Sunday, 22 December 2013

3803 Christmas Finale...

Hi guys. Today was my final booked turn of 2013 aboard the GWR 2-8-0 No3803, at Shackerstone. The locomotive will be working our trains up until Tuesday and will then be retired for a week or so before a run on New Years Day. The crew aboard the 38xx today consisted of myself, Driver Brian and Trainee Fireman Richard. We all arrived at around 5:30am in hideous heavy rain. The howling wind was raging outside as we sheltered inside the engine shed. I immediately clambered aboard a still very warm 3803, who had around 30psi on the gauge from yesterdays exploits. The 2-8-0s firebox was dry and she had a strong water level, sat close to the top-nut. The next job is to do the unthinkable...climb into a hot firebox and clear out the ash on the grate. Some firemen tend to avoid this horrendous task by fumbling around with the fire-irons for a good while, but going inside yourself allows a more thorough check of internal parts such as stays, rivets, tubes, flues, fusibles and the brick arch to be carried out. With a brush in your hand, you can also sweep all of the ash: as quickly as possible: onto the rocking section of the grate and then evacuate promptly. It is very hot in there and you come out looking like you've just fell in the canal. But...these are the things we do for the love of steam engines!

With the water strong, the firebox dry and the grate cleared, it was time to light the fire. As usual, a 1-lump thick bed of coal was added across the grate to stop cold air coming through, as well as to give the flames 'something to bite on'. We then had a few bits of dry wood to pile on top, probably about a pallet's worth in total. The wood was then doused in paraffin before a handful of dirty cleaning rags were added to get the fire burning. "3 2 1...Ignition!". Immediately the fire roared into life and was given a minute or so to get going before coal was added. My technique with the 38', particularly when she's already hot, is to take my time. You want to take as much heat from the wood as possible and get the coal burning well before you lose it. I wait until the wood is burning brightly and then black it out with a mound of coal. The flames will just be creeping through once you've added around 6 or 7 good shovelful's. Leave this to burn with the back damper open and no blower and then return at regular intervals to check. Adding more coal will eventually create a burning wedge in the box and this can then be gradually edged forward using the long-iron to catch the rest of the coal further down the grate. I try to avoid using the blower for as long as possible as we don't want to bring these big engines around too quickly. Quicker expansion equals more potential boiler or firebox damage. Here, the wedge is roaring away...
"Fire in the Hole"
Gradually, with the good wedge at the back being slowly edged forwards, the 38' made pressure. The steam levels certainly seemed to creep up well with no blower at all. The baffle plate should be fitted before use of the blower begins anyhow. The engine came around beautifully with very little coaxing. I must admit I am very impressed with this Russian coal we are using at the minute. It produces high heat levels, obviously due to its high carbon content, though it is quite smoky. By 8:15am, fully oiled and with around 200psi on the clock, the 38' steamed over onto Platform 2 road to begin heating the 10am classic train. Even now she was only on marginal blower to keep the smoke out of the cab. The Peckett was also in full steam, heating the 11:30am Deluxe train. "My my we were on the ball today!"...
"Sir Gomer on Carriage Warming"
With time to spare, I decided to decorate 3803. The engine carried tinsel, beads and bells which is just what the customer ordered on 'Santa Special' days. The engine was also very clean with the barrel having been polished and the brass-work buffed up. Todays 5 trains were most enjoyable, with the new timetable of 3 x Classic runs and 2 x Deluxe runs being in operation once again...
I fired the first and fourth trips, with Richard doing the rest under my supervision. Richard is one of the railways very competent trainees and will no doubt be passed out in his role as a Fireman quite shortly. Below, 3803 stands at Market Bosworth with the fully-booked 1pm Classic...
I think all but the last of todays trains was fully booked, and even the one that wasn't was almost full! This year certainly seems to have been a success for the railway, and rightly so. Below, the 2:30pm Deluxe stands at Shenton following a slightly late arrival...
"Festive 38"
The 4pm Classic: our last trip: was, as usual, taken in complete darkness. This is always a festive experience and most enjoyable. Following this, 3803 was retired to the loco shed for disposal after a long and busy day. Best Regards, Sam...

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