Saturday, 27 April 2013

Checked out on the Churnet!

After several sessions of training in Consall signal box since late last summer following checking out as crossing keeper, on this my second session in the 'box this year Nick, our signals inspector, was available to check me out to run the 'box. Nick is a professional signaller examiner on Network Rail, so he knows his job!

He observed my handling of the 'box for most of the day, and examined me on points of signalling rules and 'what if' situations. He must have been happy as he gave me this!

So now I'm a qualified signaller on the Churnet Valley Railway. An ambition achieved! What I need to do now is get a few 'turns' in charge of the 'box under my belt as rostered signalman. I suspect this is a job which you really start to learn as you do it for real... on your own!


Saturday, 20 April 2013

The little bikes go racing

Well OK, not really. Ivan and I whizzed down to Oulton Park today to watch a friend of Ivan's compete in a Ducati Sport race as part of the Hottrax Motorsport Club Championships. It was a lovely day, and while motorcycle racing isn't a great interest of mine, it made for a good day out.

The ride to Oulton Park from home took us through some lovely Cheshire countryside. Real 'Heart of Cheshire' scenery, through Allostock, Peover, Lach Dennis, Davenham, Oakmere, Whitegate, and Little Budworth.

Click on a picture for a bigger image.Twice, for an even larger one!

Ivan's SS50 and my C90 at the famous Cheshire circuit

The start line. One advantage of going to Oulton for a small racing event is that there are no queues, no crowds, and you can just walk through the garages and across the pit lane to watch the start of a race.

Knicker Brook; from here the bikes could be seen going through the corner, and then again along the top straight

Ivan's mate, Alan Ball, in the Ducati race

Alan's bike by the pits

Ivan chats to Alan and his daughter; our bikes in the foreground

We watched a couple more races, met some interesting and friendly competitors, then set off for home stopping for a cup of tea at Ivan's boss's house in Whitegate. The tea was good, but the visit was turning into a work progress meeting between the two of them, so I gave him a prod that time was passing, and we hit the road for home!


Friday, 19 April 2013

Llangollen Railway Spring Steam Gala - with the Railmotor and Autocoach

Lovely spring weather today for the Llangollen Railway Spring Steam Gala. Peter and I visited by train from Wilmslow via Crewe, Chester, and Ruabon. Unfortunately the national Rail network no longer reaches Llangollen, so the last leg was by bus; for which we had to pay! English bus passes don't cut it in Wales!

This is a railway I had not travelled on before, and today's trip not only put that right, it also allowed us to see and travel on the unique Railmotor and its Autocoach, both of which were restored at Llangollen. The Steam Railmotor (No.93) was built at Swindon in 1908 and worked until 1934. It was restored in 2011 and is normally resident at Didcot Railway Centre. The Autotrailer (No.92) was built in 1912 and worked until 1957. It was restored in February of this year. This is the first occasion on which the Railmotor and the Autocoach have worked together

Click on a picture for a bigger image. And again for an even larger one!

Our first train on the railway today was hauled by this ex-BR Standard Class 4MT 2-6-4 tank locomotive No. 80072. These were one of several 'Standard' designs by Riddles, and was based on the Stanier LMS 2-6-4 tank. It was built in Brighton in 1953 and withdrawn from service in 1966. It was rescued from the famous Barry scrap yard in 1988 and restoration was completed at Llangollen in 2009. The 'Standard 4' tanks are excellent locomotives much sought after on heritage railways.

Another view of this rather handsome locomotive

Our first stop was Deeside Loop, where 'Foxcote Manor' passed us heading down the valley

The lovely Dee valley on a glorious day. The valley of the Dee has been declared an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and is home to protected species such as otter.

At Glyndyfrdy we crossed with the Rail Motor, and left our train to join it on its journey back down the valley to Llangollen. Here is the view from the cab windows of the Autocoach.

