Sunday, 17 June 2012

A Day In The Life of 3803...

Great Western Heavy Freight 2-8-0 No3803 (by M.Heseltine)
I've written many posts about the Great Western Heavy Freight 2-8-0 No3803, during her stay at the Battlefield Line. For this post, I thought I'd go for a full on 'Day in the Life' scenario. It will, without a doubt, be a long post but it should offer an insight into what goes on during one of the 2-8-0s regular outings at Shackerstone. With that, lets begin. 5:30am: Here I come, stumbling along Platform 1 in a tired daze and looking up at the threatening clouds above. Reaching for the increasingly hard to find lightswitch in the Staff Room, I end up dropping most of my kit onto the floor. No matter. Finding a pen (probably once of Argos ownership being only 2 inches long) I sign my name, member number, duty and time-on as usual. From here its a downward path to the loco shed. As I approach the works its walls creek as if being disturbed by the morning wind, prompting me to walk a little faster as I feel a chill on the June breeze. A key in the door turned swiftly 180-degrees to the right allows me access to the works where 3803 stands just inside the rusty metal door. Having been used yesterday (if briefly) the loco is still very warm and a quick glance at the pressure gauge from ground level reveals 40psi remaining - good stuff. Having changed I clamber up onto the footplate and examine the water level - 4/5 of a glass. Now its time to check the firebox. Luckily, all is well and the few remaining ashes from yesterdays fire can be removed easily with the long iron & bent dart. A strong bed of coal 1-lump thick and a pile of dry wood are then dropped onto the grate. Using three carefully placed parrafin-soaked rags the wood is soon set ablaze...
6:05am: With a good wood fire burning in the box you can begin adding coal when you feel the fire is strong enough to get it alight. Adding coal before the wood has properly taken can either put the fire out or reduce it to a small glow with the result releasing very little heat. In the case of today, 3803 began singing almost straight away and stuck at 40psi rather than dropping down.
3803's Fire Is Alight
Soon enough, the locomotive started to make steam. As we were not due off shed until 9am I decided not to use the blower straight away. Adding more coal when it was gradually required I soon had a small coal fire burning. My usual method is to build up the fire towards the back 1/2 of the box and make this section strong. All the time, the fire is gradually burning the coal in front of it, soon reaching the front of the firebox. Sometimes it is necessary to use the long-iron to push some hot embers forward to get the front-most coal going. Whilst the engine sang away I decided to fill the isolated Hydrostatic Lubricator. This is done by draining the chamber of water before adding more Steam Oil. Once a strong level of oil (a full chamber) is achieved then the top is replaced. The lubricator will later be used to oil the regulator and cylinders. 6:30am: Trainee Fireman James arrived as I made a welcome cup of tea. We then had a chat about the day ahead and recent events at the railway. Meanwhile, the 1939-built 38xx continued to create steam outside the Machine Shop, in the Running Shed.
The View Over Your Cuppa' - Impressive, Ay?!
7:00am: The locomotive is now warming up nicely and Driver Eddie duly arrived. The three of us then set about oiling up the engine. The 2-8-0 has a variety of oiling points on everything from the 16 axleboxes to the Stephenson valve gear. There are also various oil pots on top of the running boards and underneath too. Oiling up this beast tends to take at least an hour if all is going well. Myself & James went around the outside motion and the external boxes whilst Eddie clambered inside the frames to oil the motion, 6 of the axleboxes and to grease the pony-pin. During the oiling process we also carry out various visual checks on the engine to make sure nothing is falling off, broken, lost or damaged. The Leaf Springs are one of 3803s regular 'injuries' and so we often check them to make sure all is well. With everything oiled up we turned our minds to ashing her out. The fire was now fully ablaze and well under way with no blower on and only the centre damper open. By now she had 100psi on the clock.

