Saturday, 8 October 2016

"A Castle To Oxford": The Beautiful 5043...

"5043 On The 'Cotswold Explorer' Trip" (Pic - P.Wild)
Hi all. In this modern age in which we live, it is comforting sometimes to know that the past is still with us. How much longer for is anyone's guess but at the moment we can still enjoy a colourful abundance of steam on the main line and today, for me, was another of those occasions. Regular readers will know of my tendency to become a little poetic (some would say mushy) in the field of times gone by but in this case I feel it is justified. Today I joined Tyseley on another outing with the thoroughbred double chimney Castle Class 4-6-0 No5043 "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe". Billed as the "Cotswold Explorer", the excursion would see the Castle retracing familiar territory, taking in Worcester and Swindon on the long way round to Oxford. From Oxford, the engine would work homeward through Moreton-in-the-Marsh and then back up to Birmingham via Old Hill Bank, giving her and her 10-coach load something to think about. My morning started like most around steam: at dawn: and the now common McDonalds breakfast was enjoyed upon arrival at a dimly lit Tyseley shortly before 6am. I joke you not when I tell you it is my only means of summoning strength...
With my stomach replenished after the hearty meal, I wandered down through the locomotive sheds admiring the various steeds sat cold in the gloom. The express bulk of the Castle stood warming through gently outside the shed, emitting thick smoke into the chilly morning air. The lamps of the nearby London Midland fuel pit were all that illuminated the scene as the old engine prepared for her day out in Oxfordshire...
"Good Morning 5043 - Tyseley 6:00am"
These main line trips are one big adventure. We start out at Tyseley in the early morning, ready the engine and then take hundreds of passengers for a day out somewhere across the country. The engine then brings them home after their pleasant afternoon in the destination of choice and finally she returns to her shed to await her next jolly. Most of the "Earl"s preparation had been done yesterday and by 7:30am she was feathering loudly at the head of the 10-coach train. Departure was scheduled for just after 8am and passengers were boarding in all classes in anticipation of the off...
The main line crew then arrive to take up their duties on the footplate. Preservation on the main line requires a modern presence, quite naturally, and the Driver for today's outing would be Ray Poole for the most part. Ray passed on steam in BR days and has a wealth of experience born out of several years aboard countless footplates. I am actually quite in awe of the drivers that "did it for real" back in the day. For 'youngsters' (I say tongue in cheek!) like me that don't by any means remember steam in action when it was a day to day thing, drivers like Ray are an inspiration and proof of a time which some of us find hard to believe happened at all. Anyway, back to us, we departed Tyseley right on time with a further stop for passengers made at Snow Hill. The run through the Jewellery Quarter is always very audible and the Castle certainly made her voice heard as she stormed onward. I love this unusual shot sent in by Stuart Hassell. It shows the "Earl" passing completely unnoticed through the suburbs...
"5043 Slips Away" (Pic - S.Hassell)
After whistling past the Kidderminster terminus of the Severn Valley (and 7812 in the platform) we pulled up just north of Droitwich for water. 30 minutes (or so) later we were off again and the "Earl" was barking through the platform bound for Oxford...
"5043 At Droitwich Spa" (Pic - R.Walton)
We had a short stop at Worcester to load coal bags onto 5043's tender. The stop was an operational one but did give us a chance to replenish the coal supply. The large Hawksworth tender is certainly tall in stature and is quite imposing compared to the Collett types. It certainly gives the Castle some sleek lines...
Departing Worcester the "Earl" was in fabulous voice as she stormed away towards her birth place at Swindon. She is captured here providing a great display of acceleration...
"5043 Leaves Worcester Behind" (Pic - D.Chandler)
The efforts of 5043 would be no better heard than during her attack on Sapperton. This bank steepens to around 1 in 60 and provides a winding route for the powerful express engine. With load 10 and a strong climb at her feet, the "Earl" certainly made some noise. Meanwhile, we're supping tea and putting the preservation world to rights in the support coach whilst keeping one ear free to admire the sound of the Castle at work. One thing (poetic as it may be) that you notice during these trips is that each member of the Support Crew is always keeping tabs on the engine at the head. Its all about the welfare of the machine and each of us I think takes in each sound, from a change in beat to the noise of the track work rattling beneath us. We may not be on the footplate, but we are there in mind...I assure all readers of that! After a wonderful climb of Sapperton with the "Earl" in full cry...click here for a video of her efforts...progress was slowed for a brief stop at Swindon. Its amazing to think that 5043 was built here, along with countless other Great Western machines. The site of the old works is a shadow of its former self but I bet sister Castle No4073 "Caerphilly Castle": the first of the class built in 1923: was listening intently for the "Earl" from her resting place at the nearby STEAM Museum...
"Castle at Didcot" (Pic - P.Lovell)
From Swindon the Castle ran neatly to Didcot before turning towards Oxford. We pulled into Oxford station before the passengers alighted for their afternoon in the City. 5043 meanwhile would propel the stock back into a nearby loop for her rest period. Servicing was carried out here, with the tender being coaled and watered and the motion receiving a check and oil round. I remained aboard the train and received the role of 'passing person'; passing various tools and hoses up and down from the safety of the Support Coach. (Hopefully I'll be having my PTS Course in a few weeks). Our departure from the famous University City of Oxford was scheduled for 4:54pm and the Castle would need to be in the platform for loading around 10 minutes before that. With steam issuing loudly from the drain cocks, 5043 left the loop and proceeded into the station. The admiring crowds of passengers and onlookers stood in awe at the sight of her as she rolled in.

