Friday, 14 July 2017

"Sir Gomer" - The Foxfield Adventure...

"Peckett 'Sir Gomer' Does The Banking" (Pic - G.Nuttall)
Hi all. Longer term readers will no doubt remember my many travels with Shackerstone's 0-6-0 saddle tank "Sir Gomer"; their faithful, chunky Peckett. She was the first big engine I 'worked' on as a trainee and for this reason she's always been special to me. When the railway decided that it wanted to favour larger, more glamorous locomotives the Peckett was shipped off on various short term hire jobs around the country. On all of those visits I went with her for a day on a different railway and to check she was OK. In light of recent goings on in the past 12 months, I was nothing short of astounded when I was asked to accompany "Gomer" this weekend for her visit to the Foxfield Railway in Staffordshire. Boasting the steepest adhesion worked gradient on any preserved railway, the Foxfield is a haven for industrial steam. No1859 would join six other industrial workhorses for a steam gala celebrating 50 Years of preservation on the ex-colliery line. This morning, bright and early, I was in the car and heading up the A50 towards Stoke. I arrived at the Foxfield base of Caverswall Road Station, just outside Blythe Bridge, at around 06:30. "Gomer" was on shed alongside the elderly Haydock "Bellerophon"...
I duly met up with Driver Nigel and Fireman Andi, who would be taking charge of the Peckett today. I helped Andi clean the engine whilst Nigel went around with the oil cans. When "Gomer" went into the shed to ash out over the pit, I joined Nigel underneath to do a quick FTR. Its always best to check around a locomotive after road travel. You're looking for anything that's hanging off, split-pins missing, loose bolts, severe signs of wear or lack of lubrication etc. Nothing was found to be amiss under the Peckett and so she steamed back outside, clearing the way for other engines to use the pit. Andi then buffed up the saddle tank and the liberal coating of hideous blue was soon shining in the dim morning light. The old gal' looked quite nice...
Our off-shed time in the working timetable wasn't until 09:30 and so, with nearly an hour to spare, we wandered off to grab a breakfast in the café. The "One Legged Shunter" certainly does a nice fry up...
Stomach stuffed, it was time to head back to the waiting Peckett. "Bellerophon" was getting ready alongside an RSH and a very nice little 14" Bagnall...
Our first move was a light engine run down to Dilhorne Park; the current passenger terminus of the railway. The line was built to carry coal from the Foxfield Colliery down to the exchange sidings alongside the main line at Blythe Bridge - a run just shy of 3 miles. The railway was laid with minimal earthworks, resulting in stiff gradients and tight curves. The bank out of the colliery is what brings visitors to Foxfield for their industrial galas. The demonstration freight trains and their chunky steeds must negotiate a bank which averages 1 in 25 and steepens to 1 in 17 at the worst. I did wonder how "Gomer" would get on. Her health in recent years hasn't been the best and her timing needs some work. She really needs some TLC. She was however always a willing and powerful engine so I knew she'd give it a go regardless. The team at Foxfield had already steamed and FTR'd her yesterday and this had included a run up the bank. Although they commented that she'd do better if she was 'well', she managed 6 wagons and this would be her maximum solo load for the gala weekend.

