Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Photos on this blog - and imlplications for 'The Cloud'.

Google have decided to change what happens when you click on a photo on a blog. Previously, it opened to larger size, and a second click would open it to full size and I have advised readers to do that. Now, one click results in a slightly larger sized picture and a 'slide show' format. There is no 'full size' facility. Definitely a retrograde step.

There is a move by the likes of Google to get us to store our data on their hosted sites, rather than locally on our own PCs. Eventually, everything, data and applications, would be hosted remotely and accessed from the net. This is 'The Cloud'. It means we won't have the problem of backing up data, but at the same time, we lose control to the 'hoster' This sort of imposed change with the way photographs are displayed on the blog indicates that quite well.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. 'Cloud Computing' saves you worrying about backup or having sufficient local storage, but it does leave you at the mercy of the hoster as to how your data is treated.


Saturday, 15 October 2011

Steam Bus 'Elizabeth' at the RVP

Steam bus 'Elizabeth' at the RVP this morning with Vernon on the left, our conductress in the centre, and the regular fireman on the right.

Sentinel steam bus 'Elizabeth' is at operating at the Runway Visitor Park this weekend. Knowing she was coming from her base in Whitby, I e-mailed Vernon, her owner / driver, introduced myself as a guide at the RVP and a passed fireman on the MoSI steam railway, and asked if it would be possible to have a go at firing 'Elizabeth'. Decent chap that Vernon is, he readily agreed. So this morning at the RVP instead of my usual guide uniform of white short-sleeve shirt and Concorde tie with navy blazer I wore my oily boiler suit and protective boots.

When I arrived, 'Elizabeth' was gently simmering by the bus stop near the entrance. I parked, donned the overalls and boots, and introduced myself to Vernon. Vernon is an ex-driver on the North York Moors Railway and we had a chat about railways, steam, and the difference between steam locomotive and steam road vehicle driving and firing.

A view into the cab through the driver's door

The driving side of the cab as seen from the fireman's side, with the vertical boiler between the two

Vernon invited me up into the cab and showed me 'the taps', and asked me to shoot four shovels full of coal onto the fire to bring the pressure up. Meanwhile, he operated the engine-driven feed pump to increase the water level in the boiler (there is also a live steam injector).

The top of the vertical boiler in the cab. Coal is shovelled down the hole in the centre, to drop through to the firebed beneath the boiler. There is a 'lid' for the firehole just to the right of it, but to allow sufficient 'top air' to the fire this is usually left off.

We had a few passengers by now so it was time to go. Almost silently, with just a whirr from the gears and drive chains, we chuffed away down the lane towards 'The Romper' pub. Here Vernon executed a three-point turn at the cross roads so we could return to the RVP.

The coal bunker in the cab between the crew seats

As we waited for more passengers Vernon explained to me more about the operation of 'Elizabeth', especially on her regular stamping ground in Whitby, Yorkshire. The pressure gauge had fallen to about 120 PSI by now so I put another six shovelfuls onto the fire and pretty soon it was climbing towards the red line at 200 PSI and it was once again time to go.

Vernon took this one of me.... another 'steam dream' achieved; firing a steam bus!

I did one more return trip before handing over to the regular fireman. What a great way to spend a Saturday morning; thanks Vernon - I really enjoyed that!

And tomorrow - off to MoSI to fire either 'Agecroft No.1' or 'Planet'.


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Acton Bridge Steam Up

The Leigh Arms at Acton Bridge, on the River Weaver, held their annual 'Steam Up' this weekend. Tony and I bimbled our way there through the Cheshire lanes on our Suzuki Freewind motorcycles. The blazing hot weather of this Indian summer had today given way to cloud and just the occasional drop of rain; far more pleasant conditions for motorcycling than were the temperatures in the high twenties of the last week or so.

There's no end of polishing to be done if you own a steam engine

Delightful milk float powered by a vertically-boilered twin cylinder steam engine

There were quite a few 'miniatures' there, including this fine showman's engine

The polishing goes on.... and on...! The swing bridge over the Weaver Navigation can be seen behind the engines.

Traditional Gypsy caravans

A superb Burrell traction engine with its living van beyond

Tony surveys the scene

Not all the 'miniatures' were traction engines. Here is a fine model steam lorry.

