Saturday, 7 September 2019

Cleaning Turn 6 - B12 and the Autumn Steam Gala

Just another cleaning turn? Well no, not as it turned out, not at all.

Due to some Grandparenting activity, my usual Thursday turn became a Saturday turn, the second day of the NNR autumn Steam Gala. This year, there were 7 locos rostered throughout the day - most of the home fleet (the 7F was out of service) comprising 5 engines - the WD 9F; the 9F Black Prince, recently returned to service, the Y14, the B12, and the Standard 4; a 4MT tank and a GWR 9400 pannier tank. These locos would haul a variety of passenger sets and a good set, sometimes as double headers and sometimes topping and tailing.

There was a cleaning session on the Thursday, which was a bit of a concern - I thought there might not be much to do as after 11:00 most of the engines were off-shed and they would have had a good clean two days before. As it was Saturday, there wouldn't be much activity in the shop either.

Clocking on at 5:30, I found several locos in steam already - the B12, the 4MT, the WD and Black Prince; the Y14 was in the shop, out of service with a piston gland fault and the GWR pannier and the 4MT tank, rostered later in the day, were still stabled. I learned that in a change to the roster, Black Prince would take the goods trains throughout the day in place of the Y14 and the B12 would take the Beerex specials in the evening in place of Black Prince. Trains were running around 12 hours on Friday on Saturday, which would mean several crew changes across the fleet - crews are permitted to work a maximum of 12 hours.

Stabled 4MT tank locomotive
Seeking out Fitter Alan, I learned that my first job for the day was to clean the B12 of all the grime it had gathered from the previous day. It was already in steam, so there was no preparation to do. Remembering the last time I attempted to clean the boiler wrapper on this loco I went off to find a ladder...

A B12 from the top of a ladder
Locomotives are no more dangerous than any other machine but like all machines they have hazards which have to be respected, observed and catered for if you are to carry out your job safely. It's a good idea to tie off your ladder to the hand rails of the loco when you use it, despite the fact that you will be moving the ladder every 10-15 minutes.

Having spent 90 minutes or so polishing the boiler and the splashers, it was time to clean the ash pan on the pit. Driver John and Fireman Ralph were both aboard, and once we had air pressure for the locomotive brakes we drove the 100 yards to the pit.

A look underneath revealed nothing in the ash pan, but my day was to change. Fireman Ralph asked if I was assigned to them all day - there were no Third Men rostered to any of the locos but not wishing to miss out I replied that I could be if they needed some help; I checked with Fitter Bob that he didn't need me, and since there was nothing much to do in the yard I found myself looking forward to my first unofficial Third man turn.

So... what does a Third Man do, and what happens in a Gala?

Well, being a Third Man is all about learning the road, and learning to fire. It gives you an opportunity to see the train operations first hand, understand the signalling, the guard's control over the train and his interaction with the driver. Additionally, and perhaps of more immediate use since the Third Man's next promotion will be to Passed Cleaner and then Fireman, you have the opportunity to watch and indeed shadow the Fireman's activity and to learn his trade.

The Fireman is always busy
Aside from the obvious shovel related activity, the Fireman's role is to ensure that the driver has the power he needs when he needs it, and to do that while optimising use of coal and water; then, to ensure that the coal and water is supplied and replenished to support the service to which the locomotive is rostered. Secondary roles include providing another set of eyes for the driver; coupling & uncoupling; changing manual points; exchanging the train staff or tablet with the signalman and managing the head and tail lamps as the train changes direction. These last generate a significant workload on a relatively short heritage railway with frequent changes of direction & run-around movements, and this is where the Third Man helps out.

Extra pair of eyes

As passengers, we are familiar with the railway timetable which tells us when the train will arrive and when it will depart the station. As footplate crew, we have a similar but more complex 'Working Timetable' which shows some more detail - all the movements for each loco, whether with or without passengers, which set of coaches we will be pulling, train headcodes, and what shunting or run around movements we will perform. For the gala, this is quite complicated and is colour coded to show the movements of each train distinctly.

