Monday, 19 September 2016

A busy day hauling passengers at Urmston

Two weeks ago I was passed as a passenger driver at Urmston & District Model Engineering Club's Abbotsfield Park track.

Last Sunday I was rostered signalman in Consal 'box on the Churnet Valley Railway so missed the Urmston meeting. Yesterday was my first full day at the club as a qualified passenger driver, so I gave 'Alfred' (my 3.5" gauge Quarry Hunslet locomotive) a day off and Malc and I headed to Urmston on a lovely sunny morning with me hoping to do some passenger train driving (Malc is not yet passed as a passenger driver, but that can't be far off).

These pictures are from and copyright of Jason Lau, and are excellent as usual. Please click on any photgraph for a larger image.

It's early morning. A member's car is about to reverse to unload a locomotive onto the pneumatically-powered variable-height unloading table. Note the bridge is in place over the outer track (our 'main line') to allow the locomotive to reach the preparation bays, via a couple of traversers.

The club's electric locomotive 'Spirit of Urmston' (driven here by Craig Deardon) was already carrying passengers. This loco provides the passenger service before any steam locomotives have been prepared for running, and does the same at the end of the day as the steam locomotives are disposed. However, it was so busy yesterday because of the lovely weather that 'Spirit of Urmston' helped out during middle of the day as well. 

As part of my 'passing out' as a passenger driver I had to learn to drive this loco, which is not difficult! First thing yesterday I took a couple of passenger trains around the track with this engine, just to 'consolidate' my qualification.

Chris Newton, from Wrexham club, prepares breakfast!

Me and Malc chatting to Chris

Adam Hodson and I have a chat

Keith prepares his 'Polly' tank while Malc looks on. We didn't realise it at the time but we would be spending the day on this loco. Keith said to me "right, you're a driver, take this loco and have fun!" What a generous chap he is!

....So off I went; me and my mount for the day!

Billy Stock on the inner track with a rather nice 0-6-0 tender locomotive 

Chris Newton with two fellow Wrexham members and his magnificent Robinson 2-8-0 which he built himself from scratch (not from a kit, but from raw materials)

Me driving the 'Polly' on a passenger train, on the 'big track' at the station

Resting between turns

So Malc could have some fun as well, and also to consolidate his driving experience to move him towards passing as a driver, Keith suggested I sit behind him and monitor him as we drove passenger trains. That's not easy, as it's difficult for the 'back seater' to keep an eye on vitals such as boiler water level, boiler steam pressure, and the state of the fire. It has to be done by a combination of peering around the 'driver' whenever possible, and asking some discreet questions!

In between runs I stretch my legs while Malc reaches for the 'bag' (water hose) to fill the tanks

 Me and Malc on the 'Polly' by the water tower, as Keith reaches for the cylinder oil to top up the loco's lubricators

 Phil Moyle's Beyer Peacock tank engine I passed out on as a driver two weeks previously. It is running on the inner track, where I usually run 'Alfred'. We are used to having the inner track to ourselves but it's perhaps as well I didn't bring 'Alfred' today as, with Billy on the 0-6-0 and this Beyer Peacock, there'd have been three locos on the inner track if I had. Also, once 'Alfred' is lit up and in steam, he needs regular attention with injectors and shovel which would have precluded our fun on the 'Polly' for me at least. 

 Families gather in the park, encouraged by the super warm and sunny weather

The queue of passengers at the station, waiting for a train ride, was growing!

 Tim Hines on Chris Newton's lovely Robinson 2-8-0 does his bit to reduce the queue

By the end of the day the 'Polly' had been running for many hours and steaming efficiency was falling off as ash built up in the smokebox and boiler tubes. I reversed the train off the 'big track' and we positioned the 'Polly' on one of the prep bays for Keith to dispose. We offered to help with this but really it's a one-man job best done by the loco's owner, so after having fun driving the 'Polly' all day, we left Keith with the mucky job of disposal! 

