Sunday, 17 June 2018

Shack: "It Turned Out Alright In The End"...

Anybody intimately involved with steam engines will tell you that things don't always go according to plan and today was one of those days. However, with some team work and co-operation we managed to soldier through and had a great day crewing the visiting Small Prairie tank No5542 at Shackerstone. The day started like most: just before dawn. I found myself in the car on my way to Shack at a little before 5am as myself & JB had five trips booked to us as well as a 'Gold' Footplate Experience course. A 'Foot Ex' day usually means an 08:30 off-shed time and so it's always good to get there in plenty of time to ensure that all is ready.

The morning was clear and bright with the suns rays giving an orange glow to the rolling fields as I slipped along the A444. It's never a chore driving to Shack through the Fen Lanes on mornings like this as a thin layer of mist hovers atop the hedgerows. My car was all that broke the morning birdsong as I rumbled past the gibbet post on the approach to Congerstone, where John Massey's body was chained following his hanging for the murder of his wife in 1801. Having unlocked the gates at Shack I drove along the old trackbed to reach the station. Once I'd unloaded my kit the familiar roar of the 'Drover' was heard tearing through the village and JB duly arrived in a cloud of dust. From the cars we wandered up towards the engine shed and, having signed in, found our way to 5542. The Prairie was giving off plenty of heat as she stood near the workshop door and it wouldn't take long for me to get her into steam. The cab was in good shape but I did have to make some adjustments to the fire-grate before I lit up. A pile of burning rags were soon ablaze on the shovel...
A reassuring crackle from the firebox confirmed that all was well and 5542 began singing almost immediately. JB headed off to thump the tea boiler into life: it took a merciless beating this morning and a barrage of colourful expletives before John realised the timer had tripped: one day he'll knock it clean off the wall! Meanwhile, I snapped a gently brewing 5542 as she stood under the shed lights...
These days I tend to oil the underneath to save John performing the acts of mountaineering required to get up inside the Stephenson's motion. It's a fairly straight forward layout and it doesn't take long to make your way around with the teapot and feeder. Dropping back down into the pit beneath the simmering brute, it was time to begin ashing out. Unfortunately, around this time a fault was discovered with the locomotive and I had no choice but to declare the engine a failure. Don't worry - nothing serious, easily fixed but not within the time-frame of the 'Foot-Ex' course which unfortunately had to be cancelled. Thankfully when the gent arrived he was actually sympathetic with us and understood that kit of this age does occasionally have issues. 5542 in particular has an amazing track record of reliability and it was just a shame that a minor fault stopped her this morning...
After discussions with the railway over the next move it was decided to run the diesel railcar for the first train at 11:00 and then examine the situation again after that. In our hour of need I knew just who to call - David! David lives a Thunderbird existence and I knew he'd be waiting by the phone to assist us. Thankfully, International Rescue wasn't playing squash today and kindly came to assist us. After some quick work by Adrian, JB and myself, 5542 was back in action and simmering away outside the shed by the time the DMU returned from Shenton at 11:55...
With a good fire in the box, 5542 rolled down into Platform 1 via No11 frame. We then crossed over to Platform 2 road via the signalbox to water up. The pressure was now hugging the red line and with a full boiler after sitting for so long I had no choice but to let it blow - much to David's enjoyment! He stood there on Platform 1 pointing in shock at the steam pouring from the safety valves and shouting "Steam...Steam...STEAM!" - there is never a good time to be seen blowing off by David! Rest assured 5542 was now nice & warm, in fact she blew off all the way to Bosworth without the need for the shovel now that the arch was hot. We were glad to have got her back in action for the 12:15 onwards as with it being Fathers Day there were footplate passes booked on the next three trips! Our first guy was an ex-Leicester Midland Fireman: a lovely chap who had had a very interesting life. Once back at Shack, we ran round before dinner break. 5542 simmered quietly (yes David quietly!) before the 13:45...
John kindly elected to fire the 13:45 despite his shoulder playing him up. I enjoyed driving 5542 on this trip and it was worth the stress in the morning. Here she is waiting at Shenton with the returning 14:20 run to Shackerstone...
We were both pretty worn out after the 13:45 but we only had two more still to do. The weather remained very warm and 5542's cab turned into a sweatbox. Nevertheless it's always nice to spend time with this engine: it's just lovely...
John was back on the handle for the 15:00 and we slipped steadily out of Shackerstone bound for Market Bosworth and Shenton. 5542 ticked happily through the Leicestershire countryside and despite a pile of slack in the bunker we had no trouble with steam. I don't like this Welsh coal really. Don't get me wrong, it burns well and makes plenty of steam but you seem to get so much dust and slack with it. It swirls around the cab sand blasting everything in its path and the slacking hose won't stop it for long under this warm sun. Soon enough, 5542 was in the headshunt at Shenton. The drifting steam is coming from the snifting valves...
5542 looks north towards Shackerstone with the 15:35 ex-Shenton...
It didn't seem like two minutes before myself & John were sat at Shenton with the last train of the day. I'd just coupled up and was taking a breather as we awaited the "Right Away". By now the sun had relented but it remained muggy...
Waiting at Market Bosworth for the final green flag home...
Arriving into Shackerstone just a few minutes down, 5542 was uncoupled before being returned to the engine shed for disposal. I'd ran the fire down and steadily topped up the boiler on the last run back and so there was little to do but put the iron through the fire, isolate the necessaries and finish injecting water. The fire was fairly clean and took little effort to calm before the chimney was capped...
With that we signed off and headed for home after an interesting day. After this mornings earlier fault we thankfully managed to get back in business again to complete four trips during the day. As usual 5542 was a pleasure and it's always nice to spend time with her. My next steam experience is in two weeks time for the Tyseley summer open weekend. Cheers all, Sam...

