Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A Big Engine at MoSI

(Click on pictures for larger images)

 Standard Britannia class pacific 70013 'Oliver Cromwell' is at MoSI (Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester) this week, resting between rail tours. We don't often get big engines coming onto the MoSI site, the last being new-build A1 'Tornado' on the Royal train a couple of years ago. It can only be done because we have a main line connection, though that is threatened by the proposed Ordsall Chord, a short section of line to enable trains to travel from Deansgate to Salford Central.

Being a MoSI rail volunteer, I was able to don an orange hi-viz vest and walk track side for a close view of this magnificent locomotive; including sitting in the driving seat!

'Oliver Cromwell' by the 1830 warehouse

Old, middle-aged, and new; the original 1830 Manchester terminus of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Oliver Cromwell, and the Beetham Tower
The driver's seat. The vertical wheel in front of the seat is the reverser (for selecting valve cut off), the long vertical lever hanging down is the regulator (to admit steam to the cylinders), the steam, vacuum, and air brakes are to the right of that, and the modern panel with the coloured buttons is the TPWS (Train Protection & Warning System), a requirement for all main line locomotives today.

The view out of the driver's side

A view inside the firebox. The fire had been left in, presumably to allow the boiler to cool down more slowly. A bit of work here for the fireman next time she's lit up, though. All this lot will have to be cleared out first.

The driver's view straight ahead
  Speedometer to the left, AWS in the middle, boiler pressure top right (250psi max), vacuum brake train pipe and vacuum chamber gauge lower right

Cylinder and crosshead detail


Sunday, 25 March 2012

First 'gapper' ride out

It was a lovely day today, so this morning I went walking with the Alderley Edge, Wilmslow & District Footpath Preservation Society (of which I am Secretary) near Lyme park. This afternoon, I returned to the Peak District hills but this time on my C90 'Gapper' (or step through) in company with Malc and Tony on their Yamaha Townmate 'Gappers'. We headed out through Alderley and Macclesfield up the Cat & Fiddle road to the pub of that name, a popular Sunday rendezvous for bikers. I had to change down from top gear (3rd) to 2nd occasionally, but the trusty C90 lifted me steadily up the twisty 'Cat' until we arrived at the pub.

 The Cat & Fiddle (between Macclesfield and Buxton, in the Peak). Malc's and Tony's blue Townmates on left, my C90 between them and the Aprillia.

Malc on left, Tony on right, gappers parked behind. No, we did not drink any of those beers! The glasses were already on the table. Malc brought a flask of coffee, though.

From here we continued to the minor road over Axe Edge Moor, then onto the Buxton - Leek road to The Roaches, where we turned right to the car park by Titesworth Reservoir which was a popular spot on this lovely Sunday afternoon.

My C90 and Tony and Malc's Townmates at Tittesworth Visitor Centre

The route from Tittesworth was via Meerbrook, Rushton Spencer, Fool's Nook, and Gawesworth to home. Pottering along on these low powered and quiet machines through beautiful countryside is an excellent way to spend a superb Sunday afternoon.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Fully biked-up now?

Honda C90 in Mobberley

For some time I have been looking for a 'chicken chaser'; a low power fun machine to supplement the 'real' motorbikes in the Vince stable. My choice was either a Yamaha T80 Townmate, or a Honda C90, with a preference for the latter as it's the most numerously-produced motorcycle in the world and some have electric start as well as kick start.

But I'd given up finding one at the right price, as even tatty C90s on eBay were going for a lot of money; more than I was prepared to pay for one. Then this one, owned by a nice chap in Steeple Aston near Banbury, came up in a specialist moped on-line magazine. I phoned him immediately and we did the deal!

It is an absolutely immaculate 1993 four-owner electric start model and I got it for a very good price. Today, my mate Tony and me went down to Oxfordshire in his van to collect it.

It's insured (as of this afternoon) and MOTed until November, and as soon as it is taxed I'll be able to give it a go!

So now I have the classic bike (Triumph Bonneville T140D UK Special), the 'modern' bike (Suzuki Freewind), and the chicken chaser (C90).I'll let you know more when it's taxed and I can give it a run!

