Friday, 27 November 2015

So farewell then, Mike Hunter.........

The black funeral tie was out of my wardrobe again today. Mike Hunter, fellow National Trust volunteer at Styal and Nether Alderley Mills, railway enthusiast, and keen railway modeller died on 17th November and his funeral was today. Several of Mike's friends and work colleagues read warm and touching eulogies, and there was a heartfelt one from Eleanor Underhill, General Manager of the National Trust Styal Estate.
I thought I knew Mike quite well but I didn't know he had been a Queen's Scout, and had won a trip to the World Scout Jamboree in 1957. This could have been held anywhere in the world, but in 1957 it was in Sutton Coldfield! Something else I hadn't known until today was he was a pillar of his local church, the Heald Green United Reformed Church, where the funeral took place.
He was chairman of Hazel Grove Model Railway Society and a few years ago he invited me to the Chapel-en-le-Frith Model Railway Show where I helped operate his group's High Peak Tramway model layout, which I wrote up in the blog, here:
Farewell Mike. I will miss your quiet humour and our rail and aviation related chats (he spent his career in ground ops with what is now BA). And I hope it's a while before that black tie makes another appearance.
Here's Mike engrossed in a spot of his beloved railway modelling:


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Just a few summers ago... Flying Chipmunk G-BCSL around the Lleyn peninsula out of Liverpool John Lennon.

(Click on any picture for a larger image).

Fuel & lunch stop at Caernarfon

Descending by Llanbedrog Head

Overhead Abersoch 

Curving in over Whistling Sands

Just a memory, on this cold and damp November day, of summer. A small selection of many pictures my elder daughter (the back seater) took that day.

One day among more than three decades of three dimensional freedom.

Taking to the skies; what a privilege! If you dream of flying.... do it! 

(But don't confuse airline travel with flying - sitting in row 15 staring at the dandruff of the guy in row 14 is commuting, not flying).

Just to get you in the mood.....

Top Gun Anthem

Danger Zone


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Unbelievable! West Coast Railways does it again!

Ex-Southern Railway West Country Pacific 'Tangmere'

In March this year West Coast Railways (WCR) were operating ex-Southern Railway West Country Class pacific steam locomotive 'Tangmere' heading a main line excursion  train when they narrowly avoided collision with an Inter City 125 train at Wooton Basset Junction. 'Tangmere' ran through a temporary speed restriction marked by lineside boards and an AWS (Automatic Warning System) magnet placed between the running rails. The magnet tripped the train's AWS system (even though 'Tangmere' was travelling at a speed less than the speed restriction) giving the driver several seconds to acknowledge the warning. He failed to do this so the AWS applied the train's brakes, as it is designed to do. In this situation the crew should have let the train come to a stand before contacting the signaller for further instructons. Instead, they disabled the locomotive's TPWS (Train Protection & Warning System) by turning off a cock (which should have been sealed in the 'open' position but wasn't) preventing the AWS braking action from continuing.

The train slowed a little because of the braking that took place before the TPWS was disabled, but not significantly. 'Tangmere' then ran through a 'yellow' signal indication  which the crew missed seeing, at a speed which caused the TPWS to command a further brake application in order that the train would be brought to a stand before reaching the next signal, which would be at 'red'. However, because the TPWS had been disabled, the commanded brake application was not implemented and 'Tangmere' ran on through the 'yellow' signal, towards the 'red' signal at unabated speed.

The driver saw the 'red' signal and made an immediate full manual brake application, but it was too late for the train to stop in time. It over-ran the 'red' signal by several hundred metres coming to rest on Wooton Basset junction, which the 'red' signal was protecting because the junction had been set to allow an Inter City 125 to join the main line ahead of 'Tangmere'. Thankfully, when Tangmere over-ran its signal and entered the junction the Inter City 125 had passed several seconds earlier and the signaller had changed the points in anticipation of giving 'Tangmere' the road behind the 125, so no damage to the track occurred.

However, a serious collision had been avoided merely by luck. The West Coast crew were found to be at fault in disabling the TPWS, in accepting the locomotive as 'fit to run' that day despite the TPWS cock not being sealed in the 'on' position, and in failing to observe the 'yellow' warning signal. The Office of Rail & Road (ORR) are still investigating that incident, having suspended WCR from operating trains for an extended period, during which heads rolled at the rail company, and safety procedures were completely re-written - a major shake-up in WCR.

I was very surprised, therefore, to read this today (click on the link below):

West Coast banned - again!