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Tyseley: "Clun Castle" Awaits The Off...

Today I spent my time at Tyseley Locomotive Works in Birmingham as part of the regular Saturday working party. Only a few of us were in today whilst various groups on the site were busy working on their various steeds. I was put to work doing a couple of odd jobs for Tyseley's flagship Castle Class No7029 "Clun Castle", built under BR in 1950. Regular readers will know that 7029 returned to steam in time for the Autumn open weekend last year and has since been waiting for the call in the engine shed. She will be one of the star attractions at the upcoming Summer open weekend at 84E over June 30th/July 1st. It's been a quiet year for the Tyseley fleet so far as we haven't seen main line metals since the second York job with 5043 last December. Vintage Trains hopes to return during 2018 as its own train operating company (or TOC if you will) and that's when "Clun" will hopefully go out for a leg stretch. She is a beautiful thing and a testament to the hard work carried out to restore the engines at Tyseley...
The cab on "Clun" is very similar to sister Castle 5043: a mass of highly polished brass, copper and burnished steel makes for an impressive sight...
Later on, near teatime, I decided to head for home. I'll next be at Tyseley for the open weekend in two weeks time. Cheers then folks, Sam...

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Peckett Perfection: Driving Statfold's Wonderful "Harrogate"...

"On The Move With The Peckett" (Pic - R.Dimmick)
Over the years I've been lucky enough to have many great footplate days on the narrow gauge Statfold Barn Railway and today added another to the increasing list. I was surprised a few weeks ago to find that I was rostered to drive the lovely big Peckett "Harrogate" at todays June Enthusiasts Day and had been looking forward to it enormously. After my now traditional McDonalds breakfast stop on route, I continued on towards Statfold and arrived in the usual gate queue at just before 6am. Once let in, we all set-off towards our respective steeds via the signing on book in the lamp hut. "Harrogate" was sitting on No3 road on the shed frontage...
17 of Statfold's fleet were to be in steam today, including freshly repaired newcomer "Jack": the 18" gauge Hunslet Waril Class of 1898. "Jack" would be sharing duties on the dual gauge tramway with Burton & Ashby No14. The Peckett was already fairly hot, having had a warming fire put in yesterday to gently bring her round. Peckett's built some beautiful engines at their famous Atlas Works in Bristol, with their products often carrying plenty of brass and being designed with an air of handsomeness far beyond their purpose. This one, No2050 of 1944, is no exception and is a pleasure to be on. I've driven "Harrogate" a few times now but this would be only the second full day I've had on her. With time on our side, I snapped "Harrogate" alongside the last industrial steam locomotive built in Britain: Hunslet "Trangkil No4" of 1971...
Fireman Ben duly arrived and made preparations to light the embryo fire. One of the few engines to have been pre-warmed and having been stabled near the back of the queue to boot, we wouldn't need to rush this morning. With the grate cleared and all of the usual checks made, Ben lit up some rags on the shovel with his ever trusty pack of matches. The pile was soon ablaze... 
A pile of wood was then scattered around the firebox atop the burning rags and the encouraging crackling which followed as the doors were closed showed we were in business. Statfold uses a Scottish coal which is very smoke-inducing. However, it burns well and takes easily. With the wood having fully caught, Ben added some of the black stuff and the dark plume rising steadily from the warm chimney was a good sign. With the fire now going well, Ben turned his attentions to cleaning the large 0-6-0 whilst I made my way around with the oil cans. All around, the other Statfold engines were coming to life and we enjoyed the pleasant morning atmosphere...
