Saturday, 18 July 2015

Saturday Steam with 3803...

Hi all. This morning I was rostered to drive Heavy Freight 2-8-0 No3803 at Shackerstone. In the company of my good friend and colleague Mick, we arrived at the engine shed at around 5:30am. Today would consist of the usual five trips on the green timetable, plus one of the popular Footplate Experience courses - which would take place during the first part of the day. The engine was lit by 6am and sat simmering away in the gloom of the shed. After a cuppa', Mick began the cleaning whilst I started the seemingly never ending task of oiling up. Starting in the cab and working your way around, oiling up tends to take about an hour - that way you don't miss anything! The engine was ready by 9am and the two Foot-Ex participants were ready and waiting for their go.

During a Foot-Ex course such as today, we as the crew have to turn very quickly into tutors. Mick would be teaching the firing, whilst I would be teaching the driving. Arguably, Mick had the much harder task! The skill and knowledge behind the appropriate firing technique does not come immediately, it takes years of practise and tweaking in order to adapt your own interpretation of everyone else's ideas. Regardless of this, we still explain the vital laws of combustion and neat firing, such as "Little and Often". At this point I did the all important safety briefing, covering just a few danger points and safety commands whilst on and around the locomotive. After all, despite this being our much loved hobby, the environment is still potentially dangerous and all precautions must be taken. With two participants aboard, I like to ensure that both do the same as the other so one will fire whilst the other drives, and vice versa. The process takes a little longer this way as you have to continually reiterate the basics at each swap but it is worth it. Our two gents today were celebrating their 70th Birthday's and had a great time. They were a pleasure to have on board.

As Mick was explaining the firing to one chap, I was getting the engine underway and practising accelerating and braking with the other. At first glance, driving is easy. However, the basic routine of jobs and the order in which they are done is the defining factor. The participant can feel the power in the regulator: the resistance, the weight, the movement. At the other end of the scale is the vacuum brake, which has little feeling at all to the hand but lots through the floor of the cab and the force applied to the wheels as you operate it. The reverser is also forward biased on 3803, causing most participants to fly forward a foot or so when it catches them unawares. As the driver's we have to be mindful of this when notching up in reverse as 3803 will happily pull herself into full forward with little regard for her own safety, if allowed to that is. Despite the work involved, I do enjoy doing Foot-Ex's, mainly because it is so refreshing to see others enjoying something which we as regulars arguably take for granted. After a very enjoyable Foot-Ex course, the two participants retired to the comfort of the cushions whilst myself and Mick got the engine underway with the 11:15 departure for Shenton. 3803 is spotted later in the day waiting to depart from the terminus...
The five trips went very well today, with me driving three of them and Mick driving two. Mick (MJ to his friends) is great company aboard the engine and we had a great time (half of the reason for being on the footplate is to natter and giggle with your friends). I must thank MJ for his company during the day and for being a great sport. It was a very enjoyable outing. I am next back on the 38' next Saturday for the Rail Ale event. Best Regards, Sam...

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