I had one day driving the 'Santa Specials' at The Battlefield Line on Saturday 17th December 2011. The special timetable called for four departures from Shackerstone at 10:00, 12:00, 14:00 and 16:00 each giving a round trip to Shenton, with a stop at Market Bosworth on the outward journey. Danny was 'marked' as Fireman with Sam (now almost-qualified as a fireman) and the locomotive was 3803, so I was pretty sure in advance we'd have a good day and so we did. It was only my second 'turn' on this engine - the first one is described here. This earlier post includes some background on these engines.
It was a cold morning with a hard frost and still dark when I arrived at the shed at 06:30. The big doors were open and 3803 wasn't immediately visible as she was boxed in by a diesel shunter but making itself known by the smoke lazily drifting at roof level. Danny and Sam had already checked the firebox, cleared both grate and ashpan and a new fire was taking hold.
It's second nature to check that the engine is secure (handbrake hard on, regulator shut, reverser in mid-gear and cylinder drain cocks open). I also satisfied myself that there was sufficient water showing in the gauge glass. It's not that you don't trust your mates, it's part of the relentless culture to ensure safety on railways. Opening the firedoors showed a sluggish fire but Danny and Sam had matters well in hand and additional wood soon got the fire away.
This left me free to oil round and carry out the daily 'Exam' of the engine. Although the shed had a number of fluorescent lights, the part you're checking always seems to be in shadow so I used a wind-up LED torch as I made my way round the engine. I always feel rather guilty that I'm not using a 'Duck Lamp' which was the type of hand-carried flare lamp traditionally used by enginemen. When I was at Tyseley Railway Museum, I used 'Duck Lamps' fairly frequently for authenticity, if not convenience.
Once I'd finished using the pit to access the underside of the locomotive, it would have been nice to drag 3803 outside with the diesel shunter but it was clear, from the brief 'eeeergh' from the starter motor as as Danny attempted to start the diesel engine, that the battery was not up to the job. I decided that, once we'd sufficient pressure to move the engine, we'd propel the diesel shunter through Platform 1 to the north end and stable it there, out of the way. A steam locomotive will move at much less than the nominal boiler pressure (225 p.s.i. for '3803') but, at low pressures, you may have to rely on the tender handbrake to control the movement. Danny travelled on the shunter, to keep a lookout ahead, Sam stood ready by the handbrake and we gently propelled the diesel shunter to the north end. Danny 'tied down' the shunter and 'unhooked' it from '3803' and we slowly made our way back to the platform.
We were soon ready to move across to our train in Platform 2 to start steam heating the coaches ready for our ten o'clock departure, but the signalman was initially reluctant to authorise the move as the Train Staff had not been located and a prior Engineering Possession on the single line had not been 'signed off' as withdrawn. After some delay, we 'got the road' to shunt across to our train - five coaches plus a 'BG' serving as "Santa's Grotto" as the last vehicle.
We 'hook-on', Sam starts the steam heating and I create vacuum so that the Guard can carry out a 'Brake Continuity Test'. When I see the 'Train Pipe' needle of the duplex vacuum gauge drop away and then come up again as the ejector re-creates vacuum, I know the test has been carried out. This should be done by unseating the vacuum hose from the 'stopper' on the rear coach so that the Guard is confident that the flexible vacuum hoses on all vehicles have been correctly coupled-up.
Tickets for 'Santa' trains are pre-booked and Stewards are provided with lists of passengers to check-off as they arrive. This means that departure times are only approximate if we're waiting for missing passengers so we were a little late getting the 'rightaway' for the first train.
Lever reverser into full back gear (we're running tender first to Shenton), whistle, handbrake off, ease the regulator partly open and gently move away, the front of the engine wreathed in clouds of steam from the open cylinder drain cocks. The use of drain cocks is not quite so crucial on engines with slide valves ('flat' valves), since the valve can move away from the cylinder port face to help clear any water from the cylinder but '3803' has piston valves. Piston valves are intended to be tight-fitting by the use of piston rings and so agressive use of the drain cocks when starting away after standing for any time is essential to avoid possible damage from trapped condensate.
I always 'link-up' very early. With the light loads encountered on preserved railways, once the train is moving there's little need to develop maximum torque so I believe in 'notching-up' by moving the reverser a few notches towards 'mid gear'. The term 'link-up' derives from the fact that, with a conventional arrangement of Stephenson Link motion, the expansion link is in its lowest position with the reverser fully forwards selecting 'forward full gear' so lifting the link will produce an earlier cut-off of steam during the piston stroke and hence use the steam expansively. Of course, if you're running tender first, you're actually lowering the link from the 'full back gear' position but it's still called 'linking-up'. There's a diagram illustrating the layout of the valve motion of '3803' in the earlier article referred to above.
Now we can shut the drain cocks. Great Western engines have about the best control for the cylinder drain cocks that I know. The cocks are opened by pulling back a handle which rises only a few inches above the cab floor. The handle is retained in the 'back' position by a pivoted catch working in a ratchet. To close the cocks, you stamp on the end of the pivoted catch which disengages it from the ratchet and allows the handle to move forward, snapping the drain cocks closed.