Looking down the valley from the Autocoach, the Railmotor leading

This first day of the Gala is popular with rail enthusiasts. Here, the Autocoach is populated mostly by 'gentlemen of a certain age'!

The Horseshoe Falls, where the River Dee feeds the Llangollen canal

The Chain Bridge Hotel, near the falls. The river was quite swollen by recent rain, and up and down the river many canoeists were taking advantage of the conditions.

The Railmotor was being fired by Matthew, our Railway Officer at the MoSI Railway (see elsewhere in the blog). He invited me onto the footplate to have a close look at the vertical boiler in this unusual machine. 

Matthew is a highly experienced fireman, but he was having great problems firing it as the tubeplate is immediately above the firehole doors; if he opened the doors while the engine was working, to put some coal on, it would draw cold air through the doors instead of hot gasses from the fire up the boiler tubes, and kill boiler pressure. For the same reason the blower could not be used effectively when the doors were open. So there were a few unscheduled stops while it was fired with the regulator closed and the blower off, followed by a wait for a rise on the pressure gauge. Luckily there was enough slack and therefore recovery time in the timetable to allow this without cumulative slip of the day's events.

The red reversing lever is prominent in its quadrant, and the (also red) regulator lever has two 'legs'; one is the conventional handle for when the Railmotor is being driven from this cab, the other can be connected to a rod operated by either the regulator in the opposite end cab of the Railmotor, or the regulator in the cab of the Autocoach when that vehicle is in use. The coal (the same Daw Mill coal as we use at MoSI) can be seen in the window bay on the right of the picture.

Here is a closer view of the rod (with a chain on it) which protrudes from the floor and can be connected to the arm on the regulator. The rod is operated by the remote regulator in the cab of either the Autocoach or the non-powered end of the Railmotor, so that the train can be driven from either end just like a modern diesel or electric multiple unit.

Matthew, holding the tea can, stands next to the Railmotor

A view through the side of the cab, showing the vertical boiler

Alongside the coupling between the Railmotor and Autocoach can be seen the connection to enable the regulator in the cab of the Autocoach to operate the regulator lever in the powered-end cab of the Railmotor

Here is the driving cab of the Autocoach. The driver has little more than a regulator handle (hanging vertically in the centre window), a vacuum brake lever, and a hand brake lever.

Peter walks past the Autocoach cab

The interior of the Railmotor is similar to that of the Autocoach

Another look at the superbly restored interior of the Railmotor. In order to keep it pristine, the railway does not allow and food or drink to be consumed on board.

Another of the locomotives in steam today is Foxcote Manor. a 4-6-0 tender engine designed by C. B. Collett of the Great Western Railway. It was built at Swindon in 1950 and withdrawn from service in 1965 but is another 'Barry survivor' like the 2-6-4 tank loco. It was rescued from that scrapyard in 1974 and has been in service on this railway since 1988. the 'Manors' had a light axle loading so were ideal for routes such as Ruabon to Barmouth, of which this, the Llangollen railway, is a preserved section.

The Railmotor's power bogie; effectively a 2-cylinder 0-4-0 steam locomotive with a vertical boiler

This is as far as the line goes at present. The last station westbound is Carrog, and trains can proceed from there a mile or so to the point shown above, then reverse back. A couple of miles beyond here is the town of Corwen, and the railway hopes to be operating to there later this year.

A view of the 'Standard 4' tank, without the platform hiding the running gear

A member of 80072's crew has climbed into the bunker to shovel coal forward where it can be reached by the fireman on the footplate

There were four locomotives in steam on the railway today, and this was the one that hauled our last train of the day. 6430 is a Great Western pannier tank locomotive built at Swindon in 1937. She was withdrawn from service in 1964 and sent to Cashmoore Ltd for scrap. She was rescued from there almost immediately by the Dart Valley Railway as a source of parts for other locomotives. She survived this and was restored to enter service on the railway in 2004.

