Sunday, 22 March 2015

"The White Rose" Pays Tribute to King Richard III...

Hi there all. Welcome to the first 'loco day' report of the new season. Today I was rostered aboard visiting GWR 5101 Class 2-6-2 Large Prairie No4141 at Shackerstone. The 1946-built Prairie is visiting from the Epping Ongar Railway down south. I was actually booked to fire today as, with two Drivers booked, the elder of the two Drivers is the booked one. No problems here though - I was up for the challenge of 60 miles firing 4141. I arrived at Shackerstone at 6am and duly unlocked the gates before continuing along the drive. Dragging my countless items of equipment behind me, I read the notices and signed on for duty before completing my journey to the engine shed. Inside I found the bulk of 3803, with 4141 sat in front. First things first: kettle on! Having changed, I clambered up onto the footplate to check the state of affairs. The grate was fairly clean, 20psi remained on the clock from yesterdays exertions and we had well over 1/2 a glass of water in the boiler: spot on. Driver Adrian soon arrived and we enjoyed a quick cuppa' before beginning our duties. Adrian began the lengthy procedure of oiling up, whilst I cleaned the grate, checked the firebox & boiler and then lit the fire...
I'm sure everyone knows about the latest updates with King Richard III but for those who don't, today was the King's tour of the area. The respectful cortege would visit related sites such as Dadlington, Stoke Golding, Bosworth Battlefield, Market Bosworth and others, before returning to Leicester. The King's remains will be formerly buried there on Thursday. As our railway runs directly into Bosworth Battlefield, we just had to be a part of it. A more intensive timetable was in action, with six departures from Shackerstone at 75-minute intervals: some going with a tank engine! The first train was at 10am and by 7:30am, 4141 was sitting pretty at the head of the shed waiting to pull outside...
The 41' was soon shunted outside by Class 02 shunter "Diane" and brought to rest on No11 road. The engine was soon ashed out ready for the day and fully oiled. It was then time for a clean of both the loco and us, not to mention the unavoidable photographs!...
Richard III, who's White Rose emblem represented the House of York, died at Fen Lane Farm on August 22nd 1485, bringing to an end the Plantagenet dynasty. Richard was killed by the forces of Henry Tudor, who then became King Henry VII, marking the dawn of the hugely important Tudor dynasty. As a tribute to Richard today, when 4141 left shed she was decorated with a White Rose wreath and a special headboard. We as the crew also wore white rose button-holes...
"4141 Decorated for the Occasion" (M.Heseltine)
Due to decorating 4141, the first train left around 15 minutes down. This made the first trip rather eventful in quite a stressful manner as the 41' was proving difficult. The problem was more me than anything, the fire wasn't really up to the rushing we had to do to try to make up time. The second trip saw me fairing much better, with a stronger back end built up and the 2-6-2 steaming well. The trains were well loaded and we had sold around 200 tickets in advance for the popular one-off service that would take place at the Battlefield following the arrival of Richard's cortege. We were literally a historic park & ride! For the third trip, Adrian opted to fire and I had a drive. Its always nice to drive something different from time to time! The 41' handles rather differently to an engine like 3803: the regulator is more free, the wheels slip easier due to their 5ft 8" size, the braking is different (though she is vac throughout like the 38') and the visibility is totally different. With these factors in mind, I took her steadily down to Bosworth on the 12:30 trip. With me having got used to the engine, I could take the next section at line speed, as well as the trip back. Its the braking we all need to get used to on a 'new engine'.

I was back on the shovel again for the 1:45pm trip. We had been asked to keep noise to a minimum at Shenton this trip due to the special service taking place atop Ambion Hill. The trip again proved problematic for the 41's steaming: not in a serious way, just not as good as I would expect for the size of fire she had. At Shenton, whilst Adrian hooked off, I decided to get the iron out. Sure enough the fire was clinkered from front to back and needed some considerable force to free it. With the back end cleaned, a fresh fire was rebuilt and pressure regained. The trouble is with a tight timetable, chances to clean the fire are minimal, as is the time to allow the heat to rebuild with the new, fresh coal! I think our biggest problem, as well as rushing, was that we were shovelling off the bottom of the bunker, so most of the coal was poor quality with a lot of slack. Having watered again for the 3pm trip (41's only carry 1900 gallons in the tanks), we departed on time. This was the trip we had been waiting for all day. We managed to get to Shenton Bank in time to secure the train and sit patiently waiting for the cortege to pass on its way to Market Bosworth. 4141 stood silent, performing a respectful vigil. Sure enough, right on time, the cortege passed as people lined the road. We watched in silence as the last Plantagenet King left the fields of Bosworth for the very last time, over 500 years since he was last here...
It was so lovely to have 4141 sat there with the train as the King's cortege passed. We have always been the Battlefield Line, and this was a mark of respect from us to the King...
The cortege drove steadily up Shenton Lane towards Market Bosworth and, once it was out of sight, 4141 let out a long, mournful whistle before continuing the last few hundred yards into Shenton. Quite a crowd awaited us!...
The returning 6-coach 3pm train was well loaded and 4141 performed well on minimal coal. Once back at Shackerstone we took some coal before departing about 10 minutes late on the final train: the 4:15pm: with me driving. At Shenton we moved the wreath to the smokebox for the final run home. The headboard had rode on either end all day but the wreath had remained on the back as we were bunker first as the cortege passed. A crew photo with 4141 was inevitable...
The last run back saw 4141 in good voice, using up the last of the coal we'd added just for the last trip. We returned to Shackerstone and quite a number of people detrained. Adrian had joked that the 4:15 would be ECS but how wrong he was: it was fairly full! The loco then became the subject of many photographs, mainly due to her decoration. The 41' was later taken to the shed for disposal after a long, tiring but successful day. It was a great pleasure to be involved in such a historic occasion, particularly as we are the railway that runs to the site of the famous battle. I must thank Adrian for his company aboard 4141 and for a good day. Next Sunday I am back on 4141, but this time as booked driver. Best Regards, Sam...

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