Saturday, 1 November 2014

Atlantic Report No2: First Is Always Worst...

Hi all. This morning, in bright sunshine, it was the day of reckoning for 'Maisie', my new 3.5" gauge LBSC Atlantic. The loco had a pleasant little stay at the Midlands show the other week and now, having been checked yesterday, was ready for todays first attempt at a run. The engine had only been steamed previously twice: both for steam tests, one before and one after the repaint. Myself and Eddie arrived at the CMES site at just after 11am, with Ron already there. The running wasn't due to start until 1pm-ish but we felt that we should get in early in case 4436 threw half of her bits around the place, as new engines sometimes can! Once unloaded, 4436 was put onto one of the steaming bays. The first shock was to remember to pick a bay which has a 3.5" gauge rail! That could have been the first initial disaster, ay?! Once on her bay, the loco was coupled up to her tender. The drawbar was attached as well as the two flexible plastic hoses and the hand-pump nut. The loco was then oiled up whilst basking in the sun...
I then filled the boiler with water (to 3/4 of a glass) prior to lighting the first fire for the loco at CMES. We had expected a celebrity appearance and a speech followed by a ceremonial fire lighting at this point but instead it was just me and 'Eddie the Late'. Eddie considered saying a few words but memoirs of 'Three Course Challenges' were not really appropriate at this stage. A good level fire of paraffin wood was first laid before coal was added...
The locomotive steamed up quickly and easily and was soon about to blow off at the full pressure of 80psi. The weather was still sunny and bright, with a light breeze keeping the heat down. This is where my luck ended. Upon removing the electric blower and opening the steam blower valve...nothing. The pipe was blocked and so the cursing began. The Atlantic was then called more names than exist in many peoples vocabulary. The fine fickle finger of fate which plagues "Achilles" with problems had struck yet again! With time at hand and a determination to have a run, I dropped the fire and checked in the front end. Burning my fingers to a crisp I managed to unscrew the boiler pipe to find it so blocked it was unbelievable. I headed down to the club workshop where I sawed off the end of the pipe and then drilled a hole in the resulting face. The hole was a bit big really but for a test it would be OK. The next challenge came instantly...how the hell does this go back in?

It doesn't seem to matter how easily something comes off, getting it back on is always a problem! After much more cursing and foaming at the mouth the idea struck me. I just couldn't hold the pipe and the nut without both hands which definitely would not fit in the smokebox together and so, having removed the now redundant ejector pipe, I set to with the lock-tite. I lock-tited the nut ever so slightly to the back face of the nipple in order to allow the pipe to be briefly used as a spanner if you like to just start the nut on the thread. Once started, a spanner could be used as the worst was now done. Good job! The relief was immediate but short-lived. I couldn't tighten the pipe right up as the blower pipe would move, then once repositioned the nut had backed off. Oh well, again, for a test, it would be fine. So, the Second Firing took place. Tried the blower...bang on! Steamed up and headed to the track. Nope...something was wrong. The blower must have been in the wrong place as it sounded great but gave very little draw. Back to the steaming bay...fire dropped. The blower pipe was then repositioned to allow for the short Eastern chimney. (The Atlantic's were so tall that a taller chimney would have probably struck the infrastructure). So, the Third Firing then took place where, at last, the Atlantic made it onto the track. We managed one successful lap with the boiler steaming freely and the blower working OK.

Unfortunately, the fickle finger of fate had not left for home yet and so the loco dropped both of her plastic tender pipes, thus causing the effective axle pump to give in. The handpump (which is very good) was then called upon before it fell to bits quite handily inside the tender tank. At this point I think it was fair to say that more steam was probably coming from me than the loco, with the water bubbling away in the bottom-nut thanks to the failure of both pumps. Luckily the fire was as dead as my enthusiasm. However, not to be outdone, the pipes were edited then reaffixed and the tender tank stripped open and the handpump rebuilt. Water level back at 1/2 a glass, the Fourth Firing began. With full pressure almost immediately regained, off we went onto the track. There at last, we managed a few laps...
3pm = "Finally, Success with Maisie" (G.Wooding)
Now, what you read above, despite my anger, are fairly trivial matters when it comes to the day to day running of a steam engine. So much more, in theory, could have gone wrong. I mean, my luck would have normally called for an enraged stampeding African Elephant trampling me half to death and mercilessly crushing the loco to a green pulp somewhere on the initial lap so I guess a hand pump in pieces was a fairly good thing in comparison. I think I did about 4 laps or so with 4436 on the fourth firing, though it was 4 hours after we should have completed them! I retired after the four through sheer relief and annoyance really. So, OK, all things considered: the boiler steams beautifully, the water pumps work fine and are more than capable of doing their jobs, the beats are crisp and the loco runs fast. The only major issue (if you'd call it major) is that it does slip a fair bit, even with myself behind it. Now, I know that I've been a bit of a regular at McDonalds of late but it should pull me quite easily so I think some springing attention and advice may be necessary. We hope to run the engine again very soon to give it another, less enraged test. I would also like to take some more shots and film of it before its lovely lining gets too messed up with the oil and coal smuts. Thanks for reading guys, comments welcome. All the best, Sam...

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