Raising Steam

The ashpan on 3803 is a hopper type. This allows it to open fully from underneath, thus effectively dropping the ash. 8:30am: With all three dampers open (to allow the interlocking doors to release), myself & Eddie began wrenching the opening handle. Nothing. In fact, we began to wonder if there was any ash in there. One more significant push was rewarded by a mammoth cloud of ash and soot from, well, everywhere! Having shook the pan a few times we locked it up before dusting off the engine. Two of the dampers were then also dropped to prevent us 'bringing the loco round' too quickly (too much expansion all in one go is not fabulous for your boiler and its components). It was now time for another cuppa' before returning to the footplate to check all was well again. 140psi on the clock and a glowing fire allowed us to carefully move the engine out of the shed and into the so-called yard (now our prep area, as of the last few years). Here, 3803 was scotched (not chocked...thats for planes) and screwed down on the handbrake. It was now time to clean the engine, with help from Dave.
A Western On Midland Rails - 3803
One thing that was a little odd about this morning was that our booked 'Footplate Experience' participants hadn't turned up. Normally they get to the shed at about 8am but 45 minutes later than this there was still no sign of them. Luckily, as I walked down towards the North End yard in search of them, a modern Ford creation came into view. "Phew". After greeting the Foot-Ex people we took our 'Driver' down to the loco yard to see 3803 and undertake the usual Safety Briefing and Control Explanation - told today by Eddie. 9:00am: We steamed out of Shackerstone (light engine) for the usual familiarisation trip to Market Bosworth. The line was quiet but scenic, with the weater seemingly trying to pick-up a bit. Back at Shack we coupled up to the currently 4-coach long train before running all the way to Shenton. Here, we ran round before getting ready to head for home.
10:25am: The Footplate Experience Driver certainly seemed to enjoy himself. Eddie offered continuous instruction and encouragement; as is the usual practise; throughout the journey.
10:45am: Arrival back at Shackerstone's Platform 2. The locomotive was in her usual fine form and was steaming brilliantly on minimal fire. The engine was then pulled into Platform 1 for photographs and the usual handing over of the Certificate and other paperwork. This is where we bid goodbye to our Footex Participants as they join the train for a bite to eat.
Creeping Through The Points at Shackerstone's North End
Having completed a successful Foot-Ex we took 3803 over the cross-over before being given the signal to drop down onto the stock for the first run of the day. The sun was just starting to come out and our worries about having to put the sheet on slowly began to subside. At 11:15, we pulled away with the first run to Shenton. 3803 was steaming well on a fairly level fire with only the centre damper being used. For alot of the journey you could run with the doors open and the flap up to provide a little more top-air. This would see the loco holding around 215psi for minute after minute, and 3/4 of a glass of water. All you had to do was fill holes in where they appeared and she would be as nice as pie (for now!).
Away From Far Coton, Towards Shenton
During this first run the sun finally begain to shine and we enjoyed some warm spells whilst running tender-first. 11:30am: The sun is high in the sky as we chuff around onto the Shenton Embankment, with the well known Flag of the Boar flying proudly in the distance. Driver Eddie shut-off as we approached the straight, allowing 3803 to coast the rest of the way. The track here descends to Shenton Station and the end of the line, with the train being slowed on the vacuum brake to prevent anything 'running away'. When everything is going well with the loco, you sometimes get a chance to look out and admire the view. Well, the Fireman does anyway - the Driver is always concentrating. The Battlefield Line is at the heart of rural England and thus, on a run like this, it shows itself to be beautifully scenic. Shenton Embankment; particularly since the D-Veg team have been working in this area lately; is very pretty.
11:42am: 3803 has been uncoupled and driven into the headshunt. The points have then be switched to allow her access into the run-round loop. We will now run-round onto the front of the train ready for the returning 11:50 journey to Shackerstone.
3803 at Sunny Shenton (by M.Heseltine)
11:50am: We depart Shenton with two paying 'Footplate Pass' holders joining us in the cab. One is a Gift whilst the other is the chance to fulfill one of the those lifelong dreams. 3803 steamed beautifully on the way back to Shackerstone, chuffing past never-ending rolling fields and of course alongside the Ashby Canal. Back at Shackerstone we ran round again before catching a cuppa' from 'Jessie' (the Buffet Car). Our return run to Shenton saw Trainee James rejoin us as one of the footplate riders was taking a walk near Shackerstone with his family. This run was equally good, though the fire was beginning to clinker a little as we pulled out of Market Bosworth. Sure enough, the forgiving nature of 3803 saw us get to Shenton with little hassle. 12:55pm: Whilst Eddie & James sorted the coupling out, I used the bent dart to free up a large sheet of clinker that had formed on the back 1/4 of the grate. Having broken up this clinker there was little fire left at the rear of the box so I had to rebuild it using fresh coal asap. We had 2/3 of a glass and 200psi once again when 3803 rejoined the front of the train for the trip back. As I say, she is very forgiving. To be honest, she hasn't really let us down at all since arriving from the SDR in March 2011. It'll be a shame to see her go...(when she goes)...
1:03pm: The fire is now burning brightly again and, for some reason, the back damper was operating much better than normal so we decided to use that rather than the centre one on the way back. This would theoretically allow much more air through the back end of the fire (which is often thicker than the rest) than is possible with the centre damper only, thus hopefully giving better draft and reducing the risk of more clinker.
Driver Eddie Larking About On 3803
1:07pm: Slightly late, but off we go back towards Shackerstone: 5 miles to the north. But, in what seems like no time at all (actually an hour) we are back at Shenton for the 4th time today.
3803 at Shenton With The 1:45pm From Shack
2:55pm: The engine needed water after her 4th return trip to Shenton and back. So, having buffered up to the train and coupled on, we decided to take a thousand gallons.
3803 Cab

