Monday, 5 February 2018

Churnet Valley Railway Steam Gala

Sunday 4th February 2018.

Barry Knapper's picture of the Western Tank near Consall illustrates our Churnet Valley Railway Steam Gala today on its last day in service before its boiler ticket expires. It'll be on a low loader this week back to the Dartmouth Steam Railway where it is resident, but I don't know when it'll get fettled.
It was GW green when it arrived which is not prototypical, and was re-painted into correct unlined black livery at Cheddleton when it arrived at CVR late last year.
Barry also stopped by the 'box where I was rostered signalman for the day, and snapped me!


Friday, 26 January 2018

Bye bye 'Warspite'

My first live steam model locomotive was 'Alfred', as readers of this blog will know. 'Alfred was a great little engine to learn the skills of ownership and driving a live steam model, but because of his limited capability in terms of power, boiler capacity, and size of firebox was never going to be a viable passenger hauler on the big track at Urmston.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

'Alfred' with an interested youngster

I was asked by a fellow member what sort of locomotive I'd ideally want to replace 'Alfred', and I replied "I'd really like a Standard Class 4 Tank". I knew it was unlikely I'd ever own such a machine as they are notoriously difficult to model with their subtly curved side tanks, cab, and bunker. There is a set of drawings available from Doug Hewson and some expert model engineers have produced some lovely models using them. Many more have started and years later are still nowhere near completing their models. It's no surprise then that on the rare occasions such models do come up for sale they usually change hands without being advertised, such is the demand.

When the Kingscale 'Jubilee' was announced at an amazingly low price for a big 5" gauge 4-6-0 express tender locomotive I ordered one. And then, out of left field, came 'The Wildfowler'.

'The Wildfowler' dwarfs 'Alfred'

'The Wildfowler' is a fabulous engine, built to a high standard by master model engineer Walter Fiddler in the 1960s, and had just been rebuilt by Steam Workshop when I came across it on their web site. I had found the 5" models of Beyer Peacock narrow gauge tanks owned by Dave and Jim at the club to be excellent locos to drive, and 'The Wildfowler' was in similar vein, so after a trip over the Pennines to see it at Steam Workshop's premises and a visit to Urmston by the steam Workshop team to demonstrate the finished locomotive to me, that was the engine that actually replaced 'Alfred'. It is a lovely thing and an excellent passenger train loco on the club track.

And then 'Warspite, the Kingscale 'Jubilee' arrived. It looked superb but first attempts to run the loco were not successful. However, Kingscale's after sales service was second to none and after a few visits by 'Warspite' back to them (they picked it up from and returned it to me each time and of course all at no cost) it was finally 'sorted'  as reported recently here on the blog, complete with a video of it running at Urmston (repeated below).

And then Kingscale Models announced they were to release a 5" gauge BR Standard 2-6-4 Tank, the very loco I had wanted but thought probably unobtainable. I considered just buying one but really with 'The Wildfowler', 'Warspite', and my electric loco 'Lindow' my stable was full. If I was to go for the Standard 4 Tank one of the others would have to go.

The prototype Kingscale BR Standard Class 4 Tank

'The Wildfowler' is a loco I would be very reluctant indeed to sell so I talked to Kingscale about a buy-back deal for the Jubilee. They made me a very fair offer of taking back the Jubilee with a cash payment to me (the Jubilee is a more expensive model than the Standard Tank), and reserving me the Standard Tank (which is scheduled for delivery in August) as fully paid for.

I really do like the Jubilee; it looks fantastic and has a lovely 3-cylinder 'bark' and at last it was running as it should. But there are a couple of considerations which persuaded me to let it go.

Driving 'Warspite' at Urmston

It's not an easy engine to drive being a long stretch over the tender to reach the cab controls, but perhaps more of a consideration longer term is that being a 3-cylinder engine it has between the frames the middle cylinder, connecting rod, big end, crank axle, and a full set of walchearts valve gear. If anything were to go wrong with any of that it would require an extensive strip down of the engine (boiler off etc) to repair it, which would be very expensive outside warranty. Both 'The Wildfowler' and the Standard Tank are two-cylinder engines with cylinders, valve gear etc.all outside the frames where it can be easily got at for maintenance, and should repairs become necessary. 

So this morning it was bye-bye Jubilee.

Adam from Kingscale Models secures the Jubilee for travel back to Northamptonshire this morning.   

