Saturday, 27 February 2016

Churnet Valley Railway: Winter Steam Gala...

Hi everyone. The Winter months often herald the arrival of two things: low levels of light and high levels of boredom for the steam enthusiast. Thankfully, on this extremely cold weekend, the Churnet Valley Railway in North Staffordshire was holding its Winter Steam Gala. Myself and JB decided to go along for a visit and so at 8am this morning we were creeping onto the M6, northbound towards Stoke-on-Trent. The Churnet Valley Railway operates heritage trains on a 5.5-mile route between Froghall and Leekbrook Junction, with the main operational base being Cheddleton Station. Formally part of the North Staffordshire Railway's Churnet Valley line, today's CVR began its preservation life in the 1970s. Since then it has gone from strength to strength and now boasts a thriving steam fleet as well as an enthusiastic band of operating volunteers. Froghall Station is just under 70 miles for us and we arrived at around 9:20am. Having purchased our tickets and wandered out onto the freezing platform, a shrill whistle was soon heard on the wind. Sure enough, in rolled the top and tailed first train of the day which would make up the 9:45am trip. Heading up the BR stock for the departure would be S160 2-8-0 No6046...
This huge beast of an engine weighs over 135 tons and was built by Baldwin's. For those not familiar with the USATC S160, it is an American contraption which found itself on British soil during the Second World War. They helped out on Britain's railways during the conflict, hauling heavy freight across the country. In all, 2120 of these engines were built and they worked on railways in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America. 6046 herself is a Churnet Valley resident and is quite striking in her gloss black livery. The engine has recently returned home after having heavy repairs carried out at Tyseley, following an incident last year in which water carryover destroyed the left-hand cylinder. Although American stuff isn't really my thing, it is interesting to note the differences between their engines and ours as well as appreciating the contribution that the S160s made to WWII...
"USATC S160 No6046 Awaits The Right Away"
Whilst I was staring deep in thought at 6046, JB had meandered through the amassed hoards and found us a seat in the steam-heated lead coach. With a loud blast on the 2-8-0s piercing whistle, the train was away. A banking engine would be tailing the S160 as far as Leekbrook; the big Yankee engine continuing alone from there. A trolley service soon passed and we enjoyed a hot cuppa' whilst perusing the timetable...
After a pleasant run along the chilly Churnet Valley, it wasn't long before 6046 rolled into Cheddleton. Though the CVR terminates a mile after Cheddleton at Leekbrook Junction, the track continues across the moorland and the railway is graciously allowed to take advantage of this on certain days. The steeply graded route to Ipstones Loop is as challenging as 1 in 37 in places and 6046, despite her size, would certainly have her work cut out. Having roared through the 531-yard long Leekbrook Tunnel, the engine slowed to a stop so that the tail engine could be uncoupled. With a Right Away from the Guard, the S160 lurched forward and tore at the foot of the bank like a thing possessed. We soon found out why this initial burst of enthusiasm took place as the engine dug into the stiff climb. Even with a fairly easy load of 5-coaches, 6046 was working well; the Driver later reported that 50% cut-off was used to attack the bank. After 20-minutes or so of lovely crisp beats shattering farmhouse windows, the train regrettably reached Ipstones. The S160 duly uncoupled and ran forward in preparation for running round...
There are currently no passenger facilities at Ipstones: not even a platform. The desolate landscape provides only a run-round loop...
"6046 Runs Round at Ipstones Loop"
Once the big American engine was back at the head of the train, the slow descent of the route back to Leekbrook Junction began. Due to the severity of the gradient, there are numerous Stop Board's and thus progress is sedate at best. At Leekbrook Junction the train was held so that the Pilot engine (5619) could be coupled on for a double-headed jolly to Cheddleton. Back through the tunnel we went in a cloud of steam and soon enough we found ourselves alighting onto the chilly platform at Cheddleton. A shunting operation then took place so that Great Western Taff Tank No5619 could become the sole train engine, thus releasing 6046. The Taff Tank is spotted below...
"Guest Engine - Taff Tank 0-6-2T No5619 of 1925"
Having replaced the S160 as the train engine, 5619 duly got the stock away on time. This engine is actually owned by the little Telford Steam Railway in Shropshire but is hired out to larger railways due to her capabilities as a powerful and reliable performer...
JB was famished after all the excitement and thus a hot Bacon & Sausage Cob was the only way to go, finished off by a nice cup of coffee of course...
Whilst we enjoyed our cobs during a brief moment of remotely warm sunshine, our former tail engine forged through the platform with a non-stop service for Leekbrook Junction. This engine is TKH 0-6-0T No2944 "Hotspur"...
"Stand Back From The Platform Edge: The Next Train Does Not Stop Here"
Stomachs replenished and toes turning blue, we decided it was time for a wander around the loco shed and prep yard. The TKH soon returned with the Local set and the S160 then took over to provide the power for the next departure to Froghall...
Inside the locomotive shed stood the frames of another S160: No5197. I believe that this engine is owned by the same chap who has 6046 and it too has worked in preservation. It is gradually nearing the end of an extensive overhaul; her boiler lying only feet from her chassis. These American types have huge all-steel boilers which sit atop bar frames for ease of access and maintenance. 5197 sure is coming along and soon enough the Churnet Valley will almost certainly boast a pair of working S160s...
The nearby Carriage & Wagon shed was also open for viewing. Though there was only a wagon in there as a 'work in progress', I felt that the equipment available for the volunteers/staff to carry out their tasks was worth a shot. With the right equipment, you can do great things...
Having found our way over to the prep area, we found the TKH lounging in the sun. A TKH is another foreign engine. In fact, the TKH is a product of Poland and they were very successful shunting engines. Their success resulted in 477 of them being built between 1948 & 1961. I know of at least half a dozen examples that now live in the UK and most of them have worked at one stage or another. The class was never native to Britain in their working days but budding preservationists heard of their talents and began importing them. Little did the Polish engineers who built them know that these chunky tank engines would find themselves one day hauling passenger trains for tourists on Britain's heritage railways. 2944 herself was built in 1952 and is one of a pair based on the railway. Along with 6046, she provides the basis of the Churnet Valley steam fleet...
Along the sidings we found a tell-tale pile of steam locomotive bits. The first clue was a set of wheels - "leader" said John. We then found two intermediates and a crank axle before the penny dropped that I had remembered a forlorn Stanier 8F residing here. We soon discovered the rusting frames of No48173 of June 1943; an 8F that needs a substantial amount of time and money to ever see steam again. Rumour has it 48173 is on the cards once the two other 2-8-0s are complete: lets hope so. Whilst we contemplated a lottery win, a familiar ticking was heard in the distance. The Taff Tank was approaching from Consall and was slowing up for a water stop as I snapped her...
During the water stop, 5619's Leekbrook Pilot was attached - this role being performed by "Hotspur" the TKH. Once coupled up, the unusual pairing pulled forward into the platform...
"A Polish TKH Pilots A Taff Tank"
Having crossed the level crossing to watch the departure, 2944 and 5619 got underway. The TKH was certainly showing signs of strain and primed away into the distance; the drain cocks being opened a few panels down the line...
Cheddleton Station is an attractive little country stop. The station opened in September 1849 and is still happily serving passengers today...
With 5619 now on the Ipstones route, 2944 returned to Cheddleton for stabling. She would relieve 6046 on the Local and form the 1:56pm departure. Myself and JB joined the Polish tank on this trip and enjoyed a pleasant ride to Froghall in the warmth of a cosy BSK. Upon arrival at Froghall, 2944 is seen again...
The tank engine was duly uncoupled and ran swiftly around the train in readiness for a prompt departure back to Leekbrook via Consall and Cheddleton. Its nice to see industrials: imported or not: still serving a useful purpose on preserved lines. The Churnet Valley is unusual for me in that, in the future, two S160s and two TKH's (as the line also has No2871 under overhaul) will provide all steam services. It just shows how useful certain designs from other countries can be, whilst also providing a varied and cultured roster for the visitor. The striking green No2944 "Hotspur" is seen here preparing for the off...
With 2944 having stormed off into the cold afternoon air, JB decreed that it was time for another cuppa' in the Tea Room. Having enjoyed a nice brew by the fire in an attempt to get some of the feeling back in my fingers, a thundering rumble heralded the arrival of 6046 again. We decided to stay and watch her depart with the 3:20pm train before heading back to the BMW for some warmth and the run home. Never has one been so forceful with the term "get that bloody heater on!". I must thank JB for his company today as we had a most pleasant day out despite the dark and bitter weather. The Churnet Valley Railway had provided a pleasant and interesting day out amongst a varied selection of loco's. It was of course most pleasant to see the Great Western's No5619 but the quirks of the two foreign engines really did provide something different. Many thanks all, Sam...

