Thursday, 21 December 2017

Evesham Vale: A Merry "Monty" Christmas...

Hi all. Today I was driving 15" gauge steam once again at the Evesham Vale Light Railway in Worcestershire. Like many other steam railways at this time of the year, the EVLR was running its popular "Santa Special" services which today were fully booked. Having driven through thick fog along the A46 to reach the railways base within The Valley country park, I pulled up at just before 8:30am. Having signed in and greeted Adrian & Sandra, it was time to get to work preparing the locomotive for the days trains. Rostered for service today was the large 1996-built 0-4-2 Exmoor No300 "Monty", formerly "Markeaton Lady". The engine was soon outside in the damp morning air with the chimney cap removed ready for lighting up...
The amount of manual labour required on these smaller engines is much more bearable than their standard gauge counterparts and swinging a small fire iron of only 2ft in length is far more pleasant. The grate was fairly clean already with only a light covering of ash across the bars. A quick bash through with the iron was rewarded with a nice lighting up surface and having checked the water level in the boiler, both tubeplates and the fusible plug, I lit the embryo fire using a paraffin rag...
Evesham engines tend to burn the Welsh open cast coal found at Ffos-Y-Fran - a dry kind of coal that gives off little smoke. With this stuff I like to make sure you've got a nice hot wood fire beneath it to guarantee the heat required to allow the coal to catch. With the flaming rag smouldering away on the grate, a pile of good dry wood was diagonally placed on top. A good helping of coal was then added, almost dousing the initial flames, before closing the firehole doors and leaving the engine to get on with it. The EVLR machines do benefit from a small air fitting which allows compressed air to be fed up the chimney to create the artificial draft required for steam raising. However, having been in steam yesterday, "Monty" wouldn't require much coaxing. With the fire lit and burning well, attentions turned to cleaning: Peek for the brasses, Pledge for the paint. The final task on shed is to oil/grease the engine. No300 carries a few oil pots which wick-feed the piston and valve rods adjacent to the packing boxes but the main rod bearings are grease and are topped up with a grease-gun...
With all prep tasks complete, I checked we had the single line token on board (necessary for locking the points at the yard mouth) before moving off shed. With drain cocks open, "Monty" hesitated briefly as the regulator was opened. I always like to feed the steam in slowly (you can hear it rushing down the passages) and allow the condensate to be collected up rather than rushing off shed. Groaning through the point work, "Monty" soon reached the yard mouth where the engines are blown down daily. As long as the boiler water level allows, 1/2 a glass is usually sufficient and aids the rapid expulsion of harmful deposits which may have collected at the foundation ring during evaporation. Blow down complete, its time to reverse back...
The first "Santa" train was scheduled to depart at 10:30am with half hourly departures to follow until 4pm. Santa himself is based in the Grotto at Twyford. The passengers take their 15-minute or so train ride before visiting him afterwards. Adults receive a warm mince pie and children sweets and a gift from the man himself. With Christmas music playing at Twyford and lots of happy passengers, the whole thing comes together to provide a very pleasant thing to be involved with...
"The First 'Santa Special' Of The Day"
All trains today would have the full compliment of four coaches with all seats full on most trips. Four coaches isn't really a strain for "Monty" in terms of power but some of the EVLR gradients on a damp morning like this do create adhesion issues. The steep section of Fishers Bank caused No300 to lose her feet a couple of times, reducing progress to a crawl but she did keep going until the bank was crested and the train rolled into the tunnel. As we climbed the bank I'd dropped some sand behind the loco to aid the following trips. Once at Evesham Vale, I wandered up the bank and sanded in front of the loco and up past the next crossing where the high volume of muddy-booted walkers doesn't help the rail condition...
"The First Train of The Day at Evesham Vale"
Departing Evesham Vale with the returning 10:30 train in fine style, "Monty" barked up the bank throwing white steam over her shoulder. Steam pressure was nudging the red line with a light, bright fire. Once back at Twyford the engine was uncoupled and turned before the passengers crossed to meet Santa. I then took water on the column whilst excited passengers for the 11am trip boarded the coaches. All was well aboard "Monty"s footplate as we prepared for departure. The Welsh coal burns bright in these little fireboxes as long as you keep your eye on it...
On a good rail "Monty" will stomp along and you really do want another two coaches to hold the engine back when all is going well...
"Monty" waits at Evesham Vale on a lunchtime service...
The day went on pretty much like that: we came and we went providing a constant stream of visitors for Santa. The traditional 'Evesham Tea & Cake' was replaced by a warm mince pie today when it was delivered to the footplate in time for the 2:30pm train. That was one of the loveliest mince pies I've ever had - really nice!...
Mince pie devoured, the 2:30pm train also allowed me a couple of minutes to grab Adrian's very nice paraffin headlamp from the loco shed to replace the headboard. As the days light reduces the lamp becomes a nice beacon for the train as it steams through the fields. I prefer to run with it I must admit...
As the final few departures came around the engine continued to steam well and passenger numbers remained strong. The Welsh coal does lull you into a false sense of security on occasions though. Sometimes you look in the box and think how much of a full fire you have but really its just ash which disintegrates when hit with the iron. I had a trip like that on the 3pm when the pressure needle gradually descended further than usual and a quick look through the doors revealed quite a lack of fire. Some flash firing and a plume of smoke from the chimney soon had "Monty" back in fettle but then you have to compete with all that fresh coal added at once and the engine is soon blowing its head off. Its all good fun anyway...
"Waiting at Evesham Vale on the 3:30pm Train"
"Monty" was steaming well as the light faded and we waited at Twyford for the last train at 4pm. Water was taken for the final time on the column and I also added another bag of coal (the third of the day) so there would be plenty in the bunker for lighting up tomorrow. One more trip and then disposal...
My last EVLR train of 2017 waits at Twyford ready to go...
The 4pm train was also sold out and a steady run through the fields with "Monty" was followed by a good run up Fishers Bank. "Monty"s tall chimney put on quite a display as the four coach train was hauled up the bank in almost darkness (today was the shortest day!). A quick stop at Evesham Vale was followed by a steady chug up Twyford Bank with the final returning train. "Monty" was then run round and the token allowed me access to the yard after unlocking the points. Back on shed, "Monty" was prepared for disposal. This involves deadening the fire, emptying the ashpan, filling the boiler and cleaning her again. All in all a good days work...
With all disposal jobs complete, I backed "Monty" into the shed on her final breaths of steam before screwing her down and fitting the chimney cap. It had been another very pleasant day on EVLR metals and its always nice to be on "Monty". Thank you to Adrian & Sandra for their continued hospitality and thank you all for reading. Finally, of course, Merry Christmas...

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