Electric loco 'Lindow' wasted no time in claiming a place on the vacated hydraulic trolley in the garage which will also accommodate the BR Standard Class 4 Tank when that arrives. In the background, on a second hydraulic trolley and covered in a blue towel is 'The Wildfowler'


Sunday, 14 January 2018

'Lindow' at a cold Urmston today

It was bitterly cold today so I decided to give 'Lindow', my electric locomotive, a second outing to Urmston rather than prep a steam loco with freezing fingers.
She ran superbly, straight out of the car into revenue-earning traffic, hauling passengers. There's just so much power there, and no sign of slipping at all. Some people fit electronic 'diesel engine' sound systems to these locos, but I rather like the 'electric train' whine of the four traction motors - sounds like a Virgin trains Pendolino at speed.
Here's a video I took as Malcolm drove the engine round Urmston's main track today. If we'd had passengers on we wouldn't have run at max speed as Malc does down the back straight here - this was a demonstration run to familiarise Malcolm with 'Lindow's characteristics

Click on the link below:

Here are some pictures:
'Lindow' in the station at Urmston 

Ready for the 'right away' 

Parked by the carriage shed at lunchtime


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Wa-hay! Success at last with the Jubilee.

'Warspite' finally ran as she should, and pulled passengers, at Urmston on Sunday. It's taken a while to get her steaming properley but after the manufacturer stripped and re-sealed the interior of the smoke box to eliminate some substantial air leaks the factory had missed, and fitted a 'Blackgates' injector (which picks up immediately) she steams as she should and the boiler can be kept reliably topped up to the correct water level without resorting to the hand pump.

It took a while to work out that this loco needs a BIG fire in that very long firebox if it's to steam properly. You fire it almost until you can't get any more coal in there. Quite unlike 'The Wildfowler' which runs best with a thinner fire.

It's not an easy engine to drive, needing regular attention to fire and water, but does have a lovely 3-cylinder 'bark' when you open her up for the banks on our track.

This video (by Jason Lau) shows James driving her out of the station with a bunch of us on the back, as he attacks the first bank with gusto!

Here are some pictures also by Jason Lau, Click on any picture for a larger image.

A sunny but cold day in the park

Our oak tree, and the club house, the loco prep area between

Trevor on his Polly. Trevor also has a Jubilee like mine

There are several pipes between loco and tender which need to be connected during preparation for running, comprising the water feeds to the injector and from the hand pump, and the axle pump feed and pump-bypass return

The other Malcolm, on his electric-powered Class 20 diesel loco

The Jubilee is a 3-cylinder engine so lubricating the middle cylinder little end, slide bars, big end, valve gear, and the water pump eccentric and drive during preparation means getting down to it and accessing all this from underneath, as I am here!

Keith preparing 'The Beast', James and John in conversation

A closer look at Malcolm's Class 20 in London Transport livery as 'Sir John Betjeman'. Nice job!

'Boiler' Bob on Jim's delightful Black Five

Bob on the Black Five ready to go, 'Warspite' making final preparations before coming out onto the main line 

'Warspite' nearly ready to go. I'm just getting the fire and water where I want them (Malc watching the pressure gauge) before I set off for the first circuit of the track, with George on the back along for the ride.

Tony has a go with Lee's nice little 'Boxhill' on the inner track

Plenty of steam! Piling on that coal for another run.

James (the chap that started all this by selling me 'Alfred') had an extended 'play' driving 'Warspite'. Just about to leave for a circuit of the big track with five of us on board: James, Keith, Bob, me, Malc.

Disposing the Jubilee after a successful day, tender separated from loco so I can drop the fire and blow down the boiler. James, Lee, Malc, me, Keith

And it was Craig's birthday! Happy birthday matey!