Me, surrounded by 'miniatures'.


Saturday, 1 October 2011

Standedge Tunnel, Huddersfield Narrow Canal

Standedge canal tunnel is the longest (over three miles), highest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain. Situated midway along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, the tunnel takes the canal under the high Pennine spine of Northern England between Marsden in the Colne Valley and Diggle in the Tame Valley. Originally opened in 1811, last used commercially in the 1920s, closed in 1944, the tunnel has been restored and was re-opened in 2001.

A year or so ago, Peter de la Wyche and I took part in a Stockport Walkers' walk from Diggle over the moors to Marsden and back, approximately following the route of the Standedge Tunnels. At the Marsden end is a visitor centre, and this planted the idea of one day coming back to do one of the occasional trips that are run through the canal tunnel.

There are three railway tunnels, two single bores currently disused, and the double track tunnel that carries today's Trans Pennine Expresses between Manchester and Leeds. One of the single bore railway tunnels is used for emergency vehicles to access the canal and railway tunnels, though there is a proposal by Network Rail to re-open all three rail tunnels to increase rail capacity on this vital trans-pennine route. However, the first of the four tunnels through the Hill at Standedge was the canal tunnel.

Today Peter, my wife Chris, and I made the trip through that tunnel.

Our boat awaits at Diggle at lunchtime today, having worked through the tunnel from Marsden this morning

This 'tug' attached to the back of our boat is electrically powered. The batteries are in the tug, powering propellers on the tug and on the boat. The combination can be driven from the boat or from the tug.

The control panel at the front of the boat. It is steered by the silver 'sidestick' control on the left of the panel; push it left to go right, and right to go left! Very confusing as I was to find out later.

Entering the tunnel 'extension' at Diggle. The tunnel was opened in 1811, but the plaque above the portal carries the date 1893 (double click on the picture to see it full size, as with any picture on this blog) as this western end was extended to allow the building of long gone railway infrastructure above the canal.

In we go!

The 'cut and cover' construction of the extension can be seen here, with stone walls and a brick-arch roof.

The roof is flat here, and made of concrete - some sections have a roof of metal girders - as we are still in the tunnel extension at this point

Now we are in the original 1811 tunnel, brick lined here.

The restoration work before re-opening included stabilising some sections with rock bolts, or as here lining the tunnel with steel mesh onto which concrete was sprayed

Water cascades down where the ventilation shafts enter the tunnel roof

A brick-lined section

Much of the tunnel is unlined rock

The light at the end of the tunnel, but still around an hour before we complete the journey. It was about here where I had a go at steering the boat. I had to concentrate to take account of the 'reversed' steering (push the joystick right to go left, and vice versa) but soon got the hang of it. It requires some anticipation a bit like flying (though an Avro Tudor with such reversed controls caused the death of chief designer Roy Chadwick among others on take off from Woodford in the late 1940s).
There is some speed-related delay in the boat's response, though it's a far greater delay than any aeroplane I've flown, but of course not dissimilar to steering a conventional tiller-steered narrow boat (done a lot of that as well!). And of course the walls are far from straight and the tunnel narrow, so one has to 'weave' to avoid hitting the sides. I must have done OK as the official driver congratulated me, saying "what are you doing a week on Saturday?"

Closer to the Marsden end, and at other places as well, brick arches strengthen the roof

Nearly there! It's quite cold in the tunnel and it will be good to emerge into the warm sunshine of this Indian summer, with its balmy mid 20s temperatures

Just before we emerge at Marsden, the wide arch overhead indicates where the railway, which was on our right when entered and almost immediately crossed to our left where it remained for over three miles, passes overhead to our right hand side again.

The Marsden portal

Tunnel End Cottages now form the cafe at the visitor centre at Marsden

Close to Tunnel End is the former canal warehouse which was converted into the Standedge Visitors' Centre.

After a look around the visitor centre we walked the half mile or so into Marsden to catch the bus back to Diggle where we left our car. It took over two hours to travel though the tunnel by boat, but the bus had us back in Diggle inside fifteen minutes.

At £8 per head this trip through the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain is good value.

A fascinating day out!