It only remained to round off this excellent day with a pint at The Bird in Hand on the way home. Very welcome it was, too!


Monday, 12 September 2016

A damp day at Statfold Barn Railway

Ex-Harrogate Gas Works Peckett 'Harrogate'

There's a delightful two-foot gauge private railway near Tamworth, Staffordshire; The Statfold Barn Railway. It's owned by Graham Lee, former chairman of LH Group Services Ltd, who in 2005 bought the remains of the Hunslet Engine Company. The railway is located on a working farm and has a run of about three miles, with a tear-drop loop to return and a separate (but connected) garden railway.

It also has a large roundhouse where locomotives are stored, and extensive workshops which support a locomotive restoration business. It is not usually open to the public, but three times a year open days are held for invited guests.

The railway has always intrigued me and when I read of the open days I decided to apply to attend the 10th September event. I passed the information to Ivan, Malc, and Peter who also applied, and almost by return we received our invitations. So did a couple of thousand other enthusiasts, it seems, from the attendance yesterday.

Peter drove us there, and the further south and east we travelled the worse the weather got. It was raining when we arrived, but the forecast was for the occluded front to move through the area by mid day, after which it would be dry. Well, the front stalled over the Midlands so the rain never really cleared. But it didn't really matter, and the damp atmosphere allowed plenty of visible 'steam' as the sixteen locomotives in steam worked the trains. There were traction engines too, and the 'Goose' railcar, plus the museum.

Please click on any picture for a larger image. As usual, all pictures are my copyright except those annotated otherwise. Please ask me before re-using any.

Damp, drizzly, misty. Quarry Hunslet 'Sybil Mary', retired from Penrhyn Quarry in 1955 and returned to steam in 2013.

Avonside 'Marchlyn'. Originally a Penrhyn Quarry locomotive it was rescued from a Chattanooga amusement park.

'Marchlyn' in the amusement park - 'Chattanooga Choo Choo'?

Last seen by us in Spooner's Bar, Porthmadog, Quarry Hunslet 'King of the Scarlets'. Built in 1889 it is the oldest of eleven identical locomotives and worked in Dinorwic Slate Quarry until 1965 when it was exported to Canada. It was repatriated in 2012 by Statfold Barn Railway.

Originally supplied in 1898, Jack was built by Hunslet to 18" gauge and spent it's entire working life of sixty years at the John Knowles Clay processing works, near Woodville in Leicestershire 

This one needs a bit of work

No.3903 'Statfold' is a new build undergoing a ten year boiler rebuild. It's possible to see how slim the boilers are on Quarry Hunslets when one sees one with the saddle tank removed. 'Statfold' and open-footplate version of this locomotive 'Jack Lane' were both built at Statfold in 2005.

 Orenstein & Koppel 'Pakis Baru No.1', from the Pakis Baru sugar mill in Java

Also from Indonesia (Jatibarang Sugar Mill) is this Mallet, restored to working order in 2011

Another ex-Penrhyn Quarry Avonside, 'Ogwen', exported to Indiana and recently repatriated

Ex-Dinorwic Quarry, Hunslet 'Michael'

General view of the roundhouse

We had three rides on the main railway. Early trains were overcrowded, but later in the day this wasn't the case. But the poor weather did not let up at all, despite being forecast to improve after lunch.

An intensive service was operated on the railway, with trains either double-headed or operated push-pull. Here, a train approaches the loop, photographed from our train which was waiting at the museum halt. 

'Saccharine', a Fowler built in 1914 for a sugar plantation in South Africa

Another ex-Dinorwic Hunslet, 'Cloister', built in 1892

Kerr Stuart 'Wren' class 3128 'Roger', originally from Avonside smelting works, was working on the garden railway

The other locomotive working in the garden was this new build vertical boilered locomotive

Atmospheric shot of 'Saccharine'

The main railway follows the field edge from the farm to the tear-drop loop at the far end

'Trangkil No.4' (on the right) has a special place in the history of the Hunslet Engine Company, having been the last steam locomotive to be built at the Jack Lane Works in Leeds, as works number 3902. 