Sunday, 24 December 2017

'Lindow' at the club track for the first time

'Lindow' acquitted herself well at Urmston this morning. She was the first locomotive to arrive and soon there was a station full of passengers wanting rides. One advantage of an electric loco is it's soon out of the car and ready to run.
Some steam locos started to arrive and made their way to the prep bays to raise steam while 'Lindow' and I provided a train service.
This was the first time the loco had been on a track so I had no idea if she'd even run OK, never mind what sort of load she would haul. The first circuit to gain access to the main track bypasses the station so I did that one solo and she ran fine. I selected the 'half power' switch 'on' for this as not only was this the loco's first ever circuit, it was the first circuit of the day and I had to run at slow speed to check the line ahead for any obstructions (kids sometimes leave stuff on the line on a Saturday night).
On entering the station after the first lap, which was uneventful, I told Fred (the station master) to only give us a light load to start with to see how she went.
She went superbly! I de-selected the 'half power' switch though 'Lindow' did not notice the passenger load at all. It felt the same as the solo circuit. Next time in the station I told Fred to 'load her up' and with two full carriages she stormed up the banks with plenty of power in reserve and not the slightest sign of slipping. Next time I'll try her with three carriages.
For the next hour and a half, by which time a couple of the steam locomotives and the club's electric locomotive had joined me in providing a passenger service, we hauled full trains of passengers.
By now I was getting used to the loco's regenerative brakes (using the traction motors as generators to put power back into the batteries while slowing the train) activated by the rate one 'turns down' the speed control knob to a lower power setting. Once mastered, I found I did not need to use the carriage brakes at all, something one always has to do when hauling by steam.
Soon after mid day, with the loco's battery condition indicator still showing not much less than full charge, we hit the usual 'lunchtime lull' we get at this time of year and suddenly we went from a station full of waiting passengers to no passengers at all. So I took 'Lindow' and her train off the main track and parked her up by the carriage shed while I went to the clubhouse for lunch.
Another advantage of electric locos is that they can be left unattended with no need to worry about maintaining boiler water levels and keeping the fire in and healthy. The downside of course is they just not as much fun to drive.
This being Christmas Eve, the lunchtime lull looked like extending well into the afternoon so after one more circuit of the big track I called it a day and ran 'Lindow' to the exit track for removal of the traction batteries (for easier transport and only takes a minute with the quick release connectors) and packing everything away in the car for the journey home.
So, a very enjoyable if short day at the track with the latest addition to my loco fleet. Next time it'll probably be the Jubilee's turn at the track, recently returned to me from the supplier, to check if she is now operating as she should.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

'Lindow' has arrived

A new toy arrived yesterday!
It's a Ride-on-Railways 'Hercules' battery-electric locomotive named 'Lindow'. I might add a bit of detail - brake hoses on the front buffer beam, cab-roof horns, exhaust stack. But first, we'll see how she runs on the track.
It's heavy and powerful (4 big motors, 2 car batteries) so should pull a fair load at the track. I've run her on rollers and all seems well, so I look forward to taking her to Urmston.

'Lindow' on rollers yesterday

A rear view of the loco. The curly lead is for the hand-held controller.
I have been planning to have a battery electric locomotive to supplement my 5" gauge live steam fleet ('The Wildfowler' and 'Warspite') for about a year. I first considered 'scale' models of main line diesel locomotives, in particular a lovely model of a BR Western Region diesel hydraulic 'Western' class locomotive. The 'Western' has always been a favorite of mine, and by chance a superbly constructed 5" gauge model of 'Western Champion' was for sale locally.

'Western Champion', which I considered buying at one point
The problem I discovered with scale models of main line diesel locomotives is their size; 'Western Champion' is over six feet long, far too long to fit in a car for transport to the track, and very difficult to store on a mobile trolley at home (these locomotives have to be wheeled around on a trolley to get them to and from the car as they are far too heavy for even two people to lift). It's true that my Jubilee main line steam locomotive is also around that length, but the tender detaches from the locomotive so they can be stored and transported side by side.
So with scale main line locomotives ruled out, I looked for an alternative. As well as being small enough to manage it would need to have good traction with as many 'driven' wheels as possible, be powerful enough to pull a fair passenger load, and heavy enough to put down the power without slipping.
I looked at several alternatives and decided on a non-scale generic design, the 'Hercules' from Ride-on-Railways in Romford, Essex. It didn't look as elegant as the 'Western' but it did tick all the other boxes. At three feet long, less than half the length of the 'Western', transport and home storage would be no problem. It has two 4-wheel bogies, with each of its four axles powered by a 150watt motor. It also has fly-cranks so the wheels on each bogie are inter-connected, much reducing the chance of wheel-slip.

I enquired if any 'Hercules' locos lived locally so I could see one; none came to light (though I later learned of at least two), but a member of the Mid Cheshire club offered to show me his 'Trojan', based on one of the two motor bogies of the 'Hercules'.

The little 'Trojan' at wooded Mid Cheshire track

Driving the 'Trojan' at Mid Cheshire track
The little 'Trojan' impressed me with its eager performance and good build quality, so I ordered a 'Hercules' from Ride-on-Railways. Lead time to delivery would be a few months, which gave me time to choose a colour scheme. Ride-on-Railways offer their locomotives in a range of standard colours, the bodies being painted all-over in one colour, but customers can choose custom colours if they please, at extra cost if more than one colour is specified to cover the cost of time consuming masking-off during painting.

A 'Hercules' in one of the standard colours, and without the cranks and coupling rods on the bogies (an option). I specified the bonnet hand rails to be positioned on the sloping part of the bonnet rather than the standard position shown here, in order to allow space for the 'Lindow' name plates on the bonnet sides.

