Sunday, 7 December 2014

Driver: An Ambition Fulfilled...

Hi everyone. Today was the day, the final day. I can now say that I am a qualified Steam Locomotive Driver for the Battlefield Line. Throughout today I have had my driving test aboard GWR 2-8-0 No3803, and am proud to say that I have passed. This is it; the final frontier. I have been involved with the Battlefield Line since January 2007 and have been working with our engines, and many visiting types, ever since. I have been on the footplate of our engines regularly since early 2008 and I can now finally say that I have realised a childhood ambition. How did it happen? Well...

The day began like most others: early. I had decided that as the engine had been out yesterday I would opt for the 'safe' time of 6am. You can get in at 7am with 3803 if you are feeling confident, but taking the side of caution never fails. I arrived at a chilly Shackerstone at around 6am before staggering up the driveway towards the platforms with all my kit. A new light switch that Richard pointed out to me last week came in very handy this morning, with the new M38 widening up to the engine shed becoming illuminated once it was pressed; relieving the regular neck breaking session. Inside the shed I found the warm bulk of 3803. Having checked around the engine thoroughly, I cleaned the grate, dampened the ash and lit the fire. The loco had around 3/4 of a glass of water and 20psi already on the clock. At just before 7am, with the loco lit and smoking away, Footplate Inspector John arrived. Fireman Phil would arrive slightly later today, having already notified us of this. The engine sat singing away to herself whilst the coal began to catch, and we then went into the mess area for a cuppa'...
Returning to the engine, it was time to start the oiling. There are over a hundred oiling points on a Great Western 38xx and all are done in turn: that way you don't forget any. The first thing I always do is the typical GWR Hydrostatic Lubricator. It looks more complicated than it is. The act of displacing oil with condensed steam causing it to overflow into regulated delivery pipes is a method that is common practise with the Swindon engines. With the lubricator filled with cylinder oil, it was time to change to oil feeders to do the outside points with lubrication/bearing oil. Connecting rods, coupling rods, slippers, axleboxes, trunnions, pins, shafts, expansion links, die-blocks and so on and so on, all have to be done; inside and out. It takes probably about an hour to oil the locomotive up if you don't rush. In between the oiling process, fireman Phil had arrived and we had ashed the locomotive out using the intermittently reliable hopper ashpan. With a bit of a clean as well, the locomotive was soon fit for service with 180psi on the clock and a flat, thin fire. It was soon time to move the engine off shed, with permission from the signalbox. Todays timetable would be the final four-train 'Classic Santa' timetable, with departures at 2-hourly intervals from 10am (next week we start two set working).

Before I moved the engine off shed, we have to check around and then do the required brake tests, as well as warming the engine through. 3803 is fully vacuum fitted and therefore we check the reservoir drop, brake pipe continuity, the fail-safe of taking a bag off (does it drop the train pipe and thus apply the brake?) and of course check the general operation and stopping distance by doing a rolling brake test. All tests passed, the locomotive left shed and we steamed over the cross-over with the drain cocks open, expelling any water from the steam circuit. 3803 was then dropped onto the train and John took the first trip...
The 'Classic Santa' trips always take a leisurely trip out through the Leicestershire countryside and here is a short video clip of us trundling up the cutting with John on the regulator. The outward trip is always quite sedate...
A sample of this mornings views over the Leicestershire countryside, near Hedleys...
Driver John smiling in charge of 3803...
At Market Bosworth we had a 10-minute interval before continuing on for Shenton. 3803 looks well at the head of the 5-coach train...
Soon enough we were back at Shackerstone and I took over the regulator for the rest of the day. After a 30-minute layover at Shack we departed on time with the Midday train: another fully booked train. The locomotive is spotted here on the return working during a 5-minute layover at Market Bosworth...
Though we did manage almost a half hour layover each time at Shack, thanks to the timetable going to plan, the day did fly by. Soon enough we were at Market Bosworth again with the outward and fully booked 2pm trip...
The locomotive was steaming well and pulling well, with all of us having a good day aboard the engine. There were no problems to report at all really, apart from a chilly cross-wind! Each time we stopped we would secure the locomotive appropriately and then I would walk back to speak to the Guard to assess the time of departure. And here she is waiting again, with the returning 2pm train at Market Bosworth...
The 4pm trip was undertaken mostly in darkness, particularly on its return working. The lamps were lit both inside and outside the cab and the firehole door flap was used in order to let in some light. You couldn't see much in front of 3803s tender but we've all been up & down the line so many times over the years that you can tell where you are by the treeline, the curve of the track and we know the distance between the bridges and slacks. Its all much the same as driving in the day, just without the scenery! Following a successful final run we secured the train in Platform 2 at Shackerstone before returning 3803 to the shed. The loco was then secured and disposed of prior to us leaving. Throughout the day the loco had performed well and all sensory and visual checks had assured me that she was in good health. A very enjoyable day and I must thank everyone and anyone once again who has ever helped or advised me with my firing & driving. Its been a long road and I don't know how many times I've been up and down this line now but its still fun, particularly on the footplate! Cheers all: a new era! Merry Christmas...

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well done! I know the feeling will, I got my ticket back in 1994 and was very very lucky to have it turn into full time paid work back in 2004, been driving steam 40 hours a week for over 10 years now and love every minute of it :)

philinthecountry said...

Fantastic news - well done Sam! Phil

Sam Brandist said...

Cheers both great to hear from you! Thanks very much

Anonymous said...

Well done Sam! Always knew you'd get there!
Emma-claire.

Sam Brandist said...

Cheers Emma :)