She was originally built to 750mm gauge and supplied via Robert Hudson for use on the Trangkil sugar mill estate on the island of Java in Indonesia. It worked there for 33 years until made redundant by rationalisation of the estate’s railway system and was returned to the UK in 2004 to become part of the Statfold collection. During a thorough overhaul in the Statfold workshops 'Trangkil' was re-gauged to 2’0”. She now sees regular use at Statfold, including once again being employed on the harvest, although now of oil seed rather than sugar cane.

'Howard', on the left, is Hunslet Locomotive No, 1842 built 1936 as a 3 foot gauge for British Aluminum at Fort William, and later re-gauged to 2 foot for the Dursley Light Railway and converted from saddle tank to side tank. It was acquired by the Statfold Barn Railway in 2012 and ran in the 2013 season. It was given a major overhaul in 2014 at Statfold Barn. When it came to Statfold it was called Josephine but is now Howard and has reverted to a saddle tank. As can be seen it is an 0-4-2 design with inside valve gear and wheels inside the frames as re-gauged.

Sragi No.1 was built in 1899 by Krauss. This 0-4-2T was restored by the Hunslet Engine Company in September 2008, before making its debut public appearance at the Statfold Barn Railway that year.

 Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0WT+T (well tank plus side tanks) 'Alpha' of 1924 was restored to working order in 2016

Further views of the two garden railway locomotives

Several traction engines were also present, including this one operating a circular saw

'Marchlyn' and 'Sybil Mary' rest between turns

Most of the locomotives were working as coupled pairs for the event

It wasn't quite all steam. The ‘Goose’railcar, based on a Morris commercial chassis was also running. Construction was inspired by the famed Galloping Goose railcars operated by the Rio Grande Southern Railroad between the 1930s and 1950s. The machine, can carry 18 seated passengers.

It was good to get a chance to see this lovely if somewhat secretive little railway and its fascinating collection of narrow gauge steam locomotives. The rain was with us all day but didn't really spoil things as it wasn't heavy - just damp drizzle most of the time. And the damp air showed off the smoke and steam to great effect.

We had a great day out. I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Statfold Barn if you have any interest at all in narrow gauge steam railways.


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Not the Great Dorset Steam Fair. But better!

As a steam nut I've always wanted to visit probably the greatest steam meet in the UK - The Great Dorset Steam Fair.

Early this year, we decided we'd do it, so we (me, Peter A, and Malc) booked accommodation through Peter A, who has an ex work colleague who owns a B&B near Sturminster Newton. He got us 'Mate's Rates' for this week, three nights Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, allowing two full days at the fair.

The organisers then decided to change the dates of the Steam Fair; they brought it forward several days, which meant our booked time in Dorset would no longer coincide with it. Malc bailed out at that point, but Garry stepped into the vacancy he left - I'm pretty sure Garry does not regret that.

We reasoned that as the accommodation was paid for and the dates could not be altered, nor new accommodation for the revised Fair dates found in the few weeks left before the Fair, we would go to Dorset anyway. We'd shelve the Steam fair for this year and do other stuff instead.

What a superb decision that was!

Here's what we did instead. Please click on any picture for a larger image.

On Tuesday morning (30th) Peter drove us down to the South West to our first port of call - the West Somerset Railway at Bishops Lydeard in plenty of time for a tea and snack before joining the 14:35 train for Minehead, hauled by ex-Great Western 7828 'Odney Manor'

At Williton diesel depot: class 52 'Western Campaigner' on the left, a class 35 Hymek in the middle, and a class 14 'Teddy Bear' on the right

The line heads north west to the north Somerset coast, seen here near Blue Anchor station

At Minehead our loco ran around the train for the journey back to Bishops Lydeard

Out of service 'prairie' at Minehead

Passing the harbour at Watchet on the return journey 

Our home for the three nights we stayed in Dorset; the Old Causeway Bakery B&B, Hazelbury Bryan, near Sturminster Newton. I had an en-suite room in the main house, Peter and Garry shared 'The Cottage' extension to the right of the picture.

