Wednesday, 27 November 2013

'Planet' comes of age

'Planet' in the Liverpool Road East station tonight

Many thanks to MoSI Railway Volunteers Jan Ford and Duncan Hough for the photographs in this post. As ever, please click on any picture for a larger image.

The replica 1830 Robert Stephenson 'Planet' locomotive at the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI) is 21 years old today. The Museum organised a birthday party and invited everyone connected with the locomotive; volunteer train crew past and present, and those involved in the planning and building of 'Planet' over 21 years ago.

In the early 1980s the museum was perhaps more aware than it is today that it is situated on probably the most significant heritage railway site in the world; Stephenson's original 1830 terminus of the world's first purpose-built passenger railway, the Liverpool & Manchester. As Steve Davies, former museum director and former director of the National Railway Museum said "if this was in the United States, it would form the heart of a multi-million dollar entertainment complex. In UK, it is just considered an attraction at a regional science and technology museum". And of course this historic railway, and this historic grade one listed site is threatened by Network Rail's Ordsall Chord rail line cutting right through it, between the grade one listed 1830 station and Stephenson's 1830 grade one listed stone bridge over the river Irwell, carving up the site and emasculating the site's railway line to little more than the lines within the station itself (and thereby making meaningful running of our 1830 heritage steam train impossible). How philistine is that when alternative schemes are possible to achieve NR's ends without disrupting this unique site?

After the site had been restored in the 1980s, the Friends of the museum realised it needed something to 'bring it to life'. What better than a working replica 1830 train? First thoughts were to build a replica of Stephenson's 'Rocket', but it was realised that several such replicas already existed, and anyway 'Rocket' was a one-off experimental locomotive of 1829 which led a year later to the production of the more sophisticated 'Planet' class, many of which were built for the Liverpool & Manchester and for other railways. It made more sense to build a 'Planet' replica, and two replica open 4-wheel passenger coaches, as representative of what would have run through Liverpool Road Station in 1830.

Back then the museum had a fully equipped workshop in the area now occupied by the Textile area of the Great Western Warehouse, and that's where the locomotive was built. More of that later.

Another view of 'Planet' at Liverpool Road East tonight 

The evening opened with 'Planet' giving train rides to all invitees. Although I've traversed this railway hundreds of times on the footplate of 'Planet' and 'Agecroft No.1' (the other resident steam locomotive at MoSI) I had not done so at night before.

'Planet' steams between the 1830 Liverpool Road station on the left and the 1830 warehouse on the right

Fifth from the left on the platform is former MoSI and National Railway Museum director, Steve Davies

Loco crew member changes the points at Ordsall Lane ground frame so we can reverse down the Pineapple Line (so named from the erstwhile Pineapple Pub on Water Street)

Duty guard, David, warms his himself from Planet's fire (it was a chilly evening!)

After the train rides we assembled in the main hall of the Great Western Warehouse, where tables were laid out.

'Planet's name up in lights!

After an official from the museum welcomed the guests, Chairman of the Museum Friends (and railway volunteer) Mike Crawley gave a short speech before railway volunteer Dave Ward made a presentation to Matthew Jackson. After six years as MoSI Railway Officer, Matthew is leaving for a career on 'The Big Railway'. We wish him every success.

The main speaker was Michael Bailey who had headed the team who built 'Planet'. His was a fascinating talk. After making the decision to 'build a Planet' they had to work out how!

 Invited guests listening to the speeches

Drawings were sourced from the National Railway Museum, and a team assembled. Michael's deputy was manufacturing engineer John Glitheroe. Other founder members of the team were Frank Beard (Crossley's works director), John and George Chadwick (engineering draughtsmen), and Ron Whalley (Chief Engineer Davies & Metcalf). When Michael approached The British Engine Insurance Company for sponsorship, not only was that forthcoming but their Assistant General Manager, Jim Brown, joined the team as boiler expert and stayed to become volunteer locomotive footplate crew.

Research revealed that each 'Planet' locomotive produced at Robert Stephenson's Newcastle works was slightly different, as improvements were incorporated. MoSI's 'Planet' is therefore representative of the class generally rather than being replica of the original 'Planet' of 1830. For safety reasons the replica would have to have brakes (the originals had none other than the tender hand brake) so air brakes were added to both engine and tender. And rather than the riveted wrought iron construction of the boiler of the original, the replica's boiler was of welded steel and run at a pressure of 100 PSI rather than the original's 50 PSI so a live steam injector could be incorporated. This ensured water could always be fed to the boiler, an essential safety feature for modern day operation (the injector hadn't been invented in 1830, and the original locomotives had only an axle-driven boiler feed pump, which the replica also has).

The boiler was constructed off site, and the wheels likewise cast at a foundry, but the rest of the locomotive build took place in the MoSI workshops.

