Monday, 2 January 2012

Post No1 of 2012: Firing Exam No2 on 3803...

Hello everyone. Welcome back, and a Happy New Year to you all! Today I was rostered as Fireman (under examination) on the GWR Heavy Freight 2-8-0 No3803 at Shackerstone. I arrived alone at 7am and, after parking as near as possible to the station, I began the walk. Dear me, I have never been so on edge in my entire life! I was on my own on site at this point due to my driver (John) having car trouble and therefore running late. Anyway, through the darkness I trotted with every noise seeming repulsively loud and shaking me to the core! But, thankfully, I made it to the loco shed and locked myself in. Turning on the lights, the chilly loco shed slowly began to illuminate. Right next to me stood "Sir Gomer", coupled to which was the very clean Heavy Freight. Clambering up onto the footplate, I discovered a dry firebox (always good) and 3/4 of a glass of water. Unusually, there was no pressure on the gauge whatsoever. Normally you get around 30/40psi at least but today there was nothing. Odd. Anyway, having cleaned the grate I lit the loco up using a pile of dry wood and parrafin rags on a bed of coal 1-lump thick. I will admit, though there was no steam, the loco began 'singing' the moment the fire took hold. Obviously there must have been some 'latent steam' in the boiler still. John thankfully arrived at around 8:15am and we then had a cuppa' before sharing the oiling. Having steamed up very quickly, we were in the platform by 10:15!...
The first of the four trains was not due out until 11:15 and as the Electric-Train-Heating (ETH) system had been connected to the 5 coaches we decided to sit in Platform 1 'on display' and have another cuppa'. 3803 looked well, shining brightly from top to bottom. Driver John is spotted off-guard on the footplate of 3803 enjoying a coffee and a ham cob (sorry mate!)...
As we sat, 3803 simmered away quietly with 210psi on the clock and an almost full boiler. The fire was doing well and with the firehole doors open we kept pretty warm under the recently fitted 'weather sheet'...
We moved around onto the train at around 10:50am, allowing the ETH to be disconnected and steam heating to begin. Within minutes, the coaches were pouring out steam from all areas, giving off their usual 'authentic winter look'. On time at 11:15, the 'Right Away' came from the Guard. 3803 stuck to 200psi all the way there, though I felt a little rusty on the shovel. The best of us have the odd 'bad day' but today seemed a little worrying; for want of a better word. On the way back, with the steam heat running, she had trouble keeping above 180psi but I couldn't see any problems in the box. The grate was covered and there were no holes. All I put it down to was 'under-firing' in the end. So, on the next outward trip I made another attempt. Again, she didn't want to play ball, and neither did she on the way back. At Shackerstone after the 2nd run, I raked the back-end throughly with the 'bent dart'. The pressure gauge rose almost instantly and black smoke began pouring from the chimney. It was obvious that the back-end had clinkered up. Having cleared the sheets of clinker, I pulled them back under the door and then added new coal on top. On the next run, 3803 steamed like a gem. She feathered for most of the way and the water level remained strong. It just shows what clinker can do! At Shenton, 3803 faces 'home' before we depart...
With the 'Right Away' received, away we go. The newly-added coal is beginning to ignite as we pull away. Soon enough, the exhaust will turn to grey with the addition of exhausted steam...
The return run on the 3rd trip was also very good; 3803 even blew off (thats never happened to me before on this engine!). Arriving back into Shackerstone we halted, uncoupled and then ran round before recoupling asap. We then almost immediately got the 'Right Away' with 1/3 of a glass of water, hardly any fire and 180psi of steam - I had just not had chance to touch anything at all with the coupling up. I joke you not, the words "Oh My God" did cross my mind as we began pulling away. Looking in the box, it was clear what needed doing: She wanted the whole grate covering with a light layer and then an extra few shovels thrown to the top of the slope where the rocker-grate begins. So, with time of the essence, I began. Three shovels under the door, three shovels forward of that, four shovels at the top of the slope and then three shovels at the front followed by three more half way down the rocker-grate. I then added 2 futher shovelfull's to the top of the slope before checking for holes. One more shovelfull just under the door filled the final hole and so I shut the door and crossed my fingers. The exhaust; as the regulator was open; turned grey very quickly as my eyes trained on the pressure gauge. I need not have worried though as by Hedley's when John shut off for the slack, the loco blew off again: Thank goodness! So, it was time to fill the boiler and increase the steam heat. By Shenton, everything was fine again. I am very pleased that I managed to save the situation with such a poor start from Shack but, that is the Firemans job afterall! At Shenton, 3803 prepares for departure on the last returning trip...Coal has just been added to the firebed, hence the dark smoke...
Today was the railway's 'Mince Pie Flyer' special. Trains had also operated yesterday and on New Years Eve, though the latter saw services operated by the 'Bubblecar'. As it was the last returning trip of the day, we got the last 4 Mince Pies..."YUM"! Leaving Shenton on the last trip, we had a thin but covering fire, an almost full boiler and steam heat on with 215psi 'on the clock': very pleasant. I just filled the holes on this trip, in an attempt to run the engine down. I made the fire up a bit at the Market Bosworth stop before John gave 3803 some stick up through the woods to Airport Bridge (very nice!). At the Hedley's slack I only added 1 more shovelfull of coal and 3803 took us back into Shack with 180psi and the injector running. The fire was enough to get us into the shed but wouldn't take much raking out to get rid of in a hurry: just right! We signed off after our eventful day at 4:30pm with the Heavy Freight simmering away with a brimmed boiler and very little fire left. Guess what?: The back-end had clinkered again and it took some heavy scraping with the bent dart to clear it! However, though I had been a little rusty on the first 2 trips, the latter 2 had proven very enjoyable for me. John passed me again so thats all that counts! ^_^ . However, I also hope that John had an enjoyable day with us. Furthermore, I hope that Phil and Caroline had a nice time with us on the engine when they rode during the afternoon. Thanks for reading everyone and, again, Happy New Year. The Battlefield Line is now in its 'winter sleep' stage until early March when steam trains will return, and a surprise guest will appear at the Steam Gala. Keep your eyes peeled for that beauty... ;)

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