Sunday, 15 January 2012

Frost, Coffee and Steam Locomotives...

Hi everyone. Well, today was the first of no doubt many winter working days that I will be attending at Shackerstone. Though the Battlefield Line is now in its 'closed season' and is therefore not running trains, work is continuing across all departments from Permanent Way to Traction Maintainence and even Station Gardening. This morning I arrived at Shack at 10am and drove in along the (very much frozen) old trackbed which forms the driveway. After parking, I walked to shed where Danny, Chris and Carl had already opened up. On the pit stood a very smart looking Class 08 diesel in BR Green. This engine has been at the railway for contract overhaul for about 2 years and is now very nearly finished (it will return home to the Swanage Railway in due course). Soon enough, the rest of the gang arrived and I believe, in the end, we ended up with around 12 people helping out in the shed in one form or another: it was great! After a cuppa', we all chose different jobs. Some were working on 'Blue Circle' (lifting a crank shaft back in) whilst others were restoring Pockets' brakevan and the box van. Outside, there was a fire burning for rubbish and branches whilst inside I had lit one of the stoves and had got a roaring, deep fire going (enough to take the chill off in the area around it anyway!). Soon enough though, I was assigned a job; to clean out the firebox of 3803 and remove the back half of the fire grate. 3803 is having an annual boiler inspection this week and so needs to spin 'n' span as well as being stripped for a 'dry' exam. Apologies for the quality of the pics (from my phone) but here you can just about make out the front half of the fire-grate in the 38's large firebox: the rocking section is tipped in the 'open' position and the brick arch is seen above...
On arrival in the mornings, a Fireman should always clean the grate. This will help alot later on once the fire is lit as it will give the best possible airflow. (A dirty/blocked grate area can mean less airflow and could create clinker too). However, in the mornings, the fireman will generally use a fireiron and the rocking grate (if applicable) to clean the firebox. By far the best way however, and the dirtiest(!), is to actually go inside with the hose and a lead-lamp and clean it by hand with a brush and some kind of pointed instrument to get into all the little gaps. Opening the firehole door and peering into the bleak, dry darkness, one generally asks the question "can I even fit through that door?" - I know I always do! The trick is, legs in first (facing upwards), allowing you to hold the regulator or injector pipes to sort of position yourself and allow you to drop forward. Once the waist is through the door, you can turn over and then make your shoulders as thin in width as possible to get through the door. You are then, hopefully, inside. I must admit, it can be an odd sensation. You are very aware that you are in a metal box with only one viable escape route! Armed with a brush and the pointy object, you can get going. The trick is to brush everything onto the rocker grate section and then 'rock'/tip it accordingly. It is however, if you are in there, to hose the waste down first to reduce dust levels. Below, the firebox tubeplate can be seen above the brick arch. The larger flue tubes house the superheaters at the smokebox end, whilst the smaller smoke tubes improve efficiency and steam creation...
Having cleaned all the muck forward, Eddie rocked the grate: I had to remove a few clogged up area's after though. With most of the mess gone, it was time to clean up properly. I set to with the hose and the brush and cleaned the rocker grate as best I could. It is a little weird when you're under the arch though, kneeling on the rocking grate. You end up in kind of a 'snail' position and are very aware of the low clearance! It isn't really a very pleasant place to work but you can appreciate the overall size. The 38xx has a narrow yet tall box, allowing good combustion and heating of her sizeable boiler. Having cleaned the entire grate throughly, we removed the back firebars. Man-handling them all out of the firebox and up through the firehole door onto the footplate to Eddie no doubt went against every single manual handling rule or advise known to man; but I did it. Ed then took the bars down to ground level to be cleaned up by himself and Dave using an angle-grinder. This would simply get rid of any heaving corrosion or as I call 'swellings' on the ends which may in the future prevent them becoming 'too big' for their alloted positions. I meanwhile finished cleaning the box. Admittedly, for an engine that is around 4 years into a ticket now, and that has done alot of miles in steam since restoration, her boiler is lasting very well indeed: its dry as a bone in the firebox! The stays, crown stays, foundation ring and indeed the tubes/flues seem to be in remarkable condition. Mind you I suppose thats what an overhaul costing 350k and a good supply of boiler treatment does for you!

After emptying and tidying the firebox of 3803, it was lunch time and we all enjoyed a cob and a cuppa'. Walking back into the shed my next task presented itself straight away: the poorly Peckett "Sir Gomer". Gomer had been in steam for a steam test on the 30th and so still had a filthy firebox that needed cleaning, cue...me! Getting into "Sir Gomer"s firebox isn't much harder than getting into 3803. The ring may be a little smaller but I still slip through quite easily. The main thing with Sir G is remembering what size of locomotive you are inside. Though there is no arch in this one, the crown is lower and the box is less in width. So, basically, if you're not careful then a bump on the head can be just round the corner, and, the collision of crown stays with the head does, erm, HURT! Having cleaned the Peckett's box and her tubeplate too, I retired to the outside world for another cuppa' atop 3803s boiler barrel would you believe?! I was helping Adrian try to get the dome lid off the engine in order to replace a gasket. Apparently it had been passing over the Santa period so the annual exam seemed a good chance to change it. However, getting it off isn't as easy as first thought. First, you have to remove the brass cover and the clack valves, not to mention the clank feed covers and any relevant joins in between. Below, the clack valve has just be removed on the Fireman's side, allowing the large white gasket to be seen. The safety valves are on the left with the Fireman's injector feed coming in from the bottom-right...
Outside the shed; whilst we laboured inside its dank depths; the sun was shining. Below, a chilly looking Shackerstone box awaits Saturday March 3rd, when trains will return to the Battle of Bosworth...

One locomotive we haven't seen much of recently is the Aveiling & Porter "Blue Circle". No9449, the 2-2-0 Well tank, has been receiving a heavy gear/drive overhaul over the past year. Therefore, she has not be undertaking her usual roles as Station Pilot or as 'Fergus' for the various Thomas Days. Instead, she has been taking it easy in the shed, being carefully worked on by her loving owner and a few willing volunteers. I always find her to be a very interesting machine, completely unlike anything I've ever seen before. She is planned to return to action at the annual Steam Gala on March 17th/18th, appearing alongside "Sir Gomer" as well as special guests 3803 (from South Devon of course) and the immaculate Black 5 4-6-0 No45379, which is coming from the Mid Hants Railway for a short visit (don't miss that one!). Below, "Blue Circle" basks in the winter sun at the south end of the Loco Works...this is now her allotted, private parking space...
Anyway, back to me. Having removed both clacks and relevant pipework with Adrian, I retired to ground level again, after nearly falling off the barrel many times! Hearing panting in the distance, I went round to the front of Sir G where I found Dan & Eddie sweeping some of the countless tubes (I "think" there are 164??) with a long brush. Dan handing the job to me before I could get a word in and so retired to the warmth of Pockets' brakevan, which had its popular stove lit. Myself and Eddie finished cleaning the tubes at just after 4pm, before heading home. What a day: lots of work done, alot of coffee drank and of course a great atmosphere. I left feeling happy with the days work, and eagerly anticipating the Steam Gala: it will be just fab! Seriously guys, I wouldn't miss that for the world...

Come along to the STEAM GALA on MARCH 17TH/18TH 2012. There will be an intensive timetable, a freight train each day, trade stands, a local train and a large O Gauge Model Railway at Market Bosworth. There will be at least 4 steam locomotives performing: 45379, 3803, Sir Gomer and Blue Circle. This will be the first time in preservation that a Stanier Class 5 has travelled along the old ANJR metals so do not miss out! Cheers guys, Sam...

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