Saturday, 12 August 2017

Chelford Traction Engine Rally again...

The weather was kind... a couple of minor showers in the morning, clearing to sunshine later. This unmissable annual event was well up to standard today (and it's on tomorrow if you missed today!).

We went on the little bikes (Malc on his T80, Ivan on his SS50, me on my Innova), so no traffic problems in or out, and we got to park right up by the action, not way back in the car park.
These excellent pictures are by Barry Knapper. He might be complaining about £6 for a burger, but I went for a hog roast bap at £5.50. I don't like stuffing (well, not that sort!) so asked for it without. So they filled the bap generously with nothing but pork - excellent value!

Met a lot of old steam friends, and saw a lot of familiar engines and some I've not seen before (especially some of the miniatures).

There were a couple of light rain showers but nothing to spoil the fun, and later in the day it was just glorious!
Astle Park at its best!

Pictures by Barry Knapper. Click on any one for a larger image.






















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Saturday, 5 August 2017

1930s style posters to promote the lovely Mid Cheshire line unveiled today

Today, Friday 4th August, I was invited to a private unveiling at Northwich's Lion Salt Works of a series of fabulous posters publicising the scenic Manchester to Chester Mid Cheshire Railway Line, for which I am a volunteer.
Artist Nicky Thompson was commissioned to produce a series of posters in '1930s' style to publicise this scenic railway line, and today at the former Salt Works David Briggs, Lord-Lieutenant of Cheshire, with special guest Pete Waterman, officially launched the posters which will appear at stations along the line.
Here is the collection, in order of principle stations along the line from Manchester to Chester.

I think they are superb.


As for the Salt Works itself, I remember when we visited it back in the late 1970s or early 80s when it was still working, producing salt. It was like Dante's inferno! Heat, steam, guys stripped to the waist shoving salt in the open coal-fired brine pans.

What a contrast today... A lovely museum, but a bit 'picture perfect' compared to the brutal reality of the tatty but working actuality.







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Sunday, 30 July 2017

'Wildfowler' at Urmston - steaming issue solved!

As noted in the post of 23rd July, 'Wildfowler' has had a tendency to clinkering in the fire after a couple of hours of running, which restricts steaming.

Today I ran 'Wildfowler' with the new grate, and we adopted a policy of regular raking. What a difference! The loco now 'breathes' far more easily, steams like a witch, and at end of play today, after over three hours of running, showed absolutely no sign of reducing steaming rate.
I think we've solved it!

And we had a lovely day for it, the rain arriving as 'Wildfowler' was loaded into the car for the journey home.




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Thursday, 27 July 2017

New grate for 'Wildfowler'

As noted in the last post, 'Wildfowler' has a tendency to clinkering in the fire after a couple of hours of running, which restricts steaming. Clinker is ash from the burned coal, which has liquefied and then solidified. It clogs the grate and prevents sufficient air coming in through the grate bars to keep the fire lively.

We think there are two factors causing this; the grate bars are a little too close together to allow the ash to fall through into the ash pan, so it remains in the firebox to get melted and form clinker, and the fire bars run across the firebox making 'raking through' the ash with the dart less effective than if the fire bars ran front to rear of the box.

I therefore ordered a new grate which we have trimmed to the same size of the original, to address both these shortcomings.

Wildfowler's dampers open (there's one on the other side of the ash pan as well, both controlled by a single lever in the cab). When a retaining pin is removed, the grate drops down on a hinged cradle into the ash pan, and can be withdrawn through the damper opening. 

The new grate halfway in to the ash pan through the damper opening. Once the grate is fully inserted, the grate cradle can be raised manually to locate the grate in the base of the firebox, and the pin inserted to retain it there.

The new grate on the left, the original on the right. Note the fire bars run front - rear on the new grate, side to side on the original. The fire bar spacing is wider on the new one, though that is exaggerated in this picture by the angle it was taken.


The damper in the closed position 

The lever on the extreme right controls the dampers

Next time I run Wildfowler it will be with the new grate. I'll let you know how we get on.






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Sunday, 23 July 2017

At Urmston today, with 'Wildfowler'

Today was the second occasion I have run 'Wildfowler' at Urmston since I purchased her following the successful trial described in the last post.

Today, Jason Lau was there with his camera to capture the fun.

Trevor with his Polly tank, Peter looking on 

 Having filled the boiler with water, the capacious side tanks are next.

 Malc finishes oiing round as I fill the second tank.

A face at the window! 

Topping up the first tank (the balance pipe means as you are filling one tank, some water transfers to the other).

