Saturday, 10 December 2011

Christmas in Cholsey: "Sir Gomer" on Holiday...

Hello everyone. Something a little different again. Today, 80 miles later, I arrived at the headquarters of the Cholsey & Wallingford Railway. This 2.5-mile long preserved line, known as 'The Bunk Line', is an ex-GWR branch. It has always been at this length, running from the main line at Cholsey down to the small town of Wallingford. Passenger services ended in 1959 and goods traffic stopped in 1965. Severed from reaching its old terminus in the town in 1969, BR continued to operate services to the nearby Malt Plant. The line survived due to the Malt Plant with services ending in 1981 when road traffic became a 'better idea'. On 31/05/1981, BR ran a special over the route and a preservation society was formed that very same day. From then on, the line has been restored, slowly but surely. It now runs on most of its original route, but the old terminus location can't be reached. A new platform and headquarters has been built at Wallingford. Passenger trains operate on the railway throughout the year and today was a 'Santa Special' day. Trains were to be steam hauled and this was the reason for my visit. The line's 2011 steam mainstay had recently failed its boiler inspection and so "Sir Gomer" had been loaned at short notice from Shackerstone to stand in. Below, failed RSH 0-4-0ST "Birkenhead" sits cold and feeling sorry for itself in the platform at Wallingford...
When I arrived, "Sir Gomer" was steamed up in the platform and simmering away. She was connected to the 3-coach train and already steam heating. Trains would be departing hourly from 11.05 until 16.05, with the round trip taking around 45 minutes. After meeting everybody, I joined the footplate to check everything out. No problems. The shot below is a bit unusual I think. It sort of looks black & white with the sky providing the only real colour but honestly, its just a trick of the light!...
There would be two crews today (luxury, ay?) operating 3 trips each. I joined the crew of the 1st trip. This consisted of Driver Dave Goodenough, Fireman George and another passed fireman too. I stood on as 4th man and 'Loco Rep'. At 11.05, out we went. The loco pulled away on the 3 coaches with ease and we reached Cholsey in good time. It was a pretty line, weaving its way across the countryside and past a pretty church where Agatha Christie was apparently laid to rest. Cholsey station is very odd. The trains climb up from Wallingford on a tight left-hand curve before rubbing shoulders with the Relief Lines of the Network Rail route to Didcot and beyond. It was clear that the 4-track mainline was in very regular use as when we steamed into the platform two HST's passed on the fast lines at full speed, roaring away in their seperate directions. The C & WR trains pull into the old Platform 5 and are not connected to the national network in any way. There is a run round loop here though and "Sir Gomer" duly changed ends before we returned to Wallingford with a little more chuff. Back at base, there is no run-round loop at present. So, the loco was shunt-released using one of the line's Class 08 diesels...
As I mentioned earlier, there were 2 crews today. So, after our first run, we swapped with the 2nd crew who took the 12.05. This gave us chance to grab a cuppa', a bite to eat and to have a chat. I continued to make generalised checks about the engine such as prep and disposal methods. For example, due to the regulator currently 'passing' when shut, the loco must be disposed with both the drain cocks and steam chest taps (underneath) open. This prevents too much condensate 'sitting' in the system. The same settings must occur first thing in the morning and during the first few moves off shed. The steam chest taps can then be closed by going underneath the loco and shutting them off. The drain cocks are of course operated from the cab. All checks made, I was happy with how the loco was being kept and could therefore inform the Shackerstone officials, such as the ever-concerned 'Pockets' who has always been 'Gomers Keeper' in my eyes. After the chat, we rejoined the loco and took out the 13.05. She was performing very well. Mind you, 3 coaches on a relatively flat route is nothing compared to what we did at Pontypool, and I don't think anything will come close in the future just yet!...
At Cholsey, the passengers disembarked to watch the engine run round. I must admit, it was quite a proud feeling representing Shackerstone once again on a railway visit. "Sir Gomer" could be our ticket to many more railways in the future ;) . Ready to come off the train at Cholsey main line station, as Voyagers and HST's go thundering past nearby...
Driver Dave Goodenough, who served his time for BR on 9F's and Britannia's on the Western region, was my driver for today...
Below, "Sir Gomer" rubs shoulders with one of those new fangelled modern inventions as it cruises into Cholsey's platform 4...
Departing Cholsey, trains take it easy over a tight point before descending away from Network Rail land and down into the fields again. Just as we departed, a very fast-moving Class 66 on a container train passed by. My goodness, the draft off it nearly blew us back across the cab. It really was motoring along and at only a few feet from the footplate. I must admit, it was an unusual and new experience running into and out of a main line station with steam...
160psi and the valves begin to lift...
After the 13.05 trip, we had another tea break. The only problem reported with "Sir Gomer" was the bumping of the train. But, we soon talked up a way of disguising this problem slightly. I mean, you are never going to completely get rid of it but you can tone it down somewhat. Afterall, you can't expect miracles. "Sir Gomer" is a very powerful industrial saddle tank. Her outside cylinders give good power and mixed with her small wheels they provide good tractive effort statistics. But, those big cylinders can make her 'walk the track' a bit. Futhermore, she is not balanced for passenger work. Her design is not only cheap but also for a purpose. That purpose was the hauling of heavy supplies of coal over short distances at a steady speed, day after day, year after year. If she had ridden rough in Mountain Ash, I don't think anyone would have cared! Her balance weights on her wheels are equal, and not increased on the centre axle to take account of the eccentrics etc. So, you get a kind of 'wave riding' motion. But, this is a typical industrial engine. Admittedly, with a heavy-ish train (such as 6 coaches at Shackerstone) we could disguise the issue somewhat as the loco had to work a bit to pull the load. But, at 20mph+ she will probably bump around a bit as she wasn't designed for that! ^_^ . At 15.05, we were ready for our 3rd and final trip, into the sunset...
In the yard during a shunt release, basking in the sun...
In the platform at Wallingford with the Santa Special headboard...
Below is the 9-minutes or so of film I took to document the visit somewhat. Enjoy...

All in all, it was a very good day. Trains seemed good for passenger numbers and "Sir Gomer" performed well. It was also a very pleasant railway to visit. At 4pm, I departed for home and got back at just before 6pm. A nice gentle drive up the M40 but you knew when you had done it! Ahh well, all worth it to see "Gomer" doing us proud and earning us some money on another railway. The locomotive will return to Shackerstone after doing its last 2 steamings at Cholsey next weekend. She will be back, winterised and shedded in time to spend Christmas day with 3803 at home. Fantastic! A very pleasant day indeed. Thanks for reading folks. Sam.

1 comment:

ojtheawesome said...

It's lovely to see Sir Gomer venture to another railway, such a beautiful locomotive.