Sunday, 15 December 2013

A Cracking Christmas on 3803...

Evening all. Today was a very enjoyable day. Myself, Eddie and Jamie were booked to crew 3803 at Shackerstone today, as part of the on-going "Santa Special" season. The GWR 2-8-0 has put in some good performances so far, but at present I've only ridden on the Santa's behind her as a Steward. This morning I was very much looking forward to returning to the footplate as myself & Jamie arrived at Shackerstone at 5:45am. Having opened the gates we drove along the gloomy driveway towards the station. I had a lot of kit with me today and it almost felt like I was moving in to the engine shed for the week! A new item of kit was my own firing shovel, which I have had in storage for about 5 years now and never gotten around to actually bringing it with me...a curse laid down by other versions being available! Also, as the trains would conclude their operations in darkness, I brought along my BR Bardic lamp (a multi-aspect railway torch for those not in the know) and my never yet tried out BR (W) Gauge Glass Lamp. Struggling into the engine shed laden with plastic bags and various other implements, the bulk of 3803 stood in front of us. The heat from her boiler and cylinders was readily apparent, and a far cry from the chilly wind outdoors. Having got changed, we began the preparation procedure. The engine still had 10psi on the gauge, and a strong water level, sat at about 3/4 of a glass. Jamie cleared the remains of yesterdays fire using the fire-irons and the rocking grate, before adding a bed of fresh coal. A strong dose of flaming paraffin rags was then added, topped off by a pile of wood. "Contact"!...
The 38' began singing almost instantly as she was still very hot from yesterdays run. The 1939-built 2-8-0 was well on her way when Eddie arrived. Eddie then began oiling up: a seemingly never ending task on a Great Western engine with countless oiling points across its entire anatomy. She's thirsty on oil too...particularly in the axleboxes. Perhaps the most important oiling point is located in the cab: the Hydrostatic Lubricator, which is typical of Swindon designs. I often do the lubricator as soon as I get in as the less steam on the gauge the better. This is also the only lubrication point on the engine that uses the thick Steam Oil, with all of the other points being done in standard Bearing Oil. With oiling well under way, the three of us then ashed the engine out. It was then a case of cleaning the old gal' whilst Eddie filled the final few pots inside the frames.

Today the railway was trialling a new timetable, which was to include an extra, additional 'Santa' service. The new train: the "Santa Deluxe": is a kind of upgrade from the "Classic Santa", and is formed of completely different coaches. One is Compartment Stock, the other is made up of Standard Open's. Today would be the first day that the "Deluxe" service would operate, though it will now join the elder service on every operating day until the last Santa day, on Christmas Eve. The new service has already proved very popular, with many being sold out. The new timetable would see three Classic services and two Deluxe services leaving Shackerstone at 90-minute intervals, all hauled by 3803. To keep one set fully heated whilst the other was down the line, and to ensure a smooth changeover for the big Western between runs, the railways trusty Peckett "Sir Gomer" was in action too, as 'Station Pilot'. The plain black liveried 0-6-0 is more than capable of this relatively easy task. At 9:45am, the two engines are spotted at Shackerstone with 3803 ready and waiting to depart with the 10am Classic train...
As the engine was still relatively 'cold': a term used very lightly on a steam locomotive carrying 225psi of steam in its boiler: I fired slightly heavier on the first run. However, 3803 proved that she didn't need coaxing and proceeded to blow off for most of the outward run, which with a 'Santa' is done at a slow pace. For the return run, the same firing technique was used and produced the desired results. The timings are very stiff on the way back and lateness is not an option. 3803 was being put through her paces, but still not taxed in any way: she's too powerful for that. Sitting with 220psi on the clock all the way back with the valves feathering...it was an easy job for me as the Fireman!...
"Jamie Looks Out from 3803 At Shenton"
Having returned to Shackerstone, we uncoupled at the Signalbox and 3803 was driven over the cross-over and into Platform 1 to collect the waiting Deluxe stock. "Sir Gomer" then chugged out of No2 road in order to hook up to the Classic set and haul it the remaining few yards into the platform. This not only shunt-released 3803 and got her onto the Deluxe train quicker, but it also allowed "Sir Gomer" to heat the Classic set fully until its next departure at 1pm. This system was used all day and seemed to work fairly well as long as we kept ourselves on the ball. The 11:30 Deluxe was fired effortlessly by Jamie, with Eddie still enjoying himself on the regulator. Made up of only 3 coaches, 3803 would have been laughing her head off at a load like that...which in fact is only about as heavy as the engine herself! It started raining when we ran round at Shenton with the Deluxe, and so the GWR-style weather sheet was put up for the tender-first run back. On this dreary day, the sheet further reduced the light in the cab and so I lit up the GWR gauge glass lamp: just for effect...
"Lamps - The Old Fashioned Way"
3803 ready to depart with the 1pm Classic Santa...
 For the next two runs we were joined on the footplate by David, with myself driving and Jamie firing. Eddie was quite happy to sit in the fireman's seat and enjoy the run, whilst still supervising all of the events going on on the footplate; as any good driver does. The fully booked 1pm Classic called for a 20-minute stop at Market Bosworth so that Santa could see all of the children prior to the final push to Shenton...
Time was taken here for us to grab a cuppa' and a few shots of 3803...
3803 at Market Bosworth
The ever jubilant crew of 3803, ay. The men of the footplate: men of iron, steam, steel and smoke. The men that kept the wheels of Britain's industry turning hauling various loads of every cargo across a network of thousands of miles of track. Today, standing in this supreme role we had Eddie & Dave...but they tried their best ;) Only joking lads! Driver David sits in the driving seat on 3803 with Eddie doing his 'look at me on my engine' grin...
"Where Do They Get Them From?!"
Having had two very enjoyable runs on the regulator of 3803: who was as responsive and enjoyable to pilot as ever: I handed back over to Eddie ready to fire the last train of the day, which was the 4pm Classic Santa. Now, if you thought life on the footplate was hectic...try doing it at night...
"Rocking Along After Dark"
The footplate becomes a very different place at night. The engine has to have her lamps lit for one. These do not light up anything in front of the engine, they are merely for train identification by Signalmen and other railway staff, as well as giving the loco some form of warning light. On the cab, the engine carries a Gauge Glass lamp: my traditional BR (W) today. This illuminates the all important water level. Today we also had a lamp on the vacuum gauge, and the fire-light just about lit up the pressure gauge. We also had two Bardic's on the cab just in case, and for hand-signal work of course! We left Shackerstone in complete darkness, though it is quite thrilling running along at night...when everything is going to plan anyway! Again, 3803 performed very well and after a cracking run we returned to Shackerstone, ready to dispose of the engine. I must thank Eddie, Jamie & David for a most enjoyable day aboard 3803. Great fun! I will be back on 3803 again next Sunday, and then on Monday I am on "Sir Gomer". Merry Christmas folks, Sam...

No comments: