Hi all. Just words again today I'm afraid - too wet for pictures of any real clarity. Today I was at my usual haunt again: the Battlefield Line at Shackerstone. I was rostered to fire the 1939-built GWR 2-8-0 No3803, who remains the mainstay of services on the 5-mile line. My driver today was to be Jan and I was looking forward to the day as I hadn't been on with Jan for a good while. The weather wasn't too bad when we turned up, just murky, but the rain was soon to draw in. The 6:30am sign on was then followed by the usual antics of dragging cart-loads of equipment down to the loco shed and stumbling inelegantly through the door. First job, as always: check the loco. Having changed into my overalls I had opened the gauge glass slowly. The water level stood around 3/4 of a glass: very good. However, the top gland nut was passing well and therefore the protector was heavily misted. So, I shut the gauge glass off again and waited for the hissing to die down. The protector was then removed and the leak examined. Leaving a known leak causes the glass to become scored by the constant rush of steam coming down the outside, not to mention the fact you can't see the water level with a misted up protector. Tightening the nut by hand (as practise) sealed the leak as the seal crushed into the top frame. The protector was then refitted and the gauge opened again to reveal a leak free seal: just the job.
The firebox however gave little joy as the back end was, though free-ish, very clinkered. A few 'dinner plates' lay on the grate front & back and unfortunately, though I detest doing so, I had to 'go in'. Going into the firebox of a loco that is still in steam can seem harrowing, but it is not an unknown practise. Starting a strong, clean fire will require the cleanest possible grate that can be achieved and so at least you can say you've done your job right as a fireman, plus you can examine the tubes behind the brick arch too. You need to slide your bulk through the firehole as quickly as possible as the ring is very, very hot with the engine in steam. Once you're inside its just really humid, and not at all pleasant. Speed is the key here, with a brisk clean around the grate and bars the best possible plan. Get in, get out! With the grate cleared I left the box with the typical sigh of relief. The footplate felt like -50 degrees as I came out...oh the relief! With a look in the front end and a check around the various plugs and mud doors, the loco was declared safe to light. A strong fire was lit and the engine left to 'get on with it'. It was now time for a well deserved cuppa'. Jan is full of good stories if she's got time to tell them between her oiling duties. She's driven engines far & wide, big & small. She's even driven 4472 "Flying Scotsman" on a few occasions and it was to my amusement that she uttered, "it was always a pretty lousy engine". This sentiment has of course been repeated throughout the preservation industry over the last couple of years as the mammoth overhaul of 4472 has sparked chaos in the press.
Anyway, with the cuppa' drank, Jan oiled the loco around whilst I tended to the fire and made other preparations. The rain was now falling well so I affixed the Great Western's answer to all weather crew comfort: the storm sheet..."cheers Churchward!". Mind you, Collett was no better, fitting a tiny window to his modified 2884 class rather than a full cab! "Give me a Black Five on a rainy day...38's are for sunny weather!". At around 10:45am we moved the loco across, in the rain, to join our coaches in Platform 2. With "four on", we left on time. It was a most enjoyable day, steaming through the very wet countryside. In honesty, the footplate isn't a terrible place to be on a rainy day if you manage to stay on there. Its when you step outside, get wet, then attempt to dry off that you hit trouble as you simply cannot! But, nonetheless, a very enjoyable day and the loco steamed and ran well. For an engine now ever nearing her ticket expiry, she is still going well. We completed 50 miles today with 3803, all of which she covered as a free-steamer. Jan kindly allowed me to drive the 3rd trip, with David joining us to take over the firing for the run. Braking must be considered on a wet day like today as the wet wheels will obviously attempt to lubricate the cast-iron brake blocks underneath. The loco therefore may require slightly more stopping time and also may expect a little more tenderness on the regulator to prevent a slip.
To round off, a very pleasant day out with 3803 again, despite the rain. As I continued to feel sorry for myself throughout the day with my wet jacket, Jan reminded me of one of her sayings, "anybody can crew an engine in fair weather, but it takes enginemen to do it in the rain", and I guess that's a fair statement to agree with! I must thank Jan for her company today and for a good day out with the 2-8-0. However, I cannot lie, I wasn't sad to put the engine away today...I hate rain! All the best everyone, Sam...