Friday, 31 October 2014

Back to Rudyard Lake; now Malc's a guard, too!

This morning Malc and I rode down to the railway on somewhat mis-matched bikes; I'd suggested we go on our 650 Suzuki Freewinds, but Malc turned up on his 80cc Townmate. However, we got there OK.

My Freewind and Malc's T80 at the railway this morning. In the background, Alan polishes 'Merlin'.

Malc was to have a go as guard, so I showed him the ropes (i.e. the ticket machine and the money bag) and he pretty soon picked it up from there.

The guard's compartment at the rear of the train (front of the train on the return trip)

Once again our loco today was 'King Arthur', ready here to leave Rudyard with the first train this morning

'King Arthur's' footplate is almost identical to the other Exmoor engines

I drove 'King Arthur' several times today, running around the train, and fired her up and down the line with Joe as driver. Here's a shot Malc took of me at Rudyard this morning.

This is the far end of the line; Hunt House Wood, looking towards Rudyard. Joe polishes 'The King' ready for our return journey down the lake.

Gluttons for punishment (only joking!) we're back there tomorrow. Let's see if Malc can come on the right bike this time!


Yes, he did. Both on our Freewinds today. The day started with some carriage cleaning and general train preparation, and I did a bit more guarding while Malc started to build a signal post in the workshop for use at Hunthouse Wood.

The train loco today was 'Pendragon', and I got to drive her back to Rudyard from Lakeside Loop on a passenger train with rostered driver Matt acting as firemen. That's the first time I've driven one of these engines on a train, so more mass to control than when driving light engine, and the train air brake to use as well. Even though I've done that hundreds of times at the MoSI railway (see elsewhere on the blog) on the much larger and heavier standard gauge replica 'Planet' loco and saddle tank 'Agecroft No.1', the techniques are quite different on these little trains.

The air brake on 'Planet', and vacuum brake on 'Agecroft'  have more delay and more power; one has to anticipate application and then release the brake and re-apply always anticipating the delayed response to come to a smooth stop in the right place. On this little railway the air brake is more an on/off switch, as the brakes are much less effective (due the much smaller diameter wheels). Often, a more effective way of slowing the train is to put the loco into reverse (with drain cocks open and regulator closed) in either first, second, or third notch on the reverser lever. 


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

More Rudyard Volunteering; now I'm a guard!

Malc is away visiting family but the RLSR is operating this week, so I went down there on my own today. There were just three of us in attendance; Joe (who I know from the Churnet Valley Railway), Alan, and myself. Joe and Alan took turns driving and I was instantly promoted to Guard. It's a role I started to pursue on the Churnet Valley but so convoluted was the training for what's essentially a pretty simple job that I decided to stick to Signalling on that railway (a complex job with suitably complex training!). At Rudyard, it's recognised that Guarding is not rocket science; a hand held machine tots up the fares to be charged to passengers, and (sometimes!) prints the tickets. Then I take the fares in cash, tendering change from my cash bag. I also made some station announcements at 'The Dam' intermediate station, and 'Hunthouse Wood' terminus. There's also an emergency brake in the guard's compartment which I can apply if I spot anything amiss with the train. After my first trip up and down the line, I had the job pretty much  taped.

We ran five return trips on the scenic 1.5 mile lakeside line today, one per hour starting at 11:00, the last train getting back to Rudyard about 15:45.

As a bonus for being Guard all day, at Rudyard I got to run the locomotive round between trains (our engine today was Pendragon, another fine little Exmoor loco). This involves uncoupling from the train, driving the engine to the water column, watering and coaling (so easy on these little engines!), then driving it along the station loop line, reversing it onto the train, and coupling up (including attaching the air brake pipes) ready for departure. I then oiled round the motion and topped up the cylinder oil in the lubricator.

'Pendragon' photographed on another day, leaving Rudyard station

Then it's time to wash my hands before selling the tickets for the next train to passengers already in the coaches. When it's time to go, I press a plunger switch on the platform and the barrier alarms sound as the barriers to the car park exit road level crossing descend, and a pre-recorded announcement welcomes passengers to the railway and gives basic safety information. Once the barriers are down the starter signal pulls off automatically, and I give the driver the 'right away'.