Ex-LMS Black Five 'The Sherwood Forester'

It seems that on October 2nd, near Doncaster, a West Coast crew had again been found to have turned off the TPWS cock, this time on ex-LMS Black Five locomotive 'The Sherwood Forester'. As a result, ORR have once again withdrawn WCR's licence to operate steam locomotives on the main line.

It hardly seems credible that with the enquiry into the 'Tangmere' incident still ongoing, heads having rolled at WCR as part of the intensive safety review to enable them to be re-licensed for main line operation, that a WCR loco crew could do this again. If the Rail Magazine piece is to be believed, it seems they have!


Sunday, 22 November 2015

'Alfred' stretches his little wheels on 'the big track'

Nice Sunday weather today so me, Malc, and 'Alfred' had a day out at Urmston Model Engineering Society's track. It's been three weeks since 'Alfred' was last steamed and I unloaded him from the car and wheeled  him via the swing bridge and access line onto the 'prep bay' where locos are prepared for running. First job is coupling the tender to the engine including the two water feeds for the injectors, and the one for the manual water pump.

All pictures by (and copyright of) Jason Lau. Please click on any picture for a larger image.

The prep bays at Urmston this morning, me Malc and 'Alfred' on the right

Next comes 'oiling round' the motion, axle boxes (not forgetting those on the tender), valve gear, eccentrics, expansion links, piston and valve rods, little ends, crosshead slides.... anything that moves or has stuff moving against it! Malc has modified my oil can with a long, fine bore, copper pipe to reach into all these places, especially the stuff between the frames. The steam oil tank is topped up with very thick oil (this is steam-pressurised in running and feeds steam oil into the cylinders to lubricate them).

The boiler has to filled with water and this is fed in through the blow down valve (having first opened it, of course!). It's filled to half a glass showing in the boiler water level gauge glass. The tender tank is then filled, and so is the saddle tank. The saddle tank on 'Alfred' is not used as a water source when running, but is filled as ballast to make the engine heavier for better grip.

The firebox is half filled with paraffin-impregnated charcoal, and the ignition key got out of my pocket (a ciggy lighter!). The electric blower (sucker really) is put on the chimney top and connected to a car battery to provide suction to draw the fire. Some charcoal is lit on the shovel and tipped into the firebox to start the conflagration. Once it's going well some coal is shoveled in on top of the fire, little and often. Soon it starts to crackle and the top of the firebox feels warm.

Malc, 'Alfred', me, and a club member. Note the 'blower' on the chimney.

These little engines soon make pressure and once the pressure gauge is showing a few pounds I can remove the electric 'blower' and use the loco's steam blower, which is far more effective. Once full pressure is reached I let 'Alfred' blow off to ensure the safety valves work, and of course use the injectors to maintain boiler water level.

Keith and another club member prepare 'The Beast', while Malc and I work on 'Alfred in the background, and Dave works on his crimson Beyer Peacock

 Soon be time to take off the electric 'blower'

Is Keith a fisherman, one wonders?

Keep feeding that fire! The prep bays have water and compressed air outlets which greatly facilitates preparation and disposal of engines.

'Alfred' is blowing off now. Soon be time to move out onto the running track. To the right of the prep bays are the two prep bay access tracks, the inner (shorter) running track, the feeder track to the main running track,and on the extreme right the 'big' (main) running track. A traverser connects the prep bays to the two prep bay access tracks (to the immediate right of me) while a traverser and 'swing bridge' (over the main running track) in the far corner of the park give locos access from one's car boot directly to these access tracks, so no need to carry a loco (not that you could with anything larger than 'Alfred'). Access to the main (big) running track from its feeder (the second from right track here) is by a third traverser beyond the passenger station, behind the camera.

Out on the shorter inner running track; Malc oils round again before he has a drive of 'Alfred' 

I'm driving 'Alfred' on the shorter (inner) running track so I have the 'token' for that track. The token, taken out of the traverser, disables the traverser so it can't be moved from the running line leaving a 'hole' in the track. So as long as I have the token I know the track is entire. However, if someone wants to use the traverser I hand over the token (as I am, above) and cease running until the traverser is back in place and I once again have the token on my engine. 

Dave's Beyer Peacock (on the right) is waiting to enter the passenger station on the main running track. A second train waits behind it in turn. The Society gives rides to the public on the big track and these are very popular and a good source of income.

Time to take 'Alfred' onto the main 'big' track! I wait on the main track feeder line for my slot after a passenger train on the 'big' track.