 Trevor's Polly and Jim's Beyer Peacock tank on the steaming bays. 
L to R Peter, Bob, Jim, Eddie, Stephen, George, Joe.


 The compressed air powered-blower is in the chimney as we raise steam, me keeping a watch on the fire and willing the pressure gauge to move off the stop. L to R George, Eddie, Malc, me, Peter.

 In passenger carrying service. I top up Wildfowler's tanks between runs.

 Barry on Dave's Black Five in the station, with me on Wildfowler behind.

Malc on the Black Five.


As last week, we noticed Wildfowler was not steaming as well after a couple of hours in service as she was at the beginning of the day. There appears to be clinker building up in the fire box after that length of running, which isn't dropping through the grate into the ash pan and therefore starving the fire of air, so we are going to experiment with a different design of fire grate.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Here's a video of Wildfowler on the prep bay, blowing off, ready for action: CLICK HERE

A few minutes later we run down the 'take on' track ready to join the main track and begin passenger services: CLICK HERE
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Sunday, 2 July 2017

Sometimes, out of left field, comes something you never expected.

It was a very special day for me at Urmston today. I'm expecting the lovely Jubilee next month, but another even more interesting machine has 'popped up' in the interim; 'Wildfowler', a 2.5 inch to the foot 5" gauge model of an 0-6-0 Fowler 2 foot gauge tank engine somewhat in the idiom of the Beyer Peacock engines belonging to Jim and Dave that I have been driving at the club.

On Tuesday I visited Steam Workshop in Heckmondwike to view the loco and I was smitten! Simon, boss at the company, suggested he bring it to Urmston today so we could run it in real conditions, carrying fare paying passengers. It performed fabulously, Dave, Jim , Billy and other experienced Urmston drivers all had a go and loved it, as did Malc and me. Just a few minor 'running in' things to fix, which Simon is sorting.

'Wildfowler' is quite softly sprung which makes for great haulage capacity as the wheels will follow vertical track irregularities and therefore give maximum grip and less tendency to slip under load. But it does mean she 'dances' a bit under way!  A real 'Wild Fowler'; the builder, Walter (see below) knew what he was at when he named her!

When I visited Steam Workshop on Tuesday we were convinced this was a model of an actual loco, not just a 'free lance Fowler'. The 'Fowler' detail in the motion and cab and tank shapes were too specific for that. But we didn't know which loco.
On Wednesday I was at Manchester Locomotive Society (MLS), of which I am a member. I'd noted the works number on the builder's plate on the loco and looked it up in the MLS library copy of Fowler locomotive build list. There it was! No.16991 built October 1928 for Nockton Estates Light Railway, a Potato farm in the Lincolnshire fens, owned by Smiths Crisps.
She worked there until 1930 but proved too heavy for the light ex-WW1 two foot gauge track, so was sold on to a contractor and spent her final years working on reservoir construction in Weardale in the North East. On completion of that project she was put put up for sale, but there being no takers (she was well knackered by then) she was cut up on site in 1938.
Here's the amazing thing - I also discovered that this model had been built by a Walter Fidler of Burton on Trent in 1964. I passed this information on to Simon and a penny dropped; his grandfather had been a friend of Walter. Walter died in 1965 before completing the model, but having done all the 'engineering'. We think Simon's grandfather might have finished it, doing the 'bodywork' (tanks, cab, boiler cladding etc.)
None of this was known when 'Wildfowler' first arrived at Steam Workshop about a year ago in rather tired condition. It found a buyer who paid a deposit and Steam Workshop started work on it, but he had financial problems and dropped out. It was re-advertised and that's when I got involved. Steam Workshop have re-tubed the boiler, replaced the front tube plate, and repainted the engine in a lovely lined-out 'Fowler orangy-brown', inspired by preserved Fowler 'Saccharine' at Statfold Barn Railway.
Simon found Walter's obituary in a 1965 copy of 'Model Engineer' magazine. It states that 'Wildfowler' (named by Walter, 16991 never having carried a name) was Walter's (a noted model engineer) masterpiece. The piece carries pictures of the locomotive under construction.
It is a very beautiful thing of superb quality. I feel privileged to be its next owner.

Here's a link to Steam Workshop's site: CLICK HERE

Here are some pictures. Click on any for a larger image.


'Wildfowler' as she arrived at Steam Workshop

 First peek of 'Wildfowler' in Simon's car as it arrived this morning


 'Wildfowler' on its way to the steaming bays

 Lovely loco! Facing the wrong way for running at Urmston, though. It's a heavy two-man lift, but Simon and one of his guys lifted it, turned it, and put it back on the track.

