Monday, 23 December 2013

Driving "Sir Gomer" For The Day...

Hi guys. Today I was driving "Sir Gomer" at Shackerstone. The next step from being a Fireman is to rise to the challenge of driving locomotives in the station limits. The 'station limits' is pretty much anywhere around Shackerstone station, as far as the token board near the Starter signal. This job basically allows shunting, carriage warming, stock moves and other such tasks to be undertaken. Though we were only chugging around the station, I felt rather privileged to be allowed the opportunity and on "Sir Gomer" to boot. This progression through the ranks allows more experience to be developed and utilises almost all of the skills akin to driving down the line, such as hand-signals (day and night), fixed signals, shunting principles, brake tests and applications and so on. All of these factors will hopefully allow me, one day, to become a Driver down the line: the final frontier some might say. Now, to the day in general, which started at Shackerstone shed at 6:30am. The Peckett stood at the front of the shed, behind the 38' which languished over the pit. Phil was already deep within the confines of 3803's firebox, clearing out the ash from our run with her yesterday. After greeting him, I wandered up to "Sir Gomer" and, out of habit, immediately checked the water level and the state of the firebox. All was well.

My fireman, Jason, soon arrived and began the light-up preparations. Now, the job of a Driver is quite different from that of the fireman. The fireman will concentrate on his job which is to check over the firebox and water level and ensure that the engine is safe to be lit. He/she must then light the fire and attempt to create pressure accordingly, keeping well in the lines of time, fair treatment of the locomotive and economical fuelling. The Driver is meanwhile making necessary checks, and oiling up. I first fitted the necessary "Not To Be Moved" board before looking over the locomotive. Everything must be checked: springs, pins, washers, valve gear, trimmings, brake blocks, nuts & bolts, rivets and more. The engine is checked to ensure nothing is falling off, and that everything is in place and secure. Most of these checks can be carried out by oiling round in the appropriate fashion, which allows you to pass everything in turn, and then return later for parts needing potential rectification. "Sir Gomer" is a fairly simple locomotive to work on, employing Stephenson's inside valve gear, actuating the slide valves via the four eccentrics on the centre axle. The eccentrics are coupled to the expansion links as is standard practise, and the die-block (depending on position of cut-off) is then connected to the valve spindle and moves the valve accordingly. Though simple, there are still brake hangers, slideways, crosshead slippers, gudgeon pins, coupling rod pins, crank-pin oil pots, gland packings, eccentrics, die-blocks, axlebox guides, steam brake and shaft, valve spindles and many other points to be done. There are also two mechanical lubricators to be filled and primed: one for axlebox bearings and one for the regulator lubrication. There are so many things to be considered: you can't just light a match and go. All of the time, the fireman is building pressure ready to move the engine out of the shed.

Once "Sir Gomer" had good pressure and all of the oiling was done, it was time to take her outside into the hideous morning rain. The 'Not to be Moved' board first had to be removed (by the person who put it on: me: and nobody else...that's the rule) and the engine checked over. You must check thoroughly for any scotches, hoses or other obstructions. With the road set and a shrill whistle, I edged "Sir Gomer" out of the engine shed and gently down through point No11 and onto the front of waiting ECS for the 1pm 'Deluxe Train'. The engine was then screwed down on the handbrake and put into mid-gear with the regulator firmly shut before Jason coupled up the steam heat apparatus...
I must admit that I've done a fair bit of babbling so far in this post but there is just so much to say. A lot of people don't realise the amount of work and checks that are involved in every single running day on a steam locomotive. Anyway, with the locomotive stable and secure, the heating was turned on and the train slowly began to warm up. In the meantime, we got cooking!...
It was a hideously wet day. The cold wind was howling through the cab, the rain was battering the engines new black livery and most things on the platform were blowing about. There were still a good few passengers about on our popular Santa trains but they certainly 'came and went' very quickly. As soon as they came out of the station building they scurried quickly onto the waiting trains before silence fell once again. I can't blame them either on a day like today! Below, a most welcome sausage, egg and bacon cob courtesy of "Sir Gomer"s shovel...
Fireman Jason chows down...
With the cooking done and the cobs eaten, it was time to add more coal to the fire...
Below, "Sir Gomer" stands in Platform 1 as steam can be seen leaving the coaches towards the back of the train, during the heating process...
We were then contacted by the signalman to say that 3803 was on her way with the other train and so we turned off the steam heat and decoupled before steaming over onto Platform 2 road. The engine was then screwed down again and the vacuum brake ejector tested for one last time before it was needed. The engines front bag was then removed ready to head onto the front of the stock once 3803 had moved off...
"Portrait of a Peckett"
As the day wore on we continued in the same manner, doing a little bit of shunting before a long break and then doing a little bit more shunting. "Sir Gomer" was steaming well, and easily. At regular points I checked her over and re-oiled some points as appropriate. The rain however just wouldn't let up, until the last train had arrived back. Our final job, as the light faded, was to perform an ECS move to 'shunt release' 3803 through Platform 1 and into the shed via No11. This saw "Sir Gomer" steaming across the cross-over with the ECS and halting just before the token board, ready to propel back under evening hand-signals when allowed. The engine is pictured below with the appropriate lamps...
"Evening Sir Gomer"
With 3803 clear we pushed the stock back into Platform 1 at 'dead slow' speed before halting it on the vacuum. The vacuum in the system was then destroyed and the train handbrake applied, as well as "Sir Gomer"s. The train was now secure and so we uncoupled before running "Sir Gomer" gently back into the shed via No11. The usual practise of raking through the fire and filling up the boiler then took place before the final checks were made. The engine was quite content, and secured on both the handbrake and via the traditional two scotches under the centre axle wheel. It had been a most enjoyable and successful little day on the engine and another prosperous one for the railway. "Sir Gomer" will be in steam tomorrow for Christmas Eve, alongside 3803, and will then take a break for the winter. The 38xx will be in steam over Christmas and New Year 3 or 4 times before also taking a break for the winter slumber. The railway will close on New Years Day until March. Best Regards, Sam...

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