All set! 5" gauge LMS 'rebuilt' Royal Scot 'British Legion' in the station road.

On the 'big track'! I top up the tender water tank and ensure my fire is 'right' as I wait just short of the station on the main line for my run on the 'big track'. Keith sat behind me as mentor. Malc then had a drive of the little loco on the big track with Keith mentoring.

This is Dave on his Beyer Peacock. I drove two circuits of the big track on this loco with Dave sitting behind me, and Malc drove it as well. With its big boiler and fire box it's much less demanding than 'Alfred', especially on the extended distance and gradients on the big track. It doesn't need firing at all on a circuit of the track, and not much water injection either. 'Alfred needs firing at least once and it has to be done quickly as opening the fire box door kills the pressure as cold air is drawn in. He also needs a careful watch on water level and use of the injector to keep that as it should be.

Looking back to the station. This is the third traverser that connects the feeder track to the main circuit when it is activated (shifted right). 

At the end of the day Keith moves 'The Beast' onto the prep bay for disposal. Note the car backed into the site in the distance. That's where locos are loaded and unloaded. The compressed air powered lifting tracks enable much heavier locos than 'Alfred' to be unloaded from a member's car and positioned on a prep bay with little physical effort. That's essential, as any such loco cannot be lifted by any other means.

At the end of the running day it's time to 'dispose'. I got the boiler pressure up to max, and also the boiler water level while allowing the fire to decline and wheeled 'Alfred' onto the prep bay via the traverser and access track. First job was to drop the fire, and on these engines the grate can be literally dropped onto a shovel by backing the loco to the end of the prep bay track so the firebox overhangs the bay (the tender having been removed), pulling out the retaining pin, and allowing the grate to fall onto the shovel.

The loco can then be moved forward by hand and the blow down valve opened. I like to do this with maximum boiler pressure if possible so as the steam rushes out of the valve it will take any boiler contaminants with it. No water comes out as water in the boiler is at 90 PSI and well above atmospheric boiling temperature and on release to atmosphere it instantly boils to steam. It's amazing just how much energy is released even from a small loco like 'Alfred' when the blow down is opened.

The smoke box door is opened and the accumulation of grit, ash, and detritus drawn through the boiler flue tubes from the fire is shoveled out. The flue brush is used to clean out the boiler tubes (easier to do while the loco is still hot), and the saddle tank drained. Compressed air blows away residual ash etc from the cab, smokebox, and all around the loco taking care not to blow detritus into the motion or valve gear and bearings. A wipe down with an oily cloth completes the disposal chores, and after a good wash and scrub of hands and removal of overalls it's time to wheel 'Alfred back to the car loading bay, and carry the tool tray, battery etc as well. 

Car loaded we head off home. Via the Bird in Hand at Knolls Green for a refreshing pint of Sam Smiths of course!

Here's a video Jason took of me setting of with Keith on the big track. 'Alfred' later took me and Keith and Malc as well, and I could notch him right back to within one notch of mid gear on all but the steepest gradients, A strong little engine! The noise on the video is is the excited children around the station area:

Vince Chadwick with his Quarry Hunslet - Sunday 22nd November ...Vince Chadwick on his 3.5 gauge 0-4-0 Quarry Hunslet with tender, Going around Abbotsfield Park with Keith Tilbury. Sunday 22nd November 2015.
Posted by Urmston & District Model Engineering Society on Sunday, 22 November 2015

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Another wet Sunday

Today and last Sunday the weather was awful so I haven't managed to let Alfred stretch his legs for a couple of weeks (though today turned out to be better than forecast). Here are a couple of pictures from a few weeks ago, the first time we took Alfred down to Urmston Model Engineers' track at Abbotsfield Park.

Me on Alfred, Malc in the background. On the right is Dave, a club member who was allocated to 'keep an eye on us' as new boys. Alfred's clearly 'all set to go', blowing off vigorously. By my second week at the track I'd learned to keep the steam pressure high, but just below blowing-off point. 

Just as on a full size locomotive, if the pressure is approaching the red line on the gauge you can use the injectors to put more cold water into the boiler (if the level isn't already high - a good fireman keeps a bit of boiler water capacity in reserve for just this purpose), and / or open the firebox door to allow cold air to be drawn through the boiler tubes. Both these tactics will halt a pressure rise, though if the fire is vigorous you might need to do both! If the pressure does continue to rise, the safety valves rise and the excess steam 'blows off', but no fireman wants his engine to do that. Not only is it a waste of coal and water, it also indicates poor firing technique (unless circumstances - such as an unexpected delay before starting - are beyond the fireman's control). A big main line locomotive can loose up to 20 gallons a minute through the safety valves if it blows off.