 It's chunky! It's massive! 'Wildfowler; dwarfs my 'Alfred' on a steaming bay


Steam Workshop's picture of the finished loco



Here's a video of the first fire, and then running at Urmston: 'Wildfowler' video



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Monday, 26 June 2017

A visit to the new Air Traffic Control Tower at Manchester Airport

When the new terminal at Manchester Airport was opened in 1962, it included a control tower atop the terminal building. Latterly it has been realised that that that was not an ideal arrangement; not only is the westerly threshold of the new runway, 05R, not visible from the old tower, there was a further problem.

If there was a fire, or in today's less settled society, a terrorist threat or actual attack on Terminal One (as that original terminal became), the Tower would have to be abandoned which would bring the Airport to a halt. The Airport's business continuity insurers would no longer accept that as an affordable risk, so a new, stand-alone Tower, was required.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

The 1962 Tower at Manchester, atop Terminal One. A BEA Vanguard on the apron.

A couple of years ago the new Tower was built at a cost of £20M, and this afternoon I enjoyed an Interesting tour around the facility. I had visited the old tower many times but this was my first visit to the new one.
The visit was organised through my involvement with the Airport as an occasional but long standing guide on Concorde G-BOAC and ex-RAF Nimrod XV231.

The new control tower from the car park in front of the fire station.

General view to the south east from the VCR (visual Control Room) atop the tower.

In the old tower, displays were built into control desks. In the new environment, all displays are free-standing flat screens, easily swapped out in the event of a fault.

In order to reduce glare from the sun shining through the large glass panels, transparent blinds are drawn which doesn't aid photography! You can see the brighter vertical stripes between the edges of each blind, and the window frames.


An aircrat waiting to cross 23R, headed for 23L for take off. It is in contact with the 23R controller, who controls that runway and any crossing traffic. Once it has crossed, it will be handed over to the 23L controller. 

An aircraft vacating runway 23R (the landing runway today, 23L, visible beyond the aeroplane, just this side of the trees, being used for take offs). 


Note the old road in the foreground. This is the original Altrincham - Wilmslow road, in use before the runway tunnels were built. As a lad I used to ride my bicycle along it going from my home in Sale to visit a friend in Alderley Edge. And some years ago I taxyed our Chipmunk aeroplane along it having landed on runway 24 (as 23R was back then) and parking on the grass in front of the viewing park (whose boundary fence can be seen on the right of the picture).

Manchester city centre, beyond the buildings of Terminal Two.

View over the Runway Visitor Park to the 05 thresholds. Note the open blind on the right hand window.

Jodrell Bank radio telescope on the southern horizon.

Terminal One and the old 1962 tower.

The Concorde hangar in the foreground, runway 05L threshold behind it, and 05R threshold beyond the band of trees, right down in Mobberley.

Looking towards the Fairey Hangars, and beyond, the new warehouse park on the far side of the Wilmslow road

The GPO tower on Crocker Hill between Macclesfield and Congleton on the horizon, the hill of Alderley Edge in the foreground, with the new 'Waters' building prominent just across the Bollin Valley from the airfield.

We ascended to the VCR 6 floors by lift. This is the alternative - the fire escape stairs within the 'tube' of the tower. It's a long way down!

The radar room, on the ground floor

On the ground floor is the radar room, housing Approach Control, who 'pick up' inbound aircraft at about 40 miles out and vector them onto the ILS (Instrument Landing System) for the duty runway, whereupon they are handed over to the Tower controller up in the VCR.

The chap on the right is 'Manchester Approach' (118.525 MHz), the chap on the left is 'Manchester Director' (121.35MHz) who is on duty at busy times as an 'interim' between 'Approach' and 'Tower' to sequence the arrivals onto final for 'Tower'.

The chap in the middle is about to take over 'Approach' so is 'getting the picture'.

When it's very busy, a 'Northern Approach' controller is added to these two, 'Approach' then handling only the southern arrivals.

A close up of a radar display. 

The radar head is on the airfield, but can be supplemented by remote radars piped in from locations such as Clee Hill in Shropshire. The radar data is digitised and fed into a computer, which attaches relevant data to the 'returns' shown on the display.

The display shows the runway 23R centreline, the airport on the centre, and the 23L departure centreline. A Loganair departure is just turning right off 23L, and there are 4 aircraft on final for 23R.

Manchester has replaced the old paper 'flight progress strips' by this electronic version.






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