam heating the stock ready for the return run and so we were nice and warm as we put the world to rights and honed our people watching skills.

As our departure time neared, 5043 was prepared for our homeward run. The passengers were soon back on board and the Castle strode out of Chester, whistling enthusiastically at the several race goers who were no doubt drinking their weight at a packed Chester racecourse. I think it was the last meeting of the season. Leaving Chester behind us, the engine flattened Gresford Bank (although the double chimney ensured that the Support Coach received a good shot-blasting) before continuing to our short photo stop at Chirk station...
From Chirk, 5043 pretty much had a clear run home. She strode along happily for mile after mile and it was a pleasure to listen to her. Here she is arriving triumphantly into Birmingham New Street where our presence always seems to spark interest...
"New Street" (Pic - C.Morrison)
There is something about being with the engine at New Street which really makes me smile - I don't know what it is. Maybe its just because its such a busy location and the snorting locomotive is so well received. After dropping off passengers in the busy station, we steamed into the gloom of the tunnel before our final jog home to Tyseley. Once again, I hopped out quickly before the admiring hoards arrived...
As the final passengers disembarked, the rain was truly in for the night. The Class 08 duly shunt released the Castle; once I'd dropped between to detach the train. With the stock clear, 5043 hissed backwards before descending into the middle road for turning on the table. She looked a real picture in the pouring rain...
Once turned, "Edgcumbe" steamed back to the shed for stabling and disposal. The 1936-built Castle had done the Tyseley team proud once again and had put in yet another fabulous performance. Next time we go to Chester it is scheduled to be "Clun"! Click here for VT's website where you can book onto excursions behind these amazing machines. Thank you to the Tyseley team for another great experience, thank you to the photographers for allowing me to use your images in this post and thank you all for reading. Until next time, Sam...

Sunday, 24 September 2017

A Grand Day Out on 5542...

Hi all. Today myself and JB had a very enjoyable outing on the visiting GWR 4575 Class No5542 at the Battlefield Line. Having re-familiarised ourselves with the Small Prairie last weekend on the 1940s special, we had been looking forward to our day turn. We'd arranged to meet at the gloomy gates of Shackerstone station at 6am and, as I removed the first lock, the roaring cry of the infamous 'Drover' hummed into earshot down Derby Lane. Having proceeded in convoy along the old trackbed to the car park, we unloaded our masses of clutter before staggering to the signing in room. An enthusiastic owl provided a final chorus before no doubt heading off for its slumber: the birds were not up yet! Signed in and notices read, we trudged up to the shed and discovered 5542 over the pit. Turning the shed lights on is always a pleasure as with each clunking relay you aren't sure whether to rejoice or duck! We dropped our stuff in the real Mess area before preparations began aboard the engine.

The pressure needle was doing its utmost to register a remaining breath of steam whilst a pleasant full glass of water was revealed alongside. In the firebox there were only a few ashes scattered across the bars but I decided to remove the deflector plate and go in, much to JB's surprise. Its hot and filthy in there but I prefer to have a cleaner grate so as to save efforts later. Its also a good opportunity to check the make up of the firebox including the stays, plate work, tubes, brick arch and of course the fusible plugs. Leaving the box as a spluttering grey mass of dust, I replaced the deflector and began making up the fire. I tend to add a 1-lump thick bed of coal across the bars, then wood then a good helping of rags. I then lit the ignition rag...
Meanwhile, JB was fumbling about with the hydrostatic and steam brake lubricators: both of which are best done early. Whilst I piled in the last few planks of wood, Britt brewed up having mercilessly thumped the tea boiler into life. We enjoyed a hot cuppa' whilst 42' crackled away on her embryo fire...
Tea supped, JB started oiling the outside whilst I prepared to do the ash pan. General practise is to do this in the morning so as to prevent over cooling the night before, as well as saving heavy dust from water cast upon raging embers. 42' has a pan wash which I used before opening the very snazzy hydraulic doors. Then came the ever pleasant 'romance of steam' task of wrestling a long rake about under the engine as oil, ash, water and dust cascade down from on high. Pan empty, JB passed through some feeders so that I could oil the inside Stephenson's valve gear and driving axleboxes. The general arrangement is typically Great Western, although some fair mountaineering was required to reach some of the points from below. Inside done, JB continued oiling the outside points along the coupling rods whilst I had a quick wash. Our 'Footplate Experience' participant soon arrived for his Silver course. This experience involves a light engine trip to Shenton and back prior to the commencement of public services. We managed to clean, coal and water the Prairie before our 09:45 departure from Shack and our participant took 42' easily southward. It was a lovely morning and the 2-6-2 was soon simmering at a tranquil Shenton...
Returning to Shackerstone, we watered 42' on the column before dropping her onto the waiting four-coach train. With 30 minutes to go before departure with the 11:15, Britt went off to brew up again whilst I had a wash and got changed...
Changed and ready for the off, I threw a couple of rounds into the firebox before injecting some water into the boiler. I like the cab on this engine...
5542 was built in 1928 as one of the 100-strong group of GWR 4575 Class engines. The 4575 Class were a later development of the older 4500 Class, employing larger water tanks that sloped towards the front of the locomotive as opposed to the earlier flat top examples. The Small Prairie includes 17" cylinders, a 200psi boiler and driving wheels of 4ft 7.5" which, when considered together, produce a tractive effort of 21, 250lbs. 5542 is one of 11 survivors of her class and the type is quite at home in almost any preserved railway setting. She carries the push-pull apparatus that allows her to work in Autotrain mode and indeed these engines did a lot of that on lightly loaded branch lines. I like them: they're fine machines.