Update Saturday 24th March
First time out on it today in company with another C90 (ridden by Malcolm) and a T80 Townmate (Tony's mount). Filled the tank (lots of change from a fiver), and started with a climb up Alderley Edge which it managed, even with me on it, in top although it was pretty slow for the last bit. Tried again later in second (it's 3 speed) and it went over the top slightly quicker. A blast down the Alderley bypass showed a V Max of about 55 (60 on the downhill bits, 45 on the ups). Then a session round the lanes in greater Mobberley area showed that it's even fun on the twisties. It ticks over at minimal rpm like a little sewing machine, and so quiet it's hard to tell when it's running when you use the electric start. Using the kick start, one gentle push with the foot is all it needs to fire up. Malcolm  and I swapped bikes and I found his C90 pretty much the same as mine to ride despite its lower mileage (2,500, about 1/10 of what mine has done), and he pronounced my machine to be fine in every respect.

These 'step throughs' are a very different experience to riding a 'big bike', but fantastic fun! The auto-clutch takes a bit of getting used to (press the gear lever with your toe to change up, your heel to change down; as the lever comes up after pressing it the clutch is engaged so you can match revs to lower gears as you change down). When stopped, a further press from 3rd takes it to neutral again, but this is inhibited when on the move - clever!

And just to add an aviation slant, while taking the above pictures in Mobberley today this took off from Manchester Airport:

Emirates Airbus A380 on climb out from Manchester this afternoon. Next stop Dubai.


Sunday, 11 March 2012

'Planet' in service again on the MoSI railway

After a few rostered turns on 0-4-0 saddle tank 'Agecroft No.1' it was good to have 'Planet' back in service again today.

'Agecroft No.1' at MoSI

 'Planet' a while ago at MoSI, me firing

As long as it's not raining ('Planet' has no cab) I much prefer crewing 'Planet' to 'Agecroft'. The cab on 'Agecroft' is quite small and claustrophobic, she burns far more coal than 'Planet' so the fireman is constantly feeding the fire from the awkward bunkers, trying to manoeuvre the shovel in the confines of the tiny, smoky cab. And there's the constant roar of the steam ejector which generates a vacuum to keep the train brakes off. On top of all this, the fireman is on the wrong side for getting down to change the point at the Ordsall end of our line.

'Planet', on the other hand, has a spacious footplate with 360 degree views (and open skies!), offers a relatively smoke-free working environment, requires only relaxed firing with plenty of 'shovel swinging' space, is quiet in operation, more interesting to drive with its valve levers and slip-eccentric valve gear, and looks better!

Lighting up 'Planet' this morning

During light-up this morning; Beryl Brown (guard), Bev Pardoe (driver), and Peter Brown (operating officer) chat while we wait for the water tank to fill

This morning as I was preparing the engine when a voice from the past met my ears; Jon Moffatt a former colleague at SPL was standing at the side of the track with his family. The last time I saw Jon was at breakfast in the restaurant of the Holiday Inn Junction 4 M4, where I spent a lot of my working life in my later days at EDS (not actually in the restaurant, but in that part of the world), it being close to the Stockley Park office of the company. Oh wow. How long ago and how not in the least missed are those days in corporate harness. Which would you rather do; get up at 5am for a drive or flight down to Heathrow for a meeting and work 'till 8pm before checking into the hotel, or a leisurely drive to crew a steam loco for the day or show some visitors around Concorde G-BOAC? I even get paid for the latter!

Bev oils around during preparation this morning

I had full steam pressure by 11:30 so we started running earlier than our usual mid-day start. After about an hour I noted a Chicken Chaser (small moped-like device - a Honda 'Stream' in this case) arrive at the entrance to the museum; as I suspected, it was fellow-biker Malcolm and he was followed by Tony on his 'chaser' (a Honda Caren). Pretty soon, they were installed on 'Planet's footplate for a trip up the line and back. The smiles below showed they enjoyed it!

Malcolm, Tony, and Bev on 'Planet' today

 Looking back from the Ordsall end of the line, Beetham tower in the background

 Looking across to the Deansgate to Salford Crescent line, gantries in place for the Manchester to Liverpool electrification

Here's a video from 'Planet' as we propel our train back to the Liverpool Road station

I got to drive the engine for an hour or so as well as Bev took the shovel. What a great way to spend a Sunday; firing and driving a replica 1830 steam locomotive through an original 1830 railway station!


Saturday, 3 March 2012

90th birthday of Lancs Aero Club and of its president, Tom Dugdale

The Lancashire Aero Club celebrated its 90th birthday today at its traditional home, Barton. Also 90 this year is the club's president, Tom Dugdale, who was flown in to take part. I learnt to fly at Lancs Aero Club at Barton in 1978, and one of my instructors was Tom.

Tom climbs from the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter which has flown him into Barton from his ancestral home near Ribchester. 

Tom takes the salute from the Air Cadets. The young lady closest to Tom is the winner of the LAC Tom Dugdale Scholarship, Rebbecca Morrissey. She will receive flying training to complete her Private Pilot's Licence. 