There's a 5 m.p.h. restriction over the crossover by the box so we keep going gently until we've collected the single line staff from the 'Bobby' on the landing in the signal box steps and the whole train has passed the '5' restriction sign applying to the opposite direction. I give her a little more steam, but we still have a 10 m.p.h. restriction until the train has passed under the first bridge. We're in no hurry with a 'Santa' train, because it takes some time for parties of children to be led back to the Grotto at the rear of the train to visit Santa, so I just open the regulator to 'Full First Valve' and let her run for a while. Most preserved railways have a Line Speed Limit of 25 m.p.h. so, providing the boiler is somewhere near the 'sizzling point', the settings I'd chosen would produce around that speed.
'Sizzling point'? I'd mentioned this in an earlier post on locomotive '813'. The Great Western were never seduced by the attractions of Ross Pop safety valves and always used their version of the early Ramsbottom design. This lets you bring the boiler pressure close to the blowing-off point with just a wisp of steam continuously escaping from the safety valves, in true Great Western fashion, rather than having the intermittent wasteful (and often noisy) discharge typical of Ross Pop safety valves. It was a point of honour amongst Great Western fireman to 'balance' the boiler with the valves just 'fizzing' to indicate to your driver (and everybody else) that you were on top of the job. Even when I was at Tyseley Railway Museum, if the pressure gauge was more than 10 pounds below the red line on a Great Western engine, the old-time enginemen would enquire "What's the matter? Won't she steam?".
As we approached Headley's Crossing, I shut off and allowed the engine to drift towards the 10 m.p.h. 'slack' over the relaid track. Drifting on a Great Western engine with a Sight Feed Lubricator is a bit more complicated than shutting the regulator (and finding the best setting for the reverser) - the regulator is deliberately not quite closed against the stop so as to maintain lubrication to the cylinders and valves. The earlier article referred to above discusses the Sight Feed Lubricator and has a link to full details in Great Western Circular 5801. The photograph below shows the regulator complication. Above the regulator, there's a curved, slotted link, pivoted on the left. The regulator handle has an extension piece (extending upwards at about one o'clock in the picture), the top of which is pinned to the slot in the curved link. The slot is 'Z' shaped at the right so that initial movement on opening the regulator lifts the right hand side of the curved link but further movement produces no additional lifting action. The lifting of the link is communicated via a link (almost-vertical, red-painted) so as to open a steam valve mounted on the boiler backhead below the regulator. This valve is called the Jockey Valve or, sometimes, the 'W Valve' (because it's referred to as item 'W' in Circular 5801). The Jockey Valve controls the supply of steam to the Sight Feed Lubricator which, in turn, controls the supply of oil to the 'front end'. Thus, if the engine is being worked or 'drifting' (with a breath of steam or no steam), oil is being fed to the cylinders and valves.
A vacuum brake application (at 15 in/Hg) was also necessary to ensure that we passed the '10' board at the right speed. Once the whole train had passed the '10' board for the opposite direction, I re-applied steam until we had passed the out-of-use 2-aspect colour-light distant for Market Bosworth, where I shut-off again. Another brake application brought us down to 10 m.p.h. at the points on the approach to the station and we ran along the platform to come to a stand with the leading coach just at the top of the platform ramp. I shut the regulator fully so that the Jockey Valve stopped the oil feed to the front end and opened the drain cocks. There's a variable length stop here, according to how well Santa is getting on with meeting all the children, so Sam wound on the tender handbrake and I put the reverser in Mid-Gear and shut down the vacuum ejector to save steam (and make the footplate a bit quieter).
Once we were told that they were ready to depart, I created vacuum and heaved the reverser into full back gear. On receiving the Guard's 'Rightaway', I whistled, Sam released the handbrake and I eased the regulator open. Soon, I'd linked-up and closed the drain cocks. We kept a very sharp look-out over the foot crossing (although the station was closed to passengers) and waved to the restoration crew working on the Signal Box. They'd got the newly-completed stove going in the box. There's a 5 m.p.h. slack over the bridge in a few hundred yards so we kept going nice and easy until we were past the restriction, then it was full first valve to let her accelerate up the bank and back to drifting to come over the top and roll down the other side to Shenton. Gentle braking from the fixed distant signal to come over the points at 10 m.p.h. and along the platform, keeping a sharp look-out for people straying onto the foot crossing then bring the train to a halt with the leading coach just on the platform ramp. Danny uncoupled us from the train and we ran round.