2050 is fairly easy to oil up. A large Wakefield mechanical lubricator is mounted on the Fireman's side and this feeds the axleboxes, cylinders and slide-bars. The outside rods, crossheads and inside Stephenson's valve gear can then be reached with a feeder. I primed up the mechanical before joining Ben on the cleaning rounds. As the 08:30 safety briefing approached we decided to grab our Bacon & Sausage cob before we were required on the lawn: very nice it was too...
Now, before I continue with the report of the day I think I'll discuss some Peckett history. Built in 1944, No2050 was supplied to Harrogate Gas Works where she and her shed-mates worked coal trains through a very tight tunnel. Because of this feature on the route, the Harrogate engines were fitted with cut-down cabs to clear the tunnel arch and, I have to be honest, they weren't attractive. Having stood in "Barber" (another Harrogate engine which still carries the original cab) I can tell you they aren't suited to preservation driving with those cabs! Retired in 1956 when the railway closed, 2050 was acquired by the then fledgling Ffestiniog Railway in 1957. Bought as part of a plan to provide extra capacity for the FR in later years, No2050 lay in store for over 20 years. Here she is awaiting restoration in 1977...
"2050 In Storage At Ffestiniog in 1977" (Pic - Ian McLoughlin, Blackpool)
I believe restoration on the FR was attempted in around 1987 but when they tested the locomotive along the route it was later found to be unsuitable. The long rigid wheelbase made the locomotive disagree with some of the lines curves and points and I believe it fell off once or twice during the trials. 2050 and the FR parted company later that year when she was sold to the Bredgar & Wormshill Railway. There she was restored to working order and named "Harrogate" after her original place of employment. She eventually found her way to Statfold where a lot of true Peckett parts were added such as the steam brake valve, front mounted re-railing jack and lamps. She looks lovely now, really lovely. Perhaps the purists will argue that she should have the 'original' cab but I feel that any designer would struggle to produce a more handsome engine than today's "Harrogate". At around 10:00 we were called on to take a train and so we mounted our fine steed before hissing off shed. Dropping down through the yard, we came to rest outside the signalbox ready to await the next 'up' train...
Soon enough the Penrhyn duo of "Marchlyn" & "Sybil Mary" barked into view and strode by with their train into Platform 2. The Brazil pair were then given the road to depart and once they were in the Oak Tree section we were given the disc to pull up onto our train. The ever responsive Peckett hissed cautiously backwards, expelling reams of condensate from her large cylinders. Once coupled onto the train we secured the engine and awaited the young Quarry's from Oak Tree...
With "Statfold" and "Jack Lane" clear, the road changed and the starter signal was given for "Harrogate" to depart. Following a "Right Away" from the Guard, off we went. Releasing the air brakes didn't provide a still 'cold' 2050 enough encouragement to move off on the downward gradient but a breath of steam soon got the wheels turning. Token on board, we hissed out towards the tram shed where the drains were closed for the pull around the corner towards the Jurassic Park gates. 2050 slipped along the track easily, pulling the ex-Bredgar coaches: the ex-Bredgar coaches with the ex-Bredgar engine! I love driving this engine, I really do: it's just so responsive and manageable. Down at the balloon loop, 2050 took a break whilst we awaited the Krauss & Corpet double act from Oak Tree...