Tom is wheeled from the helicopter to the Barton Visitor Centre

In the Visitor Centre, Tom chats about his Lancaster squadron experiences to LAC members and visiting students from Manchester Metropolitan University

Tom and Rebbecca pose in front of the Grob115 in which Rebbecca is learning to fly

 Rebbecca has no excuse for failure; she is being taught by the very capable, enthusiastic, and experienced Lancashire Aero Club Flying School instructor Martin Rushbroke. I can vouch for Martin as an instructor who has very high standards but at the same time makes the learning experience tremendous fun. He taught me aerobatics and instrument flying, and checked me out on the Yak52.

Chris Copple of Mainair taxied this beauty up to the apron from its hangar

Chris in the 80% scale Spitfire warming the engine (a 180hp Jabiru unit). The aeroplane is owned by someone who doesn't fly it; it spent four years hangared at Perranporth and has only flown about 10 hours since it was built. Chris, lucky guy, gets to fly it up to fifteen hours a year which is all that is allowed under its limited 'care and maintenance only' insurance policy.

Tom, who has avgas in his veins, was delighted to see the Spitfire. Chris shows him the 'office'. Given half a chance, Tom would be out of that chair and in that cockpit, aerobatting the lovely machine!

Spitfire cockpit. Amazingly, there are two seats but you'd need to be a lot smaller than me to fit into the rear one!

This Cessna 150 was on the LAC training fleet back in the late 70s, when I did some of my PPL training on it. It's still on the fleet today though it was dark blue 
back when I flew it.

 Here's the 'star spangled Citabria' I once had a share in, taking off to join the flypast celebrating 90 years of LAC and Tom

A general view across the airfield today. Early poor visibility and forecast heavy showers later in the afternoon kept visitors away who might otherwise have flown in. It is sad to see so little flying activity at Barton these days; back in the 80s or 90s when this place was our playground it would have been buzzing with flying and 'aircraft fettling' activities. I think we had the best years of GA.

I'd like to add a couple of personal reminiscences of Tom Dugdale. One July evening in 1978 when I had fewer than ten hours training in my log book I was learning spins and spin recovery with Tom in Cessna 150 G-AYGC (in what is widely considered by pilots a retrograde step, spinning and spin recovery is longer on the PPL syllabus). We were doing 'flick entries' to the spins (slow right down to just above the stall, then full back stick and full rudder whereupon the aeroplane pitches sharply up, rolls inverted, and settles into a steady spin). When we got back to Barton Tom stood behind Golf Charlie; "this aeroplane's being sold off the fleet tomorrow" he told me. "Better just check we haven't bent the fin!"

Of course there was no such damage (Tom knows exactly what he is doing - GC is still at Barton today in private hands), and when we got back to the Tower Tom's next student had cancelled. I was in no hurry to go home so I readily agreed to doing some more work with Tom in the circuit. After two circuits, he said "just drop me off by the Tower. You're fine, you can go do one on your own now". I was gobsmacked; I wasn't expecting to fly solo until I'd done a few more hours of training. But Tom had already gone, having stowed his seat belt and closed the door. He didn't look back as he strode towards the Tower.

I did my checks very carefully and lined up at the 27 threshold, hand on throttle, looking along the short grass runway. "Once I get this thing into the air, I'll have to get it down in one piece" I thought; and pressed full power. The circuit went well, as Tom had known it would. My feet didn't touch the ground for weeks! I had actually flown an aeroplane entirely on my own! Tom was no fool; he knew it was exactly the confidence booster I needed at that stage of my training.

A few months later I had successfully completed all of the training syllabus, my ground exams, and my qualifying cross country flights. All that remained between me and Private Pilot's Licence was the dreaded GFT - General Flying Test. The examiner was Tom.

It was with some trepidation that I strapped into the left seat of the Cessna while Tom strapped into the right. A lot would depend on the next one and a half hours. Nerves caused me to make a couple of errors, including at least one which was fairly basic. I was sure it would have failed me and I wondered if I should simply give up now and turn this into a lesson and do the GFT another day,  but I carried on anyway.

When we landed Tom got out, and while folding his seat belt simply said "thank you very much. Very nice flight", and started to walk back to the Tower.

"But did I pass?" I blurted after him!

Tom stopped in mid stride, turned towards me and smiled. "Oh yes. Of course. Oh yes", and continued on his way.

Tom Dugdale - remarkable pilot (the only one I know who can gain height while aerobatting a Chipmunk), super confidence-inspiring instructor.... and above all, gentleman!