Soon we were on the way back, chimney leading. No stop was required at Market Bosworth, so we just drifted through at 10 m.p.h. before steaming up the bank until the 10 m.p.h. slack over the relaid track. Steam on again until the old platelayers' hut on the approach to Shackerstone and then bring the speed down to both comply with the 10 m.p.h. slack at the road overbridge and be able to stop at the outer home signal, if needed. You can't sight the outer home until you come under the bridge - it was against us so I gave a long whistle. The signal soon came 'off', the arm threatening to go right over the top but settling down pointing almost vertical (reminding me of 3-aspect semaphore signals) so we didn't come to a stand. I gave a little 'pop' on the whistle to say 'thank you' and we rolled down the cutting. More braking was needed to comply with the 5 m.p.h. restriction over the crossover and the 'top dolly' of the ground signal came off, routing us over the crossover into Platform 1. Danny surrendered the staff to the signalman who verbally authorised us to "Pass the Stop Board to Run Round". This meant we could take the engine beyond the 'Stop Board' at the end of the platform and come to a halt with the leading vehicle (Santa's Grotto) just at the top of the platform ramp. One trip down - three to go!
We ran round our train ready for the second trip. Again, there was delay awaiting passengers. Apparently, there'd been a Road Traffic Accident on the A5 because a number of passengers phoned in to say they were delayed. Eventually, we got the 'Rightaway' and made our way fairly gingerly out of Platform 1 and over the crossover. The journey to Market Bosworth was uneventful but we were told we'd stand there for at least half an hour, so I accepted an invitation to go and look at the restoration work on the signal box. I was very impressed with the work on the structure and took a number of photographs, including this elevated view of the station:-
When the guard announced that he was ready to take the train out, a whistle from the engine (as arranged) brought me running back to the footplate and we set off for Shenton. Although the day was still cold, the sun was out and it was quite pleasant, except on the footplate where the wind was quite chilling, particularly running tender first. The 3,000 gallon tender might give you better visibility tender first but it gives you very little protection from wind and rain. We completed the second round trip without incident, arriving back in Platform 1 again and running round for the third trip.
By this time, the weather had deteriorated and it was raining fairly hard, reminding me of my dictum "Anybody can work on engines in good weather - it takes railwaymen to do it in bad weather". Sam was tucked in the front corner of the cab, next to the warm boiler backhead to keep out of the worst of the weather, but Danny and I remained more exposed, trying to keep a good lookout. When we ran round at Shenton, we also lit the two engine lamps - although it was only around three-thirty, it had become really murky. At least the cab was more effective returning to Shackerstone but I found I had to lean out of the side of the cab or keep the front spectacle open to maintain a reasonable view ahead. Once again, we were routed into Platform 1 but, this time, we stopped to take take water at the column. Adrian provided a 'dose' of water treatment and suggested that we fill the tender tank to capacity.
By the time we were backed up on our train, we were already past the published departure. This train was not loaded to capacity so we didn't have to wait long before we got the 'Rightaway'. It's a completely different experience in the dark. In the steam era, British trains never carried high-intensity headlights although many foreign railways did. Everybody's familiar with pictures of American wood-burning 4-4-0s with a diamond stack and a huge rectangular headlamp but, in Britain, the head lamps performed the same task at night as in the daylight merely indicating the class of train.
The only light on the footplate was usually from a gauge lamp mounted near the gauge glass to assist the fireman in confirming the boiler water level. We had a working gauge lamp on the bracket next to the gauge frame. I'm afraid our gauge lamp was burning paraffin. In the old days, the gauge lamp always used rape oil which, being less volatile than paraffin, was less likely to explode into flames in its warm location next to the boiler backhead. In addition, a paraffin handlamp was often carried. With a white shade, it could be used when coupling, uncoupling, examining parts of the engine or just to help when walking about 'on the floor'. At night, a white light would be shown to the Guard in acknowledgement of his 'Rightaway'. We didn't have such a handlamp with us but used electric torches to acknowledge the Guard.
When the fireman opens the firedoors to shovel in more coal, the footplate is bathed in an orange or white light, depending how hard the engine is being worked. The driver will do well to protect his eyes from the glare, otherwise his night vision can be lost for a while. Some locomotives (particularly L.N.E.R. examples) were provided with a hinged shield to reduce the glare spilling across to the driver.
It wasn't completely dark as we made our way down the line for the last time. Some lineside features could still just be distinguished in silhouette against the inky sky. At night, sounds take on a more important role. The old drivers could work a train virtually 'with their eyes shut', listening to the distinctive sounds made by every rail joint, bridge and passing feature. We reached Market Bosworth safely, pausing briefly for the last time, then continued to Shenton. Uncoupling and coupling becomes more difficult in the dark and, when shunting through pointwork, it's vital that particular care is taken before moving points and that any handsignals given by lamp are clearly understood.
We ran round without incident and, having seen the Guard's green 'Rightaway' and acknowledged with a white, we set off back to Shackerstone. This time, we were routed into Platform 2. We lost no time in 'unhooking' and dropping forward clear of the points but then we had to wait a short while to allow the disembarking passengers to cross in front of us using the sleeper crossing at the end of the platform. We set back to the Ground Frame controlling access to the shed and, once called back by Danny, moved into the shed. Once the fire was cleaned and the boilers was filled, we were almost finished. By now quite tired, we made our way back to the station where I completed the repair sheet and signed off. Danny, Sam and I agreed we'd had an enjoyable, if tiring day.