However, letting the boiler water level get too high brings its own problems - the loco will 'prime'; water as well as steam will be drawn into the cylinders. On locomotives with slide valves this just results in a lot of steam and dirty water coming out of the chimney giving the driver and first few passengers a dirty shower. Opening the cylinder drain cocks will help reduce this as much of the water will be ejected through the cocks, but not all. Almost all model locomotives, and smaller full sized locomotives, have slide valves and these have the advantage that any over-pressure in the cylinders caused by hydraulicing (incompressible water getting in) will simply cause the slides to lift off their seats, relieving the pressure. 

Larger locos have piston valves as these are more efficient in fast running, and with these hydraulicing can lead to serious damage as the driving piston hits the incompressible water at the end of its stroke. This can blow out the cylinder end and bend the connecting rods. It's always good practice to open the drain cocks before moving off, as the cylinders may be relatively cold and steam might condense in them. We do this with slide valve engines as well as piston valve ones simply so it becomes an ingrained habit and one is less likely to forget when driving a piston valve loco. Soon after moving off the cylinders will be up to temperature and the cocks can be closed. This explains why steam locomotives often disappear in clouds of steam from their front end as they start off.

To reduce the chance of steam condensing in the cylinders, a careful driver will 'pre-warm' them immediately before departure. This involves putting the loco in full forward (valve) gear, brakes on, drain cocks open, and gently opening the regulator. Initially water, then steam, will issue from the drain cocks. This is repeated with the loco in full backwards gear, and repeated again in forward and backward until steam only (no water) reliably issues from the drain cocks. 

Malc on 'The Beast'

'The Beast' is a free-lance 2-4-0 locomotive loosely based on an American 'Baldwin'. It's quite powerful, capable of hauling several loaded passenger carriages, and both Malc and myself had a go at driving it. It's easier to drive than Alfred because it has a larger boiler and firebox, so there is more 'reserve' of fire size and steam pressure. Full size locomotives are of course even easier in this respect as they have comparatively massive boiler and fire capacity. However, they are physically much more demanding, especially to fire as several tons of coal may need to be manually shoveled into the firebox during the course of a journey.

'The Beast' is owned by the club, but its custodian is Keith, the father of James from whom I purchased Alfred. Keith was giving passenger rides, and allowed Malc and me to drive these passenger trains under his supervision (he sat behind us).

Let's hope for better weather next Sunday so I can give Alfred another run. That'd be his first in three weeks!

Alfred's footplate


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Bye bye Griso

Since the arrival of the Kawasaki W800 the lovely Griso wasn't seeing much use. She's too pretty to fit a top box on and spoil those lovely Italian lines, but that makes her a bit impractical and as a consequence she rarely ventured out of the garage.
With the arrival of Alfred (3.5" gauge Quarry Hunslet steam locomotive) space in the garage was at a premium so sensibly, one of the three bikes had to go. The Innova is in constant use for local trips (and sometimes much further afield) so that has to stay. The W800 is the practical 'going places' bike with the top box and only a few months old so that was a keeper. That left the Griso holding the short straw.
It's a cracking bike and I'll miss it. But sadly its the right decision to sell it. If I really do find I regret it, I can always get another!
Below, the courier prepares the bike this morning for transport to its new home in Saffron Walden.

Peter, the bike courier, takes pictures and gets the bike ready for loading. The bike's paddock stand is in the foreground. 

I had to close my eyes as Peter rode the bike round his van and up the ramp, which was steeper than it looks in this picture. Thankfully he'd obviously done it before and all was well.


Friday, 6 November 2015

A pleasant surprise!

I opened this month's 'Steam Railway' Magazine the postie brought this week, to be greeted with a picture I recognised. They've published a photograph I sent them ages ago. It's one I took in March 2012 of Britannia Pacific 'Oliver Cromwell' at Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester. It was there for a week between rail tours and as a MoSI volunteer I was able to don an orange jacket and get up close (even had a play on the footplate).
The picture heads the magazine's editorial and takes up the entire upper 1/3 of the first page of this month's magazine.If you don't take 'Steam Railway', have a look at page 1 next time you're in W H Smiths.
Oddly, it's not the best picture out of the five I sent them. They are paying me for its use, however.