The activities of each crew are mapped out in the Diagram. We are WY3 today, and the diagram shows we are rostered to the B12, number 8572. You can see the diagram shows exactly where we are supposed to be at any point in the day, from signing on duty and preparation to signing off and disposal.

Diagrams for today's WY3 crew
We followed the diagram to the end of the day - except that we did not dispose the locomotive. We were relieved after the last train by a new crew, since we were running out of time (we had worked 11 hours by this point) and the loco was rostered for the Beerex Specials in the evening.

Workplace for today
The second sheet of the working timetable shows the last of our B12 hauled trains in green. B12 was to take over the pink 92203 trains with a new crew:

Our service started with a light engine movement down to Sheringham to pick up breakfast and tea:

Next, we headed up to Weybourne, with me trying to figure out where I should stand to avoid getting in the way. This was my first unofficial Third Man turn! A key activity that the fireman undertakes, and which the Third Man can usefully perform, is to watch the train (from the platform side of the footplate) as it pulls away from the station, to make sure no-one has left a door open for example. At this point, the driver is busy getting moving and the fireman can keep an eye on the boiler and fire.

If the signalman is on the track, the Third Man can pick up the token; then, he can watch for traffic on the crossing and for the section up starter signal. The B12 driver is on the offside so it is easier for the fireman to watch for signals.

Another duty - operating the water column. Normally when preparing an engine I fill the tender, and today was no exception (the tender was full, just not by me). As you go through the day, you use water and whilst you might get through the whole day without refilling, the prep crew next day wouldn't thank you - 5000 gallons from the yard hose is going to take hours. So, you refill whenever you have time.

All the stations have water cranes, and you can stop at both Weybourne and Holt and fill up while the passengers move about. It saves time and effort if one person opens the hatch and puts the bag in, and another operates the valve. Here's Fireman Ralph, watching the tank fill:

Here's a view from the top of the tender - me filling this time:

Not the most common railway picture - the bag on the water crane at Weybourne, with the tank almost full:

And from the ground:

As I mentioned, one of the Fireman's duties the Third Man can perform is the token exchange. Here, the Third Man is dropping off one token, which will be collected by the signalman on the platform on an outstretched arm; the Third Man on the loco will collect the next section token from the signalman simultaneously; there is only one token per section and the signals cannot be cleared without the token - they are electrically interlocked.

The other activity that day was learning to couple and uncouple the train. Fireman Ralph showed me how to do this, and then watch me a few times until he was confident I had the hang of it. Here's the B12's tender showing, from left to right:
  • the air brake pipe
  • the screw coupling
  • the vacuum brake pipe or 'bag'
  • the steam heat pipe
The air brake is used by the loco - the train is vacuum braked. The steam heat is not used in the summer, surprisingly enough.

So, when the train has come to a standstill, you ask the driver if it is OK to 'go under'. Normally he will 'ease up' - he will reverse the loco into the train to compress the buffers to make it easier for you to uncouple. When he's happy, you check the brake vacuum has been destroyed on the gauge and climb down off the loco.

You walk carefully down the 'six foot' - the gap between the two pairs of rails - and climb under the buffers at the rear of the tender. First, you disconnect the vacuum bags and leave them loose; then you lift the coupling off the train and stow it on the tender; Then you connect the loco vacuum bag to it's stowage position, followed by the train vacuum bag.

Next, turn around in your crouching position under the buffers and look up and down the track for other moving vehicles. If it is safe, come out from underneath, turn and lean on the buffer stock to take a breath and check your work. You don't want an angry driver or guard who, failing to achieve a brake test, finds you have not connected the pipes properly because you weren't paying attention.

I coupled up 16 times that day. My legs knew all about that for days. The worst one was at Sheringham when the railways General Manager asked us to get away as fast as possible - except that I had managed to jam the loco pipe into the train pipe and couldn't get it done up. It seemed to take a very long time as he stared down at me from the platform, almost as long as another time with a gaggle of photographers above my head.

More in a couple of weeks.

Recent railway posts from this blog:

Cleaning Turn 5 - B12 and basic training

Cleaning Turn 4 - Y14 again and worsted trimmings

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