6430's cab, showing the same 'remote regulator' fittings so she can be used with an Autocoach in a similar manner to the Railmotor

A final view of our final steam locomotive today, as we left Llangollen to catch the bus to Ruabon for our train home. At one time we could have gone to Ruabon by train from here; maybe one day that will be possible again.

Here are some videos I took today.

Here  the Railmotor, filmed from the Autocoach, descnds the valley though Deeside Loop.

Here  the Railmotor moves slowly along the platform at Llangollen, with fireman Matthew in the cab ensuring no spectators are in the way.

Here Foxcote Manor sets off from Glyndyfrdwy with a train for Llangollen.


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Easter on the MoSI Railway

Our railway at the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry usually only operates at weekends, but at school holiday times it operates during the week as well. I was rostered as fireman on Friday 5th April and Monday 8th. The driver was Jan Ford, who took some pictures on the Friday which she has published on her blog at Jan Ford's World. Here are some of them, copyright Jan.

Our loco, 'Agecroft No.1', in the MoSI station (Liverpool Road East). This loco was built in 1948 (so it's a year older than me) at Robert Stephenson Hawthorn in Newcastle and spent its working life at Agecroft power station hauling coal trains, and was restored at MoSI a couple of years ago from scrap condition by volunteers and staff. 'Agecrofts' 2 and 3, the entire fleet at the power station, still exist. Only No.1 is serviceable at present.

I look back, keeping an eye on the train, as we leave the station

David, our guard, gives the 'right away'. The grey brake van is not part of our train today, but will be from Monday 8th onwards as the blue coach with the guard's seat will be at Beamish (see below).

Our train comprises a North London Railway coach hired in from The Furness railway, and one of our two blue open coaches which were built at the Museum as contemporary stock for our replica 1830 'Planet' locomotive 

David on the guard's seat in the rear coach

I look back as Jan photographs us passing the 1830 warehouse

 The train heads away from the Museum to cross the Water Street bridge, and followed by Stephenson's original stone arch bridge over the Irwell, into Salford. We are an Inter City Railway!
A nice view of the North London Railway coach

Nice pictures! Thank you Jan.

On Monday 8th when I was firing again, 'Planet' and the two blue open coaches were loaded on to two low loaders, one for the coaches and one for 'Planet' and tender. They are off to Beamish Museum for a while leaving 'Agecroft' as our sole locomotive at MoSI. That's why the North London Railway coach has been hired in, as otherwise we would have no coaching stock on site.

On the Monday our train comprised the North London Coach and the grey brake van in the third picture down. We need that in the consist as the coach has no guard's compartment or guard's emergency brake.

On the Friday, Jan and I had noticed that 'Agecroft' wasn't steaming quite as well as she usually does, and when I fired her again on the Monday it was no better. A faulty blower was diagnosed and we nursed the engine through to complete the day's work. On inspecting the front end after the last train had run and the fire dropped, it could be seen that the blower pipe had split and was issuing free steam into the smoke box and little draught up the chimney. When I left for home at about 5pm, she was being worked on to get her back in traffic for the next day's operations.

I'm firing her again next Friday, and looking forward to it!

Update Friday 12th April:   Bev was nominated driver today, and me as fireman. I lit her up from cold and prepared the engine as usual while Bev oiled round; the usual crew duties. Once we were ready to run at about mid day I returned from collecting my packed lunch from my bag in the railway cabin to find Bev on the fireman's side of the cab. "You're driving" he said. And I did - all day!

Thanks Bev!


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Dock Road Pumping Station, Northwich

The little bikes hit the road again this afternoon, headed to Northwich to see the Dock Road Pumping Station, which is no longer on Dock Road! No, the Pumping Station hasn't moved; the road system has changed since the building acquired its name and it's now on Weir Street.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Ivan and me at the Pumping Station this afternoon. Ivan's SS50 on the left, my C90 in the middle, and Malc's Townmate on the right.

