Sunday, 11 December 2011

Santa at the GEC...

Hi everyone. Today was an easy one, but a very wet one! After arranging with my friend James yesterday, today I was over at the GEC Miniature Railway helping him with his engine; the 7.25" Romulus No5 "James". I arrived at 12:45pm, as did James with his loco on the trailer. We duly unloaded the loco and pushed him to the steaming bays. Once there, we prepared the engine together and were ready in time for the 2pm start. Today was the GEC's annual "Santa Special" running day and so trains were running 2pm - 5pm. Both tracks were in operation and all tickets had to be booked in advance. Fair to say, it was a sell-out. Children received a present from Santa whilst adults received a drink and a cake. Other refreshments were also available. Though it was very wet, spirits seemed high and the tea; as usual; was flowing. "James", with a cup of tea on the tender...
The 7.25" track was the home of the Grotto. From a driving perspective, there were only a few simple differences. The trains left the station as normal and traversed the track via the triangle at the bottom of the field. On the return run, trains were given the clear as far as the passing loop where they would be given either a green or a red light - depending on whether there was another train coming out of the station at that time or not. If there wasn't, then a green would be given. If there was, then a red would be given until the train passed. However, at the facing point which normally takes trains back into the station, the blades would be switched and take you onto the old branch which then climbs up into the normally disused station near the entrance road. Dropping the vacuum brake gradually to come to a controlled stop, the brakes were then fully applied whilst Santa chatted to passengers and gave children their gift. It was quite pleasant actually running up that short stretch of track; made a nice change. It also felt very festive to pull up and see Santa. I'm a bit old now for the 'Christmas Mood' but, admittedly, it was nice! Once Santa had finished his duties, he waved the train off as "James" propelled it back away from the station in a cloud of steam: under signals from the guard. There is then a signal which protects the main line. If this was at clear, we would drop back down onto the main and stop behind the automated point. After a whistle to signal to the Signalman in the box at the station, the point would soon switch and the right-hand 'feather signal' would illuminate. Trains could then run back into the station. The average journey time was 8-10 minutes; very pleasant indeed!...
Due to the damp December weather, we had lost most of the light by 3:30pm and the loco lamps were lit, as were various illuminations. "James" was sporting a newly made BR-style tail-lamp, to match his BR headlamp! On the footplate; as is usual practise for a 'night run'; we carried a magnetic torch for the water gauge. "James" steamed beautifully throughout the afternoon with a crisp bark from the chimney and giving a good 'pull' as usual. I did however have one occasion when I had to be pushed by the Guard as "James" wouldn't restart. It was raining and we were stopped by a red signal at the car park loop with a well-loaded train. Under the tree's there, you sometimes can't start on a dry summers day let alone in winter rain! So, I opened the drains and gave her some steam whilst the Guard pushed. Within a few panels, "James" was holding his own again and we roared up the bank and onto the branch. I must admit, I was a little annoyed as no train appeared and as soon as I stopped we got a green! Ahh well, the joys of driving steam engines ^_^ . For the rest of the day, "James" proved very sure-footed indeed; much to my surprise; though we did use a little sand here and there. At 5pm, with all the passengers gone, we disposed of "James". It had been another enjoyable time at GEC; I always enjoy it here though! Thanks to James, the Tea Room Ladies and everyone else for a swell & festive experience. Merry Christmas. Sam...

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