With permission from the controller, a blast on 2050's Peckett whistle heralded the start of our move around the loop. It's just so easy: no sweat, no hassle, she just moves away without a care. A good strong engine on 2ft gauge tracks, "Harrogate" laughs at pretty much any load. One interesting quirk is the traditional Peckett tendency to not rush. I've always found that they aren't racers. They'll pull a house down if you want them to but all in their own time. Indeed, with "Harrogate" there is no need to rush, she'll just settle down and plod along nicely pulling whatever you want. It's just lovely. After a steady trundle back to Oak Tree we took water at the column before grabbing a cuppa' from the tea hut. Note the holes in the front of the tank: the forward section is a dummy provided to maintain her good looks...
"Alpha" soon passed us on the next 'down' train, clearing the Statfold section for us to depart. Green flag received and token on board, off we went again. "Isibutu" was waiting in Platform 1 with the freight as we chugged in with 2050, coming to rest just upgrade of the footbridge. With the Bagnall gone, the Penrhyn pair took over our train whilst we awaited the road to the turntable. Max caught us having a spin...
"Going For A Spin with 2050" (Pic - M.Waldron)
The spinning of the turntable usually attracts a gaggle of enthusiastic onlookers and so we're often sent round more than once! Once free, we steamed cautiously through the loco shed to reach the yard where we had probably 20 minutes before we were called for our next outing. It's the usual "come when called" scenario...
Our second trip was just as pleasant with "Harrogate" being her usual happy, free-steaming and willing self. The road ahead is seen from Cogan Halt...
I can't really say anymore than we just had such a lovely time and I'm sure my enthusiasm for the engine will come across in this post! It was a fairly uneventful day in fact: nothing went wrong and it was most enjoyable. 2050 herself was faultless. After another break on the shed following our second trip, our third train occurred at around 13:00. I snapped "Harrogate" waiting patiently for the road at Statfold Junction station. You'd never tell there were well over 1200 visitors on site...
"Harrogate" waits patiently for permission from the controller at Cogan Halt...
An afternoon moment of reflection on the shed during a layover period...
Our 14:30 trip saw me on the opposite side of the footplate with Fireman Ben trying out the handle. He'd never driven "Harrogate" before but I'm sure he enjoyed it: who wouldn't?! Here, we trundle along the lower section on the 'down' working...
"2050 Approaches The Balloon Loop" (Pic - M.Waldron)
Our triumphant fourth return to the shed at Statfold called for a '99' from the Ice Cream Van. Ben kindly fetched the ice creams whilst I waited with "Harrogate"...
"Love A '99' On The Footplate"
At this point after four very nice trips we were quite sure that we'd be waiting on shed until the cavalcade. However, to my surprise, we were called down again to take out the second-last passenger train. I drove it out, Ben drove it back...
Ben stands poised and ready for action as we await the road on the 'last one'...
As much as I love "Isibutu" I don't think I could ever get tired of "Harrogate". It's just such a nice engine and I had a lovely time driving it again today. The arrival at the balloon loop came all too soon and we swapped over in readiness for the return run. 2050 was still performing wonderfully...
There was just time for a quick 'crew snap' at Cogan Halt whilst we awaited the Corpet & the Krauss. Thanks matey for your efforts...
With that Ben drove us neatly around the loop before we steamed casually back to Statfold via Oak Tree. Upon our arrival in Statfold's Platform 2 we were shunt-released before I was given the road to drive "Harrogate" slowly back down into the headshunt via the signalbox. Coming to rest on top of "Jack Lane" in readiness for the cavalcade, I screwed the engine down and made everything secure before disposal procedures began. The engines were to be left in the headshunt for the evening and as we only needed the whistle for the 'blow up' I bedded the engine down whilst Ben cleaned up the saddle tank. Having deadened the fire and filled the boiler we took centre stage in the whistle up with the screaming Peckett whistle blasting loudly to the enjoyment of the assembled hoards. And with that, the job was done.

