Sunday, 14 June 2009

A Weekend With Thomas The Tank Engine...

Hi all. Now, almost everyone has heard of the television show which surrounds the world's favourite steam engine, Thomas the Tank Engine. Due to the massive popularity which surrounds the show, preserved railway's, such as my railway, the Battlefield Line, have been running "Day Out With Thomas" events for some years now. These events allow children and adults alike to see and of course ride behind a 'real-life' Thomas and this weekend at Shackerstone was no exception. I arrived on Friday afternoon at around 3:30pm to help 'light up' "Thomas"' warming fire ready for the weekend. Outside the engine shed, LNER B1 No1306 "Mayflower" was already lit-up and was enjoying a good clean from a few members of her support crew. I found "Thomas" outside on the Pit Road. My collegue, Pockets, then arrived and we set about checking the engine over. This involved checking the firebox, boiler & smokebox as well as emptying the latter and the ashpan if necessary. After all the checks had been carried out and we had a good "water level" we lit the fire which consisted of oily rags, wood and coal. After a few hours and more checks we left the engine ready for the next days work...
Day 2:-After sleeping on site, I signed on at 5:45am and made my way to the shed. The fireman for the day, Adrian, had arrived just prior to me and had already lit the fire. The engine "sang" happily as we awaited the arrival of Bruce, the driver. When Bruce arrived we enjoyed a cuppa before he began to oil the engine up for the day. Meanwhile, Adrian made continual checks on the fire and I began cleaning the engine. After a few hours, the engine was just about ready. "Daisy The Diesel Railcar" stood behind the loco and when he driver arrived she was started up. Aveiling & Porter "Blue Circle" (as "Fergus") was also in other yard making steam nicely. We were due "off shed" at around 9:10am but we were ready at 8:20am! Therefore, to save time, we decided to use the engine for the "line inspection" (a run designated to checking that the route is safe & complete for the day). This would save the use of a diesel engine to do the job. After being checked again, "Thomas" moved carefully off shed and down into the south yard where "Mayflower" & "Blue Circle" stood. The points were changed and "Thomas" moved over onto the "main line" before receiving the Single Line Token. Once received, the token was placed safely away before we accelerated away from Shackerstone. The line looked as safe as ever but these checks are obviously always necessary just in case!
Within 20 minutes we reached Shenton (the terminus) and checked the ground frame there before returning, with permission from the Signalman, to Shackerstone. We then coupled to the main train (the 10am) whilst "Daisy" made her 15 minute 9:40am run to Hedley's Crossing (1.5 miles from Shackerstone). With "Daisy"s return at 9:55am we got ready to depart. At 10:00am, the passengers were aboard and as the sun shone we departed Shackerstone in a cloud of steam, up the bank towards Barton Bridge. Thomas chugged easily along the line to Shenton where 'he' swiftly ran round, much to the delight of onlookers. After coupling up again, Thomas departed on time for Shackerstone under the care-free blue skies. Once back at Shackerstone we came off the stock ready for the beautiful "Mayflower" to take over for the next 4 departures of the day. Meanwhile, "Daisy" made another run to Hedley's, the 10:55am trip. For the rest of the day we (and Thomas of course!) took part in engine races, games & playlets as well as top & tailing the DMU to Hedley's 4 times. One 'game' involved children passing me buckets of water to refill Thomas' empty (realistically full!!) tank. Once the children had there go, Sir Topham Hatt & Mr Conductor had their turn but, as usual with this 'game', they missed horribly and soaked me (this was of course planned, sadly!!). In all, I got 6 buckets of water thrown over me today, not bad I suppose!
The Station was packed and it was lovely to see so many people around as we chugged around the site. Our races with the Class 25 'Rat' (as "BoCo") we very well received with the crowds! The last trip, the 4:40pm was the "Tea on Thomas" Special and, naturally, was to be hauled by "Thomas". We prepared the engine before departing 10 minutes down. At Shenton, Sir Topham posed with Thomas for photographs before we ran round & returned to Shackerstone, arriving at around 5:45pm. Once uncoupled, we hissed down into the North End sidings for coal, which was put into the bunker by the resident "Wetherill" digger. Once coaled, we chugged through the station back to the sheds and the Pit Road, arriving there at around 6:05pm. We then disposed of the engine and made our way to the wash room after a long days enjoyment! Day 3:-Well, after staying on site again I signed on at 5:35am and headed to the North Yard where we had left Thomas the night before. I put the hose in the tank and turned it on before heading to the "Wood Store" to break up some pallets to light Thomas' fire with. The day's Fireman, Pockets, then arrived before we had a nice "wake up cuppa" (very necessary believe me!). I then went under the engine to "ash out" whilst Pockets built the "new fire" in the 'box'. The Class 02 shunter then arrived pushing A & P "Blue Circle" (as "Fergus"), shunting her just in front of Thomas. The driver, Mark, then arrived to do the oiling as well as other little jobs. Once I had finished my job, I began cleaning the engines wheels with help from my collegue, Craig. Meanwhile, the "Fergus" crew had lit 'him' up for the day and were giving him a careful clean.