'Planet' had cost around £60,000 to build, but how does one value the thousands of volunteer hours that went into her build? For insurance purposes, she was valued at £250,000 but Michael believes that if you had to have her built professionally today it would cost quite a bit more than that.

'Planet' has proved to be a reliable and crowd-pulling locomotive, and has visited many heritage railways over the past twenty one years. But she is most at home in Stephenson's 1830 Liverpool Road Station, which only survived in almost original condition because after only a few years it became a goods depot. Manchester Victoria station (Hunt's Bank in those days) became the new passenger terminus for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

Interesting times lie ahead for the MoSI Railway with the threat posed by Network Rail's proposed Ordsall Chord. One hopes the museum (which rightly supports the Northern Hub scheme) will  push Network Rail as hard as they can for an alternative routing of the chord. However, at least one rail magazine has accused them of not recognising what they are custodians of, and of not fighting hard enough to protect their charge; the most significant heritage railway site in the world.

This blog will keep you informed of developments!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The millwrights return to Nether Alderley Mill

We have closed the mill for the season now and will re-open in the spring. The National Trust has taken the opportunity to invite the Norfolk Millwrights, who did the recent restoration work on the mill machinery, to return to Nether Alderley to check on the condition of the mill after our first season milling grain, and to repair a couple of minor faults which have developed.

As ever, please click on any picture for a larger image.

My car and the Norfolk Millwright Alliance van outside the mill this morning

An autumnal view of the mill pond

Sluice manhole open as the millwrights run the mill machinery to check for faults

The sack hoist has to be checked for its ability to raise sacks of grain, and the results documented, like a crane or lift. Not something you'd expect to have to do in a 17th century mill.

The grain hopper has been removed, and here the ropes connecting the shoe to its wooden 'spring' and for shoe-height control are removed. After that the 'horse' (the wooden frame that supports the hopper) and the 'furniture' (the shroud around the mill stones) can be removed.

When the furniture was removed an unexpected sight greeted us. The 'sweeper' (which should be attached to the runner stone and sweeps the meal to fall down the chute as it emerges from between the stones) had become detached. Flour (meal) had therefore built up inside the furniture and had to be removed before work could proceed. It filled three large sacks and a couple of vacuum cleaners!

The millwrights attach fabric straps to the runner (upper) stone

Two block & tackles were used to lift the runner stone off its support shaft, and thus expose the bed stone (the lower of the two mill stones, which does not rotate)

Once the stones were separated we were pleased to discover that the milling surfaces were in excellent condition. The mace can be seen in the centre of the bed stone atop the drive shaft which comes up from the hurst frame below. The upper, or runner, stone rests on this and is driven by it as the slots in the mace engage with the metal rind in the centre of the runner stone.

A view down the 'eye' of the runner stone, showing the rind, and the mace beneath the runner stone. The square drive atop the rind drives the damsel which agitates the shoe allowing grain to fall into the 'eye'.

Here the millwrights have removed the metal cover from the bed stone centre bearing with its hessian gaskets, and extracted one of three bronze bearing pieces (in the millwright's hand)

Here's a close up of the bearing piece. It is tapered top to bottom and front to back, so as the three bearing pieces wear they take up any slack automatically. In between the bearing pieces are wads of grease-impregnated hessian to provide lubrication. The bearing piece is resting on the metal sealing collar in this picture. Once the hessian has been re-greased, this collar will be re-fitted with new hessian gaskets to keep flour dust out of the bearing.

A bronze bearing piece, hessian grease pad, and the sealing collar

Nice autumn view at the back of the mill

Finally, the bearing having been re-greased and the stones' faces cleaned, the runner stone is lowered back onto the mace


Friday, 8 November 2013

It's ten years since Concorde last flew

Last Friday, 1st November, in celebration of ten years of Concorde G-BOAC at Manchester Airport, a Gala Dinner was held beneath the wings of the beautiful white bird.

All the pictures are copyright Glenn Wheeler and TAS; please do not copy them without their permission.

As ever, please click on any picture for a larger image.

Guests under Concorde G-BOAC at the Gala Dinner

Over 250 people attended the Gala, hosted by TAS (The Aviation Society) who run the Concorde tours and employ us Concorde guides. Guest of honour was former Concorde Chief Pilot at British Airways, Mike Bannister. We also enjoyed some superb classical singing from special guest, Jenny Williams.

Tables set out in the Runway Visitor Park Concorde hangar

Education Guide Linda and her husband study the pictures of 75 years of Manchester Airport. I'm in the background pointing something out to Chris.

Concorde G-BOAC was open for visitors to have a look around, and very popular she was, too

Guests mingle early in the evening under that famous nose

I wonder if they know what they are looking at? AC's number one engine with the cowlings opened, one of four Rolls Royce Olympus 593 re-heated turbojets fitted to the aeroplane.

