Sunday, 23 April 2017

"Sir Gomer" Brings Back Memories...

Hi all. Today, over at Shackerstone, an old friend was returning to steam. Regular readers will know that Battlefield Line steam services have recently been in the hands of the NRM's LSWR T9 No30120. The Greyhound left Shackerstone during the week and as the long term visitor "Cumbria" is still out of action for some 'fine tuning' on the bottom end, the railway was effectively left without a steam engine. Enter the railways own Peckett saddle tank which has languished almost forgotten at the back of the shed since October 2015. After a spruce up and two successful visits from the boiler man (cold test & steam test) the Peckett was rostered for service today for the first time in ages. According to my blog the last time "Sir Gomer" was rostered for service on a Shenton passenger working was during the Christmas period of 2013 when it ran hot and was failed and forgotten. It was repaired in 2014 and did a short stint of station pilot workings but didn't see regular passenger use. Today, happily, 18 months since her last moves and straight out of the box, "Sir Gomer" did the unimaginable and operated a full day in passenger service. 

I had decided during the week that if the tests on the Peckett were successful, I would have a run over to Shack and ride behind her. Passenger outings for "Gomer" are these days rarer than a dog who speaks Norwegian so I couldn't miss it. After Sunday lunch I jumped into the car and set off for the Fen Lanes of Leicestershire. The 1:45pm trip would just be returning from Shenton and so I donned my hi-viz vest and waited on Carlton bridge. Unfortunately, after a series of test shots, my camera had a wobbly just as the Peckett drifted into view and the resulting shot was not really what I wanted. Anything was a bit of luck under the circumstances...
"1859 'Sir Gomer' On The Move"
The old industrial trotted past me, ticking along at probably little more than 15mph. The four coaches sauntered along behind her as she continued towards the slack at Hedleys. I dropped back down the embankment to the car before heading to Shackerstone where the engine had just run round and reached the water column. I've never been a fan of the blue but I must admit it looked better than normal in the Spring sunshine...
"Sir Gomer" was built by the Bristol firm of Peckett & Sons in June 1932 as Works Number 1859. Classified as an 'OX1' 0-6-0, the engine was a powerful beast, designed with short bursts of brute strength in mind. She spent her entire working life at NCB Mountain Ash in South Wales from which she was retired in 1981. Many photographers snapped her there, working countless rakes of grumbling wagons back and forth along almost appalling track. She found her way to Shackerstone in 2001 after a preservation rebirth at the Vale of Glamorgan Railway. Unfortunately, "Sir Gomer"s near 50-year stint of hard work at the pit had resulted in a very worn out locomotive. Shack has spent large sums on the old Peckett over the years and it is only now that she is anywhere near in good health. The large sums of money involved in keeping her active is however by no means unheard of when you consider the amount of work she did with very little maintenance. Old colliery engines were by no means kept to main line standard. Happily, she is much better these days, although a return to full lined green would be more typical...
Bang on time, "Sir Gomer" left Shack with the 3pm departure for Shenton. I was immediately surprised at the fairly smooth ride as "Gomer" is often remembered for having all the subtlety of tapping a glass with a sledgehammer to begin a toast. Some of the lads have been making modifications to the rear drawbar which has improved matters no end. The typical Peckett waddle is still in evidence, made worse by the short wheelbase and outside cylinders but the ride aboard the coaches has been dramatically improved. At Market Bosworth I left the train briefly to grab a snap of "Gomer"...
"Peckett Power at Market Bosworth"
At this point Driver Jason kindly invited me up onto the footplate: a once familiar haunt for all of us involved at Shackerstone. I gratefully accepted the invitation and "Sir Gomer" strode happily towards Shenton. The ride on the footplate was just like old times: the clanking handbrake, the rattling firedoors and the vibration of the copper pipes bowing enthusiastically on every rail joint...it was great!...
Rolling easily into Shenton, Craig uncoupled "Sir Gomer" ready for the run round. She was shining as she stood waiting patiently at the crossing...
"Peckett & Sons 1859 of 1932"
I wandered down to the point to pull the road for 1859 once she'd drew forward. It was lovely to see her down at Shenton once more...
"Sir Gomer" then ran round the stock, still running right time...
Soon she was awaiting departure with the 3:35pm to Shackerstone...
Carl had a good fire in the box ready for the return trip...
"Fire In The Hole"
Jason had fitted an attractive pressure gauge to the gauge board for the steam test. I must admit it was much nicer than the old thing 1859 used to carry...
The "Right Away" came bang on time and "Sir Gomer" was soon on the move once again with her four coach train. The pull up Shenton Bank involved a little more effort but nothing that could provide any real exertion...
Waddling along back to Market Bosworth, I couldn't help but think how capable "Gomer" actually is. I've thought it for years, as I'm sure many a Shackerstone engineman has. She isn't perfect by any stretch. She's a lumbering ignorant industrial but she offers bags of power and she'll steam for England if you ask her to. Don't get me wrong, you're never going to take eight up to Goathland on the NYMR or anything like that but on a rural Leicestershire branch line set-up like Shack she'll plod along quite happily. She is rough and ready but considering she is operating in situations far outside her original design capabilities she copes wonderfully. Some drivers take kindly to her, others hate her and won't ruin their good name by crewing her. I've always liked her...
"Waiting The Off From Market Bosworth"
I think my fondness for "Sir Gomer" grew during my younger years. When I'd just started at Shackerstone each week would be a constant battle of begging Mum to get up on her days off to take me over there to empty pits, scrub wheels and generally ruin my clothes. Her washing machines took several beatings from oil stained overalls and one or two met their end attempting to clean them! Throughout all those first years, the one engine available for use - when she felt up to it - was "Sir Gomer" and she was the first big engine I ever had any real involvement with. In the years since I've fired and driven her many times and been to four other preserved railways aboard her footplate. For all of the reasons above, she'll always be special to me.

After a good run back to Shackerstone showing off her fair turn of speed for an old industrial, "Sir Gomer" rolled neatly back into Platform 2. The run round for the final train of the day (the 4:15pm) was carried out swiftly and she was soon watering for the final time at the column. She'd done really well so far...
"Driver Jason Supervises The Watering Process"
I decided to watch "Sir Gomer" go out on the final trip to Shenton. The video clip below was taken as she pulled up the slight gradient towards the signalbox. A train of around 120 tons is nothing compared to the 900 tons or so she was designed for...

It was a pleasure to see industrial steam out at Shackerstone again. Seeing "Sir Gomer" takes me back to my younger years and all those days of both total elation and complete disappointment that surrounded them. Back then, "Sir Gomer" was all there was and I did my first day on the footplate at Shackerstone with her on Easter Sunday 2008. Well done old gal'. I must thank Jason for the footplate ride on my old favourite and of course note the efforts of all at Shackerstone who have returned the old engine to steam. Its a pleasure to see her again. Cheers all, Sam...

No comments: