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


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