The Pumping Station was built by Northwich Urban District Council in 1913 to pump sewage from the low lying areas of Northwich to the Wallerscote Treatment Works. Before it was built, the sewage was simply discharged into the river Weaver causing widespread pollution.

It is a single story round castellated building housing two single-cylinder Crossley gas engines each driving a Haywood Tyler three-cylinder lift and force pump. Sewage was collected in a tank in the basement of the building and pumped up out of the Weaver valley to the treatment works.

What made our visit today special was not only the chance to see the historic engines and pumps in action still in their original setting, but the two knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and interesting volunteer guides who explained the station to us.

A Hi-Viz clad Malc chats to one the two enthusiastic guides. The two engines are on the left, each with a red flywheel, and the two pumps are to the right. The black overhead pipe used to carry the raw sewage from the basement tank to the pumps. It must have been very smelly in here when the station was operating - which it did until the early 1970s.

Information boards in the building explain its history. Please click on any one to see a larger image. 

Each gas engine is a single cylinder 4-stroke unit running on gas from the mains. They used to have a 'hot bulb' ignition system but have been modified first to have magneto ignition, and latterly a conventional set up using a battery, coil, points, and spark plug. The centrifugal governor drives a 'hit and miss' mechanism which allows activation of the gas inlet valve if the engine needs to develop power to maintain speed, and disables its activation if the engine already has sufficient speed. Thus, the engine doesn't fire every fourth stroke but only when it needs to, unless it is running slowly when each fourth stroke is a power stroke.

Each engine is connected to its pump through a friction clutch, so it can run without driving its pump if necessary.

Click Here for Ivan's video of one of the engines running, and then being clutched to its pump, which also runs. This video shows the 'hit & miss' system by which the governor maintains engine speed by allowing or disallowing the gas inlet valve to opened by the camshaft. Click here to see the volunteers attempting to start the second engine. Unfortunately there was a problem with its ignition system and it wouldn't fire up.

 Ivan and Malc outside the Pumping Station this afternoon

The station ran until 1972, when it was replaced by the adjacent electric-powered pumping station. In 1991 it re-opened after restoration by North West Water employees. A visit is highly recommended (but check opening times). The website is Here .

This whole area was once a hive of industry. In particular shipbuilding took place on the adjacent River Weaver. Everything from barges to tugs, and motor torpedo boats in WW2, and even the famous Clyde Puffer 'Vital Spark' of the Para Handy novels and TV series.   

After a very interesting time watching the mechanisms at work and chatting to the guides we fired up the bikes and set off homeward. A stop at the Whipping Stocks for a pint of excellent 'Sam Smiths' bitter at a mere £1.80 rounded off the afternoon nicely.

Where next?


Saturday, 6 April 2013

'A Grand day out' - Manchester return match dry run (not so dry!)

Following our successful Grand Day Out on 19th January in Chester (see the blog Here ), the Manchester contingent organised a 'return match' for today. Unfortunately none of the Mersyside / Deeside revellers could attend, so we Mancunians had a 'dry run'. Well, a run anyway; it wasn't really very dry!

Myself, Malc, Ivan, and John used the 88 bus to Wilmslow station this morning, and as we walked onto the platform the 09:57 to Manchester Piccadilly rolled in - perfect timing! A good omen for the rest of the day, we thought. A packed Manchester shuttle bus (full of folk going to a Manchester Central bakery event, fer heaven's sake!) took us to the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry, where by coincidence I'd been firing the steam loco 'Agecroft No.1' yesterday.

Photos mostly by John. Please click on a picture for a larger image.

One of the many mill engines in the power hall at MoSI. This is a tandem compound engine built in Rochdale, the Corliss valve gear visible here on the side of the high pressure cylinder.

Manchester had a hydraulic power system that was distributed throughout the city. It was used to compress cotton bales in the many warehouses, and to power cranes and lifts - and even to raise the weights in the town hall clock. It was operative until the early 1970s.

