Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Beautiful "Earl" On The "Shakespeare Express"...

"A Castle In Flight" (Pic - D.Chandler)
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more" - a quote from Shakespeare's "Henry V". Today Tyseley's flagship steam service: the "Shakespeare Express": would have its first outing of the 2017 season, taking in two round trips to the birthplace of the famous playwright from the industrial heartlands of Birmingham. Vintage Trains, the 84E-based operating arm, has been running these specials on an annual basis for years now and they are arguably one of the most (if not the most) value for money experiences involving steam on the main line. As Support Crew, we go along and do the usual - help with coaling, watering and any other tasks surrounding the general welfare of the locomotive and stock. I arose at 05:30 this morning ready for my journey up the M6 into Birmingham. As the late great Johnny Cash once sang "Then I fumbled in my closet, through my clothes and found my cleanest, dirty shirt. Then I washed my face and combed my hair and stumbled down the stairs, to meet the day". Wonderful words seemingly true on steam days - a bright & early start is a must. I felt much better after my McDonalds though...
Arriving at Tyseley at around 06:45, I wandered down the oh so familiar pathway to the loco works. The adjacent London Midland depot was alive with rumbling units awaiting duties after their overnight maintenance. The days traction: No5043 "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe": was already outside the shed with a plume of smoke drifting steadily skyward from the double chimney...
The team were busy oiling and cleaning the already immaculate Castle Class 4-6-0, although I was set to work buffing up the cab roof to get all the smuts off. Even after nine full years in main line service, the "Earl" is a pleasure to polish and comes up like new. This is surely a testament to the love and care lavished upon her at 84E. Our ECS departure time was scheduled for 9 o'clock on the dot and so the Castle went over a little before 08:30. The slumbering Class 08 was rudely awakened by a hissing shove from the "Earl" in order to clear it from her path as she left shed...
Once clear of the motor points, 5043 was given the road to slink gently backwards onto the 8-coach set. Buffered up and coupled on, there was a moment or two to capture the Castle simmering gently at the head of the train. I've said it before, I'll say it again...what a handsome, muscular looking machine!...
As departure time neared, our Guard (Phil) was making his final checks. I meanwhile was put to work on arguably the most important morning task - cooking the crew breakfasts! Our usual (and highly experienced) chef Tony wasn't with us today and so I had to turn my hand to a conservative effort of not burning the bacon...
As 5043 trotted through the slowly awakening suburbs of Birmingham, I was slaving away over the cooker with the much needed help of young Ed. The abuse hurled at a destroyer of breakfasts aboard the Support Coach is always at the back of the mind in these situations. As the bacon and sausage cobs slowly left the kitchen side in order to be devoured by their various parties, I slowly began to fill with relief. By now the Castle was barking away up the strong gradient in the gloomy confines of Snow Hill Tunnel, her labours echoing throughout the train. Arriving into our usual platform the final sandwiches were given out and I could theoretically relax. Cooking crew breakfasts is stressful! 5043 ran round her train at Snow Hill ready for our 10:00 departure to Shakespeare's Stratford upon Avon...
"The Guard Brings 5043 Onto The Waiting Train"
Right on time, the Castle hissed away from Snow Hill and dropped down the gradient towards our second pick-up at Moor Street, in the shadow of the Bullring shopping centre. Leaving there, 5043 picked up her eight coaches easily and strode tender first towards Tyseley. Listening to the engine working away at around 30mph and a breath of steam is wonderful - not a bang, not a knock, not a clink...its beautiful...what a machine. Looking out across the rolling Warwickshire countryside as the seemingly huge wheels of the engine roll around effortlessly beneath her is quite a thing. After a final pick-up at Henley we dropped into Stratford down the Wilmcote bank. There, 5043 ran round the train before watering commenced...
Whilst the Castle was preparing for departure, I was back on the cooker again. The team had trotted across to Morrisons during the layover and had returned bearing burgers. To be fair, they turned out alright although we must have smelt like a flying barbeque with the screaming cry of the double chimney Castle being tailed by clouds of greasy smoke from the support coach! Once safely back at a stand in Snow Hill, I ejected quickly to grab a shot of the 4-6-0 before the public turned out...
The second Snow Hill layover is shorter than the morning one. 5043 duly ran round her rake of chocolate & cream coaches before assuming her place for a tender first departure. Back at Stratford, passenger and photographer Maxine Tait caught me collecting hoses after we'd topped up the tender again...
"Got Any O's?" (Pic - M.Tait)
Jobs at Stratford include pulling coal down, watering the tender, changing the lamps and the headboard and the crew will also check over and re-oil the loco. Its a fairly leisurely affair as there is a good layover time, allowing onlookers to view the Great Western engine with time to spare. Soon enough, our final departure homeward arrived and the Castle was soon barking towards Wilmcote once again. Back at Snow Hill the engine was ready for a final run round prior to her ECS run back to base...
A run round capture of "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" at Snow Hill...
Our end of the platform soon cleared once 5043 was out of sight...
The "Shakespeare" stock returns to Tyseley via Moor Street and Small Heath, descending into the yard and into the middle road. There, 5043 waits to be shunt released by the Class 08 diesel shunter...
"Ready For A Rest"
A tender first arrival means no need to turn and the Castle (once free) steams back to the shed via the motor points for disposal and stabling. What a pleasant day it had been, strolling through the Warwickshire countryside with a Great Western express engine. For more information on Tyseley's signature excursion - click here. Thank you to everyone at Tyseley for another great day out - always a pleasure and a privilege to be involved. Thank you to Maxine Tait and David Chandler for kindly sending in images for use in this post and thank you all for reading. Cheers then, until next time, Sam...

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