Sunday, 30 July 2017

"Roger" The Wren Goes To Welland...

Hi all. On this glorious but threatening morning, myself and JB were on the road heading for Welland. After a fairly wet week and even more heavy rainfall overnight, we had elected to take John's trusty 1982 Land Rover as my BMW would sink at even the sight of mud! It was the third and final day of the 2017 Welland Steam Rally - the 53rd annual event of its kind. There would be traction engines, steam rollers, showmans engines, cars, lorries, tractors - you name it! We had again been rostered to crew one of the SBR engines on the 2ft gauge demonstration railway, laid as part of the 'Road Making' display. Welland not only has an impressive line up of exhibits but also provides several working demonstrations from wood sawing and threshing to ploughing and tractor pulling. There are two railways on the site: the 2ft gauge one and a standard gauge track known as the Great Welland Railway. After a good chug down the M5 towards Worcester, we reached the rally a little after 07:15. Having gained access and proceeded through the site to the ploughing field, we found the loco - "Roger" - waiting with the tippers under the blue skies...
Last year "Howard" (formerly "Paddy") - the vertical boiler engine - did the honours but the little Kerr Stuart Wren, built in 1918, could not have been more appropriate. "Roger", works number 3128, worked at the Imperial Smelting Company in Avonmouth, Bristol. In preservation it has travelled to Canada, returned for overhaul at Statfold, gone back to Canada a second time and then been bought by Statfold. "Roger" now lives a quiet existence on the Garden Railway, working alongside "Howard". The Kerr Stuart Wren's were a popular 0-4-0 contractors locomotive, eventually numbering 163 examples and employing the simple Hackworth valve gear. A punchy and capable little engine, the Wren's were used in various applications. It was my first time on "Roger" and, having checked around to make sure all was well, I lit the fire...
We had a small, damp rag which we managed to get some paraffin onto but it still smouldered on the grate barely clinging to life. The small chunks of wood we had had also got damp on the footplate overnight and so I just opened the damper and hoped it would take. The adjacent SBR steam shovel had more than enough wood to light up on so we pinched some of that too! Damp rags and damp wood, ay? Suddenly memories of Shack came flooding back into my head...can't think why. Anyway, with the wood slowly beginning to crackle on the bars, a lazy plume of smoke rose steadily skyward from the tall, stovepipe chimney...
With the embryo fire slowly taking to the wood, I piled on some of the Welsh coal. In the words of a legend..."you've gotta' get um' hot" for the Welsh stuff to burn, otherwise it sits there providing nothing but a kick in the pride. JB meanwhile was going around the few oiling points with the cans. Everything is on the outside and easy to get at with this basic little engine. What a nice old thing...
With the engine oiled and the fire doing its own thing, we wandered down into the catering area to "grab some snap" as JB put it. Thankfully, we found some. A cuppa' and a Full English in the sunshine was most welcome...
Having enjoyed our breakfast, we trudged back across to the engine through the increasing abundance of mud. She now had 20psi on the clock and was bubbling away nicely with the Welsh coal having taken well. Very pleasant...
We can see from the basic outline of the Wren just how 'workmanlike' it is. There is no manifold as such. The steam valves come off the dome and the injectors are situated just above the expansion blocks. Therefore you can only comfortably inject when stood alongside the engine. Obviously the plan was for them to be stationary most of the time, chugging only short distances on their respective railways. The basic driving controls include a reverser, regulator and handbrake...
As the pressure within 3128 slowly climbed towards the red line, we decided to have a pull up the short track. I assumed full forward and opened the regulator to warm the cylinders. I then did the same in reverse and then forward again, clearing most of the condensate. With a pip on the extremely shrill whistle, I opened the regulator further and after a little hesitation the engine edged forward. Hissing like a 60s Black Five, "Roger" chugged up the rocky track work towards the top. We had a pesky drain cock or two that wouldn't shut - something that would require a careful choice of swear words to sort later on! After two trips back and forth, 3128 was warming through nicely and JB took over the regulator. I decided to go off and have a walk round before the inevitable rains came. The Met Men had promised a violent storm in the afternoon so I was taking no chances. Over on the Great Welland Railway, a familiar engine was on service - "Bellerophon". I last saw her the other week at Foxfield...
Bellerophon was a hero of Greek mythology, before the days of Hercules. This 0-6-0 well tank was built in 1874 by the Haydock Foundry and employs outside Stephenson's valve gear. I was interested to learn that she carries piston valves and therefore, due to the lack of 'give' shall we say compared to slide valves, she was equipped with cylinder relief valves on each end cover. To me, this is an advancement far beyond her years as I would have thought she'd have simple slide valves...
"Piston, Crosshead and Cover Arrangement"