Leaving Oxford was a strange affair. For pathing purposes the train departed on time but was then looped for 45 minutes just north of the station! Main line steam is often fitted in between various services these days and a path allowing both use of the platform and the desired route in unison can be hard to come by. With the road later given, the Castle got "on the move"! (If you're reading this Will you know what I mean!). The run through the Cotswolds as the days light began to fade was lovely. The Castle roared away towards home throwing white steam over her shoulder as the temperature dipped into the evening dew. I got quite poetic (much to the annoyance of some of my Support Crew colleagues) about the Semaphore's that remain at Worcester. Watching the "Earl" striding away under the armed signals of yesteryear is something to be appreciated before its too late. How much longer will a thoroughbred Great Western express steam engine stride carefree under operational lower quadrants on the National Network? One day it will all (quite sadly) be in the past.

After the delights of Worcester the Castle roared through Kidderminster, passing 34027 "Taw Valley" with the SVR's Saturday evening Diner. The passing of steamers in the night is also a pleasure to see. Finally, to reach home, 5043 had to contend with Old Hill Bank and did so in fine style, barking away into the dark of the night...
"5043 At Rowley Regis" (Pic - A.Edkins)
Load 10 certainly made her bark but this double chimney masterpiece has seemingly no limits! The engine arrived triumphantly back at Tyseley after a very pleasant and successful day and at "right time" too...
With the engine stabled in the Warwick Road platform, the 08' was rudely awakened to shunt release her. With the many passengers (every seat was full today!) having alighted, the "Earl" was uncoupled and the diesel shunter drew the stock away. 5043 was then signalled across to the turntable where we awaited her presence...
"A Castle At Night - Tyseley Turntable 9:00pm"
With the Castle turned, I rode aboard the footplate back to the shed with some of the team. The intoxicating odour of oil and smoke aboard the footplate was wonderful to savour as the "Earl" steamed back to her shed. With the final hiss of the air rushing into the vacuum system the job was done and the "Earl" had completed another successful day out. What an adventure. I must thank the various photographers who have kindly sent in images for use in this post - it is much appreciated. I must also thank Tyseley once again for putting up with me and for their hospitality. It is a great thrill to see and experience these mighty engines in action in their true home setting: the main line. Plus, with the modern age forever encroaching, each run is precious for these old gals. There are plenty more Tyseley trips available to book so why not see the Vintage Trains website as there is bound to be a trip to suit you, whether it be a Pannier (or two!), a Castle or a Hall. Even with the Castle simmering quietly before disposal, you can almost sense her dreaming of that next trip. Many thanks all, Sam...

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