Saturday, 17 December 2016

"Santa Special"s at Evesham Vale...

Hi all. Over the years I've always found that nothing gets me into the Christmas mood more than operating "Santa Special" trains. There is something about the pleasant atmosphere that often comes with them that is quite infectious and its lovely to be involved with them, especially nearer to the big day. Today I was booked to drive at the 15" gauge Evesham Vale Light Railway and so an early morning trip down to Worcestershire was on the cards. I arrived at the EVLR's base of Twyford station at around 8:10am, having called for my now traditional McDonalds breakfast on route. It was lovely...
EVLR owners Adrian & Sandra soon arrived and we all duly signed in. On the roster was 300...that's "Monty". I was quite pleased to have "Monty" today as not only does she have a full cab but she is also the most powerful engine of the three in the fleet so there is never any shortage of strength. Myself & Adrian were soon pushing a cold "Monty" outside into the morning air: pushing an engine is a luxury of 15" gauge! With the loco secured I went around doing my checks before lighting the fire...
With a good blaze of paraffin-soaked rags roaring away on the grate, wood is added on top with a final compliment of coal. I tend to use the coal just to black the whole lot out. You can still hear the wood crackling away beneath and that's a sure sign that you're onto a winner. At Evesham, an airline is added to provide the artificial draft required to bring the heat through the tubes and eject it skyward up the chimney. These Exmoor engines do draw quite well once the chimney is hot but a helping hand from the airline doesn't hurt. Once the fire is lit, the Driver starts with the brasses. It was quite nice this morning polishing the engine whilst watching the sun come through the mist that was hovering like a blanket above the Vale of Evesham...
Once the brasses are done you can continue around the engine with the Pledge. Pledge is used to polish up the paintwork and the cream livery of the cab interior. With the cleaning tasks complete, the grease gun is used to top up the low maintenance roller bearings before a final application of bearing oil is added to any oil points. "Monty" has 8 wick-feed pots and a mechanical lubricator too. Once I'd completed preparation, "Monty" was looking very smart on her shed road, proudly wearing the "Santa Special" headboard...
It was just after 10am that I boarded the cab and prepared to steam out to the mouth of the yard to blow the boiler down. Blowing down violently ejects any deposits which may leave the steam during evaporation. The deposits generally congregate around the lowest section of the boiler/firebox - the foundation ring - and a throat plate mounted valve allows you to release water at boiler pressure and thus the deposits should follow along within. Boilers are washed out at regular intervals for this same reason. The worry is that if the deposits are allowed to settle, the plate-work will wear as there is not water on the surface but scale. Fireboxes have been quilted and stays have been cooked like this in the past. Anyway, back on track, the engine was blown down 1/2 a glass as normal...
The EVLR Santa trains operate to the normal Winter timetable, with 12 departures scheduled at half hourly intervals and the first one at 10:30am. The passengers take a steam hauled train ride around the railway, returning to Twyford to see Santa in the recently completed log cabin. The process continues throughout the day and I believe that over 400 Santa tickets had been sold for today alone. That made the EVLR sold out! There was however limited capacity for 'just a train ride' too, meaning that "Monty" would have a good 4-coach load all day long. We left Twyford on time with the first departure, steaming easily around the circuit but slipping well on Fishers Bank. Due to the slipping encountered I decided to manually sand the track out of Evesham Vale in case we lost traction on the spring-loaded trailing points. "Monty" returned easily back to Twyford and was quickly run round following a stop at the water column. Here we go again...
The 11am train provided a well deserved kick in the pride! I couldn't help thinking on the first trip how the usually agile "Monty" was being held back by the heavy train. Four coaches is normally no issue but having said that every train had pretty much every seat full today. Whilst steaming up Fishers Bank on the 11am trip with the pressure nudging the red line, "Monty" burst into a slip. When I caught it we continued another few panels before slipping again during which the weight of the train on the draw-bar halted "Monty" like an anchored ship! Taking account of rail condition and the fact that we'd stalled out, I opted to secure the train and sand the rail. Attempting to continue without sand would have been nothing shy of embarrassing! Having sanded the rails ahead of the engine and in front of and between the driving wheels, I whistled up following a fresh "Right Away" before opening the regulator. Due to the bank, the regulator must be opened as the brakes are removed to prevent a snag or a roll back. Thankfully, with sand under the tyres, "Monty" roared away with steam to spare. I was thankful once again to have "Monty" as no grip is one thing but no power and no grip is quite another! Away from the sanded section "Monty" continued to slip at regular intervals but the momentum kept us going until we reached the summit and descended through the tunnel...
The climb up Twyford Bank was much easier, though I will say that it "got hold of her". Speaking to Adrian prior to the 11:30am trip, he said that there were many adults aboard today and thus the train weights were heavier than normal. This was pretty good to hear as "Monty" is usually the do anything engine but today she was working hard for her living! The day went on just like that really. We steamed in, ran round, coupled up and off we went again. The day went very quickly indeed and it was lovely to see smiling faces and listen to the Christmas music during the Twyford layovers. "Monty" is spotted simmering outside the Mess Room whilst I make a cuppa' prior to an early afternoon run...
Every three trips it was time to re-oil the motion, particularly the die blocks and spindles. "Monty", though working hard, was in her usual good form and I had no trouble with steam nor water. Its a pleasant engine to be on...
For the 1pm train some of the family came up for a train ride. They were visiting The Valley for a coffee and a look around the Garden Centre. Mum joined me on the engine for the return trip from Evesham Vale and remarked how warm the fire was!...
Looking ahead with the 2pm train from Twyford, hauled by "Monty"...
The engine continued to go well, right through into the afternoon. The 2pm was most enjoyable and, with the rails slightly dryer, "Monty" had the edge again...
Looking homeward from Evesham Vale, awaiting the "Right Away"...
The engine was watered once again in readiness for the 3pm departure, with two more outings to follow after that one. The trains remained full throughout the day and Santa constantly had a queue of mince pie holding visitors...
Talking of mince pies, the traditional EVLR Tea & Cake turned into the Tea & Mince Pie today - how very festive! Its always nice to enjoy a cuppa' by the fireside...
Just prior to departure with the 3pm trip, we changed the "Santa Special" headboard for the very nice Midland-looking lamp. The light was much dimmer than the photographs portray as the clouds were beginning to settle in readiness for a Wintry evening...
The engine continued to steam well and was sitting happily on the red line as we awaited departure with the final train of the day - the 4pm run. The light had faded well by this point and "Monty"s headlamp was burning brightly...
It was quite pleasant steaming off into the dim light of this Winter evening, with "Monty" throwing white steam over her shoulder. Steaming through the old Apple Orchards, the engine made her voice heard. The final train called at Evesham Vale and Fran the Guard went around dishing out the sweets to the younger visitors for the last time today. "Monty" now had a nice, thin fire and was being readied to go on shed...
Returning to Twyford, the many passengers alighted under the station roof in order to watch "Monty" turn. With the engine clear of the turntable, the gates were opened and the queue moved across to beyond Platform 3 where the log cabin stands. Whilst they waited to see Santa, I watered "Monty" for the last time before steaming gently backwards onto the shed across the creaking points. Once secured, it was time to dispose...
The fire is raked through to leave a warm, light covering and the boiler is well filled to knock the pressure back. The engine is then cleaned once again with the Pledge and the motion rubbed down. The ashpan is also emptied and the tools stowed correctly prior to reversing back into the shed. All in all, another very pleasant day on EVLR metals and a very nice atmosphere hauling their Santa trains. Many thanks to Adrian & Sandra for another great day. Cheers all and Merry Christmas. Good evening, Sam...

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