At the end of the day I ran 'Pendragon' round from the front to the back of the train, coupled on, and propelled the train backwards into the carriage shed for the night. Joe uncoupled the loco and I ran her onto shed and put one of the injectors on (to top up the boiler with water for next time),  raked out the fire, and put her away in the engine shed.

I'm back at Rudyard on Thursday. If it's a similar day to today, I'm really looking forward to it!


Another day of Guarding, and driving the locomotive during run-arounds. Our engine today was 'King Arthur' (all the Exmoor locos are named after Arthurian characters). 'The King' is the largest engine on the fleet having six coupled driving wheels. She is also considerably heavier than the four-coupled locos, a distinct advantage in the leaf-fall season when fallen leaves can make the tracks slippery and promote slipping by the locomotives.

Me in 'King Arthur'

'Here's Excaliber's' cab, which has much the same layout as the other 'Exmoor' engines. 

On the left is the reverser lever, which controls direction of travel and 'notching up' of the valve cut-off setting. The handbrake is on the right, with the train air brake lever on the cab front wall just above it, together with its associated air pressure gauge. 

The boiler steam pressure gauge is prominent in the centre between the two spectacle windows, with the 'blower' control tap beneath it (the blower sends a variable blast of steam up the chimney to draw the fire). Either side of the blower control are the steam valves for the left and right injectors (used with the associated water taps to feed water into the boiler against boiler pressure). Those injector water taps are either side of the boiler backhead, outboard of the two gauge glasses which show boiler water level. 

Between the gauge glasses is the firebox door, and the two coal bunkers are either side of the backhead (only the left one is visible here). The lever with the yellow handle is the sander (for use if the loco slips on the rail), and below that is the control for the cylinder drain cocks. 

The regulator, which admits steam to the cylinders to make the locomotive move, is the horizontal red handle with silver end, above the gauge glasses. The whistle lever is by the right hand spectacle glass. Just in sight at the base of the backhead are the two boiler blowdown valves.

I'll be back at the railway again tomorrow, hopefully for more of the same!


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Volunteering at the Rudyard lake Steam Railway

Malc and I have just completed our third full day as volunteers on this delightful ten and a quarter inch gauge railway that runs for a mile and a half alongside picturesque Rudyard lake in Staffordshire. We have visited the railway before and two of those visits are reported earlier in this blog ( Link to RLSR Steam Gala ) and this one (  And an earlier visit ).

The first day of volunteering was on a 'work party' day; no trains were running and the object was to complete maintenance tasks. Malc and I were assigned to replacing a plywood end panel in a 'toastrack' coach. We removed the old rotted panel and carefully prised off the architrave surrounds of the perspex windows and removed the window panes, then marked out the new panel from the old on the new piece of plywood, including the two oblong window openings. Malc had rejected the original piece of plywood offered to us from the railway's stock as not fit for purpose - it was already delaminating from storage in the damp shed, and was not 'out door' quality. If used would soon have gone the same way as the one we were replacing and whole job would have to be repeated. No point 'making work', so after some deliberation Peter who was supervising us went off in his car and came back with the pukka stuff.

 The window openings were cut out of the new wood sheet, and using a router (pronounced "rowter", so not a component in a computer network) we cut 'rebates' around each window for the perspex window panes so they'd sit flush in the new panel. On the inside face of the panel we used the router to cut a stepped pattern to the window openings, just to make it look nice. The new panel was then cut out of the plywood sheet along the marked-out outline. A coat of undercoat was applied and left to dry.

Our next visit was an operating day, and we progressed our work of a few days before. The perspex window panes were fitted, and held in place by the architraves tacked into place and filler used to make good the joints between the four architrave pieces that made up each window surround. The window panes were masked off with tape ready for a coat of red top coat to be applied. The panel was fitted into the coach end and trimmed to fit, end-drilled for the fixing screws to hold it though the steel coach frame, and screwed into place. It just remained to apply the final paint coats to the new panel. After this we tidied up, put away painting equipment and all tools, and had a ride up and down the line as passengers.

