Sunday, 20 December 2009

Firing 1306 At Shackerstone...

Hi all! Apologies for the lateness of this post (added 28/12/2009) but I have been busy, with Christmas etc(!), and so, at last, here it is! Firstly, the images in this post are not from the day in question as I did not take my camera but they do give some relevant colour at least! Anyway, today I was up at 5AM(!), and, more importantly, so was my mum (to give me a lift!). The destination, in the freezing temperatures and gloomy darkness, was Shackerstone where I was rostered as trainee fireman on the B1 4-6-0 No1306 "Mayflower". Arriving at Shackerstone at 6am, I headed straight down to the loco shed where I found the B1 and the day's crew: Driver Marie & Fireman Steve. First job, whilst Steve tended to the new fire, was to help Marie oil the engine up. Once this was done, the B1 was ready to move. George, also on site with us, then hauled the B1 out of the shed using ex-BR 0-4-0 Class 02 Diesel shunter, D2782 "Diane". However, the shunt did not go without hitch as, due to the icy rails, the B1 pushed the "wheel-locked" little diesel down the yard a good way! When the loco's came to a sharp standstill, wooden chocks were placed under the wheels to prevent any further "sliding"! With 1306 now stationary, Steve lit the fire using parrafin rags and other good doses of the said liquid! Next, "Tea Time!", so retired to the shed leaving 1306 out in the freezing darkness...
Freshly "refuelled", we returned to the loco as daylight slowly began to show itself. The Shed Cat, "Morris", was also out and about and overlooked the preparations of the B1 with relative interest! Cleaning then began, with the help of the two Dave's and the loco's owner! By 9:30am, 1306 was ready for service. Today EVERY TRAIN was FULL and this would mean LONG journeys! This is because "Santa Special" trains include a Grotto on the train and therefore, everyone on-board must see Santa before we arrive at Shenton! This means a "very slow" outward run with a possible stop just outside the terminus station to ensure that every child has received their present before the return journey begins. Newly changed into our 'smart' overalls, myself, Marie and Steve climbed up into the cab and moved 1306 'off shed'. With the engine on the front of the already-filling 6-coach train, the "Steam Heat" could be turned on to heat the carraiges. At 10am, we crawled out of Shackerstone with the first 'festive service' of the day with Steve, the rostered passed-fireman, firing. After the slow journey, we ran round quickly before returning at line-speed (25mph). Back at Shackerstone, we ran-round again ready for the 12pm departure. Yes, the journey takes about 1 hour 45 mins with a full "Santa" train!...
Once on the front of the 12pm train, I was told that I could fire if I wanted to. "Erm, yes please!". (I do very much rather to 'do' than 'not do'!). Anyway, I began. The large firebox of the 4-6-0, with its "letter-box" (Great Eastern) firehole door is, for learners, I would say, a difficult engine to fire. The saving grace of this is that the engine is a very good steamer. However, I have had a good few go's at firing the B1 now so I was just about getting the hang of the firehole door and the long grate. With me filling the box, departure time soon arrived and we were off into the Leicestershire countryside once again. However, going so slow with so little draft on the fire means only one thing: a lack of rising pressure! Therefore, once over the bank out of Shackerstone, with the large injector on to fill up the boiler, the pressure began to drop and around 180psi (full pressure=225psi) was the most I could build up! And, without lying, it wasn't my fault! The grate was covered! (Once a draft was created, the loco steamed well once again!). Once at Shenton, we ran-round once again ready for a departure time of around 1:25pm. This time, the loco would be going at line-speed so a deeper and cleaner fire is needed to keep pressure. For example, any holes in the fire can create severe drops in any engine's pressure. Just before departure, I built the fire up as much as possible, taking great care to fill the middle section of the box which seems, to many, to be the "most hungry"!...
Chugging out of Shenton I had to fire more, filling the holes as they arose. The pressure dropped to about 200psi but held there for the duration of the climb to Far Coton. Once over the bank I opened the firehole door and switched on 'my' injector. As we coasted down through Deer Park and Market Bosworth I added more coal in readiness for the climb to Airport Bridge and beyond. As Marie "opened up" again, I shut the firehole door and the pressure once again dropped to 200psi. However, I wasn't worried about this as the 10mph slack was approaching and 1306 had to "shut off" again! I put the injector back on and then added a little more coal, especially in the middle(!), as we chugged back up to line-speed. At Hedley's, we had to slow for the very boring 5mph slack but this did give me a chance to add some more coal for the last climb towards Shackerstone, past Congerstone. With the firebox again refilled, with about 6 or 7 more shovelfulls, 1306 stormed away from Hedleys. However, I should have added a little more in the front corners as the pressure dropped to about 180psi. Oh well, can't win them all! Once over the Congerstone bank, 1306 'shut off' again and we dropped down into Shackerstone with the injector on, the firebox door open and the pressure rising. "Mayflower" pulled into a very busy Platform 2 at Shackerstone as I took a break, hanging my head from the loco to 'cool down' a little! The outside temperatures were freezing but, with me firing, I was so hot and bothered!...
1306, now 10-minutes down, quickly ran-round the 2pm train, with me filling the firebox and boiler once again. I would now, following my successful first trip, be firing for the rest of the day! With other two trips, the 2pm & 4pm, went very well and, I'm glad to say, around 200psi was kept at all times. By the end of the day I was firing through the door to the front of the box much easier and was, very much, enjoying myself! Arriving in darkness with the last trip of the day, the engine was holding over 200psi and had a healthy boiler water level. I was very pleased with myself as I had fired three full trips. Steve, I must admit, must have had a very easy day! Once off the train we made our way on shed, being guided by a member on the ground with a lantern. 1306 was soon back inside the shed and, besides having a bit too thick a fire at disposal time, I was told that I had done well! Great stuff! The engine was then put "to bed" for Christmas and will now not run again until Easter 2010. After putting everything away and making 1306 secure, we said our festive greeting and our goodbyes before departing for home. Snow still littered the ground however and it hadn't melted all day! Show's just how cold it was! I finally left at 7pm, 13 hours after signing on duty. What a long day but, what a festive and enjoyable one! Thanks to the crew, the owner and 1306 herself for a such a great day, see you next year! Thanks for reading folks. Merry Christmas.

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