Saturday, 19 September 2015

"Cumbria": Driving An Austerity...

Hi all. When one thinks of the typical industrial steam locomotive, one name will come out on top nine times out of ten: the Hunslet 'Austerity'. These powerful 0-6-0 saddle tanks were strong old things, employing 18" x 26" inside cylinders coupled with a boiler pressed to 160psi fastened upon 4ft 3" wheels. Their design allowed them to move loads of up to 1200 tons on the level and they were extremely popular. The design became the standard British shunting engine during WWII and they continued to be built post-war for various tasks. In total, 485 of them were produced. They were just good engines. Their strength and stamina as well as their relative cheapness has meant that many have made it into preservation: approximately 56 examples still exist in one form or another. The recent demise of the GWR 2-8-0 No3803 had left Shackerstone with a steam crisis but, as luck would have it, an engine was coming available for hire at the very beginning of September. Drum roll cue please: it was an Austerity. This engine is a 1953-built War Department engine; No3794 "Cumbria". I was fairly overjoyed when I was offered a couple of turns on "Cumbria" as I love industrial steamers. JB has always referred to them as "ignorant industrials". He is correct, they were built for a certain purpose and they fulfilled it easily. However, the Austerity is arguably a more refined engine all round and I was immensely looking forward to today.

I arrived at Shackerstone at 6:30am, quickly followed by Fireman David and Trainee Luke. The engine was soon simmering away happily whilst I began to oil up. Jason then started the Class 73 electro diesel before dragging "Cumbria" down to the North End through the morning mist, ready for coaling. Soon enough, the bunker was full...
"Cumbria" was then returned to the shed so that I could continue with the oiling. This engine is on wick-feed boxes. This uses worsted wool trimmings and capillary motion to feed droplets of bearing oil down to the brass. A common fault with these axleboxes is allowing water to enter, thus displacing the oil. The oil will rise up and then sit on the surface of the water. The trimmings will then become impregnated with water and the brass will receive no oil and will probably run hot. This problem is cured during the morning checks. If the box has water in it, a small pump is used to suck out the contents of the box and, once clean, fresh oil is added until full. The trimmings will then begin to feed once again...
Oiling up the heart of an Austerity requires a little more contortionism. Everything on the inside means exactly what it says. Access is either via the pit or via crawling in over the weigh shaft beneath the barrel. Having checked around underneath to see that nothing was dropping off, I opted to squeeze in over the top of the motion. I just feel its easier that way, not that the occasional word of profanity isn't used as you wedge yourself in between the eccentrics and big ends. With the internals successfully oiled my tasks were complete. Luke had done a good job of shining up 3794 and, with David having built up 100psi in the boiler, it was time to move her outside into the now shining sun...
With the engine now pretty much ready to leave shed, it was time for the three of us to change into our good overalls. Soon enough, "Cumbria" was taking water on the column...
The first train of the day (the 11:15) left pretty much on time. The chunky Austerity found the 4-coach load complete child's play and was knocking an easy 22mph as we coasted down into Market Bosworth. This engine has one hell of a bark: she really talks. Having got the weight moving you can notch right up to 3rd notch and give her most of pilot valve and she'll accelerate happily and keep the steam but, even at that, the noise is almost deafening from the chimney. The red six-coupled is quickly being dubbed 'The Volcano'! Anyway, at Shenton, after a most enjoyable run, the 0-6-0 is seen at the head of the waiting 11:50 departure for Shackerstone...
Having left Shenton, it wasn't long before we were back again! The day flies by when you're busy. Having to water each trip certainly eats away the time...
A drivers eye view ahead as "Cumbria" awaits the 'Right Away'...
I drove the returning second trip back to Shackerstone with a smile on my face. This engine goes really well indeed. Its quite a pleasure to be on when the fireman has it just right. For the third trip, David was on the handle and took us neatly to Shenton...
I was on the shovel for this journey and found that a thin but bright fire with an extra few rounds at the back end and in the corners did the trick. 150psi was easily maintained and the injector used to quash potential blowing off as David closed the regulator. Here, David gets "Cumbria" into her stride whilst climbing Shenton Bank with the 14:20 train...
The road ahead as "Cumbria" climbs northward...
"Cumbria" was steaming well for me and I was happy in my work as she chugged her way through Far Coton cutting. At Market Bosworth, the engine waited out the 2-minute booked stop with the valves just starting to feather...
I then took over once again for the 15:00 departure from Shackerstone, during the return run of which we were joined on the footplate by well meaning late arrival 'Eddie the Late'. "Cumbria" is spotted awaiting departure from Shackerstone with the final train of the day, having just taken water on the column...
David returned to the handle for the last trip, allowing me to continue firing. "Cumbria" was still going well and proved no trouble. Having run round at Shenton, the 0-6-0 was soon barking happily up the bank in the light of the setting sun. I sat on the fireman's seat with my boots up on the tea tray, watching the last of the days sun settle over the green fields, listening intently to the beat of the engine working away. At that moment, I remember thinking that life on the footplate probably doesn't really get much better than this. Waking up from my dream, it was time to run the Austerity down. No, that doesn't mean start calling her names, it simply means reduce the firing rate as far as reasonably practical in order to ensure that we arrive on shed with as little fire as possible ready for disposal. Sure enough, the Hunslet was soon in the shed with a dead, clinker free fire... 
Putting an engine to bed is an affair of two feelings: tiredness and reflection. The last thing you want to do when you're covered in soot and oil from head to foot is start wielding an 8ft long fire dart through mounds of smouldering ash and mess in the sweaty environment of a footplate engulfed by the spluttering steam jet of a sluggish injector begging for more pressure. However, once all is done and the boiler is full with the fire deadened, the atmosphere is, at last, a calm one. The engine sits quiet but creaking and groaning as if she were alive: man never created a more seemingly mortal machine. As you pack up your things and leave, she's simmering the night hours away, warm and content; her days work done. All of this we do for the love of our steam engines and I've never regretted it for one second. A lovely day all in all. Thanks to David & Luke for a grand old time. Cheers all, Sam...

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice report Sam, very poetic, especially at the end.
That Austerity sounds like quite a beast! You seemed to enjoy yourself too.
Dare I ask whether Gomer is a runner yet?
Kind regards, Emma-Claire.

Sam Brandist said...

Hi Emma. Glad to see you're still reading :) Yes the Austerity is quite a beast - a nice old thing that does what you want. 'Gomer' is slowly being brought back to life by Jason who is currently working on her with a view towards an imminent steam test. Hopefully it will be running for the end of month gala. All the best, Sam

Anonymous said...

An interesting post as always Sam - a technical tip or two, the operational bit and the closing reflection! All the best, Mark

Sam Brandist said...

Glad you liked it, Mark. Thanks very much for reading :)