Hi guys. Again, with the chance to get out of the house at hand, I took it and spent a day on the footplate at Shackerstone. The day began at 5am in pouring autumn rain. I picked Pockets up on the way and we drove down the soaking wet Fen Lanes to Shack. At the shed we found our charge for the day: the Prairie Tank 5521. This engine was one of our gala guests but has not yet been 'claimed back' shall we say. Apparently her owners at the Flour Mill have no room for her at the minute and so she has lingered at the back of the shed at Shackerstone. Alot of our guys weren't that impressed with her performances, though myself, Aid and Dave had a good day with her at the Steam Gala (see here). We had arrived early so as to be ready in good time for a Foot-Ex, which normally begins by leaving shed at 9am. Andy got the fire going whilst I began oiling up. We also had cleaning help from James. The Prairie began warming through quietly whilst I clambered around in the pit, attempting to reach the countless oiling points underneath, up and inside the loco (she is throughbred GWR!).
We left shed on time on the Foot-Ex and it wasn't too bad. However, with the coming of the first public trip the trouble began. The engine uses water like nobodies business: 3/4 of a tank for a 10 mile round trip (without blowing off I might add!). Also, the valves need work as she has a very ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR beat to her. Well, the last beat is more of a cough really. Three years on the Polish main line has probably done that. Another thing, the steam heat. We turned it on and it makes all the right noises, before the cab and loco become engulfed with steam from a leak below the floor. We had to turn the steam heat off just to see the Guard's right away signal. Furthermore, the engine has a Pannier blast pipe meaning she sucks and drafts like mad on the move, but the blower is no longer fed through a ring...its fed through the ejector housing. Therefore, you get alot of noise for not alot of blower and that uses alot of steam and water for a blower system, most of which actually seems to heat the petticoat and come back down again. The drafting system isn't aided by a self cleaning smokebox screen which, to me, doesn't seem at home on a Small Prairie.
Throughout the day the engine steamed terribly. Due to the blower arrangement it won't make steam with the regulator shut very well. You can sit for quite a long time with the blower on and all you seem to do is use water. On the run she drafts well and will come round quickly with a good fire, though its very coal hungry with that sharp draft from the smaller diameter blastpipe. It also, again, uses the water due to the valves. We never ran too short of steam or water, keeping a good pace all day. However, it just wasn't... comfortable, shall we say. Andy gave me a break after the 2nd trip (as I'd already fired 1.5 trips for the Foot-ex) giving me two trips on the regulator. I returned to the shovel for the last trip which was of course in the dead of night. The Prairie steamed better on the outward run but wouldn't rise above 160psi on the way back no matter what we did. She was rife with clinker all day, having to be raked every 1/2 trip to steam at all. I must admit, I was glad to get the engine safely to bed. I remembered why I liked it at the gala...I had an hour to prep it before every 1/2 trip! I'm sure that it can be a good engine but, I'm also sure that it needs a fair old amount of work. The blower system in particular is dissapointing, and in my mind it probably would have been better with the old blastpipe staying in. Mind you, maybe we've been spoilt by 5786 and 5542...they were beauties. Oh well, we still had a laugh and, wierdly, it is "nice" to be on an engine that is a challenge. Cheers guys. Sam.