TAS Chairman and former Manchester Airport Airfield Manager Peter Hampson opens the evening

Guests enjoy a superb three course meal under Concorde

Chris and I enjoying our evening

Operatic classics from the incomparable Jenny Williams. She opened with British Airways' theme song - The Flower Duet from Lakm√©.

Chief pilot, Concorde; Mike Bannister sings for his supper, giving an excellent presentation about the world's only successful supersonic airliner

Mike didn't steer clear of the Paris crash and the short-lived return to service

What better location to celebrate ten years of Concorde at Manchester?

Peter Hampson and Mike Bannister with a painting I have a copy of on the wall at home; AC arriving at Manchester on 31st October 2003. I got mine signed around the border by many Concorde flight crews at a Concorde reunion dinner we held some years ago.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Will this be the last main line train into MoSI?

Today the Branch Line Society organised a train from Carnforth to the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester. If you follow this blog you'll know that Network Rail's proposed Ordsall Chord rail line will cut off the museum's connection to the national rail system. The last train to come into the museum was the Royal Train, with Prince Charles and Camilla, back in 2010. Since then Britannia pacific locomotive 'Oliver Cromwell' was stabled at the museum for a week, and West Coast Railways class 47, 47500, which caught fire after a derailment on the line adjacent to the museum, spent some time stored on our tracks until recovered by road to Carnforth.

As ever, please click on any picture for a bigger image.

MoSI Resident steam loco 'Agecroft No.1' and its train wait on line LR2 at the Museum for the arrival of the special 

The gate out of the museum to the main line is open, and the class 37 locomotive leading the special noses its way into MoSI. Colin Cooper, MoSI volunteer, Network Rail employee, and rostered operations officer for the day has boarded the loco as pilot.

 Colin looks out from 37 706's centre windscreen

On the back of the train is a class 47 loco. Limited clearance indeed between the loco and the Water Street bridge. 

47 760 comes to a stand while the 37 is detached from the front of the train and stabled in the curatorial yard 

The 47 propels the train very slowly back into the MoSI platform, past the stabled 37 

Stewart Mulliner, MoSI volunteer and joint operations officer today, keeps a careful lookout from the 47 as it draws the train forward again having allowed the passengers to alight at the platform 

The 4-coach train is split, 2 coaches to be stabled next to the 37 in the curatorial yard, the other 2 with the 47 will be stabled on line LR1 

With the 2 locos and 4 coaches clear of the running lines, 'Agecroft No.1' commences passenger rides

It had been touch and go for a while whether the train would route into MoSI or go to Victoria, as Network Rail withdrew permission for the move on Friday afternoon, saying that the track into MoSI was not up to the required standard. Thanks must go to a MoSI Railway volunteer who is also a NR employee for his heroic efforts in getting to the bottom of this misunderstanding. These efforts paid off, and on Saturday lunchtime NR agreed that there was indeed no problem with our track, so on Sunday around 250 happy passengers alighted at Liverpool Road East and spent 2 hours in the museum before departing on the same train back to Carnforth. 


Friday, 1 November 2013

Mike Sweeny at MoSI

I've been to the Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI) in Manchester twice this week, Monday and Wednesday, as rostered steam locomotive crew on the railway there. Last Monday, in a gap between the rain showers, Real Radio XS came to the railway to film radio presenter Mike Sweeny on our Agecroft No.1 Robert Stephenson Hawthorn (RSH)  0-4-0 saddle tank locomotive. Matt, the Railway Officer at MoSI was driving, with me firing (we swapped roles later that day).

Note the 'wood effect' paint finish in the cab. This is authentic as it's how  RSH turned out the loco in Newcastle when it was built in 1948. But it has led to a bit of ribbing from us loco crews. One fireman threatened to hang up in the cab a 'Home Sweet Home' sign and 3 pottery ducks flying up the wall. I suggested a bit of stone cladding on the outside of the cab. If you look carefully in the film you'll see a white doily draped over the firebox shelf to acknowledge the homeliness this wood effect paint job has brought to our formerly austere cab!

Agecroft No.1 used to haul coal from Agecroft colliery to the adjacent power station, and came to MoSI in scrap condition a few years ago and was completely rebuilt by the railway volunteers, the boiler being 'zero timed' by specialists Israel Newton. The paint effect in the cab is the last detail to make the loco as near 'new' as possible.

Matt's beret in place of the normal 'greasetop' cap like I'm wearing in the film is in homage to No.1's regular driver at Agecroft Colliery, who always wore one.

Video of Mike Sweeny driving Agecroft No.1 at MoSI

Sorry. It seems Real Radio has removed this video.