After an easy first round trip, 5542 stands at Shenton with the 13:05...
Leaving Shenton upgrade, 5542 strides away from the Battlefield...
With the needle hugging the red line, a good level in the glass and 42' ticking along nicely, it was time to devour the breakfast cobs Britt had ordered...
All was well aboard the footplate as we steamed along...
After watering at Shackerstone we dropped 5542 onto the waiting 13:45 trip. She was still looking clean as she awaited departure...
The 13:45 was very pleasant and fairly uneventful. 5542 was steaming very easily and proved no trouble. She's smooth, powerful and user friendly. Here, she waits at Market Bosworth with the returning 14:20 train...
I fired the engine on about three different fires today. The first trip I kept it fairly thin, the second trip I filled the back up and on the third trip I fired the back and surrounds like a saucer. On all three variants the loco steamed like no tomorrow, although we were only pottering gently through the Leicestershire countryside...
The road ahead from Market Bosworth; unfortunately the upper quadrant signals are always 'off' in both directions as the signalbox is out of use...
Having received the "Right Away", 5542 steams out of Market Bosworth towards the international airport at Airport Bridge...
When we sauntered back into Shackerstone with the returning third trip, David was there waiting for us. He would join us on our remaining two outings of the day: little did he know he would end up firing for Britt to save his shoulder so I could drive...
"5542 With The 15:00 Train" (Pic - D.Hanks)
With the engine once again watered and coupled up, we were ready for the off. I collected the necessary Magnums before returning to the footplate to perform the brake test. With a whistle and a green flag, we steamed out of Shackerstone. 5542 is responsive on both the regulator and reverser, much like 5521 that we had a few years ago. Ticking along nicely with minimal pilot valve and the reverser well up, the job is easy as the engine motors along.

David, although he was in his normal clothes, had no trouble keeping the pressure up during his first run for a couple of years on 5542: she's a dream. I really enjoyed driving the Prairie. David caught me backing the engine down onto the last train home. Another great experience aboard another fine engine...
"Running Round 5542" (Pic - D.Hanks)
Coupled up for the final train home, 5542 awaits right time before I drop down to refit the front bag. When running light engine on a combi braked machine we always run with a bag off to stop the pump creating a reservoir...
The obligatory blurry crew selfie aboard the Small Prairie...
The David column rises steadily from the chimney as right time nears...
Leaving Shenton on the final homeward train, 5542 slipped along easily with minimal effort. I really like this machine: its so pleasant to be on, no matter what side of the cab you stand. After a great run back to Shackerstone, we ticked gently into Platform 2 and dropped off the coaches. I then drove the Small Prairie back into the gloom of Shackerstone shed in readiness for disposal after a great day. Here we are back on the pit as we settle the engine for her rest...
Fire deadened, boiler filled, the necessary's isolated and chimney capped, 5542 was left to simmer away to herself. What a lovely old gal' this is: just lovely. I must thank JB for a cracking day out on the footplate with him at Shack and of course thank David for his firing efforts and photographs. A good day in good company on a good engine. Thank you all for reading again, cheers, Sam...