Saturday, 17 May 2014

Bala Lake 2014...

Hi everyone. Last night, in probably the first lengthy outing that the BMW has had since I've had it, myself & Eddie made the 120-mile or so journey to the Bala Lake Railway. This weekend would be the first of three in 2014, and it had been eagerly anticipated since we booked it months ago! The weather as we drove down yesterday afternoon was fine, and was equally so this morning. With a sunny day on the cards, we thought that there would be nothing better than taking out the railways open top sports car alternative: "Alice". The well known "Alice Weather" can be a rarity on the BLR and so, faced with the opportunity, we snapped it up. At 8:30am this morning we arrived at the running shed and Eddie immediately started the diesel locomotive "Trigger". As "Holy War" had been on service during the week, she had to be shunted out of the way before "Alice" could take the ash pit. Eddie duly dragged both locomotives out into the morning sunshine and we soon had "Holy War" shunted into the headshunt for the day. The lovely red 0-4-0 "Alice", built by Hunslets of Leeds in 1902 as No780, was duly checked over by myself before lighting. The tubes had to be swept, the smokebox cleaned and every possible inspection point looked at. The firegrate then had to be cleaned and the tubes, fusible and side sheets checked at that end too. With these tasks completed, "Alice" was duly lit up on a healthy helping of both paraffin soaked & dry wood, followed by a sprinkling of Welsh coal. The day had now begun...
With Welsh coal, I find that you need to make sure you get it burning as soon as possible. So, as soon as most of the wood had taken hold, I blacked out the flames with the Welsh coal and, with the damper open a notch, left "Alice" to get on with it. As long as you have plenty of heat there to bite on, the Welsh coal is no problem, though it can sometimes be a little sombre to start. Once lit and stoked up, "Alice" had to be oiled, cleaned and polished. Myself & Eddie went about our normal duties briskly and, by Tea-Time at 10am, the locomotive looked splendid. We left shed with around 70psi on and a good fire in the box at about 10:45am, heading for the coal stage. With "Alice" coaled, watered and ashed out for the second time today, we ran her round onto the waiting stock. The weather was just lovely and a promising day beckoned...
We left on time with a whistle from the Guard (Brian) at 11:15 with the first train. "Alice" hauled the 4-coach train easily out of the platform and was soon well underway. With the fire roaring away in the box and the pressure gradually climbing, the Fireman can take his seat (a luxury kept only for "Alice"!) at this point and relax for a few moments. Once at the top of the bank, the driver shuts-off and takes the full-reverse gear position (a common tradition to reduce valve rattle on slide-valve engines) and the fireman will then more than likely inject water into the boiler. Its about 1/2 a mile of being shut-off at this point and so, with a good fire, the locomotive will at least attempt to blow-off and so injecting is arguably the best policy! Once opened up again the fireman can simply 'keep the holes filled' and keep the water up on the injector. "Alice" blows off at just shy of 120psi, though anything over 80psi will keep her romping along nicely. The 100psi point (six o'clock on "Alice"s unusual upside-down pressure gauge) is a good place to be though. We made Bala with the first train on time and with ease. "Alice" really is a breeze and is a faultless little performer. The time & effort put in by the engineering team at the BLR ensures that the engines are in great condition both cosmetically and mechanically, and "Alice" is no exception...
The return trip went just as well as the outward and soon we were ready with the 12:50pm train. I drove this trip and found it most enjoyable. The 'tapping motion' is used on the regulator here to either ease speed or increase it, providing a juggling act along the very much rising & falling route of the BLR. It really was a beautiful day and, I guess due to this, it went very quickly! Before long we were heading back along the lake on the returning 2:25 train, in beautiful sunshine...
"Alice" is captured here at the base station of Llanuwchllyn with the returning 2:25 departure. She has been uncoupled and will soon head up to the coal stage for coaling, ashing out and watering before the final train of the day: the 4pm for Bala...
Here she is captured at the coaling stage, still in glorious sunshine...
Here I can be seen driving "Alice" up into the platform ready to buffer up to the waiting 4-coach stock of the 4pm Bala train, which I also drove. Note the 'dumb buffers' on the front of "Alice", a common sight on Quarry locomotives and quite fitting with her restored appearance I feel...
The final train at 4pm was also a most enjoyable run and "Alice" tore up the lengthy bank on the way back, hardly breaking a sweat. After a safe and on time arrival in the platform we propelled the stock back into the carriage shed before returning "Alice" to the shed road. Owing to the good forecast already put out for tomorrow, we'll be taking the cabless beauty out again and so tonight she took her place at the front of the shed following disposal. What a brilliant day. I must thank Eddie for his company and of course the BLR staff and volunteers for making us welcome again. I cannot wait until tomorrow! But, for now, off to the Eagles for a bite to eat, where Eddie always insists on having 3-courses...

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