Saturday, 10 May 2014

Last Chance Saloon on "Bluebell"...

Hi guys. Well, what a pleasant if challenging day! Regular readers will remember that our star guest for the 2014 Battlefield Line Steam Gala was one of the Bluebell Railway's three SECR 0-6-0 'P' Class locomotives. The aptly named "Bluebell" came to us in March and first worked over the gala weekend of April 11th - 13th. Since then she has conducted five further steaming's, including Easter, and today would see her out on one final jaunt with us. I had been booked to do this date for a couple of weeks and was looking forward to it. My driver was John again, so the double-act from the Gala Friday were reunited. Being a small engine and having had a warming fire the day before, it was not necessary to 'get in' overly early to light No323. Myself and John arrived at 7am and met up in the North End yard before ambling down to the shed. Inside, an already very warm "Bluebell" awaited us. Having carried out my usual checks including the water level, steam level, fusible plug(s), firebox condition, tube condition and so on, I cleaned the remains of the little warming fire off the fire-grate. I then laid a light bed of fresh coal before closing the firehole doors and heading off to find some wood. By 7:30am, the 'P' had a good wood fire lit in the box and had already begun to sing...
Once the wood was burning brightly, I piled a mound of coal on top of it and closed the doors with the rear damper on the 2nd notch. The hopeful plumes of smoke from the chimney suggested that the coal was already starting to catch and so, with the engine crackling away, we sat down in the 'mess area' for a cuppa'. With our thirsts quenched, John attended to the hydrostatic cylinder lubricator whilst I headed around the engine with the oil can. The 12" 0-6-0 is fairly basic, with just a couple of oiling points on the outside coupling rods. Most oiling points are inside and include the usual bits & bobs of the expansion links, eccentrics (x4), die-blocks, big ends, little ends, slidebar slippers, glands and so on. As you spend more time with steam engines you get to know what to look for first hand. Unlike at the gala, No323 was beautifully positioned above the inspection pit. Though its still tight around the big ends, the pit made it easier for me to access them. On the gala Friday I'd had to wedge myself in across the top of the motion like a Circus performer! With the oiling done and more tea drank, "Bluebell" was brewing up nicely. When we had 100psi on the clock we moved the vacuum braked engine forward so that the chimney poked out of the door. It was then time to set to with the Brasso for the brightwork, the polish for the top side and the paraffin/oil mix for the frames and the wheels...
Driver John has, rather undeniably, taken a bit of a shine to No323. Indeed he has been the booked driver on the loco for four of her nine steaming's at the line! As the little blue engine sat simmering away quietly at the front of the shed, he remarked on how much he was looking forward to the day ahead (no pressure then!)...
At 11am, with 15 minutes until departure, we steamed across onto Platform 2 road and dropped down onto the waiting 3-coach train. I coupled the locomotive up to the stock before returning to the footplate to tend to the fire. The thin fire in the box was replenished with a light scattering across the entire surface area, supplemented by four extra shovels along the back and then two along each side. This small horse-shoe shaped fire seemed to work at the gala so I thought I'd try it again. Right on time at 11:15, 323 drew the stock out of Shackerstone Station, bound for Shenton. Up through the cutting and out into the countryside, the SECR 0-6-0 steamed beautifully and was a dream. For the first three trips of the day she was much the same, steaming well and pulling easily. The main trick seemed to be cleaning the fire regularly with the irons to avoid letting the clinker take hold. With a clean, bright fire No323 was no trouble...
"323 Prepares for the 1:45pm Train"
On the fourth trip, John kindly let me drive the engine. Apart from around the yard, I hadn't taken No323's regulator yet so I was quite looking forward to the different steed. To be honest, it was a very pleasant experience. The nimble steam-reverser makes notching up easy and efficient, whilst allowing the regulator to be kept open which, on some slide valve engines, can cause you to be thrown across the cab by the pole reverse! A Pannier Tank for example will make you shut-off before you can change cut-off position (you'll learn!). The braking was also very nice on "Bluebell", due to the Gresham & Craven ejector system which is always a welcome appliance. Having enjoyed 10 easy miles on the regulator of 323, it was time to return to the shovel for the last trip...
We decided to take a quick snap of "Bluebell" just before departure from Shenton with her last Battlefield Line service...
A final picture below shows the view ahead from the Fireman's side of 323 as we leave Market Bosworth in the early evening sunshine at around 5pm...
When we returned the locomotive to the engine shed all we had to do was lightly clean the fire grate and fill the boiler. The locomotive had performed perfectly throughout the day and I think I speak for John as well when I say I'll miss this little engine: its great fun. Cheers guys, Sam...

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