Whilst I was up on the tender of 3803, Dave was in the shed mixing water treatment for her. This was soon poured into her tender and with 2000 gallons on the gauge we decided we had enough on board. Due to taking water we were now about 5 minutes down, though we did make some up by accelerating swiftly out of Shackerstone. 3803 was still in fine form as we chugged down the line, proving her worth as usual. After a long whistle on the approach to Market Bosworth we pulled up in the semi-populated platform. A few people joined the train and the Guard got ready to wave his flag and give us the 'Right Away'. However, just as he went to raise his arm he was stopped. Apparently more passengers wanted to join the train. However, we had lost another 5 minutes by the time they had made it to us. 3803 sat feathering loudly in the platform as, before the wait, the fire had been made up for the climb out of the station and on through Far Coton towards Shenton.
3803 Waits Inpatiently At Bosworth
3:30pm: The locomotive moves off the train at Shenton ready for the run-round. The sun had returned by this point, having been mixed with some rain showers during the afternoon.
3:55pm: By now, though still late, we were romping along the line away from Hedleys and up towards the top of the bank before descending into Shackerstone.
Chugging Away from Hedleys
4:00pm: Arrival at Shackerstone
Driver Eddie Bringing 3803 Into Shackerstone
5:05pm: Back at Hedleys again and 3803 is climbing back towards home for the last time today. Dave joined us on this run and is spotted on the Firemans side with Eddie on the regulator. Dave fired this trip whilst I enjoyed the scenary.
5:30pm: The locomotive is back in the shed safe & sound. Her fire is almost dead, her boiler is full and she has around 120psi of steam on the clock. She is handbraked and scotched with the drain taps open, the regulator closed and the mid-gear position assumed. That'll do for today. 12 hours and 66 miles or so after it began, the day is done. 3803 had performed very well indeed and I think myself, Eddie and James all had an enjoyable day on her footplate.
Trainee James, Driver Eddie and Fireman Me on 3803 (by M.Heseltine)
I hope you have enjoyed this insight into a day on the footplate at the Battlefield Line through the Fireman's eyes. I have tried to include as much detail and interest as possible - whether it worked or not I don't know! Sometimes I feel like we take for granted what we get to do almost every weekend but, by writing these posts, I hope I can share some of it with others. Cheers guys. Sam...

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