Monday, 4 June 2012

Hunslet Week Day 3: Open Top Quarry...

Morning all. Last night, following a look at "Winifred", myself and Eddie were chatting about the weather. Outside it was raining heavily and the wind was biting. The engine on roster for today was therefore planned to be "Maid Marian" but, with permission from Roger & Rob, we decided that IF the weather was fine then we would take the cabless "Alice". I must admit I wasn't holding out much hope but, sure enough, as dawn broke over the Welsh hills the clouds parted and the sun came out. So, at 8:30am when we opened up the shed we decided that we would indeed take "Alice". "Bob Davies": the diesel shunter: was soon fired up and we dragged "Maid Marian" (first in line) and "Alice" out into the morning sun. With "Marian" out of the way, Eddie shunted the coaching stock whilst I began prepping "Alice".
On Shed
The first job was to open up the smokebox and check/clean the tubes. Next I cleaned out the smokebox ash and then shut up the door. I then moved to the firebox end. On the Quarry Hunslets, the firebars used in the 2ft x 1ft firebox are small enough to be easily lifted out, allowing the old fire and ash to be pushed through by hand. This is normally a pretty quick task but the previous fire had happened to be severely clinkered. In the end I had to get the rake in to break it up before removing the larger sheets by hand. Eventually, the grate was clean and I could then ash her out. Finally, with 1/4 of a glass of water (the outside of the shed leaves the loco facing downgrade) I could light her up. I placed some dry wood in the box with some parrafin-soaked wood on top. I then used two soaking (with diesel) rags to get the fire going before adding more dry wood and then coal where applicable. Slowly but surely, as we cleaned her, "Alice" (of 1902) warmed up and came round. At 11:05am; 10 minutes before time; we were on the train and ready to go.
I'd never been on "Alice" before, though I have been on both of her working sister engines: "Holy War" and "Maid Marian". I was worried that the very much 'open' nature of the footplate would unnerve me a little but luckily I had only just spent a day on the cabless new-build Hunslet "Jack Lane" at Statfold. Leaving Llanuwchllyn on time with the 5-coach set, we descended the bank and picked up speed. "Alice" steamed beautifully and you could fire her very lightly (as I learnt as the day passed). She also seemed to ride better than her sisters: maybe its the lack of cab weight on the back axle? Who knows. Anyway, after a sunny chug along the side of Bala Lake we reached the terminus in good time and ran round.
The cabless nature of "Alice" does promote good views of both the countryside and the railway, in both directions. In the return direction, it also allows passengers a pretty good view of our activities on the footplate.
Romping Out of Bala
As usual, the views on the railway were at their best. The only problem was that each time I got the camera out the sun would go in! The lake was also very calm, almost too calm.
"Alice" romped along beautifully and we were soon back at Llangower (15 minutes from Bala). This little station is right on the lakeside and today it was quite busy with those either enjoying the views or doing a bit of the old watersport.
"Alice" On The Shores of Llyn Tegid at Llangower
Back at base (following a quick romp up the 1 in 70 bank), we ashed out, coaled, oiled and watered "Alice". We then got her onto the front of the 12:50 service before enjoying a cuppa' and a ham cob on the bench. "Alice" would sit simmering nicely at the end of the platform: quiet but content.
The rest of the day went just as good as the first trip did. "Alice" rode, pulled and steamed very well and I think we were both suitably impressed with her. The weather also remained good, with bursts of warm sun coupled with cloudly moments...but with no rain in sight! Train loadings also seemed very good, with alot of the runs only having a few seats remaining free...particularly in the open stock.
Driver Eddie Jones on "Alice"
At 5pm we arrived back at base with the final returning run. Having shut all of the windows in the closed stock and released the Guards handbrake, I gave Eddie the signal to shove the stock back into its shed. The 110-year old "Alice" was then taken back on shed for disposal. Within 15 minutes we were locking up the shed after a very successful day. We had had a very enjoyable day on "Alice" and, though we won't be on her tomorrow due to the impending rain, I'm glad we made the effort to get her out today. Tonight its off to Bala for a meal before returning to the footplate again tomorrow...but on "Maid Marian", not "Alice". "Alice", built in 1902, worked at the Dinorwic Quarries until 1960 and returned to steam in 1994 with a new boiler. She is now owned by Julian Birley: owner of "Winifred". I believe "Alice" was the name of the Quarryman's daughter but don't quote me! Cheers guys. Sam.

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