At 09:30 we departed Caverswall Road and steamed light engine towards Dilhorne. The engine romped along quite happily through the pretty Staffordshire countryside and we arrived at Dilhorne shortly after. Here we had a good 15-minute or so break whilst we waited for two locomotives to come up from the colliery and clear the section. There had been a sunrise photo charter which had left shed at 06:30. Once this train was clear we could descend the bank to the colliery yard ready for our first attack on the climb. Meanwhile, "Gomer" simmered happily...
"1859 Simmers Quietly At Dilhorne Park"
Dilhorne Park station nestles in a wooded sanctuary just at the summit of Foxfield Bank. All you could hear was the singing of the birds on this calm Friday morning. The poetic peace was soon shattered however by the almighty roar of a pair of Austerity's ("Whiston" & "Wimblebury") marching confidently towards us up the hill...
With the two saddle tanks clear of the section, "Gomer" was cleared to run down the bank light engine. However, as the two Austerity's were running slightly late, the passenger train had arrived behind the two 14" 0-4-0s and therefore it was decided to go with them down the hill. We steamed over as a trio to collect the wagons left by the 18" twins and prepared to go down to the colliery. With no continuous brakes available, a brakeman was employed to pin down the wagons. Each wagon is braked individually and so starting them on the flat requires quite a pull. The "pull test" is then performed to ensure that no wheels are locked before clearance is given to descend the bank. All of these different practises were interesting to study and I guess you can only really see things like this at Foxfield...
At the colliery "Gomer" was uncoupled and we ran over into a spur to take water. The two 0-4-0s meanwhile dragged the wagons down so that they were behind us ready for our attack on the bank...
"Sir Gomer", built in 1932, spent her working life at Mountain Ash colliery in Wales. She endured a difficult 49 years hauling countless coal wagons back and forth until she was retired in 1981. This visit to Foxfield heralded the first time that the Peckett had been in a colliery setting for the last 36 years. It was all quite poignant really, seeing the engine alongside the pit head gear...
Tank full, we rolled back towards the waiting wagons - six minerals and a brakevan. This was "Gomer"s only solo run up the bank today and I was very interested to see how she'd do. Fireman Andi made up a good fire for the ascent...
The bank stretched out before us through the spectacle...
With reams of black smoke bellowing from the chimney and both valves up ("gotta' get em' hot!") it was now or never. The Guard gave his whistle and away we went. The load wasn't much on the flat as we roared through the colliery yard...
"Up The Bank With The Peckett" (Pic - G.Nuttall)
With the bank beneath her wheels "Gomer" was given most of what she'd got and her out of beat exhaust echoed all around the colliery. "I think I can, I know I can, I hope I can!". One by one the gradient gathered up the wagons and the speed began to drop. The engine banged and rocked and you had the sense she was pulling like never before. The pressure needle descended gradually as the demand of the cylinders outweighed the boiler output. On a bank like Foxfield there's nothing you can really do but pile up the fire and keep the doors shut. The steepest section at 1 in 17 really got hold of "Gomer" but she strode towards the summit with the needle nailed at 120psi. We were nearly there...
With a screaming whistle "Gomer" asthmatically topped the punishing climb and Driver Nigel shut-off gradually to keep the wagons pulling against the gradient, preventing snatching. Coming to a halt in the Dilhorne Park loop, "Gomer"s valves lifted once more as the steam pressure was replenished following the first of her great labours. Nigel said "what d'ya reckon then?"...I replied "bit steep mate". Well done old gal'...
As we waited in the loop for "Bellerophon" to arrive on the vintage Knotty Train, I couldn't help but think how much better "Gomer" would have done in good nick. Who knows. When the old Haydock arrived, 1859 moved across onto the Knotty rake and away we went. Weighing no more than 50 tons or so, the heritage train was easily pulled towards Caverswall Road by a wheezy "Sir Gomer". The tight curves are evident below. Apparently when the line was built the local landowners didn't want it providing an eyesore on their land so it had to find a route of its own across the fields...
At 12:10 (or there abouts) we arrived at Caverswall Road...
The Austerity's were next to depart for Dilhorne, pulling the Mk1 set. Once they were clear, "Gomer" ran round the Knotty Train...
Our next departure wasn't until 13:00 and so a nice cuppa' was next on the agenda. The two 0-4-0s would have to arrive back with the Mk1's and then shunt them over into the yard before the Knotty rake could use the platform anyway. We had a nice run down to Dilhorne with the pretty little coaches before running down the bank once more, this time with the Dubs tank. Back in the colliery, Nigel & Andi did some coaling the hard way - shovelling from a mineral wagon behind the engine...