3 comments:

David Chandler said...

Good report and photos. I visited the CVR for the first time last year, hope to go back at some point as it's a beautiful little line. Missed this one though, was busy Sunday and Saturday I was in York to see a big green engine...

Sam Brandist said...

Hi there David. Good to hear from you - glad you're reading the blog! The big green engine, ay? - any good? Cheers mate

David Chandler said...

It was good, if a bit cold! Left Coventry at 5:30 to get up there for around 8, had booked on the morning photo event. Decided to go see her at York due to the uncertainty around mainline steam at the moment, though all being well she'll be coming to the Severn Valley in the Autumn. Was worth the journey to see 60103 and look round the NRM, which was pretty busy as you might expect. As well as the A3 being out in the yard all day, they had a good exhibition inside about her story and how she got to be so famous. I made a visit to the shop and picked up a couple of FS beers and prints to hang on the wall, with those and paying for the photo morning I've paid back a bit of that £4.2m! I wonder how the cost of the overhaul will compare with the extra revenue and visitor numbers that the NRM will get from Scotsman being back in steam in the long run, it may balance it out in the end.

Some photos here. Have to say that I'm glad they have gone with the BR green, looks fantastic and is right for the current condition of the locomotive. Though LNER green is still the classic look and how most people remember her, I will be interested to see if she appears as 4472 over the next 10 years... https://www.flickr.com/photos/djcs_trains/albums/72157665038279181