Friday, 3 September 2010

Thomas the Tank Engine at MoSI

Ex-LMS Jinty painted and decorated as 'Thomas the Tank Engine' at its home base of Llangollan. This is the locomotive we hired-in for our 'Thomas' event

This event runs at the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester from 2nd to 5th September, and today I was rostered to help out. I was on site before 07:30 as 'Thomas' was scheduled to run from 10:00 until 17:00. The locomotive is an ex-LMS Jinty painted in 'Thomas' colours, and was loaned from the Llangollan Railway (where it is pictured, above).

It's sometimes an unglamorous life working on a steam railway; my first task this morning was to take a wheelbarrow down into the inspection pit over which 'Thomas' was getting up steam, and shovel a great pile of ash and clinker into the barrow and take it to the ash tip at our usual 'disposal' area to dump it. It took four trips, and it was most unpleasant working under the locomotive with steam, a hot fire just above me, dribbles of hot water cascading down, and not much clearance to swing the shovel. Then I had to rake out the ash pan into the barrow, hose down the hot ashes, and transport those to the tip. But hey, someone has to do it.

But the day got better. With another volunteer we got our resident 'Planet' locomotive into light steam so it could whistle to 'Thomas' as he passed by, and also so it could take over in place of 'Thomas' if that star loco broke down.

Once we had a good fire going in 'Planet', we cooked up a late breakfast on the fireman's shovel (first cleaned in a jet of very hot steam from 'Planet's injector). A lump of lard lobbed onto the shovel melted instantly in the firebox heat, and bacon and sausage were soon sizzling away in it before being placed into baps and hungrily consumed by the crews of both locos!

We had arranged a wooden platform with steps up to 'Planet's footplate, with invitations for museum visitors to come onto the 'flight deck'. They were intrigued to witness our culinary arrangements while they were in progress (not long - we were hungry!), and the visitors were pretty continuous from mid morning onwards.

Most were young children with one or both parents, or grandparents. I was amazed how 'Thomas-crazy' these kids were; not much, if any, interest in railways as such, but mad keen on the characters created by the Reverend Awdry in his original 'Thomas' books brought to the mass market by the TV programmes. But many were nervous of our steam loco with its heat and strange noises. When shown the fire when I opened the fire hole door, quite a few of them didn't like it at all. And despite warning that it was loud, the whistle was popular with very few!

Just up the line, in the old Liverpool Road station, there were various activities going on for the children. The Fat Controller (Sir Topham Hatt) was strolling around in spats, dark striped trousers, a yellow waistcoat, black 'beetle-back' coat and top hat, chatting to the visitors.

After a while waving and exchanging whistle toots with the passing 'Thomas', I managed to get relieved by another MoSI volunteer. This enabled me to blag a footplate ride on 'Thomas' up and down the line a couple of times. The Jinty has a relatively large cab for a small tank engine, but it was hot in there on a warm day like today. One might get wet on 'Planet's footplate when it rains, but its open wind-in-the-hair airiness is lovely on hot days.

After a further session minding 'Planet' the afternoon shift arrived and I headed for home.

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