Peter's car (very comfortable) and the view over the fields from the B&B

Breakfast each morning was just down the road from the B&B, at The Pig's Blanket cafe, and eaten outside in the sunshine except on the morning we left which was a bit dull

Wednesday morning saw us driving to the south coast for a ride on the Swanage Railway, here approaching the scenic Corfe Castle 

Corfe Castle station is the passing loop where opposite direction trains can cross on the single line railway, controlled by the large 'Southern' signalbox

Our locomotive, ex-Southern Railway 'U' class 31806, runs around its train back at Swanage after our trip to Norden, the current terminus. The railway is working to extend to meet the main line at Wareham, and passenger trains are expected to start running to Wareham next year.

Peter (in the blue shirt) photographs the next train arriving from Norden, hauled by Bulleid light pacific 'Manston', running tender first

Manston's nameplate and crest

Garry (in light blue jeans) photographing 'Manston' running around at Swanage

Next port of call was the Tank Museum at Bovington. Here's a 'Tiger' tank 

'Chieftain' on the left, 'Challenger' on the right

Sherman tank 'Fury', which starred in the film of that name

Centurion tank sliced in two, showing the cramped crew accommodation and its 'Meteor' engine (a modified Rolls Royce V12 Merlin)

Inside the only surviving WW1 tank. It must have been hot, noisy, and smelly sharing the limited space with the engine but that was probably the least of their concerns.

Handy little tracked motorcycle run about

A 'Tiger' tank captured by the allies in WW2, and in original condition

The tank shows evidence of battle damage, including above where a British shell has scraped the underside of the barrel before jamming itself between the turret and the body of the tank, preventing the turret from rotating. It was this that led to the crew abandoning the tank. They didn't have time to destroy it (which was the usual procedure) so it fell into allied hands who were able to evaluate it and devise tactics for allied tank crews to successfully attack the mighty 'Tiger'. 

The museum has a large indoor storage area for artifacts not currently displayed in the museum

This is where we ate every evening - the White Hart Inn at Bishop's Caundle. Absolutely superb steaks and excellent golden ales. Highly recommended.

Thursday morning breakfast at the Pig's Blanket

Our third and final visit to a heritage railway; the East Somerset Railway at Cranmore. Here's our train loco at Cranmore; ex-Great Western 56XX tank engine 5637.

5637 runs around her train at the line's terminus, Mendip Vale

Ivatt class two 2-6-0 46447 of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway in the shed at Cranmore 

5637 on arrival back at Cranmore

It's difficult to pick out a highlight of this Dorset sojourn for me, but this comes close. The Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton

But there's no argument about what is, for me, the highlight of this museum; G-BSST, the first British prototype Concorde

A view of Hall 4, with Concorde, the modified Fairey Delta Two, and the P1127 which was developed into the remarkable Harrier vertical take off aircraft

This odd looking aeroplane is the Handley Page HP115.  Aerodynamicists knew that for minimum drag at supersonic speeds, a narrow delta wing is best. However, such a wing does not generate enough lift at low speeds (for take off and landing, for instance). Work done at the RAE by Webber and Kuchemann in the early 1950s revealed that a narrow delta wing develops vortices on the upper surface, which can be used to generate lift at low speeds. The HP115 was commissioned to investigate this low speed 'vortex lift', the secret of Concorde's ability to fly at relatively low speeds while having minimum drag at supersonic speeds.

HP115 wing, with smoke generator to make the vortices visible

Prototype Concorde's engine nozzles are completely different to those developed for the later production Concordes. In addition, both nose and tail are different to those on production aircraft (which are 20 feet longer), and the wing is of subtly different shape.

