Hi everyone. Today I was at CMES for a few hours, driving 0-4-0 5" gauge Sweet Pea "John H Owen". As of this year the club has been offering the railway for hire for Birthday parties, in association with the country park. Bookings have been coming in steadily but this was the first actual date that we had a party coming. The running time was 1:30pm until 2:30pm, according to the roster. I arrived at just after Midday and began prepping the little steam engine. Crackling away with a good wood fire in the box she came round relatively quickly and sat simmering on the prep road.
The weather up until now had been relatively warm and sunny. However this soon turned cold, wet and windy...at dead on 1:30pm! The rain fell heavily, soaking everything - particularly the rails. The two trains were squeezed together underneath the Station's overall roof to try and keep the trucks dry. The format for the event was to give as many rides as we could during the 1-hour slot, using "John Owen" with myself driving. The Class 37 (with 2 cars) would then be driven by the Birthday Girl; supervised by a CMES member of course. The 37's train was protected using an Emergency Stop switch fitted to the rear truck. If anything went wrong then hitting that switch would cut power to the loco immediately. Luckily, all seemed well today!
As we waited for the rain to ease and for the party to arrive, the Pea simmered away quietly. With the blower just cracked and 3/4 of a glass in the boiler she would sit quite happily with her safety valves feathering lightly. Opening the firedoor just a tad would prevent full blowing off if you wanted it to.
Sure enough, through the rain they came and the party duly arrived. There were about 20 children, which were supervised by a group of at least 12 adults. This doesn't seem like many but it is when trying to fit them all under one roof! Pete soon gave the briefing and we began. The 37 headed off with the Birthday girl driving and Pete on the back with the E-Stop. Meanwhile, "John Owen" was ready to go with a full load of 3 cars and a Guard's truck.
I could see that the rails ahead were very wet indeed, and covered in rust. With the rain still lightly falling we decided to risk it and with the 'Right Away' received I cracked the regulator. Nothing. A little more and the Pea edged forward before slipping violently. Shutting off instantly and opening up again got her going but notching up was a complete no-no until you got the weight moving at walking pace. Notching up seemed to cause even more slipping if carried out too early. With momentum behind us I could leave the regulator around 1/3 open and notch up to 2nd notch. Crossing the bridge you could give her 1/2 regulator and 3rd notch with her barking well and gripping nicely. Once off the bridge the train would push you (as expected) down the slope, across the Bendy Beam and on towards the Carriage sheds. This is a good time to check the fire, add coal if necessary and of course add water using the Crosshead pump(s). The foot of the bank soon came into view and I was aware that any excessive slipping would stop us dead. Stopping of course would mean pushing as the Pea would never start on a 1 in 70 with this load and on soaking rails. With the fire built up and 70psi on the clock I put the loco into full forward gear and left her with just over 1/3 of regulator. On her own she plodded up the bank, slowing as she did so. Anymore regulator and she would slip so there was no point even trying to keep up line-speed. Nearing the top she slipped violently but I was determined to keep her going even if it meant crawling over the summit at a snails-pace. Sure enough she clambered over the top with the train almost at a standstill BUT still moving! The loco could then be taken back to 3rd notch again for the less taxing run back to Ryton Halt where we exchanged our first load for an even heavier one. Good lord what a slog. Nevertheless the loco never needed a push throughout her 8 or so laps on this very wet afternoon. The one time we stopped in section was due to a passenger car error.
I am always very impressed with how well this little engine steams, pulls and recovers. She is a great asset to the club in my eyes. The Birthday party seemed to go off well despite the weather and I think a good time was had by all...I certainly enjoyed it! I'll next be at CMES for their next Birthday event on July 8th and driving (you guessed it) "John Owen". Cheers guys. Sam...