The Foxfield team who were crewing "Bellerophon" kindly invited me for a couple of footplate rides up and down the track...
"Riding The Footplate On The 1874-built Haydock"
Giving rides aboard a Great Western Toad, "Bellerophon" had no issues climbing the field. It must have been an easy weekend away compared to life on the 1 in 19 back home! This is a capable, smooth-riding elderly engine with power far beyond her antiquated looks. Here she is approaching the station...
After a couple of trips on the lovely 0-6-0 I jumped down and thanked the lads for the opportunity. Since I'd been chatting and riding around on engines, I decided I'd best get back to my man on "Roger". On the way I passed a very well set-up Marshall working a saw bench. The governor was perfectly set and it was a treat to listen to the single working hard as each cut was taken...
Statfold's "Mary Marshall" lines up alongside two traction engines...
Upon my return to "Roger", the engine was sat near the stone crusher having just unloaded a tipper. The stones are loaded by hand at the foot of the hill, hauled up the track by the Wren and then tipped out onto the ground...
The team of workmen then gradually load the stones into the crusher which is driven by a portable engine dating from the early 1900s. The grunting machine effortlessly munches the large stones down to a fine gravel which is then shovelled into a wheelbarrow for transport to the rolling area...
Barrow by barrow, the crushed stones (now chippings) are carted up to the nearby steam roller before being tipped out, raked and rolled. The Wren meanwhile can steam up and down for the publics enjoyment whilst the road is rolled by the 10-ton Aveling "Alfie". The process is then repeated throughout the day...
"SBR's Wren 'Roger' Meets 'Alfie' The Steam Roller"
The display is completed by the addition of several items of plant, vintage signage and period costumes. To be fair to the chaps involved, it looks really good and yet it is only a tiny part of the overall attraction list offered by the Welland rally. Just over the way from us, Statfold's mighty Erie Steam Shovel was working hard in a pile of dirt. This impressive (and fairly frightening) machine is a joy to watch in action...
Whilst JB had another jaunt up and down, I nipped across to the Ice Cream Van and got us some horrendously expensive Ice Creams. Very nice they were too!...
Ice cream devoured, JB went off for a walk around the site whilst I trundled back and forth on the Wren. With the fire burning quietly on notch one of the damper and hardly any water being used, the engine was a pleasure to drive. The one irritation was the hissing of the drain cocks. I spent some time under the engine oiling the linkage and tightening up some bolts before resetting some of the closing positions on the cocks. This improved things no end and the hissing disappeared. With the steam noises gone, the Wren barely murmured as she strode easily up and down the short line...wonderful! When JB returned he was brandishing two hot cups of tea which we duly enjoyed whilst watching the Erie at work. Around mid-afternoon, I went down to the fair...
Amongst the various rides and stalls stood the line-up of beautiful Showmans engines. Brasswork sparkling and dynamo's singing, they made for an impressive sight. There were some conversions (poor old rollers having been cut up to make a showmans) but the majority were beautiful originals...
If I win the Lotto I wouldn't mind a Showmans engine! Back at the Wren, the Erie steam shovel was still proving a popular attraction as it munched through the piles of dirt. Visitors stood around it for ages...
As the day drew towards its close, the numbers of visitors slowly began to thin out. The threatening darkness of the rain clouds coming into view across the hills made everyone think about dropping their fires. We had a few more runs up and down as we awaited the call to knock off. "Roger"s extremely shrill whistle had to be used with care - "Tinnitus" would have been a more appropriate name! In the end we were cleared to dispose the Wren just after 4pm and Britt duly employed the dart to thin out the fire...
We always leave a bit in there though to keep her warm...
Once the fire had been deadened, the boiler was filled and the gauge glass isolated. The pressure was now down to around 80psi and the engine was made safe & secure. We isolated the clacks and checked all the valves, taking our time so as not to miss anything (as you do). By now the rain was starting to fall and our final job was to affix the chimney cap to keep some heat in the engine...
"A Last Look at 'Roger' The Wren"
The chimney cap, though it can make engines 'sweat' a bit at the smokebox, helps to hold the heat, preventing it leaving via the chimney. The slower we can cool an engine down, the better. We have a variety of materials within the boiler of differing expansion rates and so cooling it down slowly is as important as steaming it up slowly. Doing things during disposal like filling a boiler from empty to full with fresh cold water is a massive no. Anyway, after a very pleasant day out, we retired to Britt's Landy for the run home. We were thankful to have brought the 4x4 and not my BM as the 'truck' is much more at home wading through the mud. My car would have been sunk, with only the aerial poking out above the dirt! I must thank Britt for a lovely day, and for driving us down to Welland. I must also thank Statfold Barn for another great opportunity with one of their engines. Cheers all, Sam...

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