Bristol Olympus 593 engine from Concorde

Production Concordes have a pair of retractable tail wheels where the prototypes had a retractable tail skid 

G-BSST's interior with just some of the 12 tons of flight test instrumentation she carried

A closer look at the racks of electronic test gear. 1960s electronics of course, so very bulky and inefficient by today's standards.

Unique to the prototypes, where crew abandonment by parachute was a possibility, are floor mounted air vents to rapidly de-pressurise the aeroplane prior to that event

Unlike our own production Concorde at Manchester (on which I am a guide) visitors cannot access G-BSST's flight deck. There is some similarity between this prototype flight deck and the one fitted to production Concordes, but also many differences.

Two seat Hawker Hunter. One of the few fast jets cleared for intentional inverted spinning.

The Fairey Delta Two WG774, which in 1956 became the first aircraft to exceed 1,000mph, faster than the apparent motion of the Sun across the Earth. In order for the pilot to see ahead during landing and take off, the FD2 had a 'droopable' nose, and to reach such a high speed it had a very thin wing, both features incorporated into Concorde. WG774 was converted to Concorde's 'ogee' wing planform for the investigation of that wing shape at high speeds as part of the Concorde development process.

Perhaps the biggest visible difference between G-BSST and the production Concordes is the shape of the nose (much more 'snub' on the prototype) and the visor with just two small forward-facing windows whereas the production machines had a fully glazed visor (see below). 

The prototype's wing is of broadly similar shape to that of the production machines, but there are many subtle but vital differences between the two

Bristol Pegasus engine, as fitted to the legendary 'Harrier' jump jet

The BS 100 prototype engine for the proposed, but never built, supersonic Harrier. It employed 'plenum burning', a type of afterburner but applied to the bypass airflow only (so, on this engine, the front nozzles). The BS 100 was similar in layout to the Harrier's Pegasus, but based on the Bristol Olympus, the engines used to power Concorde.

Wessex helicopter

The 'Bent Wing Bastard', the Vaught F4U Corsair carrier-based fighter. An impressive machine!

A sea Fury, with folded wings

A viewing gallery in the museum allows a view of the apron of RNAS Yeovilton

A pair of Buccaneers, a Vampire, Sea Hawk (WV856), and a Wessex helicopter on the 'carrier deck' display

Sea Hawk and Gannet

The P1127, the prototype 'jump jet'. This was followed by the Kestrel which was developed into the legendary Harrier. The last development was the Navy's Sea Harrier which was (foolishly, in my opinion) withdrawn from RN service some years ago. They are still operated successfully abroad, not least in the US who further developed our Harrier into the AV8B.

Our last museum visited during this most enjoyable couple of days in Dorset was the Haynes Motor Museum at Sparkford, near Yeovil. This hall appears to be dedicated to red cars. Garry examines a Porche. A red one, of course.

Mk 3 Triumph Spitfire (I had a Mk 1V back in the early '70s)

Daimler Dart. A classic, but not the prettiest sports car

Garry and Peter discuss a Morgan. A red one, of course. Nearest the camera is a (red!) Lotus 7.

The first motor vehicle I ever owned was a rather tatty one of these - a Triumph Tigress scooter. Mine had the 250cc parallel twin 4-stroke engine, while the model in the museum sports the 175cc two-stroke engine.

Information on the Tigress. Click on the picture for a larger image.

The lovely Jaguar 'D' Type. This one would look better without its air intake being picked out in white; it gives it a 'rubber lipped' look.

Two magnificent Jaguars; XK120 and XK150. In the best colour, two.

The Lotus Elan, inspiration for the far more practical and reliable Mazda MX5

Garry with a pair of Triumph sports cars; a TR6 and a rare TR8

Peter takes a close look at possibly the best looking car of all time, the Ford GT40. It looks as good today as it did when it first appeared at Le Mans, winning the race four times in succession between 1966 and 1969.

A final evening was spent in the White Hart, and after our last Pig's Blanket breakfast on Friday morning we set off home to do battle with the M5 and M6 traffic. By 16:30 we were home.

What a superb few days. We are already planning the next such outing!