Sunday, 12 October 2008

Another Day On "Thomas The Tank Engine"...

On Sunday October 12th I was rostered as trainee on Thomas the Tank Engine. Jan and Adrian were the main rostered crew.I signed on at 6:30am my day began with chopping wood for the lighting up process.Once Adrian had lit the fire then it was time to start cleaning.The engine playing "Thomas" was 0-6-0 Hunslet Saddle Tank(!) "Jessie".The engine is normally based at the Llangollen Railway and has been converted from Saddle to Side tank to fill in for the railway's out of service Jinty Tank on Thomas duties.The engine seemed very powerful and was put through its paces many times during the day.The loco's "main valve" in the regulator had been blanked off to stop her being "thrashed".This,in my opinion,is a very good idea! At 9am the engine was just about ready and we sauntered down for coal in the North End Yard.The engine was then put on the front of the day's first train,the 10am for Shenton.On the journey,the engine performed admirably and we left Shenton on time for Shackerstone.B1 "Mayflower" then took over for the next 4 main trains.Meanwhile, "Thomas" was left to entertain the crowds at Shackerstone along with 2-2-0 Aveiling & Porter "Blue Circle" & 0-6-0 Class 04 (04 110). During the 4 layover's between the following main trains,"Thomas" took the 'Daisy Shuttle'.
This involved the engine being hauled to Hedley's Crossing by the 2-car DMU ("Daisy") before hauling it back.I had a go at firing some of the shuttles but couldn't seem to get the balance right. The main lesson I need to learn is that coal does not produce heat as soon as it is thrown through the firehole door.This is easy to forget in my opinion when you're worrying about the pressure gauge reading and the water level!But we managed to get back to Shackerstone each time without hitch and for the last shuttle we were on the front end."Thomas" pulled to Hedley's and "Daisy" pulled back.On arrival back at Shackerstone there was no time to waste as "Thomas" had 5 minutes or so to get onto the front of the final main train to Shenton of the day,the "Tea on Thomas" Special!We quickly ran round into Platform 2 and buffered up to the head of the 6-coach load.The sun was starting to set already so produced a lovely orange glow on the railheads towards Hedley's.We left Shackerstone and Jan fired down to Shenton whilst Adrian took over as driver.What better way is there of spending a Sunday afternoon than chugging through the countryside on a steam locomotive footplate??There is none in my opinion! We reached Shenton on time and I uncoupled the locomotive ready for the run round. Once run round I coupled us up again and all was ready for the run back to Shack.Jan then informed me that I would be firing back to Shackerstone,under her guidance of course!

We left Shenton on time and my eyes were firmly fixed on the pressure gauge.The engine's blow-off pressure was 160psi and the needle stuck to this position for the first part of the journey.Approaching the three bridges the engine was still accelerating upgrade and I was informed to put three shovels under the back.The white hot heat of the fire was unbelievable.I haven't done much actual firing "down the line" and so I am not yet used to these sort of temperature.When you're firing in station limits the fire isn't half as hot! Anyway,under the three bridges we went and Market Bosworth could be seen in the distance.Adrian "shut off" and I then had to put the "feed" (injector) on whilst the needle still read 160psi.I managed to get three shovels to the 'front' before we reached the platforms and I left the doors open just a crack to allow some 'top air' into the box to lighten the smoke a little.Once under the bridge it was time to accelerate again so I shut the doors and turned off the injector.We were off again.Whilst Jan worked the doors I was instructed to put "3 under the back" and "3 over the front"."Front right" was a bit thin so I added an extra one there.When the driver shut off it was time to open the doors again and get the feed on as the needle clung to 150psi.

Here there is a 10mph slack so there was a chance to build the fire a little more with a couple of shovel fulls thrown into the middle of the grate.Once out of the 10mph the driver accelerated again so the firedoors were shut along with the injector feeds.The 5mph slack was soon seen and at 145psi we coasted through with the doors shut.Once out of the "5" the driver accelerated once more but the pressure rose a little too.Climbing towards Shackerstone towards Hedley's crossing it was time for another "3 under the back" and "3 over the front".Even though it was hard work I was having a very good time! The driver shut off at the top of the bank but with 2/3 of a glass of water we left the feed off,as well as only having 140psi.Under Barton Bridge we went and No2 signal was clear.The pressure was again rising as Jan handed the 'single line token' over to the signalman at Shackerstone.On arrival in Platform 2 the injector was put on again and the doors opened a crack to calm the safety valves down.Meanwhile,I got down from the footplate to uncouple."Thomas" then,after moving through the North End points,passed Signal No7 and proceeded to the preparation yard for disposal. After disposing of the engine we all headed to the Mess Room to sign off.

All in all it had been a very good day with the highlight for me being able to fire the last run back to Shackerstone.Thanks for that Jan! Couldn't have done it without your guidance!

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