Saturday, 22 December 2012

Last Day on 3803?...

Noel, Noel! I arose on this typically British winter morning to find persistant rain falling down. Looking out of the window at 4:30am everything looked quite hideous, and I didn't really fancy going out in it for the day! However, dutie calls, and at 5:20am I was stood in the pouring rain under the illumination of the Saxo's headlights, unlocking the Shackerstone gates. Driving along the old trackbed through the dense darkness I could see the one floodlight on the station approach shining away. I parked up on Platform 1, attempting to get as close as I could to the shed. I left the Saxo in the gloom under the footbridge and hurried to the signing on room to pen the book. From there it was a soaking wet dash through the dark to the engine shed, almost throwing my keys into the lock to get in as quickly as possible. There was a sigh of relief as I stumbled into the works, with 3803 stood directly in front of me. After changing into my overalls I clambered up onto the footplate and checked the water level: 3/4 of a glass. The steam pressure stood at a healthy 40psi and the firebox was tight with only glowing embers left from yesterdays warming fire. Next came a very important job: warming my soup. Slightly cracking a tin of Heinz soup and placing it on top of the manifold works wonders and, within 90 minutes or so, your soup is piping hot and cooked right through. 90 minutes?!, I hear you say. Well, when you are prepping a loco that time flies by!

With all well, I raked out what was left of the warming fire and then put the usual bed of coal down, 1-lump thick. We are now on Welsh coal, rather than the Russian stuff we have used for the last year or two. The new coal is larger and has even more slack, though it smokes alot less. With the bed down, a good pallet's worth of wood was thrown in as well as a couple of lit parrafin-soaked rags. The inferno was soon under way and 3803 began singing.
Having been cleaned yesterday the locomotive was already more than presentable and so we were alright on that front. I drained and filled the hydrostatic lubricator and also began going around the locomotive with the oil feeder. Driver Eddie arrived at 7:15am.
Having been lit early, the engine was making steam very well. With no blower on and only the dampers open the loco had reached full pressure by just gone 8:30am, showing the importance of a good warming fire. There she sat, feathering at the valves outside the shed with a quiet fire and a well filled boiler. By 9:15am we were over on the train and steam heating, cooking the breakfast on the shovel in the meantime...Yum!

Today the railway was again running its 'Santa Special' trains, with departures from Shackerstone at 10am, Midday, 2pm and 4pm. The trains were relatively well filled, with the two middle trains being the busiest. Due to the increase in bookings on certain trains, a 7th coach had been added to the set, making the train 'just' short enough to fit our current infrastructure. For example, at Shenton the train could only just fit in the loop in order to leave room for the loco to run round. As far as the extra 30 tons or so of weight was concerned, 3803 took it all in her stride and pulled the trains admirably. The braking was certainly easier with the extra coach, though something was definately dragging somewhere, perhaps a brake cylinder not releasing properly.
3803 Outside The Shed
The weather today was just awful; the worst we've had on a footplate turn in a while. However, with the weather sheet protecting the back of the cab and with our overalls and winter jumpers on we got through OK. The main problem was the rain getting the back of your jacket because you never seem to be able to dry out on a footplate...believe it or not.
A Roaring Fire & Tea On The Tray
The more observant of you will have noticed the 'Last Day on 3803' title. Well, though we aren't sure yet, myself & Eddie predicted that this would probably be our last go on this locomotive whilst she is at Shackerstone. Yes, sadly, having arrived in March 2011, 3803 is due to leave us again in March 2013, just after the closed season. She will take part in the remaining Santa's as well as being in steam on New Years Day for the Mince Pie Trains. Following this we have our usual 2-month closed season. The loco's very last weekend with us will be the 2013 Steam Gala over the weekend of March 16th/17th. The Sunday will of course be her very last day on the railway. With only a couple of steaming days left before she goes, we guessed we should make the most of today with the old gal'. All joking aside, though she is a Western, she has been a reliable, powerful and attractive performer whilst on the Battlefield Line and has completed a few thousand miles here during her 2-year stay. We will miss her I'm sure.
During the day we were kept well watered by both the rain and the staff on the Buffet Car 'Jessie', with tea arriving on the footplate at regular intervals...just what you want on a day like today ;) . I fired the first two round trips before getting a chance to drive on the 3rd one: the 2pm. The old girl moves away gracefully and is quite responsive on her heavy regulator. Despite the poor weather conditions she was remarkably sure footed and moved away easily with the 7 coaches on each start off. It has honestly been a pleasure to have the chance to fire and especially, to drive this locomotive during her stay. I never thought I'd get the chance to drive anything quite this BIG(!), let alone on a regular basis ;)
We did have a minor problem during the day...one of the drain cocks kept getting stuck open. It turned out that the plunger was simply getting stuck inside the main body, and a quick wiggle with the spanner soon cured the problem.
The Culprit Drain Cock
After a successful day including a spirited, spark ejecting last run we retired 3803 to the shed for one last time. Finally we had a rather vain and self obsessed crew photograph with the loco to signify our potential last day...
All in all guys, a very successful day indeed and very enjoyable. Thanks to Eddie and everyone at Shackerstone for another good time. The Britannia wannabe with her huge substitute whistle had performed well and we had kept pretty much to time...all good stuff. Well, thanks for reading guys...Merry Christmas. Sam.

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