With the engines ready to be left for the night we crews returned to the mess room to sign off duty, wash up and fill in the engine's report books. What a great day on "Harrogate". I must say thanks to Fireman Ben for his work on the footplate today, thanks to Statfold for having us and thanks to the photographers who kindly sent in images for use in this post. I love days like this, just great. Peckett's built their last steam engine in 1958 and it wasn't long before the company disappeared into the history books. Despite their remit being basically 'ignorant industrials', Peckett's set themselves a cut above with the attractiveness of their products despite then sending them to collieries, gas works and dockyards. A great number of their machines survive in preservation, although you'll only find a handful kept in as prime condition as "Harrogate". Thank you all, cheers, Sam...

Sunday, 3 June 2018

5542: Sunny Summer Small Prairie...

Hi all. Today myself & JB had a pleasant but tiring outing aboard the lovely Great Western Small Prairie tank No5542 on the Battlefield Line. The 2-6-2 returned to Shackerstone just after Easter and is on loan from her South Devon Railway base for most of the year I believe, operating the regular steam services to Shenton and back. 5542 is no stranger to the ex-ANJR metals with this visit being her fifth in recent years. With five passenger trains booked to the engine today on the usual timetable, I opted to arrive at Shack for around 6am - it's always much nicer to have too much time than not enough! Having driven in and trudged up the pathway to the engine shed with my ever growing pile of kit, I found a heat-radiating 5542 quietly simmering just inside the door. As the lights warmed up, the Small Prairie came into clear view...
Having placed my kit in the real mess area I clambered aboard the engine to check the state of affairs: water well up the glass and 20psi on the clock. The next job is to take off the chimney cap and then check the inside of the smokebox, before returning to the cab to remove the baffle plate so that you can check the condition of the firebox. With all well, I started clearing the grate with the long iron. Thankfully it was very free and most of the ash dropped through the bars without the need for much cursing. Turning around and looking into the bunker I was surprised to see it fairly full, although the abundance of slack confirmed it was Welsh. I scattered a layer of coal across the grate before closing the doors and climbing down to grab some wood from the dry, chopped pile near the roller door. Taking some well soaked paraffin rags up with me too, it wasn't long before I had a blaze going on the shovel...
With the rags burning away nicely I added the wood on top before closing the doors. The warm chimney aided the draft and the wood was soon crackling away. Once the wood had taken well it was time to add a few shovelfuls of coal and, in my own way, leave the engine to get on with it. The old saying "a watched pot never boils" is unbelievably true in every sense with steam engines so it's best to set them up and get on with the next job. If the fire is doing what it should then the tell-tale crackling and energetic smoke from the chimney will confirm this! JB soon arrived and performed his usual "threaten it til' it works" mentality on the mercilessly beaten tea boiler. We then enjoyed a cuppa' before I went underneath to oil up the Stephenson's motion. John meanwhile went around the outside of the engine.