The 'Hercules' has a slight look of the BR class 14 'Teddy Bear' locomotive, with its centre cab and two bonnets, one longer than the other, and I rather like the dark green and lime green scheme some of those locomotives carried.

The BR Class 14 'Teddy Bear' locomotive
Using MS 'Paint' on the computer I set about constructing 'artists's impressions' of 'Hercules' locos in various schemes. After many abortive trials, I came full circle to my first thoughts, and  settled on a scheme inspired by the Class 14.

Final 'artist's impression' of the colour scheme for my 'Hercules'

Ride-on-Railways use Halfords car paints and ask customers who want a 'custom' paint scheme rather than a standard offering to choose their colours from that range. After some trial and error, I found the two from the Halfords range that were closest to the colours I wanted; Vauxhall Reed Green for the cab, Rover Brooklands Green for the bonnets.

My loco gets its etch prime undercoat in the paint shop at Ride-on-Railways

Hardening-off the paint under the heat lamp. This picture sent by Ride-on-Railways gave me my first opportunity to see my chosen colours applied to the body. I was not disappointed; it looked good.

Nearly ready; just needs name plates and builder's plates fitting

Opening rear doors give access to the battery master switch, on / off switch, speed reduction switch (limits maximum speed for use of inexperienced drivers), and battery condition and fault indicator panel. The hand held controller plugs into the socket lower right so the body can be lifted off the chassis without having to disconnect it.

Stumpy rear bonnet, doors closed

Side view of the almost complete locmotive

The final job was to chose a name. Several were considered based on geographical features of the area, such as 'Bosley Cloud', 'River Dane', 'Redesmere', 'Shutlingsloe' etc. I also considered 'Lindow Lady' or 'Lindow Moss', but in the end decided simply 'LINDOW' would be best. You can't get more local to where we live than Lindow. Our children attended nearby Lindow Primary School and the loco, as well as celebrating our local area, is in part a tribute to the late Peter Helliwell, inspirational head of that school. The name also gives a nod to the narrow gauge railway system that ran on Lindow Moss as part of the peat digging operation, though nothing larger than a tiny 4-wheel rail tractor ever ran on that railway.
The 'Hercules' has about the same power as the 'Western' I considered, having four 150 watt motors driven through an electronic control system from two car batteries. It also has regenerative braking, so as the controller power setting is reduced, the motors are used as generators to slow the train and put power back into the batteries while so doing.

 The chassis with batteries, viewed from the front. Note the quick release battery connectors and twin horns.

Rear view with the body off. Behind the batteries is the electronic control module. Behind that is the control panel with the battery isolator switch on the left, the on / off switch next to that, and the half-speed limiter selector switch to the left of the battery condition / fault indicator panel. The hand controller is resting on the chassis base plate. 

The 'Hercules' is a similar weight to the 'Western' but is far easier to transport. As well as being about half as long, it dis-assembles very easily into smaller units for transport. The body simply lifts off the chassis, the batteries have 'quick release' connectors and carrying handles so are easily removed and replaced for transport, and if required, undoing one nut on each bogie pivot and one electrical plug per bogie allows the bogies to be removed.

Weight breakdown of a 'Hercules'. The loco is designed for easy disassembly so it can be broken down into easily carried units for travelling between home and the running track.

All that's left to do now is to run 'Lindow' at the club track, pulling passenger trains after trying some loaded test trains to see what sort of passenger loads the loco is happy with. Christmas and New Year will delay that, so it'll probably be early January before she gets a chance to show her paces.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Christmas lunch at Urmston club

Sunday 3rd December was a dull day, and with Christmas shopping in full swing as well, there were fewer than the usual number of passengers wanting train rides at Urmston track.

That was perhaps as well, as it was the club's Christmas Lunch day and it meant all our members, including those who usually drive the passenger trains, could tuck into the spread. This event was held a week earlier than usual as the chairman and his wife would be away the following weekend. Probably not much point being chairman if the post didn't carry some privileges!

Excellent pictures by Jason Lau, as usual. Please click on a picture for a larger image.

Trevor takes his wife for a trip on his lovely Polly tank loco

Me on Keith's Polly tank loco, wondering where all the passengers are!

Frank on his Sweet Pea

A very nice A2 Pacific

Still no passengers. I think I did a solo circuit of the track in the end.

Youngsters are always fascinated by our steam locomotives

The club room tables groan under the weight of the Christmas buffet. Plenty for everyone, and very good it was too! The wine is for raffle prizes - the lunch is strictly 'dry' as we may be driving passenger trains afterwards.

Plenty of club members, very few customers

Keith gives Tony some driving tuition on the Polly

Lee's turn on Trevor's Polly