Sunday, 17 November 2013

"Sir Gomer" Goes to London...

Hi guys. On Tuesday, the freshly painted Peckett "Sir Gomer" left Shackerstone bound for London. She was off to fulfil another hire commitment; this time at the Epping Ongar Railway on the outskirts of the capital. The Epping Ongar Railway operates between North Weald and Ongar, a distance of around 3.5 miles. Formerly a Great Eastern Railway branch line, the route later became part of London Underground's Central Line, which eventually closed the section in 1994. Between 2004 & 2007, a fledgling EOR volunteer group attempted to revive the line using a Class 117 DMU. In 2007, the railway changed ownership again and has since come on leaps & bounds. The line now owns 4953 "Pitchford Hall" and Prairie No4141, as well as a lot of other rolling stock and heritage diesels. Today, the busy preserved line runs regularly and offers heritage bus connections with Epping's London Underground station. Since reopening in May 2012 after a 5-year closure, the line has been an enormous success and has even won the prestigious 'Heritage Railway of the Year' Award. Steam services operate between North Weald and Ongar, over a steeply graded line. There is also another steep section between North Weald and Coopersale which is operated by the diesel locomotives or the 'Thumper' unit as there is no run-round loop there. A steam shortage at the EOR: thanks to 4953's 10-year ticket expiring and 4141's annual ticket up for renewal: "Sir Gomer" was offered and the engine was on service today. Myself and Jason went down as 'Engine Rep's to see how the 0-6-0 would perform on this challenging line. We arrived at the EOR's base of North Weald at around 8am, after travelling just over 100 miles...
The plain black Peckett was sitting happily on the shed road, which has a fantastic new pit. The locomotive was coming around nicely on this chilly morning, ready for a hard days work. Just over the way stood an old friend: Class 03 170: which used to be based at Shackerstone and has shunted "Sir Gomer" around a fair few times...
Whilst "Sir Gomer" steamed up, myself & Jason had a look around the yard. An impressive Class 37 diesel stood in front of GWR Large Prairie Tank No4141, built in 1946 and formerly based at the GCR...
"Sir Gomer" was prepped and coaled before being driven through North Weald Station and over into the opposite platform. The plain black livery and the shining brass dome gave the engine a completely different look. There is something to be said for the plain black look!...
"Sir Gomer" stands blowing off in North Weald's departure platform...
Driver Ken then took "Sir Gomer" forward onto the waiting Mk II stock...
There would be 4 steam hauled departures today, and also a few in the opposite direction using the 'Thumper'. The EOR had kindly allowed myself or Jason to ride on the footplate during the day, so we did 2 round trips each. I was on board for the first run...
With 3-coaches coupled up and a 'Right Away' from the Guard, away we went. The Peckett got the train away easily as we pulled under the footbridge and towards the single line section. Here, the track headed upgrade at about 1 in 70 for probably half a mile or so. You could see it stretching right out before us as we approached bunker-first. The valves were blowing and the fire was bright so Driver Ken went for it. The engine roared up the first climb, accelerating as she did so. Don't get me wrong, she was working very hard, but she didn't slow. Over the top and the regulator was shut and the injector on with smoke pouring from the now awakened fire, via the chimney. The line here descends on the approach to a 10mph slack before passing through Blake Hall Station which was closed in 1981 and is now a private residence. After Blake Hall there is another sharp climb before the regulator is shut for the leisurely coast downhill to Ongar, probably a good 2 miles or so from here. At a very busy Ongar station, "Sir Gomer" ran round promptly and the fire was made up for the return assault. With a Green Flag from the Guard the engine got the train underway again and ran at the climb. This was a strong climb, all the way up to the Blake Hall approach. "Sir Gomer" was struggling with steam but still managed to pull over the top. That was a hard climb for a retired industrial! We then coasted through Blake Hall before hitting the next stiff climb towards North Weald...
This railway is certainly challenging and "Sir Gomer" certainly made sure we knew it was. The Peckett coasted down into North Weald after a challenging first run of the day..."Phew"...(video by 'Pine Rocks')...

The engines fire was again made up at North Weald whilst she was watering up. The EOR was so busy today that 3-coaches just wasn't enough and another 2 were added. Luckily a Class 31 diesel was also added and the train became top-and-tailed. This was to reduce the stoppage time at Ongar as the people constantly boarding the train was gradually slowing the timetable down. I rode on the coaches for the second trip whilst Jason rode on the engine. The loco was aided by the Class 31 on the steep grades so we didn't have too much trouble. I rode out again on the 3rd trip and we were starting to get used to it all. Firing the front end more seemed to get the right results and the fourth trip came back with good levels of pressure, with "Sir Gomer" finding the whole job a lot easier! "We've cracked it!". I must admit, getting an industrial up hills like that with loads like that isn't as easy as it sounds. "Sir Gomer" is a very powerful engine indeed but industrials like her were built for brief slogs rather than long journeys. However, she acquitted herself very well and did us proud. Out of ticket 4953 "Pitchford Hall" stands at North Weald awaiting overhaul...
A vintage bus at North Weald: I think this is a really nice touch to a heritage railway...
I was very impressed with the Class 205 'Thumper' unit. This 2-car Unit has the same engine as a Class 73 so is 'English Electric' through and through. It sounded really nice chugging about the place, much better than the horrid normal DMU Leyland engines...
"Sir Gomer" captured at Ongar on the 3rd trip, before a strong assault...
"Sir Gomer" pulls into North Weald in failing light with 5-on and a Class 31 with the last trip...
Well, "Sir Gomer" has done very well once again and that's her fourth preserved railway visit so far. The engine has a few more steaming days planned at the brilliant Epping Ongar Railway before returning home, where she will be taking part in 'Santa' duties all being well. I'm booked out with "Sir Gomer" on December 23rd back at home..."See you then old girl". Cheers guys, Sam...

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