Once coaled, we rolled forward for water. A bit of sunshine provided another opportunity to capture "Gomer" alongside the pit head gear. I believe the colliery closed in the late 1960s - the end of an era...
I was kindly allowed to do some driving on the next trip, banking the Dubs crane tank and her wagons. It was to prove a whole new experience...
The Dubs tank whistled up, to which I replied from "Gomer". With a snatch of the coupling she got us underway and the 0-4-0 was soon attacking the foot of the bank in fine style. As the weight began to hold back I was instructed to provide some steam and "Gomer" pushed into the brakevan with her helping efforts. As the gradient steepened I opened the regulator further and "Gomer" continued to push for all she was worth. This time not all of her strength was needed and thus the pressure needle stayed further northward than last time. I'm not convinced that the timing issues aren't affecting "Gomer"s ability to exhaust, hence the lack of steaming the harder you work her. She never used to be like that. After a very enjoyable trip on the handle we descended back to the colliery with the wagons before being shunt released to water once again...
The RSH & the Bagnall double act had returned to the colliery yard and had marshalled the next train - a 12 wagon formation. "Gomer" would bank the pair up the hill, although I'm fairly certain they might have made it alone the way they were going! "Gomer" was really just holding the brakevan!...
"Banking The Long Freight For The Two 0-4-0s"
At the summit of Dilhorne we awaited the all clear to go back down one last time in preparation for the final ascent of the day...
The freight had been shortened for the final ascent of the day and, once again, old "Gomer" was being dragged rather than doing the pushing! The two 14" four-wheelers were unbelievably feisty for their size...
At Dilhorne Loop we were held briefly before being cleared to run back to Caverswall Road in the same formation. The two 0-4-0s led the way and "Gomer" blew off loudly on the back of the train all the way back. The sun was now out for the evening...
At the outer home signal the two 0-4-0s left the wagons and steamed onto the shed, leaving "Gomer" to propel the freight up into the loop for stabling. From there we dropped back down to the signalbox before being given the road to trundle into the yard. Groaning through the point work, 1859 came to rest on shed...
The usual disposal procedure then took place: deaden the fire, fill the boiler, isolate the necessary. All around us the familiar end of the day noises were evident: the clanking of fire irons, the ringing of shovels and the oh so rhythmic slurping of injectors. The engines were also having their smokeboxes cleared of any char...
"Emptying The Smokebox On Newly Overhauled 'Wimblebury' - Austerity"
As the seven industrials were bedded down for the night, I couldn't help but think how well "Gomer" had done given her current condition. A hard life spanning 49 years at the pit won't have done her any favours but even with her timing off she pulls well and is always willing to steam. Hopefully one day the old girl will be right - even if I do have to wait until my Lotto numbers come up...
"A Last Look At 'Sir Gomer' - Peckett 1859 of 1932"
I must say that the Foxfield Railway certainly is a haven for industrial steam. Its lovely to see these old workhorses strutting their stuff with authentic wagons. The climb out of the colliery is audible if nothing else, although it is definitely a "bit steep". I must thank the team at Foxfield for their kind hospitality today, and for trying their best not to let "Gomer" over do it. That's another railway done on the footplate - five now in total with 1859. Another unique steam experience. I did some driving and some banking and pulled a train with pinned down brakes - that's another first! Thank you kindly to Mr Nuttall for sending in two of the images used in the post. Finally, thank you all for reading - sorry for the heavy post. I'm sure if you search on Youtube there are stacks of videos of "Sir Gomer" at work. Best Regards, Sam...

4 comments:

Jeff said...

As always Sam a really good write up about your day :) I think I meet your driver a year or two back, did his last name start with a B? if it did I meet him at my work here in NZ and give hime a cab ride in one of our engines. ( Shantytown.co.nz )

Sam Brandist said...

Thank you Jeff - great to hear from you again. Always nice to know somebody is reading! :D Nigel Brazier was the Driver so I guess so yes! Thanks for the comment and hope you will check back in the future :)

James Dowling said...

Great write up Sam. I went on Saturday and she certainly looked the part, despite the slightly odd beats.

Sam Brandist said...

Thank you James! Glad you're reading and glad you had a nice day. It was a great event, lots going on and plenty to see. Shame about the condition of Gomer. It needs some TLC now to get it top notch. A good strong engine in good nick she is. See you soon, Sam