This morning we rode across to Rudyard on the little bikes to finish the job; Mike, the railway owner had earlier in the week applied a coat of red top coat to the outside of the panel, and white on the inside. We applied the final top coats over those this morning - and then, job finished (apart from removing the masking tape from the window frames once the paint is dry), it was time to play!

Two locomotives were in steam, Exmoor Railway 'Excalibur' and ex-Isle of Mull Railway 'Victoria'. The first train was double headed using both locos and I bagged a cab seat in 'Excalibur' with driver Pete, while Malc did the same in the lead engine, 'Victoria' with his driver, Ian.

There's not a lot of room in these little engine cabs so it was tight fit, and each of us had one knee protruding from the cab side as we set off from Rudyard lake Station towards 'Dam', the first station on the line.

 'Excalibur' being prepared for traffic, by the water tower

Peter wasn't convinced that double heading was required, so at Dam station we detached 'Victoria' and sent her ahead to wait in the headshunt of Hunthouse Wood loop at the end of the line. We followed with the train, passing Lakeside Loop on the way, and on reaching Hunthouse Wood Station and loop we entered the 'main line' of the loop. Much to my surprise, Pete allowed me to drive 'Excalibur' off the head of our train, then to 'run her around' it in the loop. And my surprise didn't end there - 'Excalibur's regulator was mine for the entire length of the line, running light engine, she was mine to drive right back to Rudyard! I notched up to third notch as we accelerated down the line, but as we approached the end of the line I used a notch of 'forward gear' with drain cocks open (we were running reverse in this direction) to slow the loco on the gradual descent into Rudyard station (the locos only have hand brakes, while the coaches have continuous air brakes controlled from the locomotive, so without a train 'Excalibur' only had a hand brake to retard progress). 'Victoria' followed us with the train.

'Victoria' looks nice, but is a flawed design. She is difficult to maintain. For instance, to remove the boiler mudhole doors for a wash-out, the injectors have to be removed. Even cleaning the boiler tubes is a pain as inside the smokebox, in front of the front tube plate, is a spaghetti of pipework. The footplate is not a good workplace, either, with features such as the coal bunker being under the driver's seat  rather than conventionally, either side of the forward wall of the cab, rearward of the side tanks, as with 'Excalibur' and the other 'Exmoor' engines.

'Victoria', ex-Isle of Mull Railway, and not the most practical design from the driving and maintenance point of view

I was also allowed to drive 'Excalibur' solo in the station environs, to the water tower, and forward to a position ready to take the next train out  after 'Victoria' had arrived back with the train, with Malc on the footplate.

Later in the day I had another ride up and down the line on 'Excalibur', this time with Dave driving and me firing (Pete was guard), and was allowed to do a 'solo' run around the train in Hunthouse loop on 'Excalibur'.

The technique of firing these little engines, and operating the injectors to keep the boiler water level topped up (the fireman's most vital job!) is much the same as on bigger engines such as 'Planet' and Agecroft' which I fire at MoSI (see elsewhere in this blog, here, for instance ).

Agecroft No.1 on the MoSI railway, though originally built to work at the power station whose name she carries, is a small engine for a standard gauge loco. However, as this drawing of yours truly climbing aboard her P1 side shows, this 1948 Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn 0-4-0 saddle tank is a giant compared to the RLSR engines

Everything happens more quickly with these small engines; pressure drops quickly but responds straight away to firing, and the water level drops as the small boiler uses it, but the injectors rapidly restore the correct level. And of course normally these engines are single-manned - driver and fireman combined.

In short, these little engines are great fun!

The railway is up for sale as Mike and his wife want to retire. I just hope it remains in sympathetic hands, and that in the not too distant future I might pass out as a driver here. And I must remember to take my camera next time!

Another look at Exmoor engine 'Excalibur', which I drove and fired today