One of the pumps for the hydraulic power system, which operated at over 1,100 psi.

Malc and me take a look at a sectioned Isle of Man steam locomotive

Here's an old friend - 'Planet', a 1992-built replica of Robert Stephenson's 2-2-0 tender engines built in 1830 for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. This is an engine I regularly fire and often drive on the MoSI railway.

Today it was Lauren's turn to fire 'Agecroft', and to chat to Ivan between runs up and down the line

We didn't have time to see anything more of MoSI today than the Power Hall, so we'll have to come back another time to see such exhibits as the Air & Space Hall, Textiles & Cotton, and a working replica of the world's first real computer, 'Baby', built at Manchester University in 1948. We left the Museum and used another shuttle bus to take us up to the top of Deansgate, where we made our way to The Old Wellington Inn, which was physically moved to its present site when the area it originally occupied was developed following the IRA bomb attack on the city in the 1990s.

It's a lovely sunny day and central Manchester is at its best as Malc leads us towards the 'Wellington', where most drinkers are outside enjoying the sunshine. We sat outside with our pints at a table of football addicts from Sweden, who had come over for a couple of matches. They were having a good time, and tried to persuade us to try 'Snus' , a form of tobacco which is held between upper teeth and lips inside the mouth. Even our smoker, Malc, wasn't up for that!

The history of The Wellington (click on the picture for a larger image)

After a pint at the Wellington, we walked through St Annes Square to Sam's Chop House. The beer was good in this crowded venue, but a £3.70 a pint we crossed it off our list. Ivan, me, and Malc pose outside for a 'team photo'.

This is more like it! A down-to-earth honest Holts pub in John Dalton Street just off Albert Square, the Ape & Apple. Lovely Holts bitter for £2.35 a pint, and plenty of room to sit down. A gem! Ivan, our kitty holder, gets a round in at the bar.

Malc, me & Ivan in the 'Ape & Apple'

By now it was mid afternoon and we were getting hungry, so we set off past the magnificent Town Hall, the Central Library, across St Peter's Square, on to Oxford Road to the Chinese Buffet restaurant we last visited late last year, on another 'Grand Day Out'. Lovely pork belly, duck, ribs and lots of other dishes are available on a help yourself basis. Delicious, but not the healthiest food option in town!

Replete, we headed up Portland Street to another good Holts pub, The Old Monkey where we shared a table with a couple from Horwich who had attended the Baking Event at Manchester Central. This is where we learnt what event it was that was packing the city's shuttle buses between there and Piccadilly Station, as we discovered was still the case when we caught such a bus from here back to the station, where we had a quick look at a potential meeting place for foreign contingents joining us on future Grand Days Out.

Checked but rejected as being a bit of a fizz palace, this pub near Piccadilly station

As we entered Piccadilly station, a train to Alderley Edge was about to depart. Malc set off hot-foot up the platform and leaped aboard, despite the fact we'd lost Ivan at this point. John and I held back expecting Malc to realise he was alone and get off. He didn't. The door warning beepers sounded, the doors slid shut, and the train glided off with just one quarter of our contingent on board.

The remaining three quarters ambled across to an adjacent platform and boarded a train for Crewe via the Styal line which left a few minutes later and ran via the Airport. We had a more scenic trip home that way although the first half of the journey is mainly views of urban back gardens, but that in itself can be quite interesting.

John phoned Malc to suggest that we meet in the Bollin Fee in Wilmslow, and that as Malc would arrive first, and had abandoned the troops in an alien city while himself making a dash for freedom, he should line 'em up for us in The Fee!

He failed in that too! But never mind, the beer was good and well priced so we had a pint there before my wife arrived to drive us all home.

This sign, just near The Bollin Fee, seemed quite amusing after several pints!

So ended another Grand Day Out. Well up to standard, a great time was had by all, and we look forward to the next time the Old Gits venture out without Nurse to keep them in order.