Thursday, 1 September 2011

'Thomas' time again at MoSI

The phenomena of TTTE (Thomas The Tank Engine) in this century amazes me. I read the original Reverend Awdry books as a child, and in turn read them to my children, and I still have them as superb examples of stories which, although simple for young children to enjoy, incorporated many operating procedures and disciplines found on real railways. I think that the logic Awdry portrayed in his stories, in the common sense of those procedures and disciplines as evidenced by what happened to engines who ignored them, has a direct appeal to the natural sense of justice in children (and some adults!).

Since Awdry sold the rights of TTTE to an entertainment company, those roots in real railway practice have given way to less railway oriented storylines as that company sought the most profitable way to maximise the commercial potential of TTTE. The result is that while children brought up on Awdry's books would have an understanding of what railways are about and why they work as they do, to today's young 'Thomas' fans the characters in the stories might as well be Harry Potter characters. The link to railway practices has been lost, but I hope 'Thomas' will still inspire a love of railways in children. The number who turned up to MoSI on the Thursday and Friday indicates that it perhaps might.

While I'm having a bit of a rant about the commercialism of TTTE, something that grates with me is the abominations carried out to historic railway locomotives so they fit the 'Thomas' profile. A case in point is this year's 'Thomas' at MoSI; a 1903 Hudswell Clarke tank engine which spent its life working on the extensive dock and canal side railway system of the Manchester Ship Canal Company. This engine carries a wealth of local industrial heritage and history, yet it has been painted a hideous blue with yellow trimmings to become a 'Thomas'. Worse... far worse.. its attractive appearance, a result of 'form following function' rather than any attempt at styling by Messers Hudswell Clarke, has been upset by welded-on upper extensions to the side tanks to make it look more 'Thomas-like'. They are visually intrusive and out of place.

Please click twice on the pictures to see full size images.

Manchester Ship Canal 1903 Hudswell Clarke tank engine no.32 'Gothenburg' as she should look

'Gothenburg' today at MoSI with modified side tanks, far from original livery, and a plastic face, as this year's 'Thomas'

Still, it gives me a chance to fire and drive this historically significant locomotive! I was rostered for 'preparation' today (Thursday) and as fireman on the Friday. Both days required a 7am book-on which saw me getting up at 5:30!

About 8:00am Friday morning. I've lit the fire in No.32, and the hose is filling her water tanks

The footplate of No.32. She is right hand drive, so the driver's position is nearest the camera, the fireman's on the far side.

By about 9:45 we have full steam pressure and No.32 is coupled to her stock and in the platform ready for a 10:00am start on the first train of the day

On an early run, before most of the crowds arrive, we pass 'Sir Toppham Hat' AKA 'The Fat Controller'

The same location a bit later, as Thomas stops beside Sir Toppham to receive his gift of a 'coal cake' as a reward for working so hard

No.32 may look unoriginal from the outside, but in here she's still an MSC Hudswell Clarke. This is the view from the fireman's seat.

With the live steam ejector continuously 'on' while running to keep the vacuum brakes 'off', coal and water consumption is prodigious. Here, I pause between tending to my fire and keeping the boiler level correct to photograph Lauren (our assistant on the engine) who is preparing to fill the water tanks. This has to be done every second trip up the line to keep the tanks sufficiently replenished.

Here are some videos taken on the Friday:

The fat Controller leads a sing song before
rewarding Thomas with a coal cake

View out of my side of the locomotive as, having run up
from the MoSI station to the Salford end of the site on the line
to the right, we reverse down the 'Pineapple' line.

Coming back off the 'Pineapple' line to the junction,
from where we will reverse back down to the MoSI
station down the line coming in from the left. The gates
ahead of the engine with the red discs on them, visible
when we come to a stop, guard the line out of the MoSI
site which connects MoSI to the nation rail network.


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