Pockets set about cleaning Thomas' "cab brass" whilst I had moved on to cleaning his face (being careful not to get soap in his eyes of course!!). At 9:20am Thomas, Fergus and Daisy (behind Thomas) were ready and Fergus made his way off shed first before trundling down into Platform 1 to impress the early birds. We then took Thomas off shed before moving through the crossing onto the main line. It was then a short trundle back down into Platform 2 before coupling onto the stock for the 10am departure, as we did the day before. Daisy then passed us before departing for Hedley's a few minutes afterwards. Craig was to join us for this run to Shenton and stood on the driver's side with Mark whilst myself & Pockets stood on the fireman's side. Upon Daisy's arrival we "got the road" before departing Shackerstone shrewly. Thomas' bark echoed around the cutting as we accelerated up the bank and under Barton Bridge towards Hedley's. We arrived at Shenton on time before running round shrewly. I recoupled Thomas to the stock and "changed the lamp code" before we departed again. On arrival at Shackerstone, Daisy departed again as we uncoupled. The rest of the day was spent much as the day before was with much racing, gaming, shunting and of course 8 buckets of water over my head, thanks Sir Topham & Mr Conductor, much appreciated. Towards the end of the day we took the final train, the 4:40pm "Tea on Thomas" train to Shenton in the cooling evening sunshine. It was a lovely run indeed with the fire burning brightly, the pressure holding firm and the water level remaining strong in the glasses. We arrived at Shenton on time before Sir Topham again posed with the locomotive for photos. We then ran round before I recoupled Thomas to the stock and rearranged the lamps for the return run. We left Shenton on time and this run was even better! It was fabulous. Unusally, whilst looking out the fireman's side I noticed a small Camper Van chasing the train! They chased us from Shenton to Hedley's, around 3.5 miles. My initial thoughts were that it was Sooty but it turned out not to be afterall! Shame! Once back at Shackerstone we uncoupled before running up the shed for the last time, waving goodbye to the homeward bound passengers who were heading off down the car park. Once back on the Pit Road we disposed of Thomas for the last time. After 45 minutes we were finished and it was left to a diesel shunter (the 02) to put him back in the shed for a good rest after his hard weekend. We then signed off after another enjoyable day and we then headed off home, I was glad to leave for home but had still had a fantastic 3 days. Now, I've talked about what we did and when and how but I haven't told you about "Thomas" himself. The example we used this weekend was an ex-LMS Fowler Class 3F 'Jinty' locomotive, hired in from the Midland Railway at Butterley. She is, in reality, No47327 built in 1926 by the North British Locomotive Company for the LMS. With a water capacity of 1200 gallons and 2 tons of coal space the engine made our round trip's (10 miles) easily. At 31ft or so long she was also a relatively large 0-6-0 and her 160psi boiler pressure along with her 2 cylinders made her very powerful. The engine including the usual features such as steam heating gear. The image above shows the cab. The verticle leaver on the right is the pole reverser with the regulator prominant at the top of the manifold. The small brown knob to the centre-right is part of the combined steam & vacuum brake which can be used with both the engine's large & small ejectors. The small brass handle in the centre is the "blower", hidden behind which is the small "sanding gear" leaver. The two gauge glasses can be seen and the two "cocks" on either side of the manifold are the steam feeds for the two injectors. The water valve for the Fireman's side injector can be seen just to the right of the open "Oil Cupboard" on the left. The "hydrostatic lubricator" can be seen just to the right of the left lead window.
The engine was very nice to work on and was very well received by the crews. I definately enjoyed my 2 days crewing the engine and she (or he?!) behaved very well. The engine will return home this week some time I believe. Thank you for reading everyone, more posts coming soon!

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