My next task is one of the most hideous during a day on any footplate in my view: ashing out. No matter what you do you get covered in ash, filthy water, oil and grease as whatever misses you will find its way to your sleeve via the angle of the iron! 5542 thankfully has an ashpan wash which allows water fed in from the hose to wash the ash as best it can from the inside. Meanwhile, beneath the simmering beast and its encouraging glow, it's raining in the pit as you stand poised with the rake...
With the oiling up and ashing out complete the time was now just gone 8am. Whilst JB brewed up for us again, I drove the 55xx carefully outside. Having gently warmed the cylinders to persuade the majority of the condensate to depart, I opened the regulator that little bit more and 5542 cautiously edged forward. Closing the regulator was followed by the ringing drop of the snifting valves and the almost gunshot-like bang of a vacuum pump indoors! Slowly but surely we rolled outside and came to rest on the gradient. Having supped our next cuppa' we set to cleaning the engine and made a real effort with her. She's Great Western so you have to...
Whilst JB got to work brushing and washing down the running boards, I was on the top buffing up the whistles and bonnet before polishing the boiler cladding. I'd already shined up the door straps before blackening up the smokebox and chimney. Attention later turned to polishing the tanks and JB moved onto the brasswork whilst I made my way along each side on the green stuff. 5542 comes up like new, particularly the attractive shirt-button which looks freshly painted...
"JB - When I'm Cleaning Numbers"
We had planned to go off shed early as we seemed to be before time as it were but in the end we stayed on shed cleaning until gone 10:30. 5542 was coming up a treat - they always look amazing when they're clean...
Trainee fireman Callum had arrived during our cleaning session and kindly got to work buffing up the rods whilst JB and myself finished polishing the bunker and then the cylinder covers. It's always worth making the effort to make an engine really clean but it's just that sometimes, with only two of you, you can't do everything in the allotted time. Foot-Ex days in particular are a nightmare as the time is gone before you know it! Washed and changed, we took a gleaming 5542 over to the waiting four coach train. She didn't even need water as the tanks were full from the hosepipe...
Railway photographer Clive Town was out and about on the lineside today as we trundled around with 5542. There is a link right here to his very nice video of the day. Here, we depart Market Bosworth on time with the first train...
"Departing Market Bosworth Bunker First" (Pic - C.Town)
After a steady run with a 'cold' engine, we ran round prior to a northbound departure. The Welsh coal fires differently to the former Scottish stuff and I did find that it lasted longer once it was burning hot. We had no trouble keeping steam and rolled back into Shack on time with our short train. The Prairie is later seen simmering in the hot sunshine at Shenton with the returning 12:50 departure...
We collected our breakfast from the Shenton Café just before we got the "Right Away" from the Guard. 5542 got the weight moving and crept over the 5mph slack across Ambion Lane bridge before accelerating upgrade towards Far Coton. On a beautiful Summer's day like this the railway is beautiful...
As the Flag of the Boar disappears into the distance behind the train, you cross Shenton Lane bridge before the track curves into the cutting before the Three Bridges section towards Market Bosworth...
With the needle hugging the red line, a good fire in the box and a gentle 18mph or so tick from the vacuum pump, everything was going wonderfully. Here, 42' waits at Bosworth for the final passengers to alight before a homeward departure...
Having uncoupled and watered at Shackerstone, 5542 was coupled to the front of the train to bask in the sunshine whilst we had our short lunch break...
John and I swapped duties for the 13:45 and 15:00 departures. Trainee Callum did most of the firing on these trips, watched over at all times by JB. It brought back a lot of memories as I remember being in exactly that position 10 years ago! After a pleasant 13:45 round trip on the handle we returned to Shackerstone where good friend David was waiting to join us on the last one at 16:15. He and JB sat chewing the fat for a while whilst Callum & I watered the engine...
Myself and JB then shook happily on a job well done...
I had a very nice trip driving the 15:00 departure but by now the heat was unbelievable in the cab. The sun didn't seem this warm at Midday! Nevertheless we soldiered on and 5542 is seen at the head of the final train of the day for Shenton...
David kindly elected to fire the 16:15 and JB did the driving, allowing me some time to grab a couple of shots during our station stops. Here, 5542 awaits the 16:27 "Right Away" from Market Bosworth as the sun continues to shine...
At Shenton I uncoupled the 1928-built 2-6-2 before JB dropped her back into the headshunt to start the run round procedure...
Once back at the head of the train, nothing could disturb the peaceful atmosphere of rushing fields and birdsong at a tranquil Shenton - that is of course except for the ringing of a shovel blade as David created an infamous 'Mountain of David' in the firebox. He must have been off up Shap...
With a 'right time' departure from Shenton, 5542 set off into the early evening sun. It was a very nice ride home on this last trip, although we did have to briefly stop under the second bridge at Far Coton to retrieve my work worn flat cap! It got knocked off by a large tree branch which struck me in the face on the way down...
Upon arrival at Shackerstone I uncoupled the engine before we ran her back through Platform 1 and into the shed yard via No11 ground frame. The fire was then raked thoroughly and spread evenly before the injector was started and I drove 5542 cautiously back into the shed for stabling. Boiler full, cap on and the necessaries isolated, the Prairie was left for the night after a grand Great Western day out. Thanks to JB and David for their great company and thanks to Clive Town for use of his image. Another